PARIS — Maine School Administrative District 17’s school board unanimously approved a three-year strategic plan Monday following its presentation by Superintendent Heather Manchester.
This marks the first time since 2013 that SAD 17 has updated its overall mission for educating its 3,200 students. The process of overhauling the plan started about five years ago but was derailed by the pandemic and a period of instability caused by a leadership void between former Superintendent Rick Colpitt’s retirement and Manchester’s ascension to the position from her previous position as curriculum director.
Much of what directors approved during their Monday night board meeting had already been put in practice districtwide. The vote formalizes strategies and sets benchmarks to measure achievement of its overall mission.
The strategic plan rests upon what officials have identified as the district’s four main pillars: healthy and resilient students; maximize facilities to promote learning; recruit, retain and grow talent; and rigorous relevant learning.
At the core of the first pillar is solving what became a national problem during the pandemic: chronic absenteeism, which is defined as a student missing 10% or more days during their enrollment. With an academic year stretching across 175 days of classes, a student missing more than 17 is considered chronically absent.
During the 2018-19 school year 23.8% of Oxford Hills students were considered chronically absent. That rate climbed to 54.59% in 2021-22 and dropped to 42.33% last year. The three-year plan calls for the rate to decrease to 32% of the overall student population.
The district has implemented teams for each school that track student attendance and have been charged with developing ways to to engage individuals who are chronically absent, including support to their families.
Other measures being carried out include expansion of positive behavioral intervention and supports strategies in all schools, implementing updated safety and building security guidelines and a focus on ensuring more students can report they have adults they are able to count on.
Maximizing facilities to promote learning is being addressed through building renovation and construction plans for West Paris elementary students, middle school students districtwide, at Roberts Farm in Norway, as well as expanded portable space in Otisfield and infrastructure improvements in SAD 17 schools.
A new middle school will allow for sixth grade students to transition to the junior high level from elementary school, putting those students in a education setting on par with other districts in Maine.
Goals for recruitment, retention and professional development have been set for teachers in SAD 17 as well as support staff. The strategic plan calls for an increase of teachers working in the district from 69% to 75% of current staff. Goals for support staff retention are to increase three or more year tenures from 61% to 70%.
Goals for student learning will target increasing success rates for students at the middle school level from 60% to 70%, and for high school freshmen and sophomores from 88% to 92%.
Targets have also been set to improve math test assessments from 48% to 55 and literacy test assessments from 42% to 50%. Teachers are receiving an emphasized math curriculum support districtwide this year.
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