Town of Rome, Maine

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RSU 18 Rome Director's April 2019 Update

Update in pdf


 This note reflects exclusively my personal perspective as your Rome Town RSU 18 School Director. It in no way or manner represents the perspective of the Superintendent or the School Board. I am speaking strictly for myself in order to provide you with information. You are encouraged to access the RSU 18 web site and to contact the Superintendent for information.


Important:

Wednesday May 1 Messalonskee Middle School 7 PM school budget hearing

Thursday May 16 Messalonskee High School 6 Pm Public School Budget hearing (& vote!)

 

Everyone,


It’s budget time again. I support the 2019/2020 school budget. However it has implications for us in Rome.


First – academic performance of the entire district has been improving. We are not where we want to be, however there are good signs that the Administration, under Superintendent Carl Gartley, is driving educational excellence hard. They may indeed be able to ultimately make RSU 18 one of the academically leading school districts in Maine. It is going to take time, but we seem to be on the right path. That would be very meaningful for our Rome students and their future lives! Academic excellence is important for their future lives & careers.


In that light, and consistent with the money in the recent bond issue for fire safety upgrades, building maintenance tasks and the new athletic fields, the proposed budget increase as a whole is 2.83%. So that increase is reasonable.


Interestingly, from the state DOE website, the student numbers in Rome (which is the data the RSU uses for all towns) for the last 4 years has been


FY 16  132.5 students

FY 17  121 students

FY 18  130 students

FY 19  140 students


So Rome has had a 19 student increase over the past two years (a 16% increase).


For Rome, because our student count has gone up, because our relative property valuations seem to be increasing versus the other four towns and because of how the “additional local funds” are allocated (75% by property valuation, 25% by student count) I calculate that our taxes will increase by 12.4% versus last year.


So that is a bit of an increase. However curiously much of our tax burden is carried by nonresident lake front property owners. I have heard a variety of numbers thrown around but it seems maybe up to 80% of the total town taxes are paid by nonresident lake front property owners.


I think the school district is worth the money. I support this budget.


But you have a chance to speak on May 1 and vote on May 16. There ultimately is a district wide formal vote but the time to impact things is right now. Wednesday May 1 and Thursday May 16 are your opportunity.


Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


 Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

acook@rsu18.org


RSU 18 Rome Director’s February 2019 update

Update in pdf


This note reflects exclusively my personal perspective as your Rome Town RSU 18 School Director. It in no way or manner represents the perspective of the Superintendent or the School Board. I am speaking strictly for myself in order to provide you with information. You are encouraged to access the RSU 18 web site and to contact the Superintendent for information.


The Governance meeting is at 6pm on Thursday March 7 at the Middle School. Come and be heard.


Positives:

  1. Academics – The Chief Academic officer, Keith Morin, is proposing to increase our total mathematics support for all the schools by 1.5 full time equivalent people (FTE) and increasing our total educational support coaches by one full time person for a net FTE increase of 2.5.
    1. To quote Mr. Morin, “Whether it is the NWEA scores or the MEA scores or whatever scores you chose, we have to improve our overall mathematics achievement for all the students.”
    2. I agree. I told him I would support and encourage an increase of 7.5 FTEs in mathematics. This is a critical life skill and we are well behind as compared to what the State considers to be “proficient.”
    3. Our high school Mathematics team under the coaching of faculty member Nick Hart scored 256 points in their third “meet”, far and away above the next closest school Waterville with a score of 213.
  2. Belgrade Central upgrades - the work on Belgrade Central School has gone out for bid. The plan is to get this work completed this summer. It includes improving the drop off area.
  3. The Board – I see many members of the school board being very active (and speaking up) in the school/board concerns. This is wonderful. Special kudos to Rebecca Seel of Belgrade, Cathy McKelway of Belgrade, Dawn Castner of China and Karen Hatch-Gagne of Sidney.

