The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Schools & Education Sun, 31 Jul 2016 01:24:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Anonymous donor gives additional $450,000 for arts program in Portland schools Wed, 27 Jul 2016 22:12:39 +0000 An anonymous donor is giving $450,000 to provide three more years of arts funding to the Portland School District, bringing his total contributions to more than $1 million in seven years.

The money benefits a four-year-old program known as Culture Club, which aims to send each of the city’s roughly 7,000 students to attend programs at four participating arts institutions every year: The Portland Museum of Art, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Portland Ovations and Portland Stage Company.

This spring, school and arts organization leaders warned that the funding for the program – fueled by $650,000 from the donor to that point – would run out at the end of the school year. The identity of the donor, who lives in Portland, is not known to school leaders, according to Kate Snyder, a former school board member who is now executive director of the Portland Education Foundation, which coordinates the Culture Club-Portland program.

“This donor has given us an incredible investment in student experience,” Snyder said, adding that the money is routed through a third party to mask the donor’s identity. “We are really happy.”

The donor will provide $200,000 for the 2016-17 school year, $150,000 in 2017-18, and $100,000 in 2018-19, she said.

Snyder said the foundation and a new steering committee for Culture Club will focus on raising additional funds for the program. Small donations of $1,000 or less have been received in recent months, but no significant fundraising has taken place.

Officials say they hope to expand the program to fulfill the goal of sending each child to each of the art institutions every year, which will take better coordination and more resources.

Ongoing evaluations of Culture Club participation show that it has been more successful in some areas than others. For example, far more elementary school students participate than high school students, and more students overall attend Portland Ovations and Portland Stage events than the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

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Maine universities get nearly $800,000 to help low-income students Tue, 26 Jul 2016 14:32:34 +0000 ORONO — The federal Department of Education is giving nearly $800,000 to Maine public universities to provide help for low-income and first-generation students who want to go to college.

The agency is awarding the money through the Talent Search Program and it will be used to help students graduate high school with academic support and get financial counseling for college.

The education department is giving more than $500,000 to the University of Maine System and more than $200,000 to the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

The University of Maine System says it expects the Talent Search Program will provide services to more than 1,000 students in grades six through 12. The Presque Isle university expects to serve 500 more in targeted rural school districts in northern Maine.

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Parents push $70 million plan to upgrade 4 elementary schools in Portland Tue, 26 Jul 2016 00:55:37 +0000 About a dozen parents said Monday that city and school officials should support a plan to borrow $70 million to upgrade four elementary schools in Portland.

The proposal, if approved, would have to be sent to the voters for their approval.

“It’s a large number, but it’s necessary,” said Jeanne Swanton, a parent with the advocacy group Protect Our Neighborhood Schools. She ran down a list of maintenance issues at the schools, adding “It’s not OK” after each item.

“How do we think this is acceptable?” Swanton said during a public hearing at City Hall at the first meeting of the school facilities ad hoc committee.

The committee was created July 6 by the City Council after the school board voted to recommend that the council send to voters a referendum on a $70 million bond issue to rebuild Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools.

Supporters had hoped to get it on the November ballot, but the councilors said they needed more information before putting the issue before voters.

On Monday, councilors and School Board members went through a list of questions and issues, such as data on tax rates, school size and enrollment in surrounding communities.

Councilors also have asked for details on how the borrowing would affect the city and school budgets, and Portland’s property tax rate. Seven of the nine councilors’ votes would be needed to authorize the referendum.

Councilors said they want to know if it might be possible to seek funding from the state to renovate one of the schools, or whether it would be feasible to expand the Ocean Avenue Elementary School to accommodate some of the students from the four schools.

The committee said its next meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 3, from 5-8 p.m., and begin at Presumpscot.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said the ad hoc committee would schedule a second meeting before the end of the month to tour the remaining two schools.

The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago. Several schools do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the buildings are not secure.

Supporters say the $70 million would largely be spent on practical fixes, like installing functional heating and windows that open, making schools accessible for all users, eliminating trailers for classrooms and easing severe overcrowding. At one school, the social worker is in a windowless closet. Critics say it’s too much money and some of the renovations are more luxury than necessity, such as extra storage and new parking lots, roads and fields.

On Aug. 30, consultant Oak Point and Associates will present the renovation plans to the ad hoc committee, and in September the committee will review the answers to its questions and deliberate, Strimling said.

Once the committee has a final recommendation, it sets off another chain of events.

If the ad hoc committee’s proposal is different from the school board’s $70 million bond recommendation, the committee’s proposal will go back to the board, which must review it and then send a new recommendation to the council.

At that point, the council would refer it to the finance committee before taking it up.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect time and place for the committee’s next meeting.

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Portland councilors consider $70 million borrowing plan for school renovations Tue, 19 Jul 2016 01:51:46 +0000 Portland councilors want to know how borrowing $70 million to rebuild four elementary schools will affect budgets.

Portland City Councilors will be deliberate, thorough and well-prepared before they ask voters to approve a bond issue of more than $70 million to rebuild Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools.

That much became clear during a three-hour meeting Monday night when Portland school officials lobbied the City Council to authorize borrowing to fund the renovation of the four elementary schools.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said it is unlikely that an ad hoc committee created to study the issue will be able to finish its review of the “Buildings for Our Future Initiative” in time to put the question on the November ballot.

The council would have to approve the bond by its first meeting in September for it to go to a vote Nov. 8.

“It makes much more sense that we do this right than we do it fast,” Strimling said after the meeting. “The committee is going to be asking a lot of hard questions. In order to get this right, we have to take our time.”

Councilors said they will need more information about how the borrowing would affect the city and school budgets, and Portland’s property tax rate, before they can put it out to referendum. Seven of the nine councilors’ votes would be needed to authorize the referendum.

Councilors said they want to know if it might be possible to seek funding from the state to renovate one of the schools, or whether it would be feasible to expand the Ocean Avenue Elementary School to accommodate some of the students from the four schools.

The first meeting of the School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee, which is made up of four school board members, three city councilors and Strimling, will be held July 25 at 5 p.m. in Portland City Hall. Though no public comment was allowed at the workshop Monday night, the public will be invited to offer opinions next week.

In June, the school board voted to request that the City Council act on the $70.5 million bond by sending it to Portland voters in November. After receiving the board’s request, the council voted July 6 to create the ad hoc committee.

The expected delay in getting the question before voters did not deter school advocates from lobbying the council Monday.

“Over the past 22 years, elementary school deficiencies have continued to plague us,” Board of Education Chairwoman Marnie Morrione told the council. “And they can no longer wait.”

Morrione said the four targeted schools are in various states of disrepair, creating conditions that affect safety and students’ learning. Several schools do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the buildings are not secure from intruders.

“Let’s be bold and unite for the greater good of this generation and future generations,” Morrione said.

Newly appointed Superintendent Xavier Botana said his staff doesn’t let building deficiencies get in the way of teaching.

