Friday, February 12, 2016

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Fast cars and great fun at the annual Pinewood Derby

Cub Scout Pack 805 held its annual Pinewood Derby, where Scouts from first grade to fifth grade race cars made from a block of wood. Each car has to weigh five ounces, have plastic wheels and fit within certain parameters.

The cars are only limited in design by the imagination of the boy creating it. This year there were many Star Wars themed cars, a hot dog, a police car, thin cars and even a football field. The speeds are clocked by computer, eliminating human confusion.

This year’s winners were first place Alexander Momot, second place Joseph Lopes, third place Calvin Bartz, fourth place Wyatt Richards and fifth place Jacob Spencer.
Trophies were also given to best in show for each age group (called a den) and one over all winner.

Top 5 winners are:

Name                                        Time                    Average Speed (mph)
1 - Alexander Momot                6.5590                    215.2
2 - Joseph Lopes                        6.6420                    212.5               
3- Calvin Bartz                          6.6460                    212.4
4 - Wyatt Richards                    6.6850                    211.1
5 - Jacob Spencer                      6.7010                    210.6

Ashes to Go at the Windham Post Office on Ash Wednesday - By Michelle Libby

Everyone has heard of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, but what follows is the 40 days of Lent, a spiritual time to do holy listening, learn about faith and listen to what God is saying. Lent began on Ash Wednesday, and as a spiritual service Rev. Tim Higgins and Deacon Wendy Rozene from St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham administered Ashes to Go in front of the Windham Post Office Wednesday afternoon. This was their fourth year.

“People have busy lives, busy schedules. We’re bringing it to the streets. We’ve had some incredible grace filled moments,” Higgins said. “There’s something about praying on the sidewalk in front of God and nature.”

People stopped to be prayed over and have ashes put on their foreheads. Some drove up in cars because they were too weak to get out and others were not going to be able to make the Wednesday night service. 

“The ashes remind us the importance of each day. Life is impermanent,” said Mary Jo DiBenedetto-Nelson.

“Some people were brand new and saw it in the paper,” said Rozene. “Others are regulars now.”

The pair stood in front of the post office with a table with a “Lent in a bag” which was sand, a person, a candle and a rock, and literature about Lent.

The prophet Joel blew a trumpet as a wake-up call. “Lent is a wake-up call to us,” said Higgins. “We stick out like a sore tooth. It’s startling. It’s a wake-up call that the Lord is near.”

The ashes are the burnt remains of last year’s Palm Sunday palms. For Higgins and Rozene, coming to the people also gives them the opportunity to do some teaching. Some people stop to ask what they were doing.
“It’s a very cool outreach,” Higgins said.

The trend has always been to give something up for Lent, but recently there has been a movement that instead of giving things up, people are taking things on, said Rozene. They look for projects that reflect what priorities are important to them.

New Grading System Gives insight to work ethics - By Elizabeth Richards RSU 14 has been using standards based grading on a 4-point scale for several years now, many of the schools are using a new reporting system called Jump Rope to give parents information about their children’s progress.

“There are lots of different systems popping up and what we are trying to do in RSU 14 is find the one that matches what we believe in and what we want to report out to our community in order to help them understand the curriculum we’re teaching,” said Christine Hesler, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment For RSU 14.

Raymond Elementary School, Jordan Small Middle School, Manchester School and Windham Middle School are all using Jump Rope exclusively at this time.

At Windham Primary School, staff was given a choice to stay with Infinite Campus or try Jump Rope, while knowing that at some point the district might decide that Jump Rope is the program to be used.

“We want a system that’s going to best meet the needs of our students and generate an understandable report card for the parents,” said Dr. Kyle Rhoads, principal at Windham Primary School. “Parents want their children to get a customized learning experience. We want to make sure that whatever we end up doing the report card reflects that.”

Administrators said that the move to Jump Rope has increased the level of transparency in grading. Hesler said that the reports offer more information about a student’s learning, allowing parents to see both areas of strength and areas of weakness that they can help their child with in concrete ways. “Everything that is in the Jump Rope system is what standards and performance indicators that we have decided as an RSU are important for students,” she said. “It also allows us to be very transparent about where children are and where they are heading in the next sequence of their learning.”

