The year ahead

By Maria Libby | Aug 11, 2016

Summer in Maine faithfully heralds in an unmistakable “vacationland” feel and those of us lucky enough to work and live here do what we can to take advantage of every last moment of it, navigating between the traffic patterns of tourists as best we can. It is hard to get enough of this gorgeous weather — I contemplated bottling up some lake water, wondering if the smell of the lake would still be there come mid-winter. For most educators, the month of August is a bit like Sunday night; it is met with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety about what is just around the corner. Although I enjoyed some time off this summer, I continue working through the summer. This time is precious. It is when most of the year’s planning happens. I wanted to share some of that planning and thinking with the community — four areas in particular.

CRMS Project

As many of you are aware, the first attempt at a new middle school was defeated at the polls in February 2015. The school board decided to regroup, revision, and attempt to bring a project back to voters in November 2017. A middle school visioning committee has been meeting for about six months (all meetings are live-streamed on the town’s website) to determine how we can successfully move forward with a project. There is a universal understanding by committee members and the public we have spoken to that something needs to happen, as the building is old, deteriorating, and ill-designed. The group has listened to many residents and will continue to do so in determining the best way to move forward. We are currently trying to determine whether we should simply patch the current building, renovate it, or build new. In the next several months, we will engage with the community to thoughtfully consider these options. Together, we will best address the needs of our middle school students.

Bus Barn

Again, most of you may be aware that the first middle school vote included close to $3.5 million to renovate the MET building in order to house most of the functions now served in the Bus Barn (Central Office, Adult Ed, Special Ed, and Alternative Ed). Upon defeat of that project, the SAD board decided to NOT try to address the programming needs within the Bus Barn alongside the needs of the middle school.

The functions in the Bus Barn cover both the SAD (K-8, two towns) and CSD (9-12, five towns) districts, but they are technically CSD offices and the SAD simply pays for half of the services. When the SAD board chose not to address the needs of the Bus Barn, the CSD board established a committee to determine how to move forward on this front, as it cannot be dismissed any longer. Not only is the Bus Barn inadequate office space (it was designed to be a bus garage), but it is also too small to for the current programs. For over a decade, the district has been looking for an alternate space for these functions. The current committee has been evaluating numerous options including office space in town, building on district land, and using other district properties. We have found that office space is readily available for a reasonable cost and is the most cost effective option. We are currently taking a serious look at leasing or purchasing a building in Camden or Rockport to house the Central Office, Adult Ed, and the Special Ed office. This would enable Zenith to stay in the Bus Barn with needed additional space, and it would enable us to add an additional 1.5 bus bays. If we are able to secure a location that would require a relatively small 20-year bond, it will appear on the November 2016 ballot. The cost to the CSD is likely to be very similar to the annual rental cost for the Bus Barn, so the impact to taxpayers will be minimal, if there is one at all. In either case, if we negotiate a solution that calls for voter input, I will do my best to keep residents informed.

Classroom Instruction

The top priority within the walls of our buildings, which truly gets at the heart of education, is improving classroom instruction. What happens in a classroom between a teacher and a student is the most important factor in student learning. State mandates and new program initiatives can distract us from a focus on the most important work we do. This year, we are going to hold strong to prioritizing classroom instruction. Building administrators will be in classrooms more frequently, professional development will focus on instruction, and teachers will get better feedback than ever about their practice, from peers, supervisors, and students. We will make a concerted effort to put students in more control of their learning, giving them more voice and choice in what they are doing. Students learn best when their learning includes strong relationships with adults, active participation and ownership, a sense of belonging and being valued, meaning and purpose, and a supportive environment. We know this and I want to continually strive for excellence in these areas and inspire others to do the same.

Drugs and Alcohol

With the dissolution of Communities that Care, it is up to the schools and parents to work together more than ever to address the drug and alcohol pressures confronting our adolescent population. I routinely hear from recent graduates and current students that there are concerning levels of drug and alcohol abuse in our high school, from all segments of the population, including our most talented. At the same time, I read in the paper about the local rates of heroin use, babies born addicted to drugs, and prescription abuse. There is no way our schools are immune from these statistics. We are in trying times. There are a lot of addictive behaviors that may lead to health problems, from over exercising to over eating to binge drinking. As we educate our students, in partnership with parents, we want all our children to grow up with healthy habits. No one intentionally tries to promote drug abuse, anxiety, anorexia, or any of the unhealthy patterns that can negatively impact our children’s lives. It is hard work to stem the tide, especially given what we know about the adolescent brain. However, I hope parents will join the schools in doing what we each can to promote and encourage healthy decision-making. This necessarily includes setting and keeping boundaries, having open conversations, and trusting that our children need us to guide them, even when they suggest otherwise. We must stand together, arm in arm, willing to stand tough and maybe put up a fight to give our children the best foundation we can. Let’s all stay alert and tuned in.

Here’s to a stellar year in making an already great school system even better!

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