“Where kids learn matters, and facilities are very important,” Botana said. “In spite of our buildings’ shortcomings, our staff has made do with what they have. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK.”

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said he would like more precise data on how the four-school project would affect the city and school budgets as well as property taxes.

“It is very important that we have some clarity on the budget implications of this,” Mavodones said. “I don’t want to end up in a place where we are laying off professionals in order to pay off debt service.”

Councilor Jon Hinck asked the school department to provide the council with a list of other long-range projects and the potential costs.

“We absolutely need to have that information before we can make a final decision,” Hinck said.

Councilor Belinda Ray suggested that the city explore the possibility of getting state aid to rebuild at least one of the four schools to ease the financial burden on Portland taxpayers.

Strimling said borrowing $70 million over a five-year period would mean that the owners of a home valued at $200,000 would see their annual property tax bill increase by about $35 a year.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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USM tuition would increase under UMaine System pricing plan Tue, 19 Jul 2016 00:42:40 +0000 BANGOR — Students at the University of Southern Maine and three other campuses would pay a one-time tuition increase under a proposal to shift the entire University of Maine System to a new pricing model, system officials said Monday at a trustees meeting.

Currently each of the seven campuses charges its own tuition, ranging from a high of $8,370 a year at the flagship campus in Orono, to a low of $6,600 a year at campuses in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.

Under the proposal, there would be three prices: One at the University of Maine, a slightly lower tuition at the University of Maine at Farmington and USM, and the least expensive tuition at the remaining four campuses.

Tuition would default to the highest tuition charged in each group, meaning USM students would pay the higher UMF tuition. In an example given Monday of the potential impact, using current tuition rates, USM tuition would increase $240, from $7,590 a year ($253 per credit hour) to $7,830 a year ($261 per credit hour.)

Tuition at the four remaining campuses would be at the Machias level of $6,660 per year, and students at Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Augusta would, hypothetically, see a slight increase in tuition of about $60 a year under the proposal.

Chief Financial Officer Ryan Low said the changes would be simple, fair and transparent for students, while making it easier internally for system officials to budget and allocate state funds.

The trustees are scheduled to vote in September on the proposal, which is part of a sweeping set of recommendations under a new unified systemwide budget process. Any tuition change would not take effect until the 2017-18 academic year, officials said.

Tuition has been frozen in the system for six years, in contrast to an average 13 percent increase in inflation-adjusted tuition at public four-year schools nationwide over the past five years. The trustees voted in March to keep tuition flat, after Gov. Paul LePage promised an extra $4.65 million in state funding if they would hold off on a potential 2.3 percent tuition increase for the 2016-17 academic year. The current proposal would not affect that deal.

Among the other changes presented Monday by Low: charging one price for online-only undergraduate degrees, streamlining the various student fees, changing how state aid is allocated to the campuses, and creating a “One University” scholarship for in-state merit aid that could be used at any campus.

There is also a proposal to create a new $5-per-credit-hour student fee to pay for facility and information technology upgrades. Ryan said the proposed fee was one of the more controversial ideas.

“This is the one recommendation that the feedback was on one end or the other,” he said. “No one was indifferent.”

Currently, mandatory annual student fees range from $2,258 at Orono to $700 at Presque Isle.

The recommendations also addressed some implementation issues, including requiring campuses not to compete for price-shopping students by offering additional campus merit aid to in-state students.

Campus and system leaders have been working for more than a year to move the system to a unified budget model, part of a larger “One University” model aimed at cutting costs and streamlining operations internally and making the system more student-friendly.

In May, after years of budget deficits that prompted deep staffing and program cuts, Low told the trustees the system is finally forecasting a budget surplus in 2021.

Some parts of the One University plan have been completed, such as consolidating certain back-office functions. Other aspects lie ahead, such as the academic program changes. At the last trustees meeting, a string of faculty members spoke in opposition to some of the efforts, saying they felt left out of the process.

Also Monday, the trustees heard a presentation on the new $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for an experimental turbine being developed by a UMaine-led consortium for use in a floating, deep-water wind farm. It’s the largest single research and development project in the system’s history, officials said.

The consortium known as New England Aqua Ventus has the most advanced floating technology being developed in the United States, said Peter Vigue, chief executive officer of Cianbro, a partner in the consortium.

“This is a game changer,” Vigue told the board of trustees, after briefing members on the project. “This university, this system, has a massive potential to benefit. I believe that it not only puts Maine on the map, but it puts the university on the map.”

“We are off to an excellent start on this. This is a very big deal and also a very big commitment on our part,” Chancellor James Page said.

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Bowdoin College shows up for food fight with best-selling author Sat, 16 Jul 2016 00:59:35 +0000 Bowdoin College’s high-profile food fight with New Yorker commentator and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell boiled over Friday when Bowdoin alum and Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson blasted Gladwell on Twitter, calling his criticism “a sham.”

Meanwhile, Bowdoin issued a strongly worded defense of its food program and invited Gladwell to Brunswick “to answer his questions over a good meal.”

The spat started when Gladwell posted his latest “Revisionist History” podcast on Thursday morning comparing the food services programs of Bowdoin and Vassar colleges, and arguing that Bowdoin spends money on food at the expense of financial aid. Bowdoin College has the best food service among American colleges, according to the Princeton Review. It also is one of a handful of colleges in the country that does not consider a student’s financial background when making decision about admissions.

Gladwell called Bowdoin’s food service “a moral problem,” and said foo-foo food programs are keeping poor kids out of college. At one point, Gladwell said, “If you’re looking at liberal arts colleges, don’t go to Bowdoin, don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin, don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin, don’t give money to Bowdoin, or to any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall,” he says. “Atrocious fresh fruit is a small price to pay for social justice.”

Bowdoin’s response was swift and sharp. The school provided a point-by-point takedown, as well as financial aid information dispelling Gladwell’s arguments. And on Friday, McKesson, a leading national spokesman for Black Lives Matter, chimed in with a series of tweets, vigorously defending his alma mater. In one, he wrote, “@Gladwell, there are many fair critiques of Bowdoin. But saying ‘the food is good therefore the college isn’t focused on equity’ is a sham.”


“Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast ‘Revisionist History’ (aptly named) takes a manipulative and disingenuous shot at Bowdoin College that is filled with false assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and incorrect conclusions,” the college said in a statement. “Bowdoin’s commitment to meeting the full financial need for all admitted students is longstanding, unwavering, and unassailable. And it has nothing to do with food.”

Bowdoin listed details of its financial aid programs, and noted it is one of only 15 colleges in the country that does not consider a student’s financial situation when deciding admission and that 15 percent of its incoming freshman class are first-generation college students.

In its statement, Bowdoin also included an email from Gladwell’s producer, sent in the winter, seeking an appointment on campus. The producer wrote, “I’m specifically investigating the food at Bowdoin, which tops lists of the best campus dining in the country, as an example of how good college food can get. I would love to get a quick recorded tour of one of your kitchens and dining hall for this episode,” the producer wrote. Bowdoin suggested the email misrepresented the reason for the visit.

