Summertime, A Time for Learning


Upcoming Important Dates

Monday, August 31 – 6th Graders’ first day of school
Tuesday, September 1 – First day for 7th & 8th Graders
Friday, September 4 – No School
Monday, September 7 – Labor Day Holiday, No School

Student Placement

We have taken quite a few phone calls and emails regarding the placement of your kids on teams for the coming year, although not more than in the years past. It is always good to review the process we use in assigning students to their new teams and our reasons why we do it.

We have three academies teams at each grade level, each grade has a 4-person team and a 2-person team. The 7th and 8th grade have a 3-person team and the 6th grade, for the first time in several years have two 4-person teams, the result of a dramatic increase in the number of 5th graders coming from the elementary schools.

Our goal is to create teams at each grade level that are very similar in make up as the entire grade. We consider things like the proportion of males to females, the number of students receiving Special Education services, the number of students who receive services through our Gifted and Talented Program and students who have demonstrated behavioral issues in the past few years. We examine the results of the students NWEA assessments given during the current school year and the results of NECAP scores in previous years. This information helps us to make sure that we distribute all sorts of learners to each team.

We also ask parents fro  information on their children. You may remember that many of you completed a form (online this year for the first time!) answering, in a “million words or less”, questions about what your child found challenging in the current year, what your concerns are for your child in the coming year and anything that you wanted to tell us about your child as a learner.

We finally asked the current year teachers about the make-up of the teams. We asked if they noticed any combinations that may create a problem, should we pair students with another students, because they work well together. We also asked if their was anything that they saw in the teams that should be addressed.

Then we assigned the students to teams.

As you can imagine, this is a very tedious, human-intensive process, and we are bound to make mistakes or miss something. However, once the teams are created, it becomes very difficult to make changes, not impossible, but very difficult. The district has devised a protocol for making changes that all schools must follow. In order to make changes, one of these conditions must exist:

    1. Prior negative experience with a particular teacher and your child
    2. Prior negative experience with a teacher and a sibling,
    3. Significant conflict with a particular student (“significant meaning restraining order, protection for abuse, etc.)
    4. Relative or close friend or neighbor which could cause discomfort in the relationship.

As a final caveat to this protocol, we always have several students move out of the district and several students move into the district. Remembering that we want all of the teams to be a microcosm of the entire grade level, we will re-examine the team make-up in late August to see if adjustments need to be made. We will then call folks who have expressed interest in changing their child’s team, but do not meet any of the above conditions to see if they still want a change. Then we try our best to accommodate s many requests as we can.

Student Supply Lists

During the step up day, back in June, each team gave their new students a list of the supplies that they School Supplieswill need for the coming year. Now, I don’t think for a minute that these lists actually made it out of every student’s backpack. I want to encourage each of you to wait before you head out to Staples or Walmart to purchase each of the items on the list that probably never made it home.

We will post on our web site the lists for each team, but, I promise you, your child will not need all of the supplies on the first day of school! My hope is that we can be a bit more judicious with our list and try to reduce the cash layout for parents!

The Gift of Failure and What is “Grit”

Over the summer months, I have been fortunate to have some of the good people I follow on Twitter offer some very interesting ideas on the work that we do with our kids.

gift of failureJessica Lahey is a parent, a middle school teacher and an author who regularly contributes to the New York Times, Altlantic and is seen occasionally on the TODAY Show, as well as Vermont Public Radio. She writes about her experiences with her kids and her students. Of the many people I follow on Twitter, she regularly offers the most sound and reasonable advise in how to deal with our kids who are at a very vulnerable and precarious stage in their young lives. I value each and every morsel of information she offers because it is based in reality and not coming from the theoretical lab.

She has authored a new book called The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. The book is expected to be released later in August and it is available on Amazon for pre-purchase.

This is from the back cover of the book:

Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents now rush to school to deliver forgotten assignments, challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher, journalist, and parent Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well-being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

Everywhere she turned, Lahey saw an obvious and startling fear of failure—in both her students and in her own children. This fear has the potential to undermine children’s autonomy, competence, motivation, and their relationships with the adults in their lives. Providing a clear path toward solutions, Lahey lays out a blueprint with targeted advice for handling homework, report cards, social dynamics, and sports. Most important, she sets forth a plan to help parents learn to step back and embrace their children’s setbacks along with their successes.

I offer this information, not as an indictment on our communities parenting skills, but as a reminder that our kids are just that, KIDS! That means they will sometimes (some more than others) be forgetful. They will, in act, make mistakes and sometimes do things that we find absolutely inconceivable! But, they are still kids.

It also means that our teachers need to remember this as well, our kids are kids, prone to mistakes and failures as we work with them.

Joe Bower was a classroom teacher in a Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, middle school.More recently, he has left the traditional classroom to teach at a local hospital in Red Deer providing short term crisis stabilization and inpatient assessments  to children under the age of 18 who present a wide-range of mental heath related difficulties. (

Joe is a prolific blogger on education issues facing his school and his Province. He writes about a wide-range of issues that impact education.

In his blog… for the love of learning… dated December 12, 2013 and entitled, let them eat grit:four reasons why grit is garbage, he does a great job of dispelling our misguided ideas that our kids who areJoe Bower struggling only need to “buck up”, “stiffen their back”, “don’t give up” in order to succeed in school.

