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Finding Opportunities to Make a Difference

Linda St. AndreLinda St. Andre is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in school turnaround.

The success of a Turnaround School depends on many people. I am proud to be an advocate for change and have always enjoyed the challenge of innovation. However, I realize that no meaningful change in education is the result of one person’s work.

Governor James B. Longley Elementary School in the heart of downtown Lewiston, Maine has a diverse population of about 325 students. Over 98 percent of them are economically disadvantaged. Sixty-five percent are immigrants, the majority from Somalia. About half of the students are English language learners in various stages of language acquisition. One hundred percent of them deserve the best education possible.

Two years ago, I was asked by my superintendent to serve as principal at Longley, which had been identified as one of Maine’s lowest performing schools. The district was in the process of accepting a School Improvement Grant to implement the turnaround model at the school. It was a huge undertaking as well as an exciting opportunity to make a difference.

Much of the first year of our grant was spent developing common understandings. A school leadership team was formed. A course of action was set. Routines and schedules were adjusted. We implemented a positive approach to teaching school behavioral expectations to our students. Teachers learned how to use data from newly adopted assessments to design differentiated instruction based on Common Core standards.

Professional development was a major first step in our endeavor. We added a literacy coach and a math coach to the staff, partnered with the University of Maine to provide graduate courses in literacy, and provided teachers with the time to collaborate with the coaches and their colleagues on a regular basis. Professional development at Longley truly became job-embedded.

Monthly schoolwide assemblies build a strong sense of community in our school. We celebrate our accomplishments, enjoy student performances, and cheer for our favorites in the student versus staff challenges. Longley is a No Excuses University. Every student knows they are capable of college graduation. Children are taught that they can succeed and are in charge of their own futures. The assemblies are the time for students to wear their college garb and remember their goals.

In year two, we implemented literacy and math workshop models of instruction at all grade levels. Teachers took ownership of assessments, data analysis, and selecting interventions for students. We developed a mentor program for new teachers. The district added an assistant principal to our staff who successfully focused on student behavior, special education and further developing relationships with parents. 

 The most recent change we’ve implemented has been the addition of our summer program. Its purpose is to halt the regression that happens for so many of our students over the summer. We offered the six week program to all students. Over half of them registered. Kindergarteners and first graders received instruction in literacy and math. In grades 2 through 6, students participated in a tutoring program in which older students tutored younger ones in literacy. Weekly field trips were an incentive. Students were given new experiences to build background knowledge and practice social skills. Our school library was open during summer school hours allowing students daily access to checking out books.

In the upcoming school year, we will increase the student school day by 30 minutes, resulting in 87.5 more hours of instruction during the school year for all Longley students. Additionally, an alternate work day for some support staff will allow another 30 minutes for more interventions after school.

There is still much work to do, but I marvel at what has been accomplished in two years. None of it would be possible without the dedicated staff at Longley, the support of district personnel, the help from community partners, the trust of the parents, and our smart, eager students. I am humbly honored by my selection as a Champion of Change. I accept it on behalf of all of them, the champions who work hard alongside me each day.

Linda St. Andre is the principal of Governor James B. Longley Elementary School, Maine’s first turnaround school.