Doug Cook, Bowdoin’s director of news and media relations, said the school would not comment further. “We stand behind our financial aid practices and our dining service,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bowdoin earned high marks for its response from Joe Kuffner, a former West Coast college PR professional who writes a blog, Social Media for Colleges. He called Bowdoin’s quick and decisive response “extremely smart” and praised the college for coming “out swinging against such a well-known figure. That takes guts, but it resonated much more strongly than any sort of mealy-mouthed PR pablum could have.”

In an interview, Kuffner said he was impressed with the speed of Bowdoin’s reply. “I know how at an institution, things are pretty slow-moving. There are layers of administration and approval. I was surprised they put together such a quick and fact-based and punchy response in what seems liked just a couple of hours,” he said.

The school’s current and former students and faculty chimed in.

“When I heard about it, to be honest, I thought that clearly, something must have been lost in translation,” said Cordelia Orbach, who will be a senior in the fall. “There has to be some kind of mistake, because I knew what he was saying was incorrect. I was stunned.”

Orbach said the attack felt personal and mean-spirited, given the school’s progressive admissions policies. “We are one of 15 schools in the country with a ‘need-blind admissions policy.’ It’s crazy that he went after us, and I am sort of wondering why,” she said in a phone interview, asking Gladwell rhetorically: “Do you have a vendetta against the school? What did Bowdoin ever do? It seems you are angry at us for no reason.”


Gladwell did not respond to a request for an interview on Twitter – though he did post on Twitter, “In retrospect this week’s episode of should have included a trigger warning for Bowdoin grads,” a possible reference to the negative response he received from the Bowdoin community.

Art professor Mark Wethli enjoys Gladwell’s podcasts – “heady, intellectually engaging, thought-provoking stuff, and as far as I can discern very fair and sympathetic to all parties concerned.” He found a piece that Gladwell did about the basketball player Wilt Chamberlain fascinating. But the Bowdoin one stung. He thought Gladwell took cheap shots that “verged on the kind of populist, anti-intellectual hysteria that (Donald) Trump and (Paul) LePage like to dish out, painting an image of college life as effete and privileged, while the rest of us are stuck eating soggy pizza. Manipulative, false, and misleading in the extreme,” Wethli said.

Justin J. Pearson, a senior from Tennessee, said he would not have attended Bowdoin if the school had not offered to pay nearly all of his education costs. “My parents had kids when they were teenagers. They had five sons, and I am the fourth one. When they learned how much Bowdoin was going to cover, the tears rolled down their cheeks. That’s reality,” he said. “(Gladwell) minimized our campus in an unfair and a manipulative way.”

Ella Driscoll, a senior from Massachusetts, said she simply didn’t understand what Gladwell was trying to say. “While we all recognize that paying for people’s education is important, comparing financial aid to the true cost of supporting local farmers and consuming quality food is like comparing Twinkies and kale,” Driscoll wrote in an email. “In the context of Bowdoin College spending money on sustainably sourced or locally produced, healthy food, Mr. Gladwell omits the weight of the fact that food justice and food security are social, environmental and economic issues inextricably tied to the importance of financial aid.”

Anne Ireland, a Bowdoin graduate from West Bath, said there’s no shame in serving good food. “Malcolm Gladwell needs to do his research,” she said. “He would have benefited from a Bowdoin education.”


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Augusta school board approves drug and alcohol policy Thu, 14 Jul 2016 00:47:13 +0000 AUGUSTA —The Board of Education approved a drug and alcohol policy that some have criticized because its provisions call for suspension and expulsion from school in some cases.

Board members unanimously approved the new Drug and Alcohol Use by Students policy, which states school principals may suspend and/or recommend expulsion of students who violate it.

Parents, substance abuse experts and some school board members have previously criticized the proposal saying students caught with cigarettes, booze or drugs should be counseled and disciplined, but that discipline should take place in school. They said suspending students with substance abuse problems could make their problems worse, not better, by forcing them out of the school environment.

School administrators say suspension is not the first option, nor even a commonly used option, when students are caught violating substance abuse rules on school grounds. But it is a tool they need in case students don’t comply with the rules and other discipline is not effective, they said.

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South Portland school officials move forward with possible start-time changes Tue, 12 Jul 2016 20:01:30 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board agreed Monday night to have a special committee recommend an implementation plan for possible changes in school start times in the 2017-18 school year.

The board voted 7-0 to have Chairman Richard Matthews appoint a committee to review information gathered by the superintendent’s Start Time Study Group and report back with an action plan by December, said Superintendent Ken Kunin.

In conducting recent surveys, the study group found that 63 percent of parents of middle- and high-school students, and 52 percent of school staff members agree that the school department should adopt later start times at South Portland High School and the middle schools.

The study group identified various benefits, challenges and considerations related to changing start times, including effects on student transportation and athletics. The group didn’t recommend specific start times.

Kunin is expected to develop several start-time options with estimated impacts, which will be reviewed by the special committee and forwarded with a recommendation to the full board.

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Augusta schools consider substance abuse rules Tue, 12 Jul 2016 01:46:38 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Augusta Board of Education on Wednesday will consider drug, alcohol and tobacco policies that some have criticized because provisions call for suspension and expulsion in some cases.

Up for a final vote is a policy called Drug, Tobacco Products and Alcohol Use by Students, which states that school principals may suspend and/or recommend expulsion of students who violate the policy.

Parents, substance abuse experts and some school board members have previously criticized the proposal, saying students caught with cigarettes, alcohol or drugs should be counseled and disciplined, but that discipline should take place in school. They said suspending students with substance abuse problems could make their problems worse, not better.

Laura Hamilton, an at-large board member, said during a discussion of the issue last month that research on students with substance abuse issues indicates that they should be kept in school and receive counseling. She also suggested requiring them to do community service at the Alfond Center for Cancer Care.

School administrators say suspension is not the first – nor even a commonly used – option when students are caught violating substance abuse rules on school grounds. But it is a tool they need in case students don’t comply with the rules and other discipline is not effective, they said. They also noted the policy states students “may” be suspended for violations, not that they “shall” be suspended, giving administrators leeway in handling individual problems.

Stewart Brittner, an assistant principal at Cony, said under both the new and old policy, students violating tobacco rules would first be offered participation in a two-day alternative to suspension program and, if the student declined to take part, could be suspended for between one and three days. He said it generally is not necessary to suspend a student. But he said administrators need that option, or some students may not take the consequences seriously.

Superintendent James Anastasio could not be reached for comment Monday.

Board members are also scheduled to hold first readings – two readings are required for passage – on two other similar policies: one on tobacco use and possession and one on tobacco use and possession administrative procedure.

