2015-09-03 / Front Page

Schools tackle initiatives for new year

By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD/SACO/OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The arbiter of summer and autumn – “back to school” season – has arrived, when summer’s improvisations give way to school day routines. The first day of school marks the countdown to pumpkins and hayrides, and another notch in the lifelong journey of learning.

Like his students, new Saco Superintendent Dominic DePatsy had his first day of school this week, just two months into his tenure. Since becoming superintendent, DePatsy has held “listening and learning” tours with staff to best familiarize himself with the newly formed municipal school district, now in its second year. DePatsy said the tour will continue into October.

“Out of that is going to help me inform the (school) board about the next steps,” DePatsy said, “through the process of strategic planning and rebranding ourselves as a school district … Once we know our goals, it will help us design the district.”

DePatsy said getting the community involved in the future of the city’s schools is also a priority. On Election Day this November, school officials will poll community members on what they would like to do with the city’s two K-2 schools, Gov. John Fairfield School and Young School. DePatsy wants to know whether the community would rather have one pre-kindergarten to grade two school, or rebuild Young School and update Gov. John Fairfield School.

“If I don’t know what citizens want, I don’t know which way to inform the board,” DePatsy said. “We don’t have all the stakeholders present at building construction committee meetings.

“The parents that are just having kids now are ones going to be the ones affected by this.”

DePatsy said the district will hold forums to discuss the pros and cons of each option.

“We definitely need to do something with Young,” he said.

Expanding school services to include pre-K instruction, is an initiative more school districts are taking on.

“Early childhood education is really critically important to getting kids prepared to coming in to kindergarten,” said Lloyd Crocker, superintendent of Regional School Unit 23 in Old Orchard Beach. “When you get what you get, you have to kind of assess what caps there are that exist in their learning and kind of meet them where they’re at, and hopefully get them at the same starting point when they come in as kindergartenrs.”

The Old Orchard Beach district acquired a fouryear grant to expand and develop pre-K education in affiliation with Head Start Program and Child Development Services.

Saco will also house its own Head Start pre-K program in a building at 80 Common St. that the district will be getting access to on Oct. 1. RSU 23 had been renting the building from Saco School Department in recent years for the TIDES Day Treatment Program.

Crocker said the Head Start Program in Old Orchard Beach will be housed at Jameson School which, until now, has been a K-3 school. Putting the program at Jameson School left the building stretched for space, however, Crocker said. To accommodate the program, the thirdgrade classes were moved to Loranger Memorial School, which now makes Jameson School a pre-K-2 school and Loranger Memorial School will now educate grades three to eight school instead of four to eight.

“The RSU has been really trying to capitalize on being a K-12 connective entity,” Crocker said. “This helps us embrace more of a K-8 (pre-secondary) model.”

The start time is also changing, Crocker said. Old Orchard Beach High School and grades six to eight at Loranger Memorial School will start their school days at 8 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. Grades pre-K-5 will start their school days at 8:30 a.m., which is also a half hour later for third-to-fifth graders, who used to start the day at 8 a.m.

“The high school will start a half hour later, which we feel will fit them better with their biological clocks,” Crocker said.

The TIDES Day Treatment Program, an educational program for students who need therapeutic support for emotional and behavioral conditions, will now be located in a modular building at Old Orchard Beach High School. Crocker said TIDES Day Treatment is an in-house program that saves the district from paying for out-ofdistrict placement of students in similar programs such as Spurwink Services.

The district also purchased a modular structure with three additional classroom spaces at Loranger Memorial School, which will be used for teaching health classes, the school’s restorative school practices program, and extra Response-to-Intervention support services for students with behavioral needs. Shifting of space will allow Loranger Memorial School to accommodate the third-graders now attending school there, Crocker said.

The restorative school practices model has been developed over recent years as an alternative way of addressing disciplinary approaches to behavioral misconduct, Crocker said.

“The initiative has been very successful. We’re very pleased with it,” Crocker said. “This year we have a supported restorative classroom, so when there are issues with students around discipline and them being sent out of class, instead of being sent to an administrator, they’re sent to a restorative classroom where the teacher there will engage them in reflective exercises as a major part of being able to get them to be able to return to mainstream … We’re very excited about it.”

Like Saco, Old Orchard Beach also has to make plans for its facilities. Crocker said he intends to engage the community this year to determine what the district’s next steps should be.

One option, Crocker said, would be to renovate all three school buildings and bring them up to code and environmental standards, which would be very expensive. Other options include building a brand new K-8 school, or even just having one K-12 school.

“It’s best to start strategizing how to actually get the public engaged in the conversation, by getting them to understand first and foremost, the state of our facilities, and calculating in costs,” Crocker said. “How to improve facilities sooner rather than later to deliver the best education to our students, and how much it would actually cost to address all those issues, especially since we have land at the high school campus to actually put a new facility on.”

Crocker said he plans to have community forums organized by November, so that by the end of the school year, the district will know which way it wants to go.

“We’re moving down that path as fast as we can,” he said. “If we’re going to get this done, we need to do it in the next few years. The buildings won’t hold up much longer, it’s really a ticking time bomb.”

In Biddeford, Superintendent Jeremy Ray said an exciting new development at the city’s high school is that the Compass Project, a boat building school, has moved from Portland to Biddeford High School.

“It’s more than a school department program. It’s really a community program,” Ray said. “They’ll be doing the boat building here, right here outside. Our students will be able to access it much easier. It will bring some exposure to boat building and being close to the water and all the support the community has given.”

Although the program includes students from several districts, Biddeford sends a high number of students, said Ray, and the move will save the district in transportation costs.

Another regional education service, the Center of Technology, which Biddeford administers, will be seeing some improvements this year, said Ray, as its building undergoes $200,000 worth of renovations.

Paulette Bonneau, the center’s new administrator who was formerly principal at John F. Kennedy School, will also oversee the development of a new plumbing and heating program that should be available by next year, he added.

Ray said the district is also strengthening its partnership with University of New England by enlisting more interns to do student teaching hours in Biddeford. Ray said the two organizations will also be releasing information about a new partnership on Sept. 16, but could not provide any more details.

Ray said a pilot program this year will use University of New England students as student teachers half time for a full year instead of full time for one semester.

“So the classroom will always have two adults in it all year long,” Ray said. “We’re treating it like a true pilot, collecting data, seeing what effect it will have on students, how parents feel about it. Then maybe it will move from a one-year pilot to something with more exposure in the future.

“We’re really trying to get intentional with how we plan this. We hooked them up with experienced quality teachers in our classrooms.”

Ray said Biddeford schools will use the services of about 20 student interns this year and provide them with professional development to prepare them for the workplace.

In addition to dealing with facilities and programs, all three superintendents said their districts are working hard to develop their professional evaluation tools as required by state law and to make sure their curriculum is aligned with the Common Core standards.

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