2016-09-08 / Front Page

Saco school leader outlines goals, projects

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO – The school year has begun and Superintendent Dominic DePatsy said the Saco School Department will work this year on professional development for teachers, improving technology for students and proceeding with elementary school construction.

“Our programs are really solidifying our regular education instruction and we’re really focusing on the pedagogy of teaching,” DePatsy said. “We’re trying to get them top-notch … Our real focus is on curriculum.”

DePatsy said a data management position was added in this year’s budget to help with the district’s reporting to the state of student achievement data.

“We just don’t want teachers doing that anymore, we want them with the kids,” DePatsy said. “Time is of the essence for teaching because we don’t have (students) that long, so we want (teachers) in front of kids as much as possible.”

Kindergarten students now have “oneto one” iPads in the classroom, as part of “blended learning,” said DePatsy, where certain apps on the iPads help the students to learn math and reading. Oneto one is an iPad program that uses the devices to complement learning. DePatsy said there are only four apps on the iPads for the kindergarteners to use.

“They help with the building blocks to reading, using letters and sounds … (Students) want these devices. They know them better than most adults,” he said. “We’re trying to get kids ready for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

In addition, the district spent $150,000 to strengthen wi-fi connections in the schools.

DePatsy said he has entertained a “surge” of out-of-district requests for students to attend Saco schools.

“We all have (increased out-of-district requests) in York County,” he said. “We’re talking about it at our superintendents meeting.”

DePatsy said the state is advocating for school choice and even if he denied the requests, the out-of-town parents could appeal his decision to the commissioner of education, who then usually requires the district to take the students. Even though the per-pupil amount of state education aid follows each student and is allocated to the school districts they attend, DePatsy said districts can start to accumulate expenses for special needs children. DePatsy said he has received nearly 50 requests from out-of-district students seeking to attend Saco schools.

As of the Courier’s deadline, the city council was scheduled at its Tuesday, Sept. 6 meeting to vote on approving a $21.5 million bond to be placed on the ballot for voter approval in the general election. If approved by voters, the school improvement bond would fund building a new elementary school at the site of Young School, and upgrades and additions to Governor John Fairfield School. DePatsy said about half of parents want a brand new consolidated school and half wanteto keep the local neighborhood schools.

After a lengthy process, the school committee decided to keep both schools, he said.

Mayor Roland Michaud said now that the data has been collected and distributed and the financial implications known, it’s time for the public to weigh in.

“It’s probably time to do it,” Michaud said, noting that if the city waited for the schools to make the state list for school renovation funding, it could be waiting for decades.

“It’s been 20 years working on this issue,” he said, mentioning that in the early 2000’s, Young School had problems with mold related to the school’s internal heating system.

“We spent a fair amount of money marginally renovating it and we promised back then that we would replace it,” said Michaud.

Although bonds are usually routinely approved by voters, Michaud said voters review each bond and each one is “taken at its value.”

“There are people who feel we need a new school, but that we can’t afford a new school,” he said. “I’m hoping it gets approved by the council ... I think we owe it to the community to move it forward. If it isn’t meant to be, voters will tell us. That’s what democracy is supposed to be all about.”

Now in its third year as a standalone district, having withdrawn from Regional School Unit 23, DePatsy said the Saco School Department isn’t presenting any major changes and is working to define its identity.

“Last year we built the foundation for Saco and now we’re staring to put up the house,” he said.

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