 

Areas for consideration:

  1. The 2019/2020 budget – is underway. As part of that we got a verbal report at our last board meeting by Cheryl Mercier, Director of RSU 18 Special Education Services. Cheryl shared this information to let the board know of the special education challenges our schools experience. It was an eye opener for me.  
  2. The Governance meeting is at 6Pm on Thursday March 7 at the Middle School. Selectmen from the five towns will be there. You are welcome. Please join us. Come and be heard.

Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.

 Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!

Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

acook@rsu18.org

RSU 18 Rome Director’s December 2018 update

Update in pdf


This note reflects exclusively my personal perspective as your Rome Town RSU 18 School Director. It in no way or manner represents the perspective of the Superintendent or the School Board. I am speaking strictly for myself in order to provide you with information. You are encouraged to access the RSU 18 web site and to contact the Superintendent for information.


Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone. We have a little time off from school. A key goal is to bring our students back to school in January in the same good shape they are in now.


So have fun and be vigilant as regards safety.

 

Positives:

  1. Academics – The Chief Academic officer, Keith Morin, and our Superintendent, Carl Gartley, continue a high level of focus on the district’s students’ academic performance. This is a big positive. We are spending at least 15 minutes, sometimes ½ an hour, at board meetings on academics, academic issues, metrics and successes.  One of the board’s key assignments is monitoring, evaluating and reporting the results of the educational program. We are doing that with ever increasing vigor. I am hoping we will see metrics reported at every board meeting.

  2. Attendance – a key topic for our school to improve our students’ success is getting them to school. All the schools are closely monitoring attendance and “truancy.” If students are truant parents are being advised and asked to assist. This will ensure their children get a first class RSU 18 education.
    1. Our absences and truancies are much below where we were last year and in the past.
    2. The educators tell us that a key indicator of education and life success – is attendance – at school. So we are making progress on this key indicator.
    3. And it is being reported as a metric by school at every board meeting. One area of challenge is our high school students, especially seniors. That for sure is no time for anyone to drop the ball. If you have run the football 99 yards, it is that last yard that makes a touchdown. Let’s get every Rome student over the graduation touchdown line.

  3. Mathematics – we have a mathematics team extracurricular activity under the leadership of faculty members Nick Hart and Stacy Hart. In a recent “meet” they took first with a score of 256 points. The next closet district was Waterville with 213 points and then Skowhegan with 112. There were seven neighboring school in the meet. So this is a very impressive success.

  4. Bond issue, safety, energy efficiency and the new athletic fields - The Superintendent reported that of the $13.9M bond issue (that we all voted on and approved) 34% has been spent. The balance (~$9M) is literally in the bank. Here is the good report:
    1. 60 of the 80 “fire safety” improvements identified by the State Fire Marshall’s office have been resolved. This is excellent work by the RSU leadership (Carl and his team). The remaining 20 projects are planned to be done in 2019 (i.e. replacing one of the China schools sheet rock with a more fire retardant version). This whole effort is a big deal. The fire safety topics were identified by the facilities committee (co-chaired by our First Selectman Richard LaBelle) which convened in 2015. The fact that the upgrades are being done may never be fully appreciated by us since it is all about preventing fires and preventing the children, faculty and staff from experiencing injury or death. But the improvements are worthwhile for that very reason. These improvements are wonderful – and it is all because of the bond!
    2. The $2.9M Energy efficiency contract has been awarded and 46% of the work has been done. This is also positive. We have better lighting, more flexible lighting options, and better heating and lower electric power and fuel bills. Good deal. Again, it is all because of the bond.
    3. Facilities improvement projects – there are many improvement projects yet to go (i.e. upgrading the Belgrade Central School drop off and pick up area). These projects need increased attention. The RSU leadership is committed to completing them. About 10% of this work has been done. We have asked the Superintendent to get us a list of the planned projects’ expected completion dates.
    4. Athletic fields – The Superintendent has committed (and recommitted) that this project will come in on the $3.9M budget. Substantial work has been completed. The contractor will install the final surfaces when warm weather returns. Good progress – again all a result of the bond.