Many of the schools have opened the Jump Rope parent portal. With this portal, parents and students can log in at any time to see how a student is progressing, rather than waiting for a printed report card.

The primary school has not opened the parent portal yet. Rhoads said that he supports using the parent portal, but it needs to work in a way that makes sense for parents. “We want to make sure what we’re giving them is easy to understand. If you don’t it could lead to more confusion,” he said.

Trista Collins, who has three children at Windham Middle School, said she has used the portal. She said that while information hasn’t been consistent yet, due to teachers still getting used to it, she knows from attending parent meetings about Jump Rope that this issue is being addressed. “Once the system is fully implemented and being used the same way by all teachers I think it will be very helpful,” she said.

Patin said he is working with staff on consistency, and has clarified his expectation that grades will be entered into Jump Rope at least every two weeks. Teachers will review the information to look for patterns, and reach out with an email or phone call to work with parents on how any issues can be addressed.  He added that discussions with parents helped him realize that although the reporting system provides a nice level of detail, it is no substitute for quality parent-teacher communication.

He said he hopes that they can make up for any downside by having quality communication with parents, involving them in the problem solving process, as well as being able to reach out and praise kids for the work they’ve been doing.

Collins said the report cards give information about areas parents previously would not have seen, and that without explanation these reports would be difficult to understand. She added that it will be important to continue to talk with teachers to be sure parents are correctly interpreting the data they are given.

The district has tried to offer a variety of ways for families to learn about Jump Rope and to give feedback, including a video, posted parent forums and parent meetings.

“Drew Patin has been absolutely phenomenal in providing parents with opportunities to provide feedback and be involved in discussions regarding everything from layout to what this means in conjunction with teacher conferences. The teachers are all new with this program too so we all need to continue to ask questions and work through this together,” said Collins. She stressed the importance of parents utilizing the opportunities offered at the middle school to be sure they can understand the report cards.
In addition to academic information, the reports in Jump Rope cover work habits, including academic responsibility, organization and social responsibility.

“In the past there’s been a lot of emphasis on purely grades,” said Patin. He said work habits are helpful in determining if someone is workplace ready. For instance, a student receiving ones and twos in organization might not be able to keep up with workplace expectations. “We want to bring those more to the top. Usually there’s a correlation. If a student isn’t doing well in some of the academic areas, that usually can match up with the habits of work,” he said.

Although grades K-3 will still receive printed report cards, now that the parent portals are open Manchester School and the middle school levels will only be printing them upon request. “It’s not about cleaning the slate at the end of the trimester, it’s about building on and showing a progression of learning,” said Patin. “Think of it as an open grade book for the entire year.” He said that parents can log on to see information anytime, and they are also working to make accessing this information part of the student’s day.

If parents want a printed copy, they can call and specify the level of detail they are interested in. “We don’t want to have [lack of] access to the Internet or technology at home to be a barrier to knowing how their child’s doing,” said Patin.

Hesler said the system is used to inform instruction as well as to report progress. Teachers are able to see which piece of the information the children didn’t get, she said, and give accurate, targeted instruction in that area instead of simply moving on.

If families have questions on the new report cards, or need information or assistance in using the Jump Rope system, they should talk with their building administrator.

Friday, February 5, 2016

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Kindness Week at Manchester School ends with a celebration and a dash of color - By Michelle Libby

Last Friday over 400 students at Manchester School in Windham celebrated kindness at an assembly featuring skits, speeches and the introduction of a color run to take place in the spring. 

“The best part was last year fourth grade students approached Mrs. Weatherbee to start an anti-bullying club,” said principal Danielle Donnini. The team worked to create the name Team Kindness and met at lunch recess to plan activities. The group consists of approximately 30 fourth and fifth graders. 

 “It has evolved from September into today,” said guidance counselor Jessica Weatherbee. “One little idea can turn into something this huge,” she told the audience of fourth and fifth graders. 

On Friday, some of the team put on kindness skits showing how to be nice to someone who gets tripped or drops their books. 