Board members meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

Twitter: kedwardskj

]]> 0 Mon, 11 Jul 2016 21:46:38 +0000
Another 10 states sue Obama administration over directive for transgender students Fri, 08 Jul 2016 19:20:42 +0000 Ten additional states are suing the Obama administration to stop a directive that requires schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity under the threat of losing federal funding, bringing the total number of states challenging the guidance to 21.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson announced the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nebraska, on Friday afternoon. The state is joined by nine others: Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The Obama administration, via the departments of Education and Justice, issued guidance to schools in May directing them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, a move that plunged the administration further into the debate over how schools and the public should accommodate transgender people.

Lawmakers, school administrators, parents and the courts have been arguing over the issue. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates say barring transgender people from the facilities that align with their gender identities is a violation of their civil rights that threatens their well-being. But those who support such rules say they are necessary to safeguard privacy and traditional values.

Peterson argued that the administration bypassed the necessary procedures to create new federal regulations, in this case regulations that apply to every public school in the nation. Peterson also is asking for an injunction to stop the guidance while his lawsuit proceeds.

“The recent action by these two federal agencies to require showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms be open to both sexes based solely on the student’s choice, circumvents this established law by ignoring the appropriate legislative process necessary to change such a law,” Peterson said. “When a federal agency takes such unilateral action in an attempt to change the meaning of established law, it leaves state and local authorities with no other option than to pursue legal clarity in federal court in order to enforce the rule of law.”

This is the second lawsuit brought by a group of states over the Obama administration’s move to expand the rights of transgender students. Eleven states, along with the Arizona Department of Education, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas two weeks after the guidance was issued, arguing that the administration had overstepped its authority.

This week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the court to allow localities to ignore the guidance while the case proceeds, hoping to stop it in its tracks before school starts in the fall.

In an appearance in Washington on Thursday, Paxton leveled sharp criticism against the Obama administration’s directive on transgender students, calling it a “gun to the head” that threatens the independence of school districts to handle the issue as they see fit.

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Portland council sends school bond to committee; November vote unlikely Wed, 06 Jul 2016 22:59:47 +0000 The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to form a committee to study a $70.6 million proposal to improve four elementary schools that have not been updated in nearly 50 years.

Councilors said the committee is needed to build consensus for the projects among the community and council members. Seven of the nine council members would have to approve the bond for it to appear on a city ballot.

The decision makes it unlikely that the bond would go to city voters in November.

“I think this is a good approach,” said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones. “There need to be seven people sitting around that dais who feel comfortable about that number. I think that’s important that we all think about that.”

Parents and school board members largely supported creating the ad hoc committee, but wanted to make sure the process is not delayed – Portland schools have been studied repeatedly over the years, at considerable cost.

“These task forces have all found the same thing over and over and over,” said Emily Figdor, a parent and co-founder of the Protect Our Neighborhood Schools group, which has been pushing for a vote on the bond in November. “Our schools don’t meet educational standards and need to be updated. The city has been considering this for a long time. It’s time to put this to voters and let them decide.”

The order to establish the committee was co-sponsored by Mavodones, chair of the Finance Committee, and Mayor Ethan Strimling, who has also pushed for a November vote. Typically, bond requests are sent to a council subcommittee.

Several board members and parents suggested setting a deadline for the panel to complete its work.

“I just want to move this along,” said school board member Sarah Thompson. “I just think this is way overdue.”

But the council did not set a deadline, and Mavodones said the bond proposal is not likely to make the November ballot – the council would have to approve the bond by its first meeting in September for it to go to a vote in November. But the council could call a special election once the committee’s work is complete, Mavodones said.

School board members backed the $70.6 million bond proposal by a 6-2 vote on June 21, rejecting a last-minute proposal to reduce the request to $40.3 million – a figure Thompson believed the council would find more palatable. The lower figure would have meant fewer improvements to Lyseth and Presumpscot elementary schools. The other two are Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools.

Strimling said the council will likely hold a workshop July 18 on the $70.6 million bond proposal. He said he’d support having the committee then set a timeline for completing its work.

The ad hoc committee, consisting of four councilors and four school board members, would then review details of the proposal. Any changes would be sent back to the school board for a formal endorsement. Any recommendations by the school board would be sent back to the ad hoc committee before being sent to the council’s Finance Committee and ultimately the full council.

The four council committee members are Strimling (co-chair), Mavodones, David Brenerman and Justin Costa. The four school board members are Marnie Morrione (co-chair), Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, Sarah Thompson and Anna Trevorrow.


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Superintendents urge LePage to appoint permanent education commissioner Wed, 06 Jul 2016 01:49:16 +0000 The Maine School Superintendents Association is calling on Gov. Paul LePage to appoint a permanent education commissioner.

Officials from the association said in a letter dated June 30 that the uncertainty about the position in the LePage administration has diminished the position’s stature, created instability in the office and caused confusion for the staff about who is leading the Department of Education.

The letter, signed by outgoing association President Susan Pratt and newly elected President Steven Bailey, was delivered to LePage’s office Friday. Acting Deputy Commissioner William Beardsley was copied on the letter.

The LePage administration did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the letter, which said a permanent commissioner is essential because school districts and the Department of Education must work together on data reporting, compliance with state and federal rules, distribution of aid to school districts, student transfer requests, compliance with special education law and Medicaid reimbursement.

“We urge you to exercise your leadership and outline the process and qualifications you envision for finally naming a permanent commissioner,” Pratt and Bailey wrote. “The uncertainty around that position has … been an ongoing problem since the end of 2014, and our concern is it will continue for the remaining two-and-half years of your second term.

“School administrators, and their boards, need a well-run Department of Education to effectively run their schools and provide the best education possible for our students. We believe restoring that relationship is essential.”

The Department of Education has not had a permanent commissioner since 2014, when Jim Rier left for health reasons.

LePage nominated Beardsley, the former president of Husson University, to be commissioner in January, then withdrew his nomination after Democrats on the Legislature’s Education Committee indicated they might vote to block Beardsley’s appointment.

LePage then outflanked lawmakers by using procedural moves to install Beardsley temporarily in the role of acting commissioner.

Because Beardsley already had begun serving as temporary commissioner in the fall and under state law could only hold the post for six months, LePage named Debra Plowman, who was director of policy and programs, as temporary deputy commissioner on May 24. A day later, she appointed Beardsley as deputy commissioner.

“This is a legal formality. After Dr. Bill Beardsley’s six months as acting commissioner expired, it was necessary for the governor to empower someone at the Department of Education with the authority to sign on behalf of the commissioner,” spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett wrote in an email to the Press Herald in May. “… Dr. Beardsley will continue to lead the department and remains a member of the governor’s Cabinet.”

Under the commissioner’s link on the Maine Department of Education’s website is a profile and picture of Beardsley, who is listed as the contact person for the commissioner’s office.

State Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, a co-chair of the Education Committee, said the department has never operated without a permanent commissioner.

Kornfield said the field of education is in a period of transition as school districts in Maine and across the country try to comply with new federal laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December. The bill narrows the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education, shifting accountability to states.

“We really need strong leadership in the Department of Education,” Kornfield said. “It’s important to have a steady leader at the helm to guide all our schools, and we don’t have that now.”

