SAD 1 superintendent says district will remain in-person as long as possible

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — During a virtual school board meeting Wednesday, SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw outlined the district’s plans for continuing in-person instruction, so long as the Maine CDC allows Aroostook schools to keep that model of learning.

Last Friday the Maine Department of Education announced that Aroostook County schools would keep their “green” designation for at least until the next update on Jan. 29. 

The designations of green, yellow or red are seen as recommendations of how schools in each of Maine’s counties should instruct students during the pandemic, based on case positivity rates and related factors. Green is full in-person classes, yellow is a hybrid of in-person and remote learning and red is all remote learning.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the second remote meeting since December when cases in Aroostook County began rising to their highest levels and many school districts, including SAD 1, opted for the fully remote “red” learning model. Greenlaw and board Chairperson Lucy Richard sat socially distanced at Presque Isle High School with several other board members while the remainder of the group appeared via Zoom.

Greenlaw addressed the early release dates and closures that occurred at Pine Street Elementary School, Presque Isle Middle School and Presque Isle High School the previous week. In all situations, a positive COVID-19 test prompted the district to conduct contact tracing and have all close contacts isolate themselves for the time being. 

While the district had enough full-time substitute teachers to reopen the elementary and high schools, the middle school was closed Friday, Jan. 15, and reopened the following Tuesday due to a higher number of teachers isolating.

Despite COVID-19 affecting SAD 1 more than any other time since March 2020, Greenlaw said that all schools intend to remain fully open for classes unless the state designates Aroostook County as yellow.

“If that happens, we would go to our hybrid model, with two days of in-person learning and three days of remote learning,” Greenlaw said. “We were prepared to make that change after Martin Luther King Jr. Day if we had been named yellow.”

Greenlaw noted that if COVID-19 cases remain stable in Aroostook County, he does not envision the district choosing a yellow model on its own. He referenced news stories from other parts of Maine that indicate few schools choosing the red model except in dire circumstances, such as the recent outbreak among Bangor schools’ transportation staff.

Nonetheless, the district is seeing an increase in families who are opting for remote instruction. Overall, 18 percent of students in the district’s five schools have chosen remote learning compared to 9.5 percent in October when Aroostook County had few COVID-19 cases.

Most of the students who are opting for remote learning are from Presque Isle High School. After a previous conversation with Principal Dave Bartlett, Greenlaw learned that most students’ decisions have been based around college preparation.

“A lot of college-bound students know that they might be remote next year, so they’re using the time now to become prepared,” Greenlaw said. 

In other business, the board unanimously approved to hire Charlie Anderson as the interim business manager. Anderson previously worked in that position before the hiring of Clint Deschene in 2012 and will fulfill that role from Feb. 1 to June 30 while the district searches for a full-time staff member. Former business manager Clint Deschene was present in Wednesday’s meeting but officially resigned in December to begin Ignite PI, a nonprofit focused on entrepreneurship and business development in Presque Isle.

The board also welcomed its newest member John Harvell, who was elected to a three-year term in November. Harvell, a State Farm Insurance agent, and his wife Heather have three children attending SAD 1 schools and have been active at community events, including those at Wintergreen Arts Center.