The whole week was dedicated to doing something to help others. “They want to expand kindness throughout the whole school,” said Weatherbee. “We want to create a culture of kindness in the building.”
The whole school, led by the chorus, sang a kindness song about “reach out your kind-hearted hand.” All of it part of The Great Kindness Challenge, an online program that encourages schools to devote one week to performing as many acts of kindness as possible, choosing from a 50 item checklist. The items vary from smile at 25 people to walk a dog or cat. 
The school also held a door contest on way to show kindness. Many of the classrooms had interactive doors that had quotes and special touches to show and give suggestions on ways to be kind. One door was made to look like an iPhone with apps for kindness, for example Kindness Watchers (Weight Watchers), Teamwork, KindFlix (Netflix), FriendBook and InstaKind. 

Student Adrianna Libby said her favorite app was Stand up. “It’s about standing up for yourself.”
Donnini declared that everyone won the contest because it’s all about kindness and everyone wins when it comes to kindness. 

Donnini quoted Ellen DeGeneres, “I just think that kindness is something we should all have…We need more of that out there.” 

“This week reminded us just a little bit about how we want to be,” said Weatherbee. During the week the students were asked to bring in a food item for the Windham Food Pantry for the privilege of breaking dress code and wearing a hat in school. With a two day notice the school rallied and brought in 283 items to donate. 

The also held themed dress up days like “tied together with kindness” where kids wore curly ribbon and bow or neck ties, “crazy for kindness” where they wore mismatched clothes and the “dreaming of kindness” where the students wore pajamas. 

The students made iMovie videos about what kindness means to them and they continued talk about “creating a chain reaction,” which they learned about in Rachel’s Challenge. 

The Kindness Team has been meeting twice a month and according to Weatherbee, “the students are teaching and guiding me” about what they want to accomplish. 

“I’ve seen so much kindness and I know this is going to continue,” said vice principal Kristal Vargo-Ward. 

Weatherbee also announced that Mrs. Carle’s class will be organizing a color run as their Community Day project. Manchester hosts a community day every year to celebrate each class doing a year-long project to benefit something in the community. The color run will be a one or two mile, untimed race. Weatherbee, Vargo-Ward and gifted and talented teacher Jennifer Breton volunteered to demonstrate how the color run would work, with students tossing a colored chalk-like substance on their white shirts creating a colorful art piece. The color run is scheduled for April 10th.

Family of SS Pendleton survivor gathers to watch "The Finest Hours" - By Elizabeth Richards

For one local family, the Disney movie “The Finest Hours” released last weekend is more than entertainment. The story is one they grew up hearing first hand, a part of their own family history.
Casco resident Letty Tucci was four years old when her father, a crew member on the SS Pendleton, was rescued at sea amid a nor’easter that made this rescue one of the most dangerous Coast Guard rescues in history.

Tucci’s father, Fred Brown, was a 36-year-old merchant marine, on his way back from an oil delivery to Louisiana when the blizzard hit on February 18, 1952. According to his granddaughter Caroline West, Brown told a story of being asleep, and waking to a terrible sound. He ran to the deck, and saw crew members bailing water.

Another story Brown frequently repeated was of being unable to save his best friend, ship cook Tiny Myers. “He wanted my dad to take his wallet and the possessions in his pocket because he said ‘I won’t make it, I can’t make it down there to the rescue boat’ and my dad said ‘No, you’ll make it’ and he put his stuff back into his pocket,” said Tucci. But as Myers tried to descend the rope ladder he slipped, and was crushed between the rescue boat and the ship. Although he was already dead, Tucci said her father reached out to grab him, trying to pull him onto the boat, and the Coast Guard team had to force his hands away from Myers. 

Myers was one of nine to lose his life that day. The eight officers on the ship were killed when the ship split in two, and the crew had to watch them float away on the bow of the ship.

It was an experience that impacted the rest of Brown’s life, and a difficult thing for him to talk about, said Tucci. She said the rescue was a miracle that the crew did not anticipate. They had been shooting off flares and blowing a whistle with no response. “When they gave up all hope, all of a sudden they saw a little light in the dark in the distance, and it was a miracle to them,” she said. 

