OAKLAND — Near the end of an emergency board meeting Thursday night, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 18 stood up and took responsibility for what he called failures in the transition to a new learning system.

The meeting, which lasted more than four hours, featured dozens of comments from parents, teachers, students and board members, who at times grew emotional as they described their experiences with mass customized learning, a system that was put into place in many of the district’s schools this year.

Superintendent Gary Smith told the crowd of 200 residents that he was responsible for some implementation problems, and he promised to do better. The meeting at Messalonskee Middle School ended about 11:15 p.m.

“I’ve had a big failure, and I’m going to do my darndest to fix it,” he said.

Smith said he is in the midst of a “listening tour” to each of the school’s buildings to hear concerns from parents, teachers and students about how to improve the implementation of its vision. “I think our vision is much greater than MCL,” he said.

Smith said that, while the board will ultimately decide whether to keep the system in place, slow down the transition, or abandon it altogether, he does have a strong opinion.

“I would implore to them that we continue our work, improve upon our work, and involve as many people as we can to make this work,” he said.

The meeting was requested by a group of parents who are opposed to mass customized learning, an education system that does away with many elements of the traditional American classroom model.

Board member Donna Doucette called for an assessment before the transition to mass customized learning is allowed to proceed. She said she shares parent concerns that questions about the system haven’t been adequately answered by administrators.

“We need to relook at the system, slow it down,” she said. “Why we didn’t implement it alongside the existing system to see what works, I don’t know.”

Mark Hatch, principal at Messalonskee Middle School, said that he wanted to hear from parents who are having a negative experience with the system because it helps him to pinpoint problems that can be addressed.

Board Chairwoman Laura Tracy said that she heard two common themes from the complaints — the first was pace, meaning that students were either allowed to slack off for prolonged periods of time without applying themselves to the work at hand, or those students who completed work so quickly that they had nothing productive to do with their time.

“Pace is expected to be teacher pace or better,” she said. “That is the goal. That is the plan. If it’s not working out that way, that is a problem with the implementation that we are working to address.”

The second concern she heard was with rigor — the idea that students were not being sufficiently challenged under the system.

“This should be very rigorous and very difficult. We’re hearing feedback that it’s not, and that’s something that we need to fix,” she said.

Overall, Tracy asked parents to give the new system a chance to succeed, despite acknowledged deficiencies with the first year of large-scale implementation. Teachers, she said, need more help, time, and training to achieve their full potential.

“I realize the implementation this year has been difficult and challenging in many areas,” she said. “I think we’ve only just begun and it’s difficult to evaluate at this early stage in the game.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

 

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