Areas for consideration:

  1. The 2019/2020 budget - We are in that cycle again. You can impact the budget by getting involved up front.
    1. Join us for the budget works shops on March 26 march 27 (6 pm) at the Middle school. Be heard.
    2. Sometimes I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. We need more of us to speak up for educational quality. And that means having enough money in the budget to keep the children safe, and to hire the very best faculty we can get and retain them.
    3. It’s all about academic excellence. Excellent schools mean people and businesses will move to our area. If they come here our tax base will broaden and more jobs will be created. So academically excellent school drive economic and tax base success for all our towns.

  2. Even if you don’t have children in the schools – come. Your life experience and knowledge are invaluable in the budget setting process.

  3. Come on down – I hope to see you there and more importantly hear you speak! If you want help or facts to prepare for your words, give me a call.

Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

acook@rsu18.org

RSU 18 Rome Director’s update

Update in pdf

This note reflects exclusively my personal perspective as your Rome Town RSU 18 School Director. It in no way or manner represents the perspective of the Superintendent or the School Board. I am speaking strictly for myself in order to provide you with information. You are encouraged to access the RSU 18 web site and to contact the Superintendent for information.


Update:

Our youngest daughter got married in September (she was our last one - they are all married now!) As result I was a little tied up. So I apologize for my delay in getting out my usual monthly update. The result is that there is a lot here this time. 


Positives:

  1. Academics - There is an ever increasing amount of time spent at the Board level on the district’s academic performance. This is a big positive. At our Board “retreat” we had a speaker from the Maine School Management Association (Steven Bailey, Executive Director). He emphasized the important role of the board in setting the big picture vision. He encouraged the board to be “data savvy.” He reinforced for us that one of our key assignments is “monitoring, evaluating and reporting the results of the educational program.”

  2. In that light kudos are due to our Assistant Superintendent/Chief Academic officer Keith Morin for the focused reports he is providing on academics at every board meeting. He is increasing our focus on metrics and their trends. He is helping us to become “data driven.” This is a huge step forward from when I started on the board in 2015 when we rarely discussed academic performance.

  3. More academics - In that light the State just released the results of the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) test the Maine public school students took last year. The results for RSU 18 are a cautiously positive. That is, in Reading the district has successfully returned to (and is sustaining) performing at the State average level of proficiency. We were well above State average in 2010 but then suffered are decline for four years. We seem to have recovered at least to State average (more on this below).

  4. And more - The situation is the same in mathematics. We were performing better than the State average in 2010 but then took a sustained dip for 6 years. This year have we recovered back to the State average and we are showing a track record of continuous improvement year by year.

  5. So kudos to the current administration led by Carl Gartley and to the faculty for the recovery they have succeeded in implementing. We are not yet back to the good position we were in in 2010 but we seem to be on the upward track. The charts we were provided are shown at the end of this report.

  6. Keith Morin, our Chief Academic Officer,  is forming teams of faculty members, education coaches and administration members to address the MEA and NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) results to determine what we could do differently both programmatically and instructionally to cause continued improvement in our student’s scores and hence their life success.

  7. MMTC and “trade” skills - An academic, college bound education is not ideal for everyone. In fact, despite my many academic degrees (B.A., M.S. Ph.D., MBA and more) a key gap in my education was the basics of welding, metallurgy, wood work and basic electrical knowledge. This hurt me in my career as I moved into experimental physics and then on into nuclear engineering. The Mid Maine Technical Center (MMTC) appears to be a premier opportunity for students to gain fundamental skills and knowledge in these “hands on” areas. We recently were shown the MMTC audio-visual-communications career area – it is nothing like we recall from our days. These students make first class, professional TV and radio news worth stories and videography. Some have gone on to take premier video story, news and movie creation positions in our State. I was impressed.

