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Caribou High School is back in session with new hires and a new coat of paint

CARIBOU, Maine — The main office of Caribou High School was buzzing with activity on Wednesday morning, the first day of school, with a seemingly endless stream of students coming in asking for schedules, information about their homeroom, or help with their locker combinations.

Caribou High School, like several other schools in The County, begin in mid-August to compensate for a two week potato harvest break in September and October, a long standing northern Maine tradition that is still going strong in Caribou. Schools in Easton and Presque Isle also were opening their doors this week, while St. John Valley students return to classes on Aug. 22.

Elementary schools in the Caribou area, however, don’t break for harvest, so those students won’t be returning until Aug. 29.

Caribou High School Principal Travis Barnes said Wednesday that the school has surveyed students after the harvest break every year since he has served as principal, and that student participation is still strong.

“If student participation dips or changes drastically, the [RSU 39 Board of Education] may make a decision about harvest break,” he said, “but I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future. We would have to drop a lot.”

RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak said that if student participation in harvest drops to 15 percent or less, he and other school officials would meet with local farmers before any decisions are made, adding that the high school, on average, sees a participation rate ranging from 18 to 22 percent.

In terms of overall student population, Barnes said the incoming freshman class of 114 has resulted in roughly 20 more students than last year, and that CHS now has a total enrollment of about 470.

Fifteen new staff members were hired by RSU 39 over the summer, many of which are employed at the high school. According to Doak, RSU 39 received about 125 applications in the past months.

“We were impressed by the number of applicants this year who showed interest in RSU 39,” the superintendent said. “We hired some really good people.”

Barnes agreed, adding that he saw a “plethora of applicants” for every position within CHS.

“In some cases I would have loved to hire the top two or three people,” he said, “but the upside to that is that I feel we hired quality employees. I heard several times during interviews that people were excited to work here, that RSU 39 in particular was an attraction to them.”

Among the new hires was Caribou police officer Kevin St. Peter, who will serve as a resource officer primarily in the high school, but also in Teague Park Elementary and Caribou Middle School.

“We’re very excited to have Officer St. Peter,” said Barnes. “With the current times and what has been happening in schools across the country, safety is obviously paramount.”

St. Peter is currently attending training courses to work in the school, and will officially make a presence on Monday, Aug. 27.

Barnes said the school resource officer will be treated just like a school employee. He will have a school email account, allowing students to communicate with him, and both Barnes and Doak said he also will serve a counseling role in addition to protecting the student body.

“We want kids to be able to contact him,” said Barnes. “We want him to be visible and making connections with kids. He’s even asked if he could eat lunch in the cafeteria, which I think is a great idea. You have to build a relationship with students, so they feel the trust and that they are working as a team. That’s what we want out of Officer St. Peter, and he’s on board with that.”

Doak said that, when parents heard RSU 39 was searching for an officer, he received some emails from parents indicating they were excited about the idea.

The principal said the officer will be armed and have a patrol car, just like a normal officer, adding that “for all intents and purposes he is a Caribou Police Officer,” just that his “shift will be here, within the Caribou schools.”

“It’s not about sniffing out kids and getting them in trouble,” said Barnes. “It’s about keeping the kids here safe. Parents trust their kids with us, and trust us to return them home safely.”

In addition to new staff and a bump in student population at the high school, local contractors recently completed several renovations at the facility over the summer.

“I have to applaud J.P Martin and Sons, and all of their subcontractors, and Wayne St. Pierre [RSU 39 maintenance director],” Barnes said. “They were great to work with and very accommodating.”

Work included reinforcing the roof below the main office with steel beams, replacing office windows with more insulated glass, and a complete renovation of the gym, from the floors to the bleachers.

Doak said the school also is offering free breakfast for all high school students until November, to see how the program is received, at which point numbers will be reported to the board of education and a decision will be made regarding whether or not the meal program will continue.

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