Vision, communication highlight special meeting
The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor CSD School Committee focused Oct. 23 on the future of Boothbay Region Elementary and High schools. Superintendent Keith Laser reviewed his first 100 days, his schedule, and getting to know the staff and community.
Laser makes a priority of MBWA – managing by wandering around. “That means getting in the schools and getting out in town, meeting with people, leaving my door open and getting people in to just talk to them to understand what the issues are and what the dynamics are in the community," he said.
One result was an anonymous donor's $10,000 check toward a new CNC router for the BRHS science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program, he said, adding, the donation was a refreshing notion for someone to step forward to help fix a problem.
Laser said his impressions from speaking to people is, both BRHS and BRES have spectacular faculty, staff and administrators and a caring community who all help set students up to achieve. He said a technology program Lisa Smith leads helps students focus on 21st century learning, which is especially important as the schools work toward a long-term vision.
However, the facilities often overshadow the schools' opportunities and performance, he said. That detracts from the schools’ merits as a quality institution and dominates administrative and municipal discussion, Laser said.
“I'm continually impressed with the high caliber all across the board of what is in this district. And I get a little testy when somebody challenges us about the schools – some of those folks I've heard that from I've corrected them on the spot and I think they're coming around.”
Teacher Mark Gorey said some of the negatives can do lasting damage to the schools' morale and reputations. The schools could also be doing a better job of communicating their strengths, said Gorey.
“I was dismayed when I heard the president of the Chamber of Commerce say that our schools are deficient without adding any specifics,” Gorey said. “… I think we would welcome knowing how we might improve. It isn't very helpful simply to say that the schools are deficient and then have that word go out and have it cause ripples in the community.”
Committee Chair Larry Colcord said nailing down a vision will likely answer many questions and make a path forward much clearer, especially for keeping parents and community members informed. The school committee hopes to do this when guest speaker Mary Jane McCalmon, former superintendent of Portland Public Schools, presents effective ways of forming long-term visions for school districts. Colcord said he assumes it will result in a committee occupied by many meetings.
“That's the important piece,” said committee member Peggy Splaine. “It should be a committee of parents, of educators, of administrators, of community members, of labor force people … We need all of those people to be part of that – it's not our vision, it's the community's vision.”
Committee Vice Chair Stephanie Hawke asked what the board has been doing in the meantime, and what Laser is doing meeting with community members before a vision for the schools is formed. “What are you selling,” Hawke asked Laser. “You're going to different people … What are you telling them?”
Laser said his conversations have been more of a "listening tour" since the possibility of closing down the schools or building a new one got an unpopular reception.
“Without a vision, I am not going to go out there anymore and say 'We need to do this, we need to this, we need to do this,'” said Laser. “It's up to this group to come up with a vision and that's what I will march toward, but I'm not marching off on my own.”
Laser also said it does not take much to realize how great the students are and how special their learning environment is. The more often people are brought into the schools to see all the work being done, the more quickly the “negativities will evaporate,” said Laser.
Hawke said she does not want to see current students fly under the radar of everyone banding together for a new vision or direction.
“We don't want them to think this is all we're talking about ... I want to make sure they get as much if not more attention because this isn't something that has to be done overnight.”
Laura Perkins, parent of a high school student, agreed, saying she also feels there has been a communication breakdown between the schools’ boards and the parents.
“In the last 100 days and all you guys have just talked about, not one single letter has come home to families currently involved in the school system,” said Perkins. “I mean, how can you be talking to so many community members and not even engage conversations with families?”
Colcord said a vision will help the boards communicate better. He said they do not want to see any students left behind. Moving the schools forward and concentrating on current education are not mutually exclusive; both have to be a high priority, he said.
“We'll always focus on the kids that we have, but we have to focus on the kids of the future also.”
The Board of Trustees meets next at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7. The School Committee meets next at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14. Both meet in the BRHS library.