SAD 70 reviews student relocation options

8 years ago

HODGDON, Maine — Turnout was sparse Jan. 20, 2016 for a special SAD 70 board meeting to discuss options for where the seventh- and eighth-grade classes should be housed next year.

Only 30 individuals attended the special meeting, held at the Mill Pond Elementary School to discuss findings of a school subcommittee. Of those 30 people, 20 were employees in the district.

“I want to thank those on the advisory committee,” said SAD 70 board chairman Joel Oliver. “They worked the past eight months on this topic and did a lot of hard work and due diligence.”

SAD 70 has been exploring the notion of relocating seventh- and eighth-graders to Hodgdon High School for almost a year. The move was first suggested by Superintendent Scott Richardson in March, 2015 as a way for the district to be more efficient with the use of its staff.

Traditionally, Mill Pond Elementary School has served pre-K to grade eight students. Currently, some teachers from the high school must go over to Mill Pond School to provide instruction to the seventh- and eighth-graders. That means there are times those teachers are not in-house to assist with students in grades 9-12. The reverse is also true as there are times a seventh- and eighth-grade student has had to wait for the teacher to come to their building for helping with classwork assignments.

The 11-member committee featured two school board members (Oliver and Angela Howland); two students (Madison Merritt and Autumn Ganzel); two staff members (Aimee Goff and Joe Fagnant); two parents (Melissa Berube and Suzette Belyea); and administrators Scott Richardson (superintendent), Mary Harbison (high school principal) and Loreen Wiley (Mill Pond principal).

The findings of that committee were presented to the school board in December. As presented in the report, “the committee members were not able to come to a consensus as to what the best location for seventh- and eighth-grade would be for next year. We have two unique programs for pre-K to 8 and 9-12 and some members agree with (those) in the public who want to preserve the schools as they are currently configured. Other members see the potential of a 7-12 school as a positive move for the students and a move that helps preserve a high school presence in SAD 70.”

Some of the advantages to moving grades 7-8 to the high school listed in the report were:

— Teachers and students would be housed in the same building rather than teachers going between buildings and not be available to students at certain times of the day.

— High school teachers have available blocks in schedule to teach grades 7-8.

— High school teachers are already certified to teach grades 7-12 and can teach in their areas of expertise.

— There would be an increased population in the high school building

— The move would free up space at Mill Pond School for program development.

— The gymnasium at Mill Pond School would be more available with one less lunch period needed.

— Grades 7-8 students could have access to full science labs.

Some of the advantages of keeping the students at Mill Pond School listed in the report were:— The social/emotional aspect of keeping the students in a younger configuration.

— Mill Pond School as pre-K to Grade 8 is unique in the area and should be preserved.

— Hodgdon High is very unique as the only 9-12 high school in the area and should be preserved.

— The prediction of declining enrollment at the high school has not been realized as the enrollment is down about seven students.

— Hodgdon High is not currently set up for 7-12 configuration — although it could be done.

As of January enrollment figures, there are 38 seventh-graders and 37 eighth-graders. Total enrollment at Mill Pond School is 333. There are only 142 students at Hodgdon High School, but that figure is still larger than many other high schools in the area, Oliver said.

“Last year, the only high schools with a larger enrollment than ours were Presque Isle, Caribou, Houlton and Madawaska,” Oliver said. “Fort Kent and Fort Fairfield had about the same enrollment. Everyone is experiencing declining enrollment.”

The report also showed that the district could save as much as $100,000 per year by making the switch. Much of that savings would be achieved by reducing staff and sharing resources. However, in order to reconfigure the high school, the district would incur a one-time cost of $30,000 in renovations to build new classrooms.

One issue the committee did come to agreement on was that sharing teachers between the two buildings was not ideal for the students.

“Sharing of teachers between the two schools is a negative for both students and teachers,” the report states. “The teachers are not present to assist students when needed and the two different schedules do not lend themselves well to sharing of teachers. The committee recommends that both schools be fully staffed in either scenario so sharing of teachers is kept to a minimum.”

Most of those in attendance during the Jan. 20 meeting expressed concerns and opposition to moving the seventh- and eighth-graders for a variety of reasons. Some asked how the students would be separated from the high-schoolers, while others questioned the $30,000 figure for renovations, saying it could run much higher.

The majority of those in the audience who spoke felt that the seventh- and eighth-grade classes were not emotionally ready to be in the same building as the high schoolers and exposing those students to the older ones would have an adverse affect.

“As someone who works with middle school students, I would always vote to do whatever is best for the kids,” said Karen Sattler of Linneus. “I work with the kids when they are frustrated that they can’t get a teacher to answer questions (due to availability). I also see the anxiety in them even thinking about going across the street.”

Jared Carter of Hodgdon said he felt something had to be done and if the move could save the district $110,000 a year, the board should consider that option.

“I have been in favor of moving the seventh- and eighth-grade to the high school,” Carter said. “I hear that we need an overwhelming reason to move the students. If saving over $100,000 a year isn’t an overwhelming reason, I don’t know what is.”

Fagnant added he felt having one of the only 9-12 high schools in the region was a strong selling point that the district should try marketing to lure more students to the district.

The school board is expected to revisit the matter at its next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.