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School not a failure—bureaucracy is

Click here to see the full Deer Isle-Stonington High School—Low-Performing School Archive.

Over the past week or so we have had a somewhat alarming report in the Bangor Daily News describing Deer Isle-Stonington High School as a failing or failed school and a well-expressed rebuttal from Todd West, our current principal [published March 11 in Island Ad-Vantages].

When I moved here in 1994 with my wife and young child, I heard many derogatory and desultory comments about our local school system. My attitude was (and still is) that the majority of my hard-earned property taxes go towards public education, and public education, being the backbone of democracy, is something I am willing to fight for, and if necessary I’ll fight every day. Our son has been in the DIS system since kindergarten, and my wife and I have attended every parent-teacher conference scheduled, and while he was in elementary school we scheduled several more. All of the issues we have had were actually in the elementary school and we resolved all of those but one.

Although this is about the high school, I have to say this just once, for the sake of the high school and its teachers: no elementary school should graduate a student who has not learned the multiplication tables—period!

As our son moves towards completion of his junior year, I still feel that DIS has provided excellent teachers, opportunities and stimulus—he has remained interested and engaged, and all of our meetings with his teachers have produced the positive feeling that they are equally interested in his success and his education. This is very reassuring to me in an age where teachers seem to be constantly challenged to not only teach well, but to prove to a large group of people who know nothing about teaching that they, the teachers, do know how to teach.

Please do not take this endorsement of the school to mean that I am a cheerleader for Todd West. I have several philosophical differences with Mr. West, which he is aware of, but what I will say is that I firmly believe that Todd West works very, very hard to make DISHS the best it can be.

I believe that the root of this problem, this failing rating, lies in the failed policies of [Maine Commissioner of Education] Susan Gendron. Ms. Gendron has tarred us with her broad brush. She fails to understand the specific socio-economic and cultural mores that govern this Island. A large percentage of our youth grow up knowing that they are going into fishing. Why should they be interested in even taking SATs, never mind doing well on them? Like any society, we also have a percentage of students who are just lazy or disinterested and, unlike in my day, they cannot be forced to participate. Susan Gendron has bludgeoned our school with her “one size fits all formula,” but as Benjamin Disraeli said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

What has really failed here is not our school, but an incompetent, callous bureaucrat. I hope that other Islanders will join me in support of our school system and its teachers—they are not failing us or our kids, and at a time like this they need to know that we are behind them.

Michael Warr

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