Kornfield said her committee has no way of persuading the governor to nominate a permanent commissioner, calling his appointment of Beardsley “a complete end-around of the Legislature and the citizens of Maine.”


]]> 6, 05 Jul 2016 23:40:26 +0000
New principal of Westbrook High School appointed Tue, 05 Jul 2016 23:44:19 +0000 Westbrook High School will have a new principal when classes begin in September.

The Westbrook School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday evening to appoint Kelli A. Deveaux to the position, according to acting Superintendent Marc Gousse.

“We are blessed to have her,” Gousse said. “She is just an exemplary candidate.”

Deveaux has served as assistant principal of Windham High School since 2002. During her time in Windham, Deveaux also served as acting principal in 2008-09.

In her new position, Deveaux will be paid an annual salary of about $104,000. Gousse said she was given a two-year contact.

She will replace former Principal Jon Ross, who started July 1 as the superintendent and principal in Acton, a district with one school that serves grades pre-K through 8. Ross had served as principal of Westbrook High School since 2012.

Gousse is also leaving the Westbrook school district, having accepted as position as superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.

He will continue to serve Westbrook on a part-time basis through the end of July as the district continues to search for a new superintendent.

Gousse said Deveaux is taking over leadership of a “good-sized, diverse” high school whose latest enrollment was about 750 students.

Deveaux, who lives in Gorham, was recognized as Maine’s Assistant Principal of the Year in 2014 by the Maine Principals’ Association.

The MPA in 2014 said that Deveaux received the honor based on her accomplishments as a collaborative educational leader, as a role model in the development of a positive school culture, student-centered policies and programs, and as a tireless advocate for assistant principals.

“Ms. Deveaux is a visionary educator who consistently inspires her colleagues to bring their best game to the table when it comes to doing what is right for students,” MPA Executive Director Richard Durost said in a statement issued at the time.

Before becoming the assistant principal at Windham High School, Deveaux worked in the South Portland school system as an English teacher and grant coordinator.

She attended the University of Southern Maine and earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from the University of New Hampshire.


]]> 2, 05 Jul 2016 22:05:52 +0000
University of Maine System names new vice chancellor Tue, 05 Jul 2016 17:51:50 +0000 The University of Maine System has selected an academic official from Texas to lead the system’s One University Initiative.

As vice chancellor for academic affairs, Robert Neely is expected to work to expand access to Maine’s public universities for “learners of all ages, backgrounds and locations,” as well as tailor the public system’s offerings to the needs of the state, according to the University of Maine System.

Neely currently works as provost and vice president for academic affairs and as a biology professor at Texas Woman’s University, the nation’s largest university primarily serving women. Neely has held several administrative and professorial positions at Eastern Michigan University and Iowa State University since the early 1980s.

“Working as one, Maine’s universities have achieved national leadership around affordability, expanded access to our programs, and improved fiscal stability and our capacity to serve,” James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said in a statement. “In Dr. Robert Neely our search committee identified a proven academic leader with the experience and approach needed to transform our academic programs into a truly statewide, strategically aligned portfolio.”

Neely is set to start as vice chancellor for academic affairs on Sept. 1, earning an annual salary of $225,000, according to the university system.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 1, 05 Jul 2016 18:11:45 +0000
Portland school bond vote unlikely to happen in November Tue, 05 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A $70 million bond to improve four elementary schools in Portland is not likely to appear on the ballot this November, as many parents and some elected officials had hoped. That’s because the City Council on Wednesday is slated to vote on a recommendation by Mayor Ethan Strimling to have the bond proposal reviewed by an ad hoc committee, rather than sending it the council’s Finance Committee. The move all but guarantees a longer review process, Strimling conceded.

“This is a big deal. This is a very important project for the entire city,” Strimling said in an interview Friday. “We want to get this right and that’s much more important than doing it fast.”

The council would have to vote on a bond proposal by Sept. 7 for it to appear on the November ballot, said Jessica Grondin, the city’s communication director.

A group of parents and community members called Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, along with several councilors, have been pushing for a November bond, highlighting the fact that the four elementary schools have not been updated in 40-50 years and do not comply with building or fire codes. Emily Figdor, the spokeswoman for the neighborhood group, could not be reached Friday.

Protect Our Neighborhood Schools member Jeanne Swanton said the group would like to see a bond proposal as soon as possible, but emphasized the importance of having council and community buy-in.

“A good process is critical to being able to build enough support on the council to pass a bond to fully renovate all four schools,” she said. “We would like the proposal to advance as quickly as possible; however, we feel it will fail if all are not invested.”

The School Board voted 6-2 on June 21 to recommend the $70.6 million bond package to the council. Board members chose that proposal over a last-minute suggestion to reduce the request to $40.3 million – a figure board member Sarah Thompson believed would be more palatable for the council. The lower figure would have made fewer improvements to Lyseth and Presumpscot elementary schools.

School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said she hopes the council refers the bond to the committee. Although that likely means it would not appear on the November ballot, as she originally hoped, it would allow the board members to work with councilors to address unanswered questions, including how the bond would affect the city’s property tax rate, she said.

“I just really, really don’t want to see us stall again. I want to maintain the momentum,” said Morrione, who noted that elementary school upgrades have been a perennial issue in her eight-year tenure. “I remain very hopeful. I don’t agree that it’s stalling in anyway. It’s finding a good way to move us forward in areas we’ve needed city help with.”

The bond would finance upgrades, recommended in the “Buildings for Our Future” study by the Oak Point Associates architecture and engineering firm, at four elementary schools:

n Lyseth: ($20.2 million, 500 students) Add second floor, improve driveway and parking lot, steam line upgrades, stormwater repairs.

n Reiche: ($17.9 million, 400 students) Reconfigure interior space, replace roof, rebuild library and stairs.

n Longfellow: ($16.4 million, 340 students) Add elevator to make second floor compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replace roof, remove asbestos, update electric, replace windows, repoint masonry.

n Presumpscot: ($16.1 million, 300 students) Add second floor, improve parking lot, repair athletic field.

Strimling said he has not yet selected the members of the ad hoc committee, but suggested that City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, the council’s finance chairman, would likely lead the group. The resolution establishing the committee states that the bond request needs to be reviewed within the context of the city budget and “other longterm city and school capital needs, and other bond obligations,” as well as the proposed improvements.

After the committee is selected, the council will hold a workshop on the proposed bond. Any changes suggested by the committee would be sent back to the school board for approval. Once the bond total and scope of work is complete, it would be referred to the council’s Finance Committee before being sent to the council.

Although there is no firm deadline for the committee to complete its work, Strimling said he hopes it will only take months, not years.

“We need to make sure all of our kids are in phenomenal facilities, and right now they are not,” he said.


]]> 4 Mon, 04 Jul 2016 22:07:03 +0000
Good Will-Hinckley charter school names new president Fri, 01 Jul 2016 23:04:27 +0000 FAIRFIELD — Good Will-Hinckley announced Friday that former Regional School Unit 74 Superintendent Kenneth Coville has been chosen to be its president and director of development, while Rob Moody, who has served as president on an interim basis, will become executive director.

