April 01, 2020

Searsport makes pitch to SAD 63

HOLDEN – Searsport District High School provides programs that take students “to places that other schools don’t believe they can go,” Principal Gregg Palmer told the SAD 63 board of directors Monday.

Explaining some of the reasons why the district should consider sending its students to the Searsport school, Palmer said SDHS offers exciting learning opportunities outside the school; encourages juniors and seniors to specialize in their areas of interest through community internships and early college experiences; and ensures that all students have challenging, intellectually stimulating classes.

Palmer attended the meeting along with Superintendent Mary Szwec from SAD 56 in Searsport at the behest of SAD 63 Superintendent Louise Regan. She wants information about other high schools because she is concerned where students in the district would go if they don’t meet Brewer High School’s new criteria for behavior, academics and attendance.

Students in Holden, Eddington and Clifton also need more options because Brewer High is looking to reduce enrollment, she said Monday.

“We’re looking at what’s the best fit for our students,” Regan said. She added, “We’ll be exploring opportunities in other districts.”

During his approximately 40-minute presentation, Palmer said that his school lost accreditation a number of years ago, but now is a model of cutting-edge educational reform thanks in part to a Great Maine Schools grant.

The conventional Carnegie credit system has been replaced by a “standards based” grading system in which students must demonstrate a true understanding of the four core areas of English, science, social studies and math, he said.

In addition, the school is run by a community council consisting of 12 students and 12 adults, including teachers, parents, school board members, and representatives from non-profit groups, who make decisions by consensus.

Students are expected to create a personal learning plan each year, and they receive guidance from the same adult adviser throughout their high school career. If they are struggling, a series of interventions kicks in to ensure they will improve.

They say to themselves: “This school won’t stop until I’ve met the standards – it won’t give up,” Palmer said.

After the presentation, SAD 63 Chairwoman Patricia Sirois said the district had been interested in hearing more about Searsport District High School because it was known to be “very innovative.”

“This has given us a lot to think about,” she said, adding that the board would discuss the presentation at the next meeting.

Also on Monday, the board unanimously voted not to endorse the proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights which voters will consider on Nov. 7.

If passed, TABOR would limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and require voter approval for all tax and fee increases.

The board said that under TABOR, no new capital improvements or repairs would be possible; that extracurricular activities would be the first to be considered for cuts to provide revenue because it is non-essential programming; and that TABOR has the effect of a minority being able to decide for the majority.

But SAD 63 board member Dion Seymour noted that “there are two sides” to TABOR and that friends from Colorado recently told him “there was nothing wrong” with the tax reform measure.

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