One thing Tucci hopes people get from the movie is how brave the Coast Guard crew was. “It was an extremely dangerous mission, but had it not been for them, my dad never would have come home.”
When Brown did make it home, he went immediately to the hospital where his son, Stephen, had been born the morning after the storm. Tucci said her father arrived in the same brown tweed clothing stained with blood that he’d had on when rescued. Her mother, she said, hadn’t known her father was shipwrecked until after the baby was born, and Brown had been saved.

Her father would never have dreamed that a book would be written about the experience, or a movie made. She herself found out about it when she overheard the story on Fox morning news. 

Having a book and movie written about the incident allows the family to understand some of what Brown went through, said granddaughter Jennifer White, who lives in Raymond. “It helps me to understand some of the struggles that he had as my grandfather,” she said. In 2014, White took a trip to Chatham in Cape Cod, where the wreck took place. “It was quite emotional to stand there and look out and to see where this all occurred,” White said. 

White and 33 family members gathered at Smitty’s in Windham to see the show on Saturday. It was a sold out show, so only 23 of the family members present were able to get tickets, but they all gathered afterwards in the function room at Pat’s pizza to talk and process the movie.
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White felt that the movie took some creative liberties, not portraying events the same as they were written in the book, or things they had heard from her grandfather. It didn’t show some of the relationships between characters that they had heard about, particularly the relationship between Brown and Myers. That was likely, she said, a direct reflection of the fact that no one involved was able to speak directly to her grandfather, who passed away in 1997.

White also said she and her family were confused by a character called “Brown” who was portrayed very differently than the man they knew her grandfather to be. At the end, the credits showed that that character was actually a David Brown, who was no relation to Fred. 

Watching the rescue on the screen was amazing, White said. “You got a little bit of a feeling of what they went through,” she said. “It was an important story to tell.”

Tucci said the movie is important because there’s a lot on the screen these days that isn’t real. “It’s amazing to have a story like this on the big screen that is absolutely real and true to what actually happened,” she said. “It should have an impact on people because it’s true.”

Friday, January 29, 2016

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One step forward, two back for Mallison Falls project - By Walter Lunt

The lengthy process of gaining approvals for the conversion of an old Windham mill site into a 109 unit apartment complex has taken a tentative step forward. The Windham Town Council on Tuesday voted 5 – 1 (Muir; Gleason absent) in favor of a request for the town to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to upgrade utilities and other infrastructure for the project. The $320,000 grant, if approved by the county, would help fund new water, electrical, gas, stormwater controls and sewer lines, and improvements to the road intersection. Included in the request was an intent for the town to include an affordable housing TIF (tax increment financing) that would contribute toward both the redevelopment and for housing rehabilitation in South Windham. It was the TIF portion of the request that gave pause to most councilors, many of whom said they needed more information before going forward.
“I don’t want to be in a position where we move forward now and figure out the details (of the TIF) later,” said council chair Donna Chapman. She indicated support for the redevelopment, but added, “We’re not doing due diligence to the community by not knowing all the facts.”

Councilman Dennis Welch said he favored a workshop to work out all the details and the numbers of a TIF. 
Bob Gaudreau, owner of Hardypond Construction of Portland which is developing the site, said he agreed. “We need to meet with the council. Our numbers haven’t changed, and we’ll be there.” He said he views passage of the block grant proposal as “a positive step.”

Windham Economic Development head Tom Bartell said that without the TIF portion of the block grant request, “…the project is dead.”

Hardypond Construction of Portland proposed last spring to purchase and redevelop the largely unused 5.2 acre complex on the Presumpscot River into apartments for seniors and upwardly mobile Millennials. Under the plan, estimated to cost around $15 million, at least 30 percent of the units would be affordable, that is, dedicated for low and middle income individuals or families. 

Town officials say they intend to utilize tax increment financing (TIF) to support not only the redevelopment project, but other housing concerns, such as the deteriorating conditions in South Windham village. 