Joe does a great job of identifying those students we claim “need to show more grit” in order to succeed. He puts it this way:

When pundits call for more grit and resiliency, they aren’t talking about all children. No one is demanding that high-scoring students show more grit. When people call for more grit they are talking about the low scorers — and we know the low scorers tend to be children who are English language learners, special needs, living in poverty, suffering from mental health problems or are for complex reasons generally difficult to educate.

And, when we truly think about the kids we want to demonstrate more grit, he is spot on! Sure, we have a lot of students who appear to be from wonderful families, and they are, but we don’t know what happens when our kids leave school each day.

But the most important takeaway from this post by Joe are these words:

 Challenging one’s own practices and system priorities can be tough but nothing will ever change and schools will never improve as long as we place all the responsibility for change and improvement on students and schools.

Think about this. We spend a great deal of time in test preparation and angst about the results of standardized testing. We write, and re-write, curriculums to align with the Common Core State Standards or the Next Generation Science Standards or the myriad of other mandated standards aimed at our students, and then lament that they aren’t producing the results we want.

The better question is, “What are we doing in our classrooms that is different?” Are we still assigning lots of homework and rueing the the fact that some of our kids never get it passed in? Are we assigning worksheets and getting upset when they aren’t done?” Do we worry that the students are using technology to copy and paste their assignments, and then sharing them with their classmates?

We all know the answers to these questions band yet, we soldier on with what we have always done, albeit with our attempts to change.

So, let me ask you, is anyone interested in continue this conversation? If so, please drop me an email and we’ll set up a group!


Countdown to Summer!


Upcoming Important Dates

June 9 – Referendum on the School Budget, GMS Gym & Municipal Center, all day
Tuesday, June 9 – 8th Grade Step-up day 9:00 – 10:40 am
Wednesday, June 10 – Open House for retiring Superintendent Ted Sharp 2:30 – 4:40 GMS
Thursday, June 11 – GMS Band Concert 6:00 pm Auditorium
Thursday, June 18 – Step up Day for 6th & 8th Grade, 9:00 – 10:45 am
Thursday, June 18 – 8th Grade to High School 9:00 – 10:45 am
Thursday, June 18 – 8th Grade Celebration 6:00 pm GMS Gym
Friday, June 19 – Last day of school (barring any snow storms!)

Municipal Referendum

If you do nothing else on Tuesday, June 9th, Please,make you voice heard by voting on the School Budget Validation Referendum. Regardless of how you vote on the budget, up or down, it is important that your voice be heard! Voting will open at 7:00 am and remain open until 8:00 pm. Please get out and vote!

Step Up Day

Our 7th & 8th Grade students will meet their new teams and their new advisors on Thursday, June 18. Over the course of the past 3 months, we have collected information from parents and current teachers about each of our kids. We have used this information to make decisions that we feel create teams and classrooms that are similar in make up to the entire grade level.

As happens every year, some students will be disappointed that they are not with a particular friend, or group of friends, or that they did not get a particular teacher or team. I want assure you that we read every parent input sheet and listen and read all of the input from this years teachers in making pour placements. Once we have placed students, we are very restricted in making changes and we will not make changes to accommodate being placed with friends.

We do have 4 possible conditions where we will make changes.

  1. Prior negative experience with a particular teacher and your child
  2. Prior negative experience with a teacher and a sibling,
  3. Significant conflict with a particular student (“significant meaning restraining order, protection for abuse, etc.)
  4. Relative or close friend or neighbor which could cause discomfort in the relationship.

If, for some reason, we may have missed this information, please give us a call. If we were not aware of any of these condition existing, we will need to have the details before we can act.

8th Grade Celebration

The 8th graders will have a very busy last day of school on Thursday, June 18. We will begin at 8:00 in the gym with a rehearsal of the evenings ceremony. Students will be given their designated seats and instructed on how the evening will go.

At 9:00 am, they will board buses for the high school where Chris Record and staff will provide information on activities, sports and other extracurricular events that will be open to them in the coming years.

Around 10:45, they will return to the middle school for a final run through of the evening events and then, weather permitting, move out to the recess area for a cookout.

At 1:00, they will all move in to the Auditorium for the first screening of the 8th grade slideshow. They will then head up to their advisory area, conduct a final clean up and clean out of lockers and be dismissed for the day.

The students are expected to be in their designated seats at 5:55 pm on Thursday evening. We will begin the celebration promptly at 6:00 pm with a goal to be done by 7:10, at the latest. From there, the students will dance the next two hours of the night away, rocking’ to the tunes of Adam Parvanta. There will be lots of food and snacks for the students to enjoy their final night as middle schoolers.

The 8th graders are not expected on Friday!

Standards vs. Standardization

Prior to entering the field of education, I worked in private business, first as a banker and then owning my own Bed and Breakfast in downtown Portland, Maine. It was vitally important that our guest experience be standardized from night-to-night. Our guests expected that their ensuing stays with us would at least equal their first stay with us, they need to know what to expect, and they expect a level service that was consistent.

Similarly, in my banking days, I had the privilege of having a few restaurant franchisees as customers, some fast food and some small chains. Of course, this was in the days before ATM and debit cards were accepted at fast food restaurants.

During my time with these folks as customers of the bank, and clients of mine, I learned a lot about the “McDonalds Way”, or the “XYZ Restaurant and Grill way”. Each business, regardless of the size of their bottom line worked and trained their staff in their “way”. Everything from how to answer the phone to how to greet the customer to portion control and recipes. It was all neatly outlined in a manual and it was expected that each would be followed to the “T”.

