Vassalboro Board members discuss dissolution of AOS #92

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members discussed two main topics at their Oct. 17 meeting, the potential dissolution of Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 92 (the school unit combining Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow) and Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) scores for Vassalboro Community School students. The first issue is full of uncertainties; the second pleased them.

AOS Superintendent Eric Haley shared estimated financial consequences if the AOS were to dissolve. Assuming existing funds were divided among the three member school boards in the same proportion as each municipality contributes to school funding, and further assuming Vassalboro were to contract with a remodeled AOS business office in Waterville, Haley projects Vassalboro would gain financially.

Business services, which could be done in-house or by contract with Waterville or some other center, could include payroll, accounts payable, and support for special education, curriculum, transportation, technology and maintenance. Were the AOS to dissolve and were Waterville to become a school business center, some of the AOS staff who currently perform these services might stay on – or might not.

State law proposes creation of regional service centers, known as SMLCs – School Management and Leadership Centers. At a conference earlier this fall, lawyers advised superintendents not to rush to create or join an SMLC, since state law has been known to change.

School board members discussed other assumptions and various leadership combinations. For example, the Vassalboro school might have one person who was both principal and superintendent, or a full-time principal plus a part-time superintendent, with the latter perhaps shared with another town. Any change, Haley said, will require preparation of a plan that is approved by the local school board(s), the state Department of Education and, in Vassalboro, a local referendum. Haley is thinking about a June 2018 referendum vote in Vassalboro, and is also thinking about preparing two 2018-19 budgets, one with and one without the AOS. One change at Vassalboro Community School is certain: Principal Dianna Gram is retiring at the end of the school year.

Gram shared with school board members charts illustrating Vassalboro students’ scores on the MEA tests taken by grades three through eight last spring. In general, scores compare well to neighboring schools’ scores and to state expectations, in both this year’s scores and improvement over last year.

The best score was earned by sixth-graders on the English Language Arts and literacy test: 70 percent scored at or above state expectations. Seventh-graders did almost as well on the same test, scoring 69 percent at or above expectations.

Fifth-graders had the lowest scores in both language and mathematics. Gram suggested possible explanations and plans for further investigation. She reminded board members that each year students move in and out, so there are different students in each grade.

The “state expectations” to which student performance is compared are described on the state Department of Education (DOE) website by phrases like “understanding of essential concepts” and “understanding of knowledge and skills needed to reach learning targets for achievement relative to” Maine standards.

In response to an inquiry, AOS Curriculum Coordinator Mary Boyle forwarded a 300-page DOE report describing how the standards were established by panels of educators following a protocol. The document is “eMPowerME ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Assessment Standard Setting Report,” prepared in August 2016.

School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur congratulated students and staff on the good scores. Gram thanked board members for their support and Boyle for help with curriculum improvement.

In other business, school board members appointed Betty Bowen, of Vassalboro, as a bus driver and accepted the resignation of driver Eric Green, who was praised as “one of the best” by Assistant Principal Aaron McCullough.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Nov. 14, a week earlier than usual because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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