SAD 4 officials looking to move grades 7-8 to PCHS

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GUILFORD — Citing overcrowding with 10 grades currently housed at Piscataquis Community Elementary School and potential educational benefits of having the older middle school students be in the secondary school building, SAD 4 officials were given the go-ahead to proceed with planning to move grades 7-8 to Piscataquis Community High School during a Feb. 11 school board meeting at PCHS.


The move is part of one of four goals identified in a five-year strategic plan approved by the directors that evening. Several years ago grade 7-8 classrooms moved from the high school several hundred yards up Campus Drive to PCES.


Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen said last year a committee began its work on developing a strategic plan for 2019-24, with the previous document expiring in 2010. She said the plan includes a vision, mission and rational statements. “We kept coming back to hope so as a staff we want to give our students hope so they can be safe to learn,” she said. “To be successful students and citizens in whatever they pursue.”


MacFadyen said four goals were identified, achievement, social/emotional wellness, facilities and family and community engagement. “From our goals we decided we needed task force groups for each of our goals,” the superintendent said with the groups devising action steps for various needs.


“We intentionally made this simple so it’s a document we can use with easy steps,” MacFadyen said about the eight-page strategic plan which can be amended at any time. She said this finished product should be better to use than a plan filling a 3-inch binder that would end up sitting on the shelf. 


PCHS Principal John Keane chaired the facilities goal task force and he said a parent survey on a proposed grade 7-8 move was sent to all K-12 homes across SAD 4 with 45 responses coming back. 


“The one option that had the most votes was grades 7-8 here at the high school,” Keane said. The survey data said 55 percent of the respondents were comfortable with grades 7-12 being housed at PCHS, 42 percent were comfortable with grades 9-12 at the secondary school and 73 percent were uncomfortable with having grades 6-12 at PCHS. Multiple concerns related to how exposed middle school pupils would be to high school students.


“I would say staff are very supportive of a move, I would say staff want to keep it distinct,” he said, with grades 7-8 having had a separate wing several years ago. Keane said middle school staff have indicated they would like the move to happen quickly, such as for 2020-21.


“This plan I think is asking you all to move 7-8 back for the start of the next school school year,” Keane said. He said student surveys would be carried to see how they feel and feedback sought from the community to help determine all the logistics. From there plans would be developed to carry out the move.


The parent survey indicated there is support for how the move would benefit music, mentorship and sharing of programs. Concerns included a recess spot for middle-schoolers, making sure there is not another move in the future and keeping the superintendent’s office in the building. A request was made to keep the same school name (it had been Piscataquis Community Secondary School when grades 7-12 were at the building) and questions were asked regarding gym use at PCES for middle school sports.


PCES Principal Anita Wright was asked her thoughts and she said, “The crowding issue has come up and that is a real concern.” She said challenges were posed by an influx of new students enrolling after the start of classes and the building does not really have the space for another classroom.


Wright said at times some students will work in small groups with an ed tech in the hallway. “We have seven different bell schedules in that building so someone’s going through the hallways all the time,” she said. 


The principal said another issue due to the lack of space is there is no place for a student to go if they are coping with a hard time and need some quiet time. “Obviously you have quite a developmental age range, 4 to 14 or even 15,” Wright added about the present setup.


“That overcrowding piece is a challenge, and the schedule,” she concluded.


In other business, Keane reported that Guilford Town Manager David Wilson came up with an idea for business sponsorships for the ballfield on Water Street, which is owned by the community and used by SAD 4 and youth sports teams. 


“We will work with the business to make the banner that they want,” Keane said, with students being involved. “That’s a neat project.”


Students will create a 2- by 4-foot banner to be prominently displayed along the fencing facing Route 15, so all who drive by can see the business takes youth sports and recreational areas in Guilford seriously. A two-year sponsorship for $300 guarantees the banner will be replaced if needed. Interested businesses can contact the town office at 207-876-2202 for more information.


The school board also heard from PCHS English instructor Joseph Hennessey, the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year on his past year. Hennessey — who thanked district officials for all their support — said he has had 13 articles published to date, made a half dozen officials school site visits including in southern Maine, California and Germany, made eight keynote addresses/formal speaking engagements, took part in seven TV/radio/book/podcast interviews, visited seven states on official duties, had four meetings with federal representatives and also visited Germany and Switzerland on official duties. 




“I spend a lot of my time advocating for rural schools and what rural schools in Maine look like,” Hennessey said. 


He said he has grown his professional network to include 56 other teachers of the year and joined other professional organization associations.


Hennessey said two possible developments he is excited about are a potential Harvard/MIT partnership with rural Maine schools, which is the result of networking with the 2015 National Teacher of the Year and the connection has been forwarded to the Maine Department of Education. The second development is a potential rural teacher fellowship with Thomas College.


Since serving as the 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year, Hennessey said he has done more writing and advocacy for rural education. “I have an increased appreciation for what rural education looks like throughout our country,” Hennessey said.

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