FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors Tuesday night approved a new system for evaluating administrators and updates to the district’s language acquisition program.

The new, biannual Administrator Professional Evaluation and Professional Growth system uses the three current evaluation components but alters the weight of each one.

The weight of the superintendent’s evaluations of administrators will increase from 30% to 40%. Student achievement data will decrease from 50% to 20% of the weighted evaluation. The achievement of an administrator’s growth goals will increase from 20% to 40% of the evaluation.

Prior to the vote, board member Debbie Smith expressed concern about the weight of the student data component decreasing.

Mt. Blue Principal James Black, who presented the evaluation system, said student data consistently fluctuates based on changing standards released by the Maine Education Association. He also said it will be particularly difficult to measure student data this year due to the pandemic.

Black added that the system’s component weights match teacher evaluations.

“This also does align with the teacher data, it’s 20% of the teacher’s plan as well. So we tried to model it as closely to the teachers as well,” Black said. 

Board member Jesse Sillanpaa asked why a new evaluation system for administrators was developed.

Superintendent Tina Meserve said the system was in response to the district’s lack of a solid evaluation plan and took one to two years to design.

“So we didn’t really have a system, we just had a set of materials with no timeline or how we were going to score things other than the 30-20-50,” Meserve said, in reference to previous component weights. “It didn’t say what achievement data would be used, it didn’t say when it would be done.”

Board member Doug Dunlap asked how Black became involved in the Administrator Professional Evaluation and Professional Growth’s development.

Black said he’s been working on an educational leadership mentorship under Meserve’s supervision for the past two years and developing the evaluation system was one of his agenda items.

Meserve also said she and Coordinator of Coronavirus Relief Funds Sue Pratt worked on developing the evaluation system.

In another matter, Curriculum Coordinator Laura Columbia presented the board proposed updates to the district’s language acquisition program plan.

The updates include more current terms compared to the 2005 plan, changes on how English language learners are identified, how plans are developed and how a student can access academics and other programming.

“This is about the whole student. It’s not just about the classroom, so this is about extra-curriculars,” Columbia said. “We also go into detail as to how the tests are going to be administered, how we do monitoring and how a student exits the program. If a student has a higher than 4.5 on their test, they can exit the ELL program, but they’ll still be monitored.

Columbia said six elementary school students are identified as English language learners.

Following the board’s first agenda item, an executive session to discuss a personnel matter, public comments were taken. More than 180 Zoom participants listened to parents, teachers, staff members and a former teacher voice ongoing concerns related to Meserve’s leadership, teacher contract negotiations and COVID-19 safety.

Mt. Blue High School teacher Joanna Snell, who serves on the district’s Health and Safety Committee, said that the committee hasn’t met since Aug. 18.

“If faculty input is no longer coming from that committee, where is it coming from?” she asked. “The questions we had about proper ventilation for every space in each school, including bathrooms which are particularly poorly ventilated, have still not been answered adequately, with specifics to different spaces, and we now know that aerosols contribute the most to the spread of the virus. It feels that there is a lack of transparency around safety.”

Parent and All-Sports Boosters President Mike Bolduc said he was appalled that teachers are working without contracts.

“To see the morale the way it is right now and how our teachers are being treated is frankly embarrassing,” he said.

Parent Elizabeth Tracy announced that a community petition showing no confidence in Meserve’s leadership has about 400 signatures. Once the count of signatures is complete, the petition will be sent to board members.

Athletic Director Chad Brackett presented an update to the Maine Principals’ Association policies on winter sports.

The MPA has released sports guidance for schools that states masks must be worn at all times, no spectators are allowed at competitions, and indoor capacity is capped at 50 people and outdoor sport gatherings at 100 people. It has also advised against basketball and cheerleading tournaments. 

The following dates were suggested to begin winter sports:

Dec. 7: Skills and drills (individual exercises and physically distanced)

Dec. 14: Practices and competitions within teams 

Jan. 11: Competition among teams in geographic area 

Brackett said that geographic area is open to people’s interpretation. 

The board will vote Dec. 8 on whether to approve the MPA’s winter sports guidelines and recommendations. The adoption depends on COVID-19 cases decreasing and Franklin County reverting back to a low-risk green zone.

As long as Franklin County remains a yellow zone, all RSU 9 after-school activities are suspended. If the board approves the MPA guidelines, their decision in September to halt competitive sports due to the coronavirus would be reversed.

In other business, the board approved an equipment trade proposal from the Foster Career and Technical Education Center (Foster CTE) so updated equipment can be purchased for the forestry program.

A John Deere 4105 tractor, a Fransgard winch, a Junkkari tractor chipper and a Wallenstein BXT4213 chipper will be traded in for $16,500. The money will be applied toward the $24,325 purchase of a Wallenstein log loader.

“This will be a great improvement to some of our equipment,” center Director Melissa Williams said.

Meserve said the remaining $7,825 of the log loader purchase will be covered by the Perkins grant.

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