Coville was picked recently by the board of directors to become president of the organization, which includes the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences. He will begin work at the Fairfield campus on Aug. 29.

The position has been filled on an interim basis since Glenn Cummings left in 2014 to become interim president at the University of Maine at Augusta. Cummings is now president of the University of Southern Maine.

Last year, Good Will-Hinckley named Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, as its president but rescinded the offer after Gov. Paul LePage threatened to cut the organization’s funding.

The Eves controversy still hasn’t wound down, more than a year after it began. In May, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that Eves brought against the governor, accusing him of using the power of his office to prevent Eves from being hired, and contending that his actions violated Eves’ constitutional right of free speech, association and political affiliation, as well as his right to due process.

Eves is appealing the case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a news release Friday, Moody said: “Mr. Coville is a proven educational leader, we are fortunate to have him join our team. … Ken brings a set of skills to help us build on our current strengths and realize the enormous potential and promise that this organization has.”

Moody has been vice president and chief operating officer at Good Will-Hinckley since 2013.

Jack Moore, chairman of the board of directors, described Coville and Moody as “our dream team.”

“Good Will-Hinckley is incredibly fortunate to have Ken Coville and Rob Moody leading this great organization,” he said in the release. “Ken and Rob have over 60 years of combined experience as Maine educators and an equally long track record as leaders that know how to best educate, nurture and support non-traditional students.”

Coville, 58, will oversee the advancement and development of Good Will-Hinckley, which serves 126 students. As executive director, Moody will oversee the organization’s internal operations.

According to Friday’s news release, in his 35 years in education, Coville has been a teacher, a principal, a special education director and a superintendent. Coville announced his retirement from RSU 74 in June after leading the school district for 12 years. The district covers Anson, Embden and New Portland.

Coville began his education career at Good Will-Hinckely in 1981 as a teacher after graduating that year from the University of Maine at Farmington. He then worked in the Rangeley school district as principal and then superintendent until 2004, when he was hired as the principal at Carrabec High School.

Coville received a master’s degree in administration from the University of Maine in 1989.

At Good Will-Hinckley, Coville will be “keeping the school on its growth plan, supporting the development team as they develop advancing the organization and keeping the momentum on the capital campaign underway to develop the facilities required to serve more young people from all over Maine,” the release said.

Founded in the 1890s, Good Will-Hinckley has offered a residential education and social experience for generations of at-risk youths. In 2009, it shut down its core service because of financial problems, but in 2012 it opened the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, the state’s first charter high school.

The organization also operates the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, a day program for students with significant social-emotional and behavioral challenges, and the L.C. Bates Museum.

]]> 12, 02 Jul 2016 09:56:07 +0000
Provost of UMaine Presque Isle named interim president Wed, 29 Jun 2016 18:14:26 +0000 The University of Maine System has named the provost of the University of Maine at Presque Isle to the presidency of the school.

Chancellor James H. Page on Wednesday announced Dr. Raymond J. Rice’s appointment as interim president effective July 16. Rice will also remain as provost. Outgoing UMPI President Linda Schott is leaving to lead Southern Oregon University.

Rice, a professor of English, has been a faculty member at UMPI for 19 years, and has served as chair of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2014, Rice was named provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.

Rice’s term as interim president will run through July 15, 2017. His salary will be $140,000 annually.

Rice has also overseen the expansion of early college offerings at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone and area secondary schools and has worked closely with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges on reaccreditation for UMPI. He has also been a key contributor to the One University Initiative, co-chairing the committee that established a General Education Transfer agreement among Maine’s public universities and Maine’s Community Colleges.

“The sentiment of campus and community stakeholders is clear and aligns with my own; our leadership at the University of Maine at Presque Isle must remain committed to the university’s strategic vision and direction,” Page said in a statement. “With Dr. Rice’s ground floor understanding and commitment to the direction and methodology of proficiency-based education in place, UMPI can remain focused on its established goals of service to our students and the region.”

]]> 0 Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:27:15 +0000
UMaine hosts program on stormwater management Sun, 26 Jun 2016 14:24:19 +0000 ORONO – High school students and teachers from Maine and elsewhere in the country are coming to the University of Maine for a program to create environmental solutions to stormwater management.

The university says the event will bring students from 16 Maine high schools and one each in New York and Missouri. The students will work with university facility, students and others during the program from Sunday to June 29.

The program is called the UMaine Stormwater Management Research Team Institute and it’s in its third year. The university says the program engages students in the implementation of science to address an environmental issue. About 85 students and 20 teachers are expected.

Many cities wrestle with how to environmentally and efficiently handle stormwater runoff, which can be an expensive problem.

]]> 1 Sun, 26 Jun 2016 17:20:23 +0000
Colby to present plans for 3 athletic fields Sat, 25 Jun 2016 02:37:31 +0000 WATERVILLE — Colby College plans to start building three athletic fields this fall on about 19 acres behind the Harold Alfond Athletic Center, with a goal of having them completed and ready for use in the fall of 2017.

There will be an artificial turf field for soccer and lacrosse, a grass field for soccer and a third practice field to be used for soccer and other sports, according to Mina Amundsen, Colby’s assistant vice president for facilities and campus planning. The fields, which will be built in the area of the former softball field, will replace those to the west of the biomass plant, which is on Washington Street just west of the Alfond athletic center.

The athletic fields’ construction is part of a larger, multi-year athletic complex project Colby plans to undertake that would include building an athletic center, possibly on the west side of the biomass plant, and tearing down the current one. The building will not be razed until the new one is built, according to Amundsen.

“That’s a few years out,” Amundsen said Thursday.

Colby officials are scheduled to go before the Waterville Planning Board at 7 p.m. Monday with an informal pre-application for the plan to construct the three athletic fields. The board will review the plans under the city’s subdivision and site plan review ordinance, and Colby will return at a later date for further review.

Kate Carlisle, Colby’s director of communications, said Thursday that the larger athletic complex project is still in the planning stages and many things need to be finalized before applications and permits are sought.

Colby recently completed a baseball and softball complex on campus, just across Mayflower Hill Drive from the area where the three new fields will be developed.

Amundsen said grouping all the competition fields together will provide a more pedestrian-friendly and convenient environment.

“Visibly, you’ll see this sort of wonderful complex of fields,” she said. “I think it allows us to be far more efficient in our operations, but the important piece is encouraging much easier walking between fields and the ability to see everything that’s happening there.”

The new fields are designed to coincide with the natural terrain and the wooded areas will be kept intact, Amundsen said. The fields will be built around the trees, she said.

The Alfond athletic center, which is a little more than 200,000 square feet, includes the field house, gymnasium, ice rink, fitness center, offices for coaches and locker rooms. The building replacing it would be larger, according to Amundsen; but she, like Carlisle, emphasized that project is still in the planning stages.

