The Star-Herald

SAD 1 gives window into future of remote learning

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The SAD 1 school board approved its 2020-2021 budget proposal and elaborated on the future of remote learning in its meeting on Wednesday, May 13. 

Presque Isle High School seniors will be able to graduate in person in an altered ceremony that adheres to public health protocols, SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw said. The news is a bright spot in a spring where many senior class activities were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

The high school graduation ceremony will be in-person and be kept “as traditional as we can,” given the circumstances, Greenlaw said. The district plans on holding a series of “mini ceremonies” on June 5 and June 6, featuring nine students at a time, he said.

The Maine Department of Education provided guidelines for the graduation in line with social distancing. The traditional handshake from faculty and guests will not occur and students will grab their long-awaited diplomas from a table.

Despite the changes, Greenlaw said he felt it was vital to hold the high school ceremony as well as less elaborate celebrations for students graduating pre-K, fifth grade and eighth grade.

“We felt it was important for students to receive their diplomas on their graduation day, in their caps and gowns,” Greenlaw said. “They’ve had so many other things taken away from them.”

The board spent much of the meeting on the future of remote learning in the district in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Greenlaw referred to a memo he released on May 1 announcing that — owing to Gov. Janet Mills’ extension of her stay-at-home order through May 31 — students would not return to in-person instruction for the 2019-2020 school year. 

Presque Isle High School seniors will conclude the year on May 29 while the rest of the high school will finish on June 15. Elementary and middle school students will complete instruction on June 5. 

The superintendent also elaborated on his plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

Greenlaw said there were still many unknowns that will dictate how the district conducts business: the trajectory of COVID-19, future recommendations from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and whether Gov. Mills continues the state’s phased path toward normalcy. 

The district was planning for three scenarios: a return to regular in-person instruction, complete remote education and blended learning, he said.

The most unique of these would be blended learning, in which some students would learn in the classroom while others would learn at home. He said it would likely involve half of students coming to school on certain days while the other half learn online, with the groups switching off each day. 

With remote learning potentially not going away anytime soon, the district is focusing on ensuring that students have steady access to the internet, buying some students remote hotspots in recent months.

Most students surveyed said they had internet access of some kind, but that it was “becoming more of a problem,” Greenlaw said. Many do not have a secure connection or have parents utilize the house’s devices or wi-fi as they work remotely. 

“There is a difference between having a data plan and having really solid internet at home,” Greenlaw said. 

The board also voted unanimously to approve its 2020-2021 budget proposal for the fiscal year July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. 

The $26.2 million budget represents a 3.1 percent increase, or just over $782,000 (including adult education) since last year’s budget. According to the board, that number is about equivalent to the total amount of additional state aid: $751,451. 

The total tax levy of the district would remain the same, with some new changes by municipality. Presque Isle residents would see a slight decrease (-0.7 percent), while increases based on property valuation would impact Castle Hill (2.4 percent), Chapman (2.3 percent), Westfield (2 percent) and Mapleton (1.5 percent).

Voters will give their say in the district budget meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 17, immediately after the school board meeting that day at 6 p.m. The budget validation referendum is scheduled for July 14. 

In line with social distancing, the board said it planned to conduct the district budget meeting simultaneously in Presque Isle High School’s cafeteria, gym and auditorium. 

The board also accepted two resignation letters from teachers within the district. 

Doreen Archer, a second-grade teacher at Pine Street Elementary, will retire at the end of the school year after 30 years of teaching.

“As I transition into this new stage of life, I take with me the memory of my students’ beautiful smiles, many wonderful friendships, and my knowledge that I might have made a difference in this crazy world,” Archer said in her letter. 

Lisa Dow, an eighth-grade teacher at Presque Isle Middle School, announced that she was resigning to become principal at Washburn Elementary School.

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