Bartell said that a TIF has advantages for both the town and the developer because the value of the property that is under improvement increases the valuation of the town proportionately – normally this would result in higher county taxes and lower state subsidies for schools and revenue sharing. Under a TIF however, the higher valuation is “sheltered,” and this money can be used to support the TIF project, as well as capital improvement in the town, in this case rehabilitation in South Windham village. Also, with a TIF in place, a developer has more leverage to secure loans related to its project.

 Although details have not yet been worked out, Bartell said that because the TIF would be tied to affordable housing, the funds must be used to address a local housing issue, so a portion of the sheltered money might be used to support the redevelopment project while the rest would be used to help correct blight and neglect in certain parts of South Windham village, which has long been a concern of residents, the town and elected officials.

Resident concerns over the redevelopment project have focused on the developer’s proposal to turn Mallison Falls Road into a one-way street. Sight distance is near zero for drivers exiting the mill site as well as for traffic traveling west down the steep hill. The road is a connector for commuters coming from and going to Gorham and other towns. As a result, traffic engineers for Hardypond will now suggest a 4-way stop at the intersection of the mill’s driveway and Mallison Falls Road, subject to approval by the Windham Town Council. hurdles that have already been addressed successfully involved zoning and ground contamination around the site’s main building. Last July, in a unanimous show of support for redevelopment of the mill site, the Windham Town Council approved a contract zone for the project, allowing the developer to increase the number of units to be built from 74 to 109. In addition to increasing residential density, the council action reduced some setbacks and increased building height to accommodate two additional buildings that will be constructed near the old mill. The developer plans 45 units in the rehabilitated main building and 54 additional units in the two new multi-story buildings to be built. Ten units are also planned in two existing smaller buildings on the site. 

In early December Hardypond was awarded funds by the Greater Portland Council of Governments to correct ground contamination at the mill site, adjacent to the Presumpscot River. Toxic substances, including arsenic, had been detected in soils surrounding the main building, which has been used for industrial activity since the 1700s.The site has served as a saw mill, woolen mill, and housed a steel products firm and Rich Tool & Die. An environmental assessment of the grounds classified the contamination as minor, “typical of long-time industrial sites.” 

Frank Carr, business development director for Hardypond, said clean-up may begin as early as late spring, pending final approval of its site plan by the Windham Planning Board. 

Carr said his firm has applied for listing the main mill building on the National Register of Historic Places. The town’s pre-application for a community development block grant notes the proposed “new multi-family residential community (is located) at the heart of South Windham while preserving…an integral part of the town’s industrial heritage.” Carr also points out that placement on the National Registry allows for certain federal and state tax credits for his firm as the redevelopment project proceeds. Carr said his research on the site’s history revealed the spot as the site of Windham’s first saw mill and a landing for the “King’s tall pines,” that were floated down the Presumpscot  to be used for masts on British ships.

Carr said future plans call for an open complex. A kayak and canoe launch on the property would be gifted to the town. Historically, the location was known to the local natives as Nagwamqueeg, meaning canoe landing.
One tale related in Samuel Dole’s Windham in the Past, a preeminent source of Windham’s history, discusses the source of an early name for Mallison Falls. It seems the contractors employed to build the township’s first dam and saw mill were rewarded by their proprietors a barrel of beef, “which they pronounced to be of the finest quality, until one unlucky day, the cook produced the hoofs of a horse that were in the bottom of the barrel. The hoofs were put back, the barrel (sealed) and rolled over the falls, which were then and there named Horsebeef.” Horsebeef Falls. The name stuck until 1866 when it was re-named Mallison’s by a new company. Some local historians doubt the story, however Windham newcomers and local school children always seem to enjoy hearing it.

On the subject of name changes, all references to the Mallison Falls redevelopment project are referred to as the Robinson Mill Housing at Mallison Falls. Carr says the name is historical and refers to the owners of the mill when it was used to process wool.

Carr said the latest timetable for the project, pending further hurdles and approvals, is for construction to begin this summer, completion of the mill building (45 units) conversion by late fall, and the entire complex ready for occupancy by the winter of 2017. 

Bartell said a council workshop on the TIF district will probably be held within two to three weeks. And he urges residents interested in any or all aspects of the project to monitor the town website for future council meetings and public hearings.