May 12, 2013

Phillips Elementary credits staff, community and clear goals for A rating from state

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

PHILLIPS — Three things make Phillips Elementary School successful, according to Principal Felecia Pease.

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Phillips Elementary School language arts teacher Nicole Levesque works with students on Wednesday. The school recently received an A grade by the Maine Department of Education.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Felecia Pease

Staff photo by David Leaming

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A supportive community, experienced staff members and consistent expectations are the reasons why the school was one of only 42 elementary and middle schools to receive an A under a new letter grading system unveiled by Gov. Paul LePage earlier this month, Pease said.

"I'm not surprised with the grade, because we are consistent. I knew it would be at least a B," Pease said.

Two other schools in Phillips-based School Administrative District 58 also received A's — Stratton Elementary School in Stratton, as well as Strong Elementary School in Strong, where Pease is also the principal.

The A-to-F grading system uses standardized test scores in reading and mathematics, students' growth and progress, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students to produce its evaluations. For high schools, graduation rates also are a factor.

The grades were distributed on a bell-shaped curve, with most schools in the area and the state receiving C's. Phillips, Stratton and Strong were the only schools in their area to receive A's.

All three of the small kindergarten-through-grade 8 schools in rural Franklin County have about 175 students or fewer. The things that make the schools successful are also the things that help students do well on state tests and in turn help the schools do well on the state evaluations, Pease said.

"Because of these things, students know tests are important. They know why learning is important. They take all the knowledge they are given and they give back 100 percent," she said.

A supportive community

The Phillips school is a K-through-8 school with elementary students taking classes on the first floor and middle school students upstairs. Thomas said she likes the structure and that older students take an interest in looking after younger children.

"Everybody here knows each other. It's small, and the biggest class is around 23 students," said Brandon Haines, 14, an eighth-grader at Phillips.

Pease said that feeling of community is one thing that allows the schools to be successful. Originally from Windham, Pease has been a principal at the Strong school for 26 years and took over as principal at Phillips two years ago.

The Phillips school has about 45 staff members, including teachers and support staff members such as bus drivers and custodians. Most are originally from the area or live there now, she said.

"Everyone is part of the community, and they contribute to the learning environment," she said.

The school also receives support from parents and others.

For one thing, the school's parent-teacher organization has a broader reach than most, said Diana Thomas, a school board member who has a son in the third grade. Known as Concerned Area Residents for Education, or CARE, it is also made up of people from the community who may not have ever had children in the school.

"People are very involved, and it's not just parents. Of course, we are busy and it can be frustrating trying to find time, but we really do have a supportive community," Thomas said.

Sibyl Stevens, the school's volunteer coordinator and chairwoman of the CARE group, said the school has around 200 volunteers. Most are parents, but teachers also volunteer; and many parents whose children have grown up and left the school remain active, she said. They organize the back-to-school barbecue, help with head lice checks and work in classrooms and the school cafeteria, she said.

The school's annual Halloween celebration includes a parade through town and a party that is open to residents of Phillips and their children, regardless of whether they go to the school, Stevens said.

(Continued on page 2)

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