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School system needs to be better than “fairly good”

To the Editor:

Mayor Macdonald, I must take issue with your article in the March 22 edition of Twin City TIMES (“Good school system is critical to a successful city,”page 5). Stating that “A superior, or at least a fairly good school system, is essential in order to grow Lewiston into an economically prosperous community”is an affront to our school system and, moreover, our students.

Since when do the people who settle for “at least fairly good” end up as winners? We need to demand a superior education for our children, and we need to demand reasons for and accountability for anything less. Settling for “fairly good”is the path to failure.

I’ve been a citizen of Lewiston since 1950, and I find your view of Lewiston decades ago rather tinted by rose-colored glasses. Yes, Lewiston was a safer town than it is right now; kids were free to bike all over town to play on PAL baseball games; there was far less traffic and only two-lane roads; and the city took a real lead in setting up activities for youth by providing ball fields and ice skating rinks in several locations in town.

But to describe Lewiston as clean enough to eat off the street in any neighborhood in town means that you never walked down the lower end of Lisbon Street, where the smell of stale beer and cigarettes, as well as music and swearing, filled the air, along with the stench caused by the manufactured gas plant.

Huge brick tenement buildings for mill workers were crammed between Lisbon and Canal Streets, and living conditions in these were poorer than in any existing in Lewiston today. French and later Irish immigrants had these to call home at one time. Unfortunately in the late 1960s, a riot at a PAL-sponsored dance resulted in an immediate clamp down on all youth-centered activities.

Your column then goes on into a long tirade about problems involving increased education costs due to the need for funding English classes to enable the newest citizens to succeed in the education system. Our changing population demographics is not unique to Lewiston.

I can remember the dual-language issue when I was growing up in Lewiston: children were being raised in French-speaking homes, educated in schools that taught in French and English as a second language, then having to choose between a private French-speaking high school or English-speaking public high school. Most of those that chose the latter were successful with the transition.

I had classmates in school that lived in French-speaking homes with multi-generations living in these homes; retail stores were constantly looking to hire multi-lingual clerks to aid in serving the population. It was a positive for any child to be bilingual. Now the second language is changing. Time and a little help in English education will help everyone blend with the culture of Lewiston.

The limited number of individuals who will insist on remaining non-English-speaking will be forced to do business with those who have assimilated and now have jobs in services and trades, where a real potential for growth exists.

Mr. Mayor is right to deplore the dismal 68-percent graduation rate of our Lewiston High School students, and we should demand an accounting from the school department for it. How can we expect our students to accept responsibility for their education when their teachers and administrators won’t admit their own failures?

It’s not a matter of throwing more money at the problem. It has been for years a problem with the school administration and its inability to deal with educational problems. We can’t legislate a cure to this problem. We need people in school administration willing to think outside the box and use existing resources.

Brian Clark

Lewiston

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