With my fast food franchisees, I learned that it was critical that each hamburg be grilled a certain amount of minutes on one side before they are flipped, and then a certain number of minutes on the second side. French Fries needed to be in the oils at a prescribed temperature for a prescribed number of minutes, and the appropriate amount of onions, lettuce, pickles and special sauce needed to be applied to each burger. To make sure that the fast food franchisees were keeping the formula in tact, the “Home Office” would send out inspectors to conduct audits of the cooking times and temperatures and woe be the franchisee who decided to change anything in the formula!

If only educating our young folks could be as simple as timing the amount of learning that needs to occur on one side and then know when to turn them over to complete the process in order for a students to be deemed proficient and “college and career ready”. But, alas, we know that’ not the way our kids learn. Kids learn in any number of different ways and in any number of different times. Sometimes, kids see the ideas and get them on first try and sometimes it takes longer.

To be honest, I think many of our problems can be attributed to our own steadfast nature about how the school experience should be for our kids. Within schools everywhere, classrooms are filled with teachers who will quickly state that not all children learn at the same rate and in the same way, and then assign a worksheet with 20 questions to be completed for homework.

We had an interesting conversation about technology in a faculty meeting last week. As you are aware, Gorham Middle School is one-to-one with technology in grades 6 through 8, participating in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative in grades 7 & 8, and 6th grade having the old MacBooks. as part of the image on each of our laptops, students have “Air Drop”, and application where students can literally drop a file onto the laptop of someone in the same room over the air, not emailed or shared, but dropped onto their desk top.

Teachers were saying that one student would complete the worksheet and then it would be “dropped” to other students to “change the font or color of ink and not change any of the wording” and then pass that work in as their own.

Now, on the surface, I’d say “shame on those kids for cheating”! But I think the issue is greater than that. If we only want kids to fill out sheets with only one correct answer for each question, is the problem the kids or is it the teachers? Do we disrespect the time of our students so much that we expect that 50 to 100 kids per class should all be doing the same thing, in isolation, and then come together to share our answers?

Getting our students ready for a future of cross-continent collaboration, inter-cultural understanding and becoming v=creative problem solvers, as well as productive, responsible citizens, don’t we need to ask more of them than to complete a worksheet?

We need our students to reach for these standards that will help make them better at all of the above, but not a standardized approach to learning that requires all students complete all 20 questions on every worksheet in order to demonstrate proficiency.

Someone who can articulate this far better than I can is Will Richardson. Will is a parent, an educator and the author of the best selling book Why School?, something we should ask ourselves everyday. Read this post by Will and see if you have the same concerns I have. I would love to hear from you.


…And Now, The End is Near –Frank Sinatra


Upcoming Important Dates

Tuesday, June 2 – Public Hearing on School Budget, Municipal Center 7:00 pm
Wednesday, June 3 – Incoming 5th Grade Special Education Students visit 10:30
Friday, June 5 – Step Up Dance 6:00 -8:00 pm GMS Gym
June 9 – Referendum on the School Budget, GMS Gym, all day
Tuesday, June 9 – 8th Grade Step-up day 9:00 – 10:40 am

Recap of MEA Testing

We are putting the finishing touches on the first (and last, I guess) administration of the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) produced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). As well, we are also wrapping up our semi-annual administration of the NWEA.

I can report to you that most of our students found the MEA to be less than inspiring and not worth the build up we gave it during our preparation period. I can also report that teachers were less than impressed on a couple of fronts. First, the few questions that they had the opportunity to read, (let me interject here that teachers did not spend their time looking over kids shoulders to see the questions,) they were not impressed with their quality! Second, with both the ELA Performance Task and the Math Performance Task, the teachers were required to deliver a short lesson to “prime the pump” of the students prior to completing the performance task. Several of the students at all grades really questioned the value of the 15-30 minutes spent delivering the lesson as the questions had little to do with the lessons.

With the NWEAs we at least get a picture of individual growth of the students over the course of the year. This is not to say that the NWEAs offer a real clear picture of growth, the reports are given in the form of RiT scores and are not easily transferable into a normed score, at least for this anachronistic administrator! But, we do get data very quickly and it is data that we can use as we place students on teams for next year and make decision bout programming,unlike the data we expect to see from the MEA, maybe in July!

Also of note, the kids were under-whelmed by the MEA assessment. I have no idea what our results will be, but I am confident that our kids and our teachers put forth the best effort possible. I am confident that our efforts were strong and our energies were placed properly. The results may, or may not bear this out, but regardless of our results, we know that there will be something new that we’ll need to prepare our kids (and teachers!) for in the coming year.

Grades vs. Learning

As we travel through this assessment season (MEA & NWEA), I am always puzzled by the results many of our students generate on these assessments and the results that are generated in their classrooms. For many of our students there is a real disconnect between what learning students demonstrate in our classrooms and what achievement levels they demonstrate on these normed assessments. Quite honestly, some of the students show dramatic gains on their NWEA between the fall assessment and the spring assessment, yet their report cards don’t indicate that kind of gain.

Which brings me to what we do in middle school, or, at least what I think we should do.

I have been a building administrator at the middle level for 14 years and not once have I received correspondence from any college, university, community college, technical school, prep school or the military regarding a student’s record for the 3 years they attended my school. Not one!

