State awards Lewiston’s Montello Elementary $1.8 million for school improvement

The funding from the Maine Department of Education will help transform the struggling school and increase student proficiency, teacher effectiveness and community engagement

LEWISTON – Montello Elementary School will use $1.8 million in new State support to improve student proficiency by double-digit percentages, enhance teacher effectiveness and better engage the community.

The Maine Department of Education announced its award Thursday to the struggling Lewiston school, which joins 10 others across the state – including the Governor James B. Longley School also in Lewiston – that have received significant funding since 2010 through the federal School Improvement Grant program (SIG) to initiate intensive reforms that advance student achievement. 

“Education is the great equalizer,” said Governor Paul R. LePage, whose rise from poverty began in a Lewiston parochial school. “These reforms will ensure Montello students – many of them first generation Americans – have access to the quality education they deserve and the opportunity to pursue the prosperity this great state and country has to offer.”

Montello is among Maine’s lowest achieving schools, with proficiency levels in all subjects well below district and state averages. The school received an “F” on its State report card last month and in 2011-2012, only 40.6 percent of its students were proficient in math and reading, a decrease of almost 10 percent from just three years before.

With 84.2 percent of the school’s 710 students eligible for free or reduced lunch and 37.7 percent of them English language learners – up from less than 2 percent just a decade ago – Lewiston Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Sue Martin wrote in the application that Montello’s performance is “understandable but not acceptable.”

Under the leadership of new principal James Cliffe, who starts July 1, schools officials intend to turn their struggles into successes over the three-year grant, using a transformation model of intervention that requires  comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and other locally-set strategies.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said SIG complements Maine DOE’s larger commitment to school improvement, spurred by the results of the recent A-F school grades. Other supporting efforts include the launch of a Center for Best Practice, a new school improvement webinar series and a technical assistance plan to help districts graduate every student prepared.

“Many Maine schools will be able to make improvements by better focusing existing resources. But for a school with significant challenges like Montello, this funding is a catalyst for great change in student aspirations and achievement, and as important, school culture,” Bowen explained. “They have a rigorous process ahead and I applaud them for their willingness to step up and commit to doing the hard work that will be so meaningful to their students, educators and the Lewiston community. This process isn’t about simply turning a page – it’s about writing a new book.”

With the State support, Montello will increase monthly paid-time professional development for teachers from 5.5 hours to a minimum of 10 hours; provide at least 2.5 hours of professional development a month for ed techs; hire a literacy coach, reading specialist, mental health counselor and five additional ed techs; and invest in new curriculum, data management systems and classroom technology.

The school will also give students more learning time and further foster a community-oriented school culture by opening an additional Pre-K classroom (two sessions daily) starting in 2014; providing 120 hours of extended day programming and 100 hours of extended year programming; and adding another day of parent conferences.

School leaders believe those targeted efforts will improve the school’s state report card grade – increasing reading and math proficiency by 8 percent annually.

“I am thrilled to learn that Montello Elementary School has been awarded a School Improvement Grant,” said Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent Bill Webster.  “This grant will allow us to improve student learning through extending the school day, extending the school year and providing additional resources for students and teachers.  I have no doubt that within the three-year grant period we will see significant improvements in student outcomes by whatever measure one uses.  We are ready to get to work!”

Chief Academic Officer Martin will act as the grant coordinator, and worked with school and district staff, parents, and business and community partners to develop the grant application.

A total of 11 schools were eligible to apply for the funding because they met federal guidelines, including below-average proficiency and progress on state testing but only one other – Sacopee Valley High School in RSU 55 – actually did. That school’s application was strong, but the program prioritizes Title I schools, which Sacopee Valley High School is not.

For more information about the School Improvement Grant program or Maine DOE’s school improvement efforts, visit www.maine.gov/education/nclb/school_improvement.

-END-

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