April 07, 2020

`Action guide’ applauds PCHS > School’s reform efforts recognized

GUILFORD — The reform efforts under way to raise student performance at Piscataquis Community High School have been chronicled in a national publication called “Raising the Standard: An Eight-Step Action Guide for Schools and Communities.”

Piscataquis Community High School in SAD 4 was one of five schools in the nation to be included in a book co-written by Denis P. Doyle, an internationally known education writer, and Susan Pimentel, a nationally recognized expert and consultant on academic standards, for the Coalition for Goals 2000.

“I think it’s always nice when people from other places in the country recognize the hard work and efforts by so many different people that work in our school system, and obviously that wouldn’t occur without the level of support from the school board and the community,” SAD 4 Superintendent Norman Higgins said Monday.

While he admitted that it was nice to be acknowledged for the things that are going well, Higgins said the district must continue to address issues in the school system such as student performance and the district’s emphasis on reading achievement.

“Because somebody says you’re doing a good job doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement,” he said.

In their publication, Doyle and Pimentel use their experience in the field to tell the reform stories of schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Beaufort, S.C.; Red Clay, Del.; Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Guilford. The action guide, which is accompanied by a CD-ROM, is written not only for schools and school districts, but also for parents, business and civic leaders who want to move beyond setting standards to implementing them, according to Leslye A. Arsht, president of the Coalition for Goals 2000.

Doyle said Monday that PCHS is an “extraordinarily interesting district, and it represents one extreme of American life, that is to say, poor, remote rural and highly accomplished, which is an unusual combination.”

The selection of these schools was not because they were considered the best five school systems in the country, but because they are examples of five schools attempting to improve learning opportunities for students, according to Higgins. “While each of us

different, we have a lot in common,” he said.

The new standards implemented at PCHS included tougher courses. High school students today are taking demanding mathematics, science and English courses, as well as foreign languages and the arts. And, according to Higgins, the change had worked. He said the current senior class had the highest public school score in the Maine Educational Assessment test in the state in reading this year.

“The MEA is one good benchmark, but it’s certainly not the only one method of evaluating the effectiveness of the school,” he said.

Doyle’s selection of PCHS came as no surprise to some SAD 4 officials. He had focused on the school in another book he co-wrote, “Reinventing Education.”

Higgins said Doyle had visited the high school on three occasions to observe the reform efforts and to talk with staff about changes that have been made in the district. At that time, Higgins was principal at the high school and had served with Doyle on the National Commission of Time and Learning. Doyle also served on the RJR Nabisco Foundation board, which gave PCHS a grant of $750,000 several years ago.

“Raising the Standard” is the product of two years of work and was produced under a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, according to Arsht.

“By highlighting both the process and content of actual reform efforts, we hope to persuade other communities that they can do it too,” she said.

The Coalition for Goals 2000 Inc. is a 5-year-old, nonprofit alliance of national organizations devoted to grass-roots education reform, Arsht said.

“Our mission has been to provide information and tools to people in communities who are trying to improve their schools,” she said. “We set out to try to help people, one, better understand the issues so they can be informed participants, and then actually help them achieve the goals they set for themselves.”

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