May 12, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Schools off to see the wizard

(Continued from page 1)

Simultaneously, Bowen suggested "legislation that takes a (low-performing) school out from under the authority of the school district and puts it under state control."

"So the real question is, how hard do you want to push on this?" Bowen asked LePage in the memo. "Let me know. Accountability is a good issue politically, I think."

Ah, the "p" word. Might politics explain why LePage, an unabashed fan of for-profit charter schools, came up with a grading system whose bell-curve design guarantees a set number of failing or near-failing schools no matter who's doing what?

(Make no mistake about it -- come election season, those F's will stand for "fodder.")

And might the Magic Room, compliments of the very commissioner who a few months ago was quietly advocating for state takeovers, leave some principals in D and F schools a little leery of now engaging with the Department of Education "in a different way," as Bowen put it last week?

Friday afternoon, I checked in with Marcia Gendron. She's the principal of East End Community School in Portland, where 19 different languages are spoken and 85 out of 425 students -- many of them homeless and/or refugees from other countries -- have arrived since the school year began in September.

Now in the middle of a three-year, $2.7-million federal "school improvement grant" aimed at truly helping schools that need it, Gendron's school has posted significant and measurable gains in student performance over the past two years.

"Our teachers stay every Wednesday for two hours," Gendron said. "They are giving up their lunch time to have meetings -- they meet two to three times a week. They are looking at student data. They are looking at meeting the diverse needs of students. This is a school where the professional staff has an extraordinary commitment to leveraging achievement."

Did I mention East End Community School got an F?

Gendron's not sure she can tell Bowen & Co. anything they don't already know -- the state has overseen her school's exhaustive grant process every step of the way.

"It would be awkward if the state now says to us, 'Oh, that plan isn't the best plan,' " she noted. "They approved it."

So exactly what will she say when her phone lights up and a wizard from the Magic Room is on the line?

"I hope I can behave that day," Gendron replied with a chuckle. "I've never been to a magic room."

Of course she hasn't.

She's too busy facing reality.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:



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