PORTLAND – Teachers and other staff members at Riverton Community School have already begun developing a plan to improve students’ performance and, hopefully, get off the list of Maine’s 10 persistently lowest-performing schools.

Schools on the list are eligible to share $12 million in federal grants if they pursue aggressive improvement plans in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.

The schools have until Friday to notify the Maine Department of Education if they plan to apply for as much as $2 million per year for three years.

The grant program targets schools with high percentages of financially disadvantaged students.

Riverton, an elementary school where 73 percent of the 460 students qualify for free or subsidized lunch and half are learning to speak English, will apply by the May 7 deadline.

“We’re at the brainstorming stage,” Superintendent Jim Morse said Tuesday. “We’ve had several staff meetings and we will have more. We also plan to hold a meeting with parents to bring them into the process, which is critical.”

Riverton is one of two schools on the list — Deer Isle-Stonington High School is the other — that don’t have to replace their principals to accept additional funding.

Nancy Kopack has led Riverton since September 2007. Principals who were on the job before that school year must be replaced by any school that wants the federal money.

The other eight schools are Longley Elementary in Lewiston, Houlton High, Sumner Memorial High in Sullivan, Carrabec High in North Anson, Hodgdon High, Lake Region High in Naples, Livermore Falls High and Madison Area High.

Besides replacing the principal, school improvement plans typically call for more one-on-one instruction for struggling students, extended learning opportunities after school or in the summer, targeted professional development for teachers and administrators, and increased use of test results to improve instruction.

Kopack didn’t return calls to say what additional steps might be taken at Riverton.

Also on Tuesday, state Education Commissioner Susan Gendron released academic achievement data for 557 public schools that were reviewed in the preparation of the list. The data excluded 70 K-2 schools because none of their students are tested.

Gendron said she provided the background data because several school officials, legislators and others asked for it after she released the list of 10 on March 9.

The ranking process is complicated.

The 10 schools on the list scored lowest among 98 in Maine that:

• Receive or are eligible for federal Title I funding.

• Have demonstrated low reading and math proficiency on annual tests over three years.

• Fell below the state average in making progress during that period.

Over three years, the state average for students who met or exceeded minimum math and reading assessment standards was 59 percent.

The state median improvement rate during that period was a net change of 4.18 percentage points. The assessment period was 2006-07 through 2008-09.

At Riverton, on average, 40.52 percent of students met or exceeded math and reading standards during that period, and scores had an overall net improvement of 1.52 percentage points.

Gendron urged all schools to strengthen their efforts to help students succeed in the classroom and on annual assessment tests that measure minimum competency on state learning standards.

“It’s time to make some changes,” Gendron said during a media conference call. “You have to restructure. You have to change leadership.”

Gendron noted that some superintendents were eager to learn if any of their schools would be on the list because they wanted to take advantage of the additional funding and the opportunity to move a school in a new direction.

District officials for two of the schools, Houlton High and Livermore Falls High, have reportedly decided to forgo the additional funding, Gendron said.

They face no sanctions for declining the money and could be eligible for similar funding next year if they fall into the same category.

The 10 schools are divided into two categories.

One category identified Title I schools that have failed to show progress according to federal criteria for two or more years: Riverton, Deer Isle-Stonington, Longley, Houlton and Sumner.

The other category identified Maine high schools that are eligible for Title I funding but whose districts use the money in other schools: Carrabec, Hodgdon, Lake Region, Livermore Falls and Madison.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]