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Waiver Allows School to Keep Principal, Continue Improvement Work 

Leaders at a few schools in the state found themselves in uneasy positions in recent weeks, after the Department of Education released a list of ten schools designated “persistently low-achieving” based on a specific set of government criteria. The ten schools are eligible for federal funds if they adopt aggressive improvement measures, but several have seen controversy as they try to decide on their next steps. Wednesday, we visited Deer Isle-Stonington High School.”To be called a ‘persistently low-achieving school’ is not accurate. The students, staff and the community have done an incredible amount of work the last three years to change what’s going on at the school,” says Todd West.West has been principal here since July 2007. He’s seen the school through changes including revised graduation requirements and a new student assistance program. But his job was put in jeopardy when the school was named one of the ten Maine schools eligible for a share of 12-million dollars in federal grant money. To receive it, the school would have to adopt a transformation plan that would have included firing West.”There was a unanimous feeling that we should not get rid of our principal. That was just not an option,” says teacher Judith Hotchkiss. “Our momentum would just fade away in terms of our school improvement.”They found out this week they don’t have to make that decision. West can stay, thanks to a waiver due to the time period he’s been there.”One of the reasons we were granted a waiver is because we’ve already significantly started many of those things in the transformational model. Our standard space diploma, the assistance team, the learning center,” West says. “We’re about to start a major curriculum development initiative next fall that’s going to last three years.”West says they stand to receive between 50-thousand and 2-million dollars from the grant, which he says could help them continue the changes they’ve already started. “I think it’s really positive as long as it’s implemented properly,” he says.But he says there are still many questions, including potential changes it could bring to the teacher evaluation system.”As a staff we don’t really understand what’s going to be expected. What strings are attached, what that really means,” says Hotchkiss.We’re told community members are already on board to help write the grant to apply for the funds. The school board will make the final decision.