News Feature

Deer Isle
Web exclusive, March 18, 2010
State issues a ‘slap in the face’ to DISHS, as school works to improve
Public meeting scheduled for March 23

Click here to see the full Deer Isle-Stonington High School—Low-Performing School Archive.

by Colin Powell

Despite the possibility of federal money, Principal Todd West of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School said the recent listing of the Island school on a list of the 10 lowest-performing high schools in the state is more like a slap in the face. West said that concern amongst the student body about the state’s designation has centered around whether it will affect their chances at getting into the college of their choice.

“Colleges look at accreditation,” said West in a recent interview, “And we just got back a great accreditation report.”

“This has no impact on the students or the school,” he continued, noting that the greatest impact will be a stigma for people around the state who simply read about the school in a newspaper. “I don’t think that’s fair for either the kids who go through here or the staff that teach them, or the community that contributes a tremendous amount of time and money to the education of these kids,” said West.

The designation of being a low-performing school comes via the federal “Race to the Top” program, which is an incentive-based program for chronically under-performing schools to make large-scale changes to the school administration and staff to turn them around. Schools are given four options to become eligible for a share of $12 million: replace the principal and half the staff; close the school and reopen as a charter school; close the school; or replace the principal and retrain staff members.

Superintendent Bob Webster noted in a recent interview that firing half the staff would likely run afoul of teacher contracts. Maine also has no charter school legislation, and given that the town recently voted down a consolidation plan, Webster said he doubts the towns would vote to close DISHS and send their kids to George Stevens Academy. As for the last option, Webster noted that West was not principal of the school in 2006-07, the first year SAT scores were considered in the state’s list. “It would make sense that this be considered West’s second year,” explained Webster. That would allow him to continue his work of the past two and a half years to improve the school. (See Webster’s guest column.)

Webster is currently working to convene a meeting of the superintendents of the 10 schools listed in the state’s report to find out more about the program. “So far, all I’ve received is a press release and phone call,” said Webster. Among the questions left unanswered are what a school can do to be taken off the list, and whether this is a one-time designation, or the if the school will carry the designation until SAT results rise.

Because the federal program is designed to provide incentives, there is no obligation to participate in the program. The school board could choose to do nothing, forgoing the funds, and continue the work West started to improve the school on their own. “That’s the ironic thing,” said West. “We are already doing 70 to 80 percent of [the principal-replacement plan], and we plan to do the remainder over the next couple of years.”

Still, Webster noted that while an intent-to-file letter is due on April 2, the application for the program is not due until May 5, giving the school board a chance to ask questions and think about the direction they want to take. A public hearing has also been scheduled for Tuesday, March 23, at 6 p.m. in the high school cafeteria to give the people of Deer Isle and Stonington a chance to ask questions as well.