PRESQUE ISLE — Scores of local residents, upset with a plan to reorganize the lower grades in SAD 1, crowded into the Presque Isle High School cafeteria Tuesday night to voice their opinions.
While most were against separating kindergarten through grade two from grades three through five in two separate buildings, some said that the plan could better the learning environment and shelter the younger pupils from older children.
There are now three schools in Presque Isle that each house kindergarten through grade five. A task force established by the SAD 1 board of directors has recommended that Gouldville Elementary School, the oldest of the three elementary schools, be closed. The two remaining schools, Pine Street and Zippel elementary schools, would house three grades each.
More than a dozen parents spoke on the grading issue. No one talked about the closing of the Gouldville school, which was a hot issue about five years ago when school officials attempted to close the building because of dwindling enrollment.
Last week, a meeting between the board and the task force also was heavily attended by area residents.
The board is expected to consider the issue during its monthly meeting Jan. 28.
“The whole grade-leveling issue is the biggest change in the history of SAD 1,” said Michael Thibodeau, whose two daughters attend the Pine Street school.
Thibodeau said that parents were given only 60 days, from the time the proposal was announced in November, to education themselves on the idea.
“We can do better than this,” Thibodeau said. “We’re your customers. You need to sell us on your product.”
Saying she was speaking for the teachers, Cindy Thibodeau, Michael’s wife, questioned whether parents would be as involved in a parent-teacher organization if their children went to different schools. She asked the board members to remember how hard it is for a 7-year-old to change schools after being in one school for three years.
“You must put the children first,” said Mary Curtis, who illustrated her statement with large color photographs of her children.
Curtis’ son walks from school with his younger sister, who is in kindergarten. If the plan is approved, “they will lose the joys of being together and walking together to school [when she is older],” Curtis said.
Local librarian Greg Curtis offered his assistance in researching the issue by finding articles and reports on the topic of grade leveling.
Several speakers, such as Paula Flora, said that the older children act as role models for the younger pupils. Interactions between the two age groups would be lost if the plan were implemented, she said.
Her husband, Carl Flora, requested that the task force reopen its proceedings and involve more of the public in its deliberations.
“I encourage the board to proceed cautiously with this issue,” Flora said.
Tamara Campbell, who has small children and works as a social worker, argued that it’s the children and the teachers who work together for success and not the building in which they are housed.
Grade leveling would allow for more teachers working as a team and also offer protection for younger children from the older students, Campbell said.
“My only plea is that we don’t let this issue become divisive,” said Mark Hovey.
Because of his lack of information, Hovey said he couldn’t decide whether grade leveling was either good or bad. He said that the expected $250,000 savings is only 2 percent of a $13 million budget.
Jennifer Hallett, a local resident who teaches in Caribou, cited several advantages of grade leveling, based on her teaching experience. She pointed to the state’s recently approved learning results where students are to be taught the same curriculum.
In addition, all students would begin school together in the same building. At the same time, with all pupils of a grade in one building, it would be easier for the special programs to be offered, Hallett said.
Dr. Don Cassidy said that a building “probably” should be closed. Regarding the separation of grades, the dentist said that pupils from lower-income families would suffer as a result of this proposal because there would be increased class sizes.
“I’m not in this for my kids,” Cassidy said. “[We] need to remember the special needs kids.”
Walter Elish suggested that this issue could bring the community together to find a solution.