The center, built from the 1950s to the 1980s, is not the right configuration, according to Amundsen.

“It no longer meets our needs,” she said.

When the building is torn down, the property it is on probably would become green space, she said.

Meanwhile, she noted that area school graduations that are now held in the Alfond center, including those of Waterville and Winslow high schools, would be held in the new building.

“We care about the graduations,” she said. “Our facilities are a community resource.”


]]> 2, 24 Jun 2016 22:40:25 +0000
Sex assault charges being dismissed against former Sacopee Valley ed tech Fri, 24 Jun 2016 17:20:39 +0000 Prosecutors in Oxford County are dropping two sexual assault charges against Zachariah Sherburne after determining that the 23-year-old former education technician at Sacopee Valley High School had left his job there and no longer had disciplinary authority over a teenage student at the school when they had a sexual encounter.

Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Winter said Friday that she planned to file the dismissal of the charges with the Oxford County court by the end of the day after reviewing information provided by Sherburne’s attorney that proved Sherburne had stopped working for the district the day before he and the girl had sex late on Feb. 12 or early on Feb. 13.

Winter said the information was included in a court motion filed this week by Sherburne’s attorney and was not available when Sherburne was indicted in April.

Sherburne had been facing one charge each of gross sexual assault, a felony, and sexual abuse of a minor, a misdemeanor. Sherburne engaged in a sexual act with a female student who was 16 or 17 years old, according to an affidavit by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department in February.

The age of consent is 16 in Maine, but Sherburne had been charged under Maine’s gross sexual assault law because one of the criteria listed in the statute is having “supervisory or disciplinary authority” over a student in a school setting.

Allan Lobozzo, Sherburne’s attorney, said his client’s family was relieved at the outcome after being put through a gantlet of media scrutiny after Sherburne’s indictment and the subsequent revelation that he had been hired as an ed tech by his father, School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Frank Sherburne, in violation of the district’s nepotism policy. The uproar over the hiring eventually led Frank Sherburne to resign as SAD 6 superintendent on May 16.

Lobozzo filed a motion to dismiss the sexual assault case Monday, including Zachariah Sherburne’s undated resignation email and a confirmation by the SAD 55 superintendent that Feb. 12 was Sherburne’s last day of work. Lobozzo said after the court appearance this week that Sherburne had in fact finished his work at the district a day earlier, on Feb. 11.

“Obviously Zach and the family are ecstatic,” Lobozzo said. “There’s been so much of a media feeding frenzy. At least from a legal standpoint this is good news. I was getting hate mail and hate phone calls.”

The teenage girl is now pregnant. Lobozzo said that if the child is Sherburne’s, he will “participate financially,” but confirmed that Sherburne and the girl are not in a relationship.

“Was it a smart decision? No,” Lobozzo said. “But was it consensual, and was she of the age of consent? Yes.”

After Sherburne left Sacopee Valley High School, he was hired as an ed tech in SAD 6 in Buxton. The hiring violated the district’s nepotism policy barring the hiring of family members of the superintendent or members of the school board.

The SAD 6 board, rather than enforce its policy, chose to take no action against Sherburne, drawing intense criticism from the public and scrutiny from the press, including the revelation that Zachariah Sherburne did not have state approval to work in a classroom environment.

After weeks of rancorous debate and confrontational board meetings where angry parents called for Frank Sherburne’s ouster, the elder Sherburne resigned with a $40,000 severance package – a move considered to be less costly than breaking Sherburne’s contract and dealing with the related litigation expenses later, the SAD 6 board president said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

]]> 64, 24 Jun 2016 20:41:59 +0000
Texas university admissions office can consider race, Supreme Court rules Thu, 23 Jun 2016 23:56:17 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday said admissions officials at the University of Texas may consider the race of student applicants in a limited way to build a diverse student body.

The 4-to-3 decision was a surprising win for advocates of affirmative action, who say the benefits of diversity at the nation’s colleges and universities are worth the intrusion on the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection that generally forbids the government from making decisions based on racial classifications.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the university’s consideration of race was a “factor of a factor of a factor” and met the court’s narrow precedents.

“A university is in large part defined by those intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness,” Kennedy wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

“Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission,” he wrote. “But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

When the court considered the case in 2013, Kennedy wrote the opinion that sent it back to lower courts for a closer examination, and it seemed that the majority was skeptical that the admissions plan would survive.

Justice Samuel Alito began his 51-page dissent: “Something strange has happened since our prior decision in this case.” And he added that “the university has still not identified with any degree of specificity the interests that its use of race and ethnicity is supposed to serve.”

He read the lengthy dissent from the bench to stress his disagreement. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas joined his opinion.

Kennedy had never before voted to uphold a race-conscious plan, but he also had been reluctant to say that race may never be used. He was joined by three of the court’s liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had worked on the issue as President Obama’s solicitor general.

The specific case was brought in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the university. Her suit was organized and funded by a conservative legal organization that opposes racial preferences in government and brought the challenge that resulted in the justices striking a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the Univ. of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action,” Fisher said in a statement.

]]> 2, 23 Jun 2016 19:56:17 +0000
Eight teachers named semifinalists for Maine Teacher of the Year Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:08:42 +0000 A Yarmouth middle school teacher is one of eight semifinalists for the Maine 2017 Teacher of the Year, state education officials announced Thursday.

The eight were selected from among the 2016 County Teachers of the Year.

They will now go through a portfolio review and oral presentation before three finalists are selected. The winner will be announced at a surprise assembly at their school in October.

The semifinalists are:

Morgan Cuthbert, a seventh-grade math and science teacher at Harrison Middle School, Yarmouth.

Michael McCartney, Maine School of Science and Mathematics, Limestone. He teaches English, fitness, history and first-year seminar.

Selina Warren, a second-grade teacher at Kingfield Elementary School, Kingfield.

Rebecca Tapley, who teaches all subjects for grades four through eight at Brooklin Elementary School, Brooklin.

Andrew Forster, Messalonskee High School, Oakland. He teaches band, music production, independent study and jazz band.

Beth Heidemann, a kindergarten teacher at Cushing Community School, Cushing.

Cherrie MacInnes, a third-grade teacher at Brewer Community School, Brewer.

Tamara Ranger, who teaches English in grades seven and eight at Skowhegan Area Middle School, Skowhegan.

The 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year was Talya Edlund, a third-grade teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth.

]]> 10 Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:22:32 +0000 Portland school board endorses $70 million renovation plan Wed, 22 Jun 2016 02:21:17 +0000 After dozens of people spoke about a desperate need to improve four elementary schools, Portland’s school board voted 6-2 Tuesday night to ask the City Council to propose a $70 million bond to voters in November to pay for renovations.

“We need to make our full-throated commitment to education in Portland,” said board member John Eder. “It’s a great day.”

The City Council has final say over whether to send any bond to voters, and at what amount.