What do you think this means? Do you think this is a classic case of “what have you done for me lately?” that we see in our professional (and college, OK, that’s probably professional, too) sports across the nation. A team doesn’t perform to expectations, the coach gets fired, the quarterback gets benched, etc. the story is the same across all sports? I don’t think so, I think that the colleges, et al understand the the years during middle school are designed to help the student understand themselves as learners, not good students of content matter, but good learners regardless of the content.

Kim Kankiewicz is a Seattle area writer published in Pacific Standard, McSweeney’s, Full Grown People, and elsewhere, you can find her online at and tweeting as @kimprobable, wrote an interesting piece that was published in the Washington Post on May 12, 2015 about her trials with her 7th grade son and his grades.

It seems that as she experiences the anxiety of the weekly teacher email and the weekly review of the students online report card, she begins to get a better understanding of the purpose of these years in middle school. As she starts to ask herself the questions as to exactly what do the numbers on the screen mean, she begins to come to the understanding that those numbers could mean lots of different things, or nothing. She begins to understand that when we assess students, it should support student learning. The numbers just can’t seem to do that very well.

There is an old allegory used in education about the Acme Parachute Packing Company. In their training program, they have 3 new trainees learning how to pack a parachute. Trainee 1 pack the parachute correctly the very first time and receives a pat on the back. However, in the ensuing days of the training, this Trainee 1 begins to believe s/he has this packing business down pat and begins to lose focus. The parachutes s/he packs over the next few days aren’t quite up to the level of his first attempt, in fact they seem to be getting progressively worse.

Trainee 2 does a very poor job on the first attempt and each subsequent attempt, s/he gets progressively better until finally s/he can pack the parachute correctly every time.

Trainee 3 seems to be an enigma, sometimes s/he packs the parachute perfectly another times, not so good!

When we average out the grade for each of these parachute packers, Trainee 1, high marks in the beginning of the training and then progressively worse, Trainee 2 starts out very slowly but steadily improves to a consistent level and Trainee 3 is very inconsistent in how s/he packs the parachute. However, if I were to average out each of the trainee’s performances, the average would be about the same. The question is: Which one do you want packing YOUR parachute?

The final number doesn’t tell the story of a student. There has always been so much more to student learning that cannot be communicated in a single number! Also, and this is especially true in middle school, this will not be the final exposure to any of the content our students will have. We just have to make sure that we don’t suck the learning life out of our kids.

8th Grade Celebration

Plana are moving forward to end the year with a wonderful celebration of the middle school experience for our 205 8th graders. Many parents have been busy making book marks and organizing decorating parties to transform the school into a “Glow in the Dark” and J Adam Parvanta has been carefully selecting tunes for the students to dance their way out of middle school and on to high school.

We are still on for the evening of Thursday, June 18th at 6:00 pm in the Gymnasium. We ask that the students be in their seats at 5:55 pm and we will start promptly at 6:00. At 5:30, we will start to show the 8th grade Slide Show, pictures of our  8th graders that they have submitted and have been compiled by Christine Ioconeta. Our goal is to have the “Parents Portion” of the evening done by 7:10 and get the students into the cafeteria for the dance celebration, or the “Kids Portion” of the night.

This should be a fun night. We do not limit the number of guest that each student can have, but we do ask that if any of your guests have any special needs for handicap seating, please let us know in advance and we’ll try our best to accommodate.

8th Grade Students and Over Due Library Books

Along with the end of their middle school careers come the necessary collection of middle school items like laptops, textbooks (do we still use those?), uniforms and sports equipment, etc. We expect that each of the items that our students used during their time here will be returned in good working condition. Sometimes, however, that is not the case.

If we find that your child was issued a textbook, laptop or school uniform and it suffers damage, there may be a charge assessed to the family for repairing or replacing the item. The laptops are given a very quick scan by our Tech Department when the student returns the device, however, there are times when damages are discovered when we get a chance to do a complete scan of the device. If this occurs, we will attempt to contact the family and let them know of the damage and why will be required of them.

Library books are also a difficult item to collect. There have been years when we discover that students have books issued to them over all three years of their time here and they remain outstanding. Try as we do to collect these books, we have a few individuals who just can’t seem to get the books from home back to school. If you happen to see any books that belong to our library, it would be very helpful to have them back.

Hang in There, The Tests are almost done!


Upcoming Important Dates

Monday, May 11 – 6th Grade MEA Testing begins, all week
Monday, May 11 – 8th Grade Summer Reading Book Talk 8:00 am
Tuesday, May 12 – Selected Students visit Elementary Schools
Wednesday, May 13 – Early Release Day, Students dismissed at 11:10 am
Thursday, May 14 – Selected Students visit Elementary Schools
Friday, May 15 – 8th Grade Physics day at Funtown
Tuesday, May 19 – NWEA Testing Window begins for 8th graders

8th Grade Book Talk

Lucie Bowers and Chris Record will address the 8th graders on the selection of books for their summer reading. 8th Grade teachers, please remind your kids of their obligation to finish reading these books during the summer to prepare for a series of activities during the first day of school in August.

5th to 6th Grade Transition Activities

During the coming week, a group of selected 6th, 7th & 8th grade students will be traveling to the Elementary Schools to talk about “Life as a Middle Schooler”. These students will be dismissed from their classes for the afternoon (after testing for 6th graders).

