2018-08-30 / Front Page

Superintendents outline plans for school efforts

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO/BIDDEFORD/OLD ORCHARD BEACH – As the school year begins this week, the Courier spoke to the three superintendents, Dominic DePatsy of Saco, Jeremy Ray of Biddeford, and John Suttie of RSU 23 in Old Orchard Beach, about improvements, changes and what to expect from this year in each district. Saco

As school begins in Saco, Superintendent Dominic DePatsy speaks excitedly about the changes and improvements to the district. Using the much-debated $39.3 million school board budget, Saco is working toward fulfilling its strategic plan for the district, moving forward this year with the mission to improve literacy and math proficiency among students.

“We’re focusing on closing the gap,” DePatsy said. “We’re looking for ways to care for the emotional well being of our students as well, and ways to be a safe space for students.”

With the acquisition of iPads for second graders, the district achieves the mission of providing the computers on a one-to-one basis for all students, kindergarten through middle school. Another achievement in the strategic plan is the implementation of pre-kindergarten, offering one full all-day classroom, and two half-day classrooms. Students in the middle school will spend this year focusing on project-based education and will work with neighboring districts.

“We’re really pushing on the strategic plan, and we’ve been quite successful,” DePatsy said. “Later this year we’ll be able to narrow our focus to be able to better serve the students in Saco.”

According to DePatsy, the number of students in younger grades, specifically kindergarten through third, are on the rise, and he hopes that the surge of faith in the school system continues.

“We struggled with getting our budget passed and everyone kept telling us that it would never be approved,” DePatsy said, referring to the $3.5 million increase from the previous budget. “But it went out to the public and it was clear that two-thirds of the population was Saco to have a better school district. Saco is changing and people have shown that they are very supportive of our schools. It’s a good, positive energy going into the school year. We’re super excited to be back.”

Biddeford

In Biddeford, Superintendent Jeremy Ray is proud of the district’s continuing work to support students.

“I won’t say anything is ‘new and exciting,’ because we’re continuing the same level for our district this year as we have over the last few years,” Ray said.

This year, students in elementary school will use “learning binders,” a technique that will allow them to track their progress in each subject and show when they have mastered a topic. This, said Ray, will allow students to celebrate their accomplishments before they move on. The district is also working to become a more emotionally supportive community for students, and is working collectively to learn about the traumas and stresses that occur in and out of school, and to be able to address them effectively.

“We want to be a community that can handle and support each other, not just in students, but in staff too,” Ray said.

Biddeford will continue its effort against truancy and absenteeism this year, striving to impress upon students and families the importance of attendance.

“Every day is valuable to a student, and we’re working hard to get them to understand that,” Ray said.

This fall will be exciting for Biddeford athletics, as two improvement projects reach completion. The renovations to Waterhouse Field, which included the installation of turf this summer, will be commemorated with a celebration on Friday, Sept.7 at the first game of the season. The new track put in a Brother Hebert Field on Maplewood Avenue has been delayed by weather, but Ray is hopeful to have it open to the public soon.

“Nothing dries in this humidity,” Ray said with a laugh. “We’re hoping it will be done within the week. We wanted to have a ceremony this fall, but we may have to wait until spring. We’re excited for both projects to open this year.”

Old Orchard Beach

The RSU 23 offices in Old Orchard Beach are starting the new school year with a change of scenery, moving into the high school. As Superintendent John Suttie also serves as principal of Old Orchard Beach High School, the shift in offices will streamline day-to-day workings for both the superintendent and staff.

Over the summer, the Loranger Middle School gym was renovated and includes a new gym floor and curtain for the stage. Loranger will also offer a high school level world languages course for eighth grade students to prepare them for language classes at Old Orchard Beach High School. At Jameson Elementary School, the pre-kindergarten program has expanded, offering three classrooms instead of two.

According to Suttie, the most exciting changes for the school year are the new staff hires.

“We’re in a great financial place and we do staff upgrades every year,” Suttie said. “We’re lucky to be in a great area geographically, so every time we have an opening, we get the best candidates. It’s allowed us to staff with the best, and we’re looking forward to a great year.”

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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