SAD 41 part of regional high school planning

MILO — A proposed regional high school, offering a number of vocational programs and college courses in addition to core subjects, would provide more opportunities than are currently available at individual high schools, according to area school district administrators involved in the project.

There are many steps to go but a regional committee made up of the participating project school districts has been meeting regularly for the planning process.

SAD 41 officials learned more during a Feb. 2 school board meeting conducted over Zoom as SAD 46 Superintendent Kevin Jordan and Curriculum Coordinator Matt Drewette-Card spoke on the regional high school project.

“We want to answer some questions, especially for those of you who are new and were not on the board the last time,” Jordan told the directors.

“This all started with SAD 46 (of Dexter) and SAD 4 in Guilford, probably 20 years now, we talked about doing something at the high school level,” Jordan said. He said with declining enrollments in the neighboring districts it has become more difficult to offer as many higher level and vocational courses.

The SAD 46 superintendent said in early 2017 the Maine Department of Education began accepting applications for a comprehensive high school to be funded with state monies — about $100 million for the project. Jordan said an application was submitted to seek funding for a secondary institution to serve SAD 4, 41 and 46,  along with the Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter and the Greenville and Jackman schools via distance learning agreements.

He said under the agreement, three existing schools would need to be combined so an invitation was made to SAD 41. “As of today nobody is locked into anything other than we continue to pursue what we feel is an incredible opportunity for the kids in our area,” Jordan said. He added that the addition of such an institution would provide immediate and long-term financial benefits to the region.

Should it continue to progress, the project will be subject to future community votes on formal agreements,

In late 2017 when the application was submitted, the local project was ranked third among seven projects. Jordan said at the time funding was earmarked for the top two, in northern and southern Aroostook County, respectively, but the Maine Department of Education told him not to give up should one or both projects ranked ahead fall through.

Jordan said after about two and half years he received a call out of the blue, saying the local application moved up to second place from third on the state scoring funding list after the project based in southern Aroostook County was dropped. He said a regional planning committee made up of officials from each participating district was convened and “we’re on our way with this unique opportunity.” The project in northernmost Maine is trying to work out differences between the districts over governance of the combined school and the Department of Education has not yet decided if it will be allowed to continue its process.

Matt Drewette-Card said the planning includes looking at the curriculum, based in part on emerging labor markets to design career-oriented academic clusters. He said students would explore different subject areas in their first two years and then would choose a more focused curriculum in the second two years of high school.

“Maybe they would unravel a passion for an area they might not even have thought of,” Drewette-Card said.

The school would offer a variety of academic programs from high school to college — through the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems — and training and certifications in various industries via a number of business partnerships. Similar education models are used in other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Drewette-Card said after the completion of grade 12, students could pursue various internships, apprenticeships and some associates degrees and some of these programs would be open to other area residents who have already graduated from high school.

“You will be hearing more each month as we go on with this,” SAD 41 Superintendent Michael Wright told the directors.

In order to avoid obstacles later on in the process, the local committee is discussing governance at the present time such as each town having a representative. Another key issue will be location as an engineer will help determine the ideal site. To qualify, the site  needs a certain amount of acreage and would have access to 3-phase power and municipal water and sewer to help avoid additional project expenses for extending to these utilities.

The secondary institution governance could be set up like an RSU, and each of the existing school districts would remain to oversee the individual pre-K to grade 8 education systems.

In other business Wright said he would be meeting with Business Manager Heidi Finson and Assistant Superintendent/Curriculum Coordinator Darcie Fournier to begin going over the budget. He said after this step, district principals would be submitting their requests for the 2021-22 academic year.

Wright said it looks like SAD 41 will receive about $60,000 more in state subsidy compared to the current year.

The 2020-21 SAD 41 budget totals $9,912,964 with adult ed included. Between local required, local additional monies and adult education expenses the combined total contribution for Brownville, LaGrange and Milo is $2,433,581.

In other business,SAD 41 District Nurse Bethany Heal said she is unsure when educators will have their turn in line to receive the first of two shots needed to vaccinate against COVID-19. She said frontline health care workers were given the greatest priority and now Mainers ages 70 and over and those with underlying health conditions are receiving the vaccine. She said the number of vaccines delivered to the state has also led to uncertainty in the schedule for educators.

“It’s not meant to make you immune to it,” Heal said. “The hope is it may decrease your likelihood of severe complications from COVID.”

She said it has not been determined if those vaccinated can still spread the coronavirus.

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