Early Release Day Agenda

To properly prepare for the work of Wednesday, all teachers should begin entering some of you 3rd quarter assessments into Jumprope as we will be asking all teachers to take 5 students, and their 3rd quarter work, an upload their results into Jumprope. This will require each teacher to determine which performance indicators that were being assessed. When this information is uploaded, I would like to have all teachers begin to manipulate the information in Jumprope (e.g. formative assessments, summative assessments, cross curricular information and guiding principles). We are seeking to see where we need to address future professional development.

One real caveat, this will be far from perfect! I have no expectations that everyone will have a complete understanding of this. We hope that this will begin to uncover what our next steps need to be as far as professional development needs for the coming school year. It should also help each us get a better understanding of how the system works and how we can makes this work for us.

We will meet in the Library at 12:15, after lunch on your own.

Field Trips

This time of year tends to get very busy with teachers and students leaving the building for various activities. Please complete the District Field Trip Request form found on the district Web Site and as you send this out for approvals please make sure you include the following:

Kristen Fitz
Judy Philbrick – Transportation
Rhonda Warren – Superintendent Office
Lynn Erickson – Food Service
Teresa Merrill – School Nurse
Susie Hanley
Bob Riley

If you are leaving the building to take your kids on a walk or to do a lesson out of the building, please let Kristen and Laurie know. Often time, it seems that when we are looking for kids for their parents to pick up, they are outside the building. It would also be helpful if you took one of the walkie-talkies with you.

More Testing

Now that we have almost completed the MEA administration, we start all over agin with the NWEAs. 8th Grade will begin the schedule on Tuesday, May 19, followed by the 7th grade the following week and the 6th grade the week after that.

Then, we will be done with the assessments for the year… until September!

So Far, So Good


Upcoming Important Dates

Wednesday, May 6 – Teacher Appreciation Day at GMS
Friday, May 8 – School Dance 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Friday, May 8 – Parent Meet Up, GMS Library 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Friday, May 8 – MEA Science Assessment for all 8th graders
Monday, May 11 – 6th Grade MEA Testing begins, all week
Monday, May 11 – 8th Grade Summer Reading Book Talk 8:00 am
Tuesday, May 12 – Selected Students visit Elementary Schools
Wednesday, May 13 – Early Release Day, Students dismissed at 11:10 am
Thursday, May 14 – Selected Students visit Elementary Schools
Friday, May 15 – 8th Grade Physics day at Funtown

MEA Assessments

I am aware that there has been a considerable amount of discussion and concern on the part of many parents about the Maine Educational Assessments (MEA). Some of our parents have chosen to opt their children out of participating in these assessments, and that is certainly within the parental rights. I can tell you that our 8th graders reported found that the assessments were “not that bad” given what they were led to believe they would be like. Many of the kids said that some of the questions were a bit difficult to understand and they required a couple of readings to be able to understand what was actually being asked, but they thought the questions were fair and the felt that our teachers had them very well prepared.

For those students who have been opted out, we have a couple of activities for them to complete during the time that the other students are taking the tests. These activities require the students to complete some research and then be prepared to publish their findings. When these are completed, I will provide links so you can see what your kids produced.

Spring and Dress Codes

With the advent of the warmer weather (really!), comes the infernal and eternal battle with how kids dress. Last summer I addressed the dress code in relation to yoga pants and whether they should be allowed in school. Several of our faculty were concerned that the tightness of these garments and the “body-hugging” nature of these, apparently, very comfortable pants caused some concern that they would be a distraction to our school.

Of course, this only pertained to our young girls, as our boys were attired in jeans or shorts (worn appropriately at the natural waistline). When I asked how many of their students indicated to them that these garments were a “distraction” in the class, they could not cite a single occasion.

The truth is, in my humble opinion, our students in the Springtime are filled with distractions. Regardless of the manner of dress of anyone of the opposite sex, our kids are distracted. Some from the warm weather and being stuck, yes stuck, in a classroom and some form those first yearnings of attraction to someone special. If we really think that our young boys “driven to distraction” by the dress of our young girls, we have a far greater problem on our hands. We should be teaching our kids about respect, compassion and honesty (words from our Code of Conduct) in how they view their classmates.

Society has given us far too many examples in how not to treat each other, we need to be setting the examples in how we should be treating each other.

So, rather than waxing on about dress codes, please know that we are not going to be fashion police. Our Handbook states that shorts and skirts should be worn no higher than the mid thigh ( we have a rule of thumb about fingertip length), pants should be worn at the “natural waistline, and shirts, T-shirts and sweatshirts should not promote behaviors that are sexual in nature, advertise alcohol or tobacco products and should not contain words to be considered “fighting words”. We do not allow T-shirts that have unusually large arm hole that expose a large portion of the students anatomy.

Parent Meet Up

On Friday, May 8, we will hold our monthly school dance in the gym from 6:00 until 8:00 pm. Unlike our regular monthly dances, Claudine Emerson, our school Substance Abuse Counselor will be holding a Parent Meet Up in the school library during that same time.

What is a Parent Meet Up, you ask? Claudine will be available to answer your questions and concerns about the substance abuse that is present in Gorham among our young people and how you can identify the tell-tale signs of whether your child is beginning to engage in risky behaviors.

The meeting will coincide with the dance, so you can bring your kids and the  stay for a while in the Library. This meeting should last about 90 minutes and then you can check out your kids and “slow dancing”!

MEA Science Assessment

On Friday, May 8, all 8th graders will be participating in the annual MEA Science Assessment. This assessment is a “paper-and-pencil test, unlike the recent computer adaptive test given to the 8th grade last week. This is a test, again mandated by the state, to all 5th, 8th and 11th grade students state-wide.

