During the first public comment session held during a Regional School Unit (RSU) 3 regular meeting, Board members heard from a mother/daughter duo regarding proficiency-based education, and an employee of the district speaking as a private citizen concerned about the handling of a disciplinary issue.

The meeting, held Monday, March 4, was the first time the School Board had designated a specific portion of its regular meeting to public comment. Prior to designating a formal time for comment, members of the public were allowed to speak only at the invitation of the Board chair.

While only three people in attendance took advantage of the opportunity to speak, Board members received praise for their efforts to improve education, and were also lectured for not taking action in regard to a threat against an employee.

Raymond Shute, program director for RSU 3, and a resident of Brooks, spoke to School Board members about a safety issue that he felt was not handled appropriately by Board members.

Shute, who emphasized that he was speaking as a resident of the district, said he received a threat from a student via email, which was also sent to the school resource officer. Following the threat, Shute said, the Board held an expulsion hearing. During that hearing, Shute said, the Board opted not to take any action, which he felt was in direct violation of the Board’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment.

“The message you sent on [Jan.] 28 was unacceptable,” Shute said. “You took no action.”

Shute continued, saying that even if the Board had voted not to expel the student, the fact that they took the issue to a vote would have sent a message that there are consequences for certain actions. By choosing not to vote, Shute said, the Board in effect said that students can “do whatever they want, wherever they want.”

Phil Shibles, chairman of the RSU 3 Board, thanked Shute for speaking, but did not respond to any of Shute’s comments. Neither any of the other Board members nor Superintendent Heather Perry responded to Shute’s comments at the meeting.

School Board members also heard from Monroe resident April Small and her daughter, Sylvia, a seventh-grader, who discussed the district's implementation of proficiency-based learning. April, who spoke in favor of the proficiency-based education model, noted how her daughter struggled with math prior to the switch to a proficiency-based approach.

April said she watched as her daughter went from struggling with math to understanding the concepts, which in turn led her daughter to start enjoying it.

While April made mostly positive remarks, she did voice a concern that the district was not budgeting enough money for textbooks. April said it is difficult for her as a parent to help her daughter with homework if her daughter doesn’t have a textbook.

Because of time limits, April was asked to conclude her comments in order to give Sylvia a chance to speak.

Sylvia told Board members that she supports the proficiency-based model of learning, but said she is concerned that the standards used to gauge students' proficiency are not clearly explained.

She also explained that she felt there were issues with students' getting stuck on a particular standard and losing motivation to continue working towards higher proficiency because they can't get past a particular standard.

Before Sylvia could finish her comments, however, Shibles closed the public comment period after she and April had used their combined 10-minute speaking time.

Following the public comment portion of the meeting, some Board members raised concerns that more time should have been given to some of the speakers. Thorndike Board member Jesse Hargrove said that when he suggested the public comment policy, he understood there was a need for a time limit. However, he said, he felt that Sylvia should have been given more time to speak.

Jackson Board member Lisa Cooley agreed with Hargrove, who motioned to give Sylvia an additional minute to speak.

However, Shibles raised a concern with allowing speakers additional time to talk.

“I’m concerned about opening Pandora’s box,” Shibles said. “Where do you draw the line?”

The motion to allow additional time passed, and Sylvia was allowed to conclude her statements.

Sylvia concluded her comments by noting that the proficiency-based model of learning is good in some respects, but does not always work for all classes, such as English.

The next RSU 3 meeting is scheduled for March 11 at 7 p.m. at the Mount View complex in room M111.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Go to waldo.villagesoup.com to comment on this story.