  8. MMTC participation - Our high school has consistently had about 11.5% of its students attend MMTC. This year our participation jumped to 15%. Of the 91 of our students who attended MMTC last year 67 earned industry “Board “certifications. That means they earned a license (e.g. in nursing) or a certification (e.g. in welding). This is good. Curiously it is not common knowledge but several basic “trade” skills are much in demand. Traveling industrial pipe welders can earn salaries in the $100k/yr range.

  9. Extracurricular - We were also informed that of the 713 students in our high school 500 are involved in extracurricular clubs and sports – an impressive turnout. And we were advised by our staff that we appear to be meeting our “Title 9” responsibilities in terms of providing opportunities for all the students.

  10. CNA - Chief Academic Officer Keith Morin and the faculty recently completed the mandated “comprehensive needs assessment (CNA).” They observed a continued need to focus on increasing our student’s achievement in English Language arts, mathematics and science. This observation and focus is great – they know what needs to be done. Curiously one of the key challenges (the #1 challenge) they identified in achieving this focus is student attendance.

  11. Attendance is important - Yep – if the students are not in school it is hard for them to learn. It was surprising for me to learn that last year 20% of our students were “truant.” Truant is defined by the State to mean:
    1. A student aged 7 or above who hadn’t completed 6th grade and had 5 or more consecutive unexcused absences
    2. A student aged 7 or above who hadn’t completed 6th grade and had 7 or more cumulative unexcused absences.
    3. A student who completed 6th grade but was not yet 17 and had 7 or more consecutive unexcused absences. Or
    4. A student who had completed 6th grade but was not yet 17 and had 10 or more cumulative unexcused absences

  12. So there is an effort (a good one) by the administration, school principals and faculty to help students and families ensure our students are getting to school. This is great!

  13. The RSU 18 Comprehensive need assessment team has set four specific goals for the district. The first is attendance, the second is on data informed instruction, the third is on “response to intervention” and the fourth is on “family engagement.“ I am very, very heartened by these goals and this analysis. Well done. If you would like a copy I have it as does Keith – it is well worth the read.

Areas for consideration:

  1. MEA - We should not be heartened by our overall MEA test scores. The State average for reading (we were told) is that 47% of the students in the State (and RSU18) are performing at a level that the State considers to “meet or exceed” proficiency. That means over half of the students in the State and the RSU are not “proficient” in reading as defined by the State Department of Education.

  2. Even less heartening - In mathematics the situation is of greater concern. The State and RSU average proficiency is 38%.This means that 62% of the RSU 18 students are considered to be below the proficiency standard in mathematics set by the State.

  3. Needless to say these scores (the relatively low RSU and State performance against “proficiency”) are a concern for us all. We for sure want to be sure our students get the very best start in life we can afford. And for sure basic capability in reading and mathematics form a foundation for all their life’s work going forward. At one time RSU 18 was one of the academically leading school districts in the State. That is a place we in Rome aspire to see the RSU return to. We seem to be on the road but we still have quite a distance to go. 


Other topics:

  1. Scholarship funds - We continue to pursue how our “scholarship” funds are being invested. There is a substantial amount of scholarship funds people have donated over the years (on the order of $500,000). Regrettably those funds have been allowed to earn at a low rate of interest (on the order of 1%.) This low return on investment means the earned return available for scholarships and donated funds work (the dental effort) are modest.
  2. When this became visible the Administration undertook an effort to determine how we invest these funds, according to what criteria and should we reconsider our investment strategy. We look forward to a report soon. Hopefully we can gain agreement to earn a better return on these funds and hence provide more substantial scholarship awards (and more dental care) to our students.


Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

acook@rsu18.org

RSU 18 Rome $13.9M bond/debt update

This update has been removed.
In compliance with the Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), copies of this
document may be requested through the Board of Selectmen.

Rome Student Enrollment in RSU 18