For those parents who “opted” their children out of the computer adaptive test earlier, if you want your child opted out, you will need to make a separate request for this assessment. The requirement are the same:

Date of the request
Legal name of the Parent
Legal Name of the Student
Reason for the opt out

6th Grade MEA Assessments

Beginning the week of May 11, all 6th graders will be administered the MEA computer adaptive test and performance tasks for English/Language Arts and Math. The students will be tested in the morning on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The following Monday, May 18th will be used for make up for students who were absent.

I can honestly say that the administration has gone quite well for the 7th and 8th graders. We have not experienced any technical difficulties and our students have worked very diligently at performing that highest level, I am very proud of how well they have done, regardless of the actually outcomes.

If you have any questions about this assessment, please give me a call at 222-1228.

Early Release Day – May 13

All GMS Students will be released at 11:10 am on this day.

During the morning our students will be engaging in an activity of decorating their classroom doors. We at Gorham Middle School pride ourselves as being a welcoming, warm and safe school for all of our students. In our Mission Statement we use the words “…Inspires our students to become model citizens…”. The door decorating activity will foci on how our school understands that there are differences among us, but that these differences actually make us a far stronger community, able to take on difficult tasks successfully because of the vitality of our community.

The day will be very full of learning, both traditionally and non-traditionally, learning by doing and learning in action. It will be a great day for our kids.

A Most Interesting Video

Finally, I showed this video to our faculty last week in an effort to demonstrate the nature of how we learn and, hopefully, to create a different understanding of how the Brain works so very differently in younger folks. It also was a great demonstration in how the older we get, the more rock solid our biases become in our own neurological system. I hope you enjoy it.


Upcoming Important Dates

Tuesday, April 14 – All Gorham Chorus night GHS Auditorium 6:30 pm
Wednesday, April 15 – 8th Grade Celebration planning meeting 6:00 pm GMS Library
Friday, April 17 – Spring School Break Begins at dismissal of students, 2:15 pm
Monday, April 20 – Last day to order Yearbooks online
Monday, April 27 – 8th Grade students begin the MEA Assessment

Let’s Talk About the MEA (SBAC) Testing

Beginning the week that we all return from the warm April Vacation (maybe warm!), GMS will begin our administration of the new MEA. There are lots of questions about this assessment, and I hope to try to answer some of them with this post.

Let me state for the record that these opinions are my on, they do not reflect the opinions of anyone else, I am solely responsible!

Why do we need to do these assessments and why can’t we just use the NWEA that we have been administering for years?

I think the answer is a multi-faceted, meaning there are multiple reasons why schools administer large scale, high-stakes tests such as the MEA. This assessment, when administered to a large sample, state-wide for example, can yield results about the quality of education within the state of Maine relative to standards outlined in the Maine Learning Results. These results, because they are administered in every public school in the state at grades 3 through 8 and 11, should be able to give us a good read on how we are doing as a district relative to the rest of the state.

The NWEA’s, on the other hand, are widely used but not universally used throughout the the state. Also, the results we get from the NWEA are good in helping us determine individual student growth, but not school or district growth without some real work on a spreadsheet and some knowledge of how to work a spreadsheet. And, since the NWEAs are not universal and some schools use differing versions and don’t administer the same assessment, there would be too many vagaries in the results to render a judgement about how we are doing as a state or a district.

The MEA’s, on the other hand, are universally administered within the state to all students in the designated grades, so we can get a better picture of where the state is relative to the Learning Results, how well each school achieves, relative to the criteria of the Learning Results, and we should get some really good student data on how well each student is achieving, relative to the criteria of the Learning Results.

Is the MEA solely used to measure student performance for governmental/funding purposes, or does it have personal value to my child (e.g. class placement, or informing curriculum for my individual child)?

The simple answer to this question is “No”, but we all know there are no simple answers to these kind of questions.

With the landmark legislation, signed into law in 2002, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), states were required to demonstrate that all students were “meeting the standards” by the year 2014. The law also required that all students in every subgroup met the standards.

What are subgroups you ask? Subgroups are include the ethnic background of students, students identified with disabilities, different racial groups, students identified with Title 1 services, students who were new English language learners, to mention just a few.

So, while the answer to your question is no, there are lots of intricacies in the way we are measured that could (emphasis added) have ramifications.

The positive of getting the results of these assessments is significant though. We are able to get loads of information about how well we are doing towards the standards. In the past, we have done some really good analysis on each of the released items and this helps us make determinations about how and why our kids answered the way they did. Sometimes seeing the wrong answers gives us more information than seeing the right answers!

The last “no” answer is about do we use this information for class placement or informing curriculum for individual students. Again, this “no” is a qualified one because we do use the information to inform us on what strengths or weakness a child has exhibited, but this is used with other type of information about a student, including teacher assessments This information can help us when determining what kind of supports a student may need in math or reading, could they benefit from some extra support in a Learning Lab or should the math teacher look to extend their lessons to get this child into a more complex area of math or reading more complex books.

So we do use this information, but not in a negative manner.

“Why has it not been publicized that parents can opt their children out of the testing and how to go about doing it?”

Parents have always had the opportunity to opt their children out of large scale testing, dating back to the old MEA.   It might be a bit naive of me to say that there is no pressure being applied, but honestly, there is no pressure being applied. I know there is a lot of news stories about different communities and different groups who are dead set against this testing, so they are espousing the opt outs, but, their opposition to the testing seems more politically motivated.

