Next step taken toward alternative high school program and district-wide realignment plan

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    MILO — For the last month-plus, SAD 41 officials have been examining the possibility of creating an alternative program for high school students as well as a larger realignment plan involving various programs and students. During a school board meeting on April 22 the directors approved the adoption of an alternative program for the next two years and authorized Superintendent Michael Wright to develop a realignment plan to accommodate the implementation and housing of the program.

    “It is being able to offer another opportunity to students who, for whatever reason, it isn’t working at the high school,” Wright said, as SAD 41 is looking to partner with the Carleton Project, a licensed, private alternate school approved by the Maine Department of Education.
    “It is a collaboration between a private agency and public school system, and we would work together,” Wright said. The alternate program would target students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, with entrance to the program based upon perceived need.
    Based upon preliminary figures the budget for the Carleton Project in the first year would be between $120,000 and $146,000. Funding for the program would come through the savings in the school budget realized through various reductions at the Marion C. Cook School in LaGrange. These total reductions could be over $200,000, which would mean no additional dollars would be needed that are not part of the current school year’s budget.
    “We have a lot of details to work out, but all in all I think people are positive about the possibilities,” Wright said.
    Past discussions have mentioned a district-wide realignment plan with the Carleton Project being located at the Marion C. Cook School. The school’s current students, enrollment figures could fall below a 30-pupil  count next year, would attend Milo Elementary instead and all sixth-graders in SAD 41 would move to the Penquis Valley School. Under the realignment plan two sections of pre-kindergarten could be housed in Milo, and a behavioral program could also be located at the school in LaGrange instead of SAD 41 paying to have these pupils be educated elsewhere.
    Wright said he would come back to the board with a further developed realignment plan at a future meeting. He said the district may be able to bring in students from outside SAD 41 to attend the alternate and/or behavioral programs on a tuition basis, which would increase the district’s revenues. “I think it is a plan that is better than what we are doing now and allows for more opportunities for kids,” while also providing financial benefits.
    The superintendent said an interview was recently conducted for the Carleton Project, with a candidate who is teaching in a similar program in Bangor. “If you approve that, we think we have a good person to bring to you next week,” Wright said before the board voted to move forward.
    In other business, Wright said progress continues on developing the 2014 academic year budget. “We are working every day on the whole budget process,” he said, saying on April 24 a budget workshop is scheduled to have presentations made on the high school, middle school and elementary school levels.
    “Hopefully at some point we are going to have a big picture of how staffing is going to look for next year and how we are going to face the challenges for next year,” he said. Wright added that the school board would be seeing a plan for the 2013-14 budget in the near future.
    The superintendent said Gov. Paul LePage mentioned a grading system for Maine schools in his State of the State address earlier in the year and discussions in SAD 41 have examined this system. “He’s basing it upon the model of Florida,” Wright said, with the grading criteria including factors such as student achievement in reading and math, growth in progress and achievement, performance and growth in the bottom 25 percent of elementary students and high school graduation rates.
    “It’s a simplistic approach to give a school a letter grade,” Wright said as a number of other considerations — student involvement, performance in science classes, gifted and talented and more — are not being factored in. “It doesn’t mean we won’t take it seriously, we will take it seriously but we will see it for what it is — an attempt to politicize schools in my view. We have a lot of great things, regardless of what our letter grade may be.”
    During the meeting the school board accepted the resignation, with regret, of Milo Elementary Principal Eric Smith who will have been in the position for the three years when his tenure ends at end of the current school year. “I have been debating going back in the classroom for some time now,” Smith said. “It’s a difficult one, but it’s one that has to be made,” he said, adding that serving as the head of a school has been an eye-opening learning experience and he always felt supported in the position.   
    “Eric has been a great member of our administrative team,” Wright said, adding that Smith went from being an assistant administrator at the high school level to being the principal of the elementary school. “I want to thank him for everything he has done and wish him well in his new pursuits.”
    After the Penquis Valley High School boys basketball team took home the Class C Gold Ball in early March, the team’s head coach Tony Hamlin announced he would be retiring from the position. The district did not have to look very far to find the next coach of the Patriots as Jason Mills was appointed to the position. Mills has been coaching in the basketball program and he has been the head coach of the boys soccer team for a number of seasons.
    In her administrative report, Brownville Elementary/Marion C. Cook Principal Lynn Weston said the LaGrange school has been named a 2012-13 Mix It Up Model School from Teaching Tolerance. “That’s a really nice honor to receive,” she said as the Marion C. Cook School was just one of 63 recipients across the country and Guidance Counselor BJ Bowden arranges the event.
    Weston said all three SAD 41 elementary schools received a Bronze Award in the Healthier US School Challenge as students are learning to eat healthier. “That was a nice honor for (Food Services Director Susan Mulherin) as well as us,” Weston said.
    Smith reported that new “buzz in” entry doors were installed at Milo Elementary during April vacation. “This is the result of the work of the safety committee that’s been ongoing throughout the year, it looks like it’s going to be a nice addition to our school and should work well,” he said. Smith said Milo Elementary is the first school to have the safety mechanism installed, and other SAD 41 schools will soon follow.
    He said a trip to Boston by fifth-graders on May 3 should still be happening, in light of the marathon bombings and ensuing manhunts.
    Penquis Valley Principal Matt Hackett said he and MPA Principal’s Award recipient Jason Durant attended the award luncheon on April 6 in Bangor. Hackett said Durant’s name was not chosen that day for one of the five $1,000 scholarships, but he learned that the University of Maine has awarded Durant a $1,000 scholarship. Durant plans to study forestry in Orono.

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