In RSU 20

Superintendent’s pitch for five-year plan draws applause

Bridge program could bring college experience to high schools
By Tanya Mitchell | Aug 23, 2012
Source: File image

Belfast — RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter offered two proposals to the Board of Directors Tuesday, Aug. 14, — one that charts a five-year course for making improvements throughout the district, and another aimed at bringing the college experience to high school students before they graduate.

The draft strategic plan that Carpenter pitched received a particularly warm reception from directors. When Carpenter finished presenting highlights of what the plan could mean for the future of the district and its students, the directors responded with a round of applause.

Carpenter said, when he was hired to the superintendent’s post, directors asked him to put together such a plan, and some directors said they were pleasantly surprised to see he responded to that request so quickly.

But, Carpenter said the plan is a draft and can be altered, depending on what is and isn’t working in the district.

“It’s a good starting point,” Carpenter said.

The proposal includes increasing literacy instruction for children in the range of pre-K to third grade and more literacy support for students in grades six through 12. The intent of such efforts, said Carpenter, is to make sure more students will be proficient in reading, and maintain that proficiency until they graduate.

The plan also includes a directive that the district continue to improve by setting measurable goals, with the broader goal being to move all students forward by offering  “equity and excellence for all.”

Diversifying instructional strategies to make sure teachers are reaching all students and offering a “guaranteed and viable” curriculum to that end, Carpenter said, are some ways the district can reach that goal. But another important part of the plan, Carpenter said, is to continue examining district practices to make sure various efforts toward improvement are indeed working.

“If it’s not working, we’ll get rid of it,” said Carpenter.

The plan also encourages all district staff to engage in regular professional discussions and work to break away from some of the norms in education.

“The status quo doesn’t work,” said Carpenter. “We cannot be reactive; we’ve got to be ahead of the curve.”

Getting there, said Carpenter, will require a drive from all district staff to make the district the best in Maine, one that meets the needs of all students. One recommendation in the superintendent’s mission for achieving that is to follow a state mandate to move all grades, K-12, to a standards-based curriculum.

“With a standards-based curriculum, you know exactly what you have to do to get from point A to point B,” said Carpenter.

But that doesn’t mean a standards-based curriculum will look the same at all of the district schools, said Carpenter, because the students in each school are different.

The plan also suggests drawing in international students to help offset declining enrollments, increase academic competition among students and offer local youths a way to be exposed to other cultures. Providing early college opportunities and internships with local businesses for high school students is another aspect of the plan, said Carpenter.

Immediate goals include recruiting effective educators, encouraging parents and community support for the schools and “building an infrastructure to better support student learning,” and Carpenter reiterated the need for all district staff to maintain a focus on all students' achieving.

To make it happen, though, Carpenter said such a directive needs support from the board and the community, and because of that, it’s not something that will be implemented overnight.

“We’ll need five to six months to do this,” he said, noting that there will be public meetings on the topic, as well as work sessions that will include building principals and the central office staff. “This cannot be my vision. It has to be a community effort.”

When the presentation was over, several directors said they liked the clarity and simplicity of the plan.

“I take my hat off to Brian Carpenter for delivering something of reasonable specificity,” said Director Gerry Reid.

Reid said he particularly liked the directive that called for everyone in the district to “be the best.”

“In the two and a half years I’ve been on the board, I don’t think we’ve ever had a discussion about being the best,” Reid said. “This is about continuous improvement.”

Reid suggested the board plan to discuss the status of the draft plan on a quarterly basis to make sure no one loses sight of the goals stated within it.

Director Dorothy Odell said she liked the idea of increasing literacy support for students, the idea of offering internship opportunities and welcoming more foreign students to the district.

Director Sharon Catus said she liked the thought of giving all students the chance to work toward excellence, and the call for community involvement.

“It spelled out what we’re going to work on,” added Director Dean Anderson. “I look forward to working on this.”

“I just want to stand up and applaud,” said Director Valerie Mank, a comment that moved the directors to give Carpenter a hand for putting the plan together.

Bridge year project

Carpenter brought forth a second proposal he called the 2013-2014 bridge year project plan. The idea was inspired by an ongoing pilot program at Hermon High School, where a partnership with Eastern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Orono is giving 16 high school juniors the chance to earn college credits in a construction management and engineering program while still in high school.

“This is not a fifth-year college program,” said Carpenter.

Instead, Carpenter said, some Hermon High School teachers will offer the college-level courses on-site, and as a result, the participating students will earn both high school and college credits for the courses. The college credits, explained Carpenter, may transferable to other in-state institutions.

Tuesday night, Carpenter sought authorization to join RSU 3 Superintendent Heather Perry, Waldo County Technical Center Director Chris Downing and Hermon-area Superintendent Patty Duran to explore similar partnerships for the RSU 20 high schools with institutions like the University of Maine Hutchinson Center and EMCC.

The aim is to come back to the directors with a formal proposal next spring and to have the program ready for some students to take advantage of in the fall of 2013.

The arrangements that may result from the exploration, Carpenter said, may be similar to what Hermon High School has in place, or might look very different, depending on the agreements that can be reached with local colleges.

Carpenter said such programs help more students realize their academic potential, even those who didn’t initially plan to attend college.

“It gives students the opportunity to see they can do it,” he said.

After some additional discussion, directors agreed to authorize Carpenter to join other local superintendents in further exploring the idea of forming a bridge plan for the local high schools.

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