And, yes, there is a process for opting out of the testing. It begins with an email or a phone call to the school. I can tell you that, while I am not crazy about the time this has taken from the school year, I do value the information we have received in the past. We have been able to make some very good adjustments to how and what we do based upon these results. So, I would encourage every student and family to participate in these assessments.

“Why is the MEA needed when our kids already take the NWEA?”

As I stated above, the information we get from these two assessments differ. The NWEA give us a score measure by a Rausch Unit or RIT score. This is a great score to use when measuring individual growth of a student, year over year. It is not a good measurement when we try to make determination about where our students are not demonstrating strength or weakness, without some serious manipulation of the data we receive.

It is also a much more of an individual assessment. The NWEA’s adaptiveness (is that a word), doesn’t allow for, in my opinion, enough of a common thread to make comparisons within the student base. If it does, we have yet to be able to isolate that component of the results. (That’s for the people at NWEA & SBAC, who will no doubt pick this up when they scan social media!)

We all realize that we have taken an inordinate amount of teaching time to dedicate to this upcoming assessment. Time that we could be using to engage students in the joy of learning (and, no that is not an oxymoron!). We are putting this time in now so we won’t have to in the future.

Since large scale testing has been a part of our school year for so very long, we accept that it will continue to happen. What we try to do is make sure that the testing assesses what our kids are supposed to know in the particular content areas, and not let this become first a technology test. In other words, if the kids don’t know how to manipulate the testing platform, or they do not understand the type of question being asked, that could impede their ability to supply correct answers.

If the sample questions that we have been given on the practice tests are an indication, these questions are vastly different from those on past assessments. Some questions ask for all the possible correct answers from a bank of 4 or 5 possible. So it is important that our kids see some of these style questions prior to the actual testing.

This has been a real upward learning curve for our faculty as well as our students. I believe we do some very fine work here at GMS with our kids. I believe they enjoy (most of them) coming into our building and that they feel safe when they are here. I believe that they feel their teachers challenge them fairly and honestly and with respect for the many different learning styles we have here everyday. But, this has opened our eyes quite a bit. The manner in which this assessment is constructed is vastly different than we have seen before. It has challenged each of us to take as second look at what we are doing in our classes and with our lessons that get our students into that zone “just above comfort” that we call the “Learning Zone”.

I hope I haven’t further confused anyone here. This is far longer than anything I have down in the past, and, to be truthful, if you are reading this I have either accidentally hit the “POST” button, or I have reviewed what I have said several times.

Time to Purchase Yearbooks

If your child was contemplating purchasing a yearbook, that will be filled with the memories of this school year, the deadline is fast approaching. If you want to purchase through the school, all order forms and checks must be given to the Office by Friday at 2:00 pm.

You will still have the opportunity to purchase online by going to and using school code 3788215. Lifetouch accepts Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express.

Until next time…

Heading Toward Spring Break!


Upcoming Important Dates

Tuesday, April 7 – Sebago Team’s Ancient World Museum, 6:00 pm GMS 6th Grade Wing
Tuesday, April 7 – All Gorham Band Concert, GHS Auditorium 6:30 pm
Wednesday, April 8 – School Committee Meeting, Municipal Center 7:00 pm
Friday, April 10 – GMS Dance sponsored by the 6th Grade, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Tuesday, April 14 – All Gorham Chorus night GHS Auditorium 6:30 pm
Wednesday, April 15 – 8th Grade Celebration planning meeting 6:00 pm GMS Library
Friday, April 17 – Spring School Break Begins at dismissal of students, 2:15 pm
Monday, April 20 – Last day to order Yerabooks
Monday, April 27 – 8th Grade students begin the MEA Assessment

Spring Break (Middle School Style!)

OK, let’s get the important stiff out of the way first, all students will begin their Spring Vacation at dismissal on Friday, April 17th (dismissal is at 2:15 pm). The kids will return to school on Monday, April 27.

We all hope that the snow is gone, the golf courses, baseball and softball fields are free from snow and beginning to green under the warm mid-April sun.

If you are traveling to warmer clime, we hope that your travels are safe and on time.

Ordering Yearbooks

YearbookclipartSome years, we get a mad rush from people who forgot to order a yearbook for their child by the due date and they are begging for us to be able to get one for their child. Some years, we are able to have extras ordered, but in the past few years the cost of the yearbook has risen so much that we cannot afford to order extras that will sit, unsold in our storage closet. So, to answer this, we have implemented a system of ordering only enough to cover those actually purchased. We will not have any leftovers this year!!! The only way you can guarantee that your child will get a yearbook, filled with all the memories of their school year, is to order one BEFORE April 20th.

Ordering a yearbook is very easy and there are two ways to do it. We have order forms in the Main Office that you can fill out, put a check in the slot provided on the form and give it to one of the secretaries. Or, you can go online to the Lifetouch web site

Ancient World Museum

The annual presentation by the Sebago Team students of Kim Fotter and Meghan Rounds will be Tuesday evening,Parthenon April 7th beginning at 6:00 pm in the 6th Grade wing of the Gorham Middle School. Parents and relatives are invited to peruse the many wonderful exhibits of the students demonstrating the many interesting facts they discovered in their exploration of the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome.

All Gorham Band and Chorus Nights

Also on Tuesday, April 7th, all of the band students from the entire district will be on hand to present a concert of Musicwhat they have been learning all year. There will be students from the Elementary Schools presenting a few numbers,. The Middle School will be represented quite well by our award winning Jazz Band and our Concert Band. The many different ensembles of the High School will present a few numbers of their own.

