Madison Area Memorial High School and Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, recently included in a list of 10 persistently low-achieving schools in Maine, will not be getting federal cash to help transform their school programs.

The Maine Department of Education announced Thursday that four other schools, in three school districts, were approved for more than $5 million in federal School Improvement Grant funding for the next three years. The money, according to the department, will “support locally developed plans aimed at improving student achievement.”

The applications from Madison and Newport schools weren’t accepted because they did not meet the grant program’s requirements, according to David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the education department. Each eligible school developed its own plan to use the federal money for professional development, after-school programs and other ideas aimed at improving student achievement.

“Basically, they just didn’t include the level of detail that was neccessary, that the feds expect us to look for, about what specifically they were going to do to improve achievement,” Connerty-Marin said of Madison and Nokomis.

Nokomis applied for $2 million and Madison applied for $529,570. Both schools had proposed a “transformation” plan that called for changing the way material is taught and increasing the amount of time students spend in class.

The education department on April 10 announced a group of 10 schools eligible for the grant program because they met detailed criteria, established by federal guidelines, including below-average proficiency and progress on state testing. The department ranked the averages of the schools’ reading and math SAT scores over the 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Maine high school juniors take the exam as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Schools eligible for the grants were listed by the department in three different tiers, with both Madison and Nokomis placing in tier II. Ultimately, the grant winners were all tier I schools, which were given priority, except for the lone tier III applicant, RSU 24’s Mountain View School, in Sullivan, which also won funding.

Madison and Newport school officials said Thursday they weren’t surprised they missed out on the federal money and said they will push forward with proposed reforms anyway.

“We’re not going to let it faze us,” said Todd LeRoy, the new superintendent of Madison-based School Administrative District 59. “We’re going to do whatever is necessary to make sure our kids get the best education possible. Whatever we do, students are paramount; student learning outcomes are the highest priority.”

LeRoy, because he just started the job last week, said he wasn’t sure how Madison’s application scored and what specific proposals the school will pursue. Generally, though, those proposals will include how lessons are set up and delivered, teacher accountability and student performance, LeRoy said.

Stephan Ouellette, principal of Madison Area Memorial High School, said that the big issue for Madison is math. The district wants to improve math proficiency by providing professional development for its teachers, aligning the curriculum with the Common Core Standards, integrating SAT prep within the classroom and hiring a math specialist.

Ouellette said he’s glad the school applied for the grant. “It’s allowed me to sit and think about a possible vision for our school,” he said.

“Either way, whether we get this grant or not,” Ouellette said, “we’re still moving forward with our ideas because we believe that this is the way to go to improve.”

RSU 19 Superintendent William Braun thinks the lower priority ranking and less funding for the program — just $5 million compared with $13 million the previous year — made it unlikely that Nokomis’s application would be accepted.

Braun pointed to reforms the school will continue to undertake, including a curriculum review through the nonprofit Great Schools Partnership, of Portland. That $50,000 review is being funded through a private foundation grant, Braun said.

Nokomis conducted a literacy assessment last year and has shown progress in math through reforms instituted the last three years, he said. The district has also tapped into its Title I funds — which are directed toward low-income students — to pay for a literacy program audit.

In any case, Nokomis likely won’t make the low-achieving list next year, because student SAT scores have increased by more than 10 percent over this year.

“I attribute that to the work we did last year on literacy and the work the high school did on realigning curriculum,” Braun said. “But we have to continue to address performance — period. I think we’re moving in the right direction. You’d like the extra money to make it a little bit easier, but it’s a work in progress.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]

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