AUGUSTA — Parents of students attending three city elementary schools that have not met federal progress standards can send their children to the one elementary school that does.

Lincoln, Farrington and Gilbert elementary schools have not met adequate yearly progress standards for two years in a row as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law. As a result, parents of students in those schools have the option to send their children to another school in the district, the school board was told Wednesday night.

But the one city elementary school that has met the standards — Hussey Elementary School — may not have the space or staff to accommodate a potentially large influx of new students.

Local school officials hope one of the three schools — Lincoln Elementary School — will be found to have met those standards after appeal. That would leave Farrington and Gilbert elementary school parents with the option to send their kids to a different school.

Still, with the school year approaching rapidly, Augusta officials don’t know what they’re going to do if tiny Hussey, the district’s smallest school by both size and population, gets a sudden batch of new students.

“We need to make this ready, set, go for September,” Superintendent Cornelia Brown said. “The biggest factor is which of the two schools will be in play — whether parents can choose from both Lincoln and Hussey or just Hussey — and then how many students we’re talking about, and the grades they’ll be in. A lot really depends on how many students you’re looking to move.”

Curriculum Coordinator Tina Meserve noted that parents moving students from schools not meeting standards to those that are hasn’t been a trend in Maine.

She said Maine Department of Education officials told her only about 20 students statewide moved last year from one school to another under No Child Left Behind school-choice provisions.

Schools are judged to make adequate yearly progress by student performance on standardized tests and attendance. Meserve said Lincoln didn’t make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row because of attendance, while Gilbert and Farrington failed to meet math standards.

The district is seeking a waiver from the state, in part because officials say many Lincoln students missed school because of the H1N1 virus. If granted, the waiver would certify Lincoln made adequate yearly progress.

But parents must be notified at least 15 days in advance of the start of school of their new school choice options. So Augusta may not hear the results of its waiver request for Lincoln by Wednesday, which is the deadline for letters to go out.

“If we don’t hear from the Department of Education by the 17th, those letters have to go out with the assumption (Lincoln) didn’t make (adequate yearly progress),” Meserve said.

Hussey Elementary Principal Michelle Michaud said Hussey is Augusta’s smallest elementary school, and also houses the central office for the district, which includes the superintendent’s office. The central office takes up three former classrooms.

“I have no open space at Hussey,” Michaud said. “Every space is used.”

Brown said moving the central office could be a longer-term option but doubted the construction needed to convert it back into classrooms could take place in time for this school year.

Portable classrooms, which Brown estimates to cost about $50,000 to buy and set up, are another potential — but, Brown said, problematic — option.

Brown said the Augusta School Department must also provide transportation of students to their new schools if parents choose to have them switch to Hussey, which is on the east side. Lincoln and Gilbert are on the west side of the city. That could disrupt bus routes that have already been planned.

Board of Education members expressed frustration at the school-choice provisions.

Ward 3’s Betty Jo Libby said, “15 days isn’t a lot of thinking time for parents to decide if they want to move their kids. And we have even less time to decide bus routes. I just think it’s a bit ridiculous.”

Ward 2’s Susan Campbell questioned how moving students from one elementary school building to another is going to help anything.

Meserve said the federal rule is meant to make sure school systems strive to educate all their students.

She said it could allow parents of students in, for example, an inner-city school which might have trouble attracting and keeping quality teachers to send their children to a school within their same school system which is in the suburbs and able to attract better teachers.

“It’s a way for the federal government to put some teeth behind expectations, and increase emphasis on all schools having all students meeting standards,” Meserve said. “We need to do something about it.”

Board Chairman William Burney asked why two or three of the city’s elementary schools didn’t meet standards while Hussey did.

Meserve said Hussey faculty has worked hard to improve student performance, but noted the faculty at the other elementary schools work hard, too.

She said the other three schools have more students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and Hussey does not have a special-education program within the school.

Toni Richardson, parent of two Gilbert students, questioned whether special education and behavioral programs are spread evenly throughout the district, since there are no such programs at Hussey. She said the school board should look into that issue.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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