South Portland hopes to 'renew' struggling school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — School administrators are plotting a makeover for the way education is delivered at Kaler Elementary School.

They’re calling it The Kaler Renewal. And the goal is to take a project-based, interdisciplinary approach to learning to better engage students before the school lands on a state watch list.

Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin said officials will present the new vision and mission for Kaler at the School Board’s Jan. 10 meeting.

If the board agrees, administrators will begin building new programs that can be implemented for the 2011 school year.

The change is being driven by low scores on state assessment tests, where low-income and special education students have failed to meet state standards in either math or reading in recent years.

Godin said the school, unlike Skillin Elementary School, is not on the state’s improvement list. That occurs when a group of students fails standard assessments for two consecutive years.

“We’re not doing horrible,” she said. “(But) the federal guideline continues to increase and Kaler continues to struggle with that.”

Godin said Skillin is in its second year as a continuous improvement school and must follow a detailed action plan to provide targeted support to struggling students.

Godin said special education and low-income students at Kaler students have not met standards in math and reading for several years, but not in the same subject for two years in a row.

“What we’re seeing is we’re going back and forth. You can’t do that for long until you’re identified as school in continuous improvement,” Godin said. “So we’re trying to jump in before that happens.”

According to a presentation by Kaler Principal Diane Lang, student attendance is a concern at Kaler, as is a negative community perception about the school. The school’s “climate” is also a concern to staff and teachers.

Godin said the renewal is an attempt to re-engage students at Kaler, which has the highest percentage of low-income and special education students in the city.

According to information supplied by the district, more than 53 percent of Kaler’s 233 students received free or reduced-cost lunch, while 28 percent are classified as special education students.

Those percentages are higher than Skillin, South Portland’s largest elementary school, where just under 53 percent of its 415 students are low income and 16 percent are in special education.

It’s too early in the process to detail changes, Godin said, but the new educational model being considered for Kaler may involve more hands-on, interdisciplinary and project-based learning, focusing on strong community connections.

“If the board is in approval, we will move ahead with specifics,” she said. “There’s been talk of opening up slots so students from other schools could come to Kaler, but all of those specifics would be determined once the board approves this vision.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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