The evening will culminate with a number of several of the members of the different bands presenting a number for the enjoyment of the audience.

Then, the same night, the following week we will hold the annual All Gorham Chorus Night, again at the GHS Auditorium beginning at 6:30 pm. There will be singers from across the district, at all grade levels, entertaining the audience with the joyful sounds of young voices singing.

Please circle both dates on your calendar for two great evenings of entertainment.

School Dance

Our next school dance is Friday, April 10 in the GMS Gym from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. This dance is sponsored by the 6th grade team with refreshments being sold by the Student Council. As an added bonus for our students, Sophie Gagne, a 6th grader on the Eagle Team will be holding a bake sale. Sophie is quite an accomplished dancer and she has earned the right to compete in a dance competition in Las Vegas this summer. She is holding the sale to help raise funds to defray the cost of the trip. Let’s hope all of her school mates bring their appetites to the dance to help Sophie get the Las Vegas.

Principal for a Day

Each day, Mrs. Hanley, Assistant Principal, Mr. Kilborn, Physical Education Teacher and me greet the students as

Principal for the Day Jacob Polchies greets the students to a new day at GMS.

Principal for the Day Jacob Polchies greets the students to a new day at GMS.

they enter the building for a new day. The idea is to greet the kids each day with a pleasant “hello” and a warm smile as the enter the building for a great day of learning.

On one morning a couple of weeks ago, one student, Jacob Polchies said “Mr. Riley, we should with jobs someday!”. I think I surprised hime when I said yes and that we should do it on April 1st (for all the obvious reasons).

Plans were made, he would come to school wearing a suit (that’s what I wear on most days), and I would come to school dressed as a student and take his place in his class. Since the 7th grade with Sister Genevieve was not one of my best years, I can tell you that I was quite nervous. Jacob, on the other hand, was quite well prepared.

We have some pictures of the day, mostly of him doing a far better job that I do on a daily basis, that are included in this post. The idea has spurned a new idea for us, however.

On May 13, we hold our second Principal for the Day. This time, however, we are going to raffle the day off to the students. The raffle tickets will be $1.00 per chance and $5.00 for an “arms length”. The proceeds of the raffle will be put toward the establishment of a Unified Sports Program at Gorham Middle School beginning next year.

If you are unfamiliar with Unified Sports Programs, they are cropping up around the state.Unified Sports bring together students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to promote social inclusion through specific sports training and competitive experiences.

To learn more about Unified Sports Teams, you can checkout the Special Olympics web site. The Lewiston Sun had a great article that ran, Monday, March 9th, just prior to the start of the first ever state championships sponsored and sanctioned by the Maine Principals Association. I think the article speaks volumes as to why we need to get this program started here at GMS.

So, please, encourage your child to purchase a raffle ticket to be Principal for the Day.

8th Grade Celebration Meeting

Kristen Fitz has sent out emails to all of the 8th grade parents to begin the process of organizing the 8th Grade CelebrationCelebration at the end of the school year. It has really worked quite well to begin this process digitally using our BlackBoard notification system and email. However, it is time to hold a meeting in “Reality” to put faces to names and to clarify all of the moving parts of this entertaining evening for our kids.

So, we’ll hold our first “Real” meeting on Wednesday evening, April 15th in the GMS Library. We ask that you bring your creative minds and your calendars so we can finalize some of the plans.

Looking forward to seeing as many people as possible on the 15th!

8th Grade MEA Begins on April 27

When our 8th graders return from their relaxing break, enjoying the sights and sounds of spring (maybe!), we will begin the annual assessment of our students through the Maine Educational Assessment. This is the first time we will be assessing our students via this computer adaptive test and a Performance Task. We plan to use part of the days on Monday through Thursday for all of these assessments with Friday being a day that we will use for make ups for any students who was sick or absent.

The 7th grade and 6th grade will be assessed in the following weeks.

To make sure that all student computers are charged and ready, we are not going to allow the students to bring them home during the school vacation. During the weeks of testing, we also plan to keep all of the devices at school, for all grades. There are significant security concerns that have been conveyed about students having personal devices during the testing. Our plan right now is to have all students leave their cell phone, tablets and IPods, turned off and on the teachers desk during the testing. We are doing this for a couple of reasons, one being the security I just mentioned, and the second is a matter of band-width. The first one I can understand pretty easily, the second is more difficult for me to explain. It has something to do with the amount of information coming ito the school and going out of the school. These assessments take up a fair amount of band width.

If you have any questions about these assessments, please feel free to call me.

PGA Jr. League

PGA LogoThe Gorham Country Club and PGA Pro Rick Altham will be sponsoring a golf team in the PGA Jr. League in Southern Maine. The league will begin on June 14th and it will run for 6 weeks. There will be a clinic with Pro Rick Altham and 6 practices and 6 matches for the participants. Each participant will receive a shirt, balls, a tag for their bag indicating their participation in the PGA. Matches will be held on Sundays. Some of the other courses that are participating in the PGA Jr.League are Val Halla in Cumberland, Webhannet in Kennebunk, Purpoodock in Cape Elizabeth, Dunegrass in Old Orchard Beach and the Woodland in Falmouth.

The League is open to all kids aged 8 to 13.If you would like your child to sign up, or if you have any questions, please call me at the school.