The school board’s vote followed a public hearing at which almost all speakers supported the $70 million proposal and opposed a last-minute proposal by board member Sarah Thompson for a $40 million bond, funding fewer improvements at the Presumpscot and Lyseth elementary schools.

Thompson said she made the alternative proposal because she is worried that a $70 million bond will be rejected or the improvements will be delayed.

“I’ve very concerned about getting nothing done,” said Thompson. “I want action.”

In the end, Thompson voted for the $70 million proposal, as did Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, who said earlier that she supported the more “prudent” $40 million proposal.

Board members Stephanie Hatzenbuehler and Laurie Davis voted against the proposal.

“I am thrilled,” said Emily Herlihy, the Presumpscot school’s literary coach, after the vote. “I do think we have a fight before us to get it passed (by voters), but Portlanders have always supported their schools.”

If voters approve a $70 million bond, the city will be authorized to issue a series of bonds up to that amount to pay for projects at the Lyseth, Presumpscot, Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools. Those bonds, paid off over 30 years, would likely be staggered, and taxpayers would see annual increases in the school portion of their tax bill to pay off the debt.

The $70 million bond, on its own, would create annual tax rate increases of 1 to 1.5 percent for the first five years, totaling $34 to $43 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000, according to an estimate by the district’s chief financial officer.

If that bond is added to the anticipated “base budget,” the total annual tax rate increases would rise to between 5 percent and 6 percent for the first five years, totaling $115 to $148 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000. In subsequent years, the annual increases would get smaller.

The cumulative effect of the bond and the base budget on a $225,000 property over the initial five-year period would cost the owners an extra $670.50 by the fifth year, according to the estimate.

The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, parents were vehement about the need to improve the schools.

“How long will the students of Presumpscot have to suffer from a lack of political will?” asked Brad Post, the father of a Presumpscot Elementary School student. “Our kids are worth it.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said the school board has been studying the need for improvements for decades.

“Our schools are unequal. That is immoral on our part,” Strimling said.

Portland used state funding to build the East End Community School in 2006 and the Ocean Avenue Elementary School in 2011.

In April, Portland voters approved a plan to pay for a new Hall Elementary School. The state will pay for almost all of the $29.7 million project, with Portland taxpayers paying $1.4 million for specific upgrades such as a larger gym that can serve as a community center.


]]> 11, 22 Jun 2016 09:12:38 +0000
Sanford school budget headed for second referendum Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:44:09 +0000 After some confusion about an unusual city charter provision that sets a threshold for the number of voters needed to reject budgets, Sanford officials have determined a second vote on the proposed school budget is required.

Sanford voters last week rejected both the city and school budgets by slim margins, but officials believed both were considered passed because the number of votes cast fell short of a threshold laid out in the city charter.

In order for a Sanford budget to be considered rejected by voters, the total number of votes cast must meet or exceed 25 percent of the city’s votes from the last gubernatorial election. There were 1,849 ballots cast in last week’s budget referendum, 18 short of the number required to reject a budget.

But after the school budget failed by a vote of 1,054 to 862, both school and city attorneys looked at state law and the charter to see if the 25 percent requirement applied to the school budget. They determined it did not, Superintendent David Theoharides said Monday.

That means the school budget will again go to voters for the first time in the past decade, but Theohardies said the process remains unclear. School and city officials met Monday and will meet again Tuesday to determine if the school budget process will start from “square one,” with the budget committee forwarding a proposal to the school board, he said. The proposal would then be sent to the City Council for a public hearing and vote before a second referendum.

“I’m unsure what to do with the budget. Am I supposed to cut it? We have no indication on that,” Theoharides said. “I have no idea if people want me to cut $5 or $500,000. This vote didn’t tell you anything at all about what to do other than that they were unhappy.”

Residents voted last week on a $24.2 million city budget and a $38.1 million education budget. The combined budgets amounted to a 2.44 percent overall spending increase. The increase would result in an extra $120.70 on the tax bill of a home valued at $170,000. But city officials say that increase would be offset by an increase in the homestead exemption for anyone who owns a home valued at $170,000 or less.

The proposed school budget would have eliminated four positions that had previously been funded by a Nellie Mae grant. Educational programming would have remained the same, but school officials said an increase was needed to deal with special education costs and increases in salaries and benefits.

In the week before the election, City Councilor Victor DiGregorio posted signs across the city urging people to vote against the budget and calling for no tax increase.

Voters ultimately rejected the city budget by a vote of 1,054 to 785.

The City Council on Tuesday will vote on orders to send the budget back to the budget committee for consideration, to set a public hearing at 6 p.m. June 30 and to require the budget committee to recommend a budget to the City Council no later than July 25. The council also will vote on an order to set a referendum vote for Aug. 23.

Theoharides said he would like to have the referendum sooner than Aug. 23, but didn’t know Monday if that would be possible. The school department will operate using the current budget when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Theoharides said the school department will not be allowed to spend its 2016-17 allocation from the state because it hasn’t been approved by voters.

“It’s a mess,” he said.

City Clerk Sue Cote said applications for absentee ballots for the August referendum are now available on the city website and at City Hall. Absentee ballot requests must be made by Aug. 18 and the ballots must be returned to the clerk by Aug. 23.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: grahamgillian

]]> 1 Mon, 20 Jun 2016 20:12:10 +0000
Incoming Portland schools chief faces depleted leadership team Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Three top administrators are leaving the Portland School District, two to become superintendents elsewhere in the state, just as a new superintendent begins work July 5.

Chief Academic Officer Becky Foley will be superintendent in RSU 5 in the Freeport area, and Director of School Management Kim Brandt will be superintendent in the Turner School District. Chief Financial Officer Ellen Sanborn is leaving to head up finances for the Metro transit system.

That means incoming Superintendent Xavier Botana, who is Portland’s sixth superintendent in nine years, will have to immediately rebuild his executive team.

“It’s obviously a huge gap in the leadership in the district as I move in,” Botana said Friday. “We really are in a state of flux.”

His first decision was to ask outgoing Acting Superintendent Jeanne Crocker to stay in the district, allowing him to fill the chief academic officer position temporarily with an in-house hire. The CFO position, posted last week, will be a permanent hire, Botana said.

Botana said that will give him a leadership team while he evaluates district needs, and Crocker, who had planned to retire, can be a resource to him.

“That’s truly valuable from my perspective,” said Botana.

Crocker will return to her previous role as director of school management, working directly with district principals. Crocker has been acting superintendent since Emmanuel Caulk, the previous superintendent, left last August to be superintendent at a Kentucky school system.

School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said the board appreciated that Botana was “proactive” and made those hiring decisions before starting work in the district.

“He wants to be extremely thoughtful and measured in his approach of what the district needs are,” Morrione said. “This is to ensure some stability, but he also wants to listen and learn.”

School Board member Sarah Thompson said the changes give Botana the chance to create his own leadership structure, and pick his own people.

“I think it’s an opportunity,” she said, noting that previous superintendents have changed job titles, job duties and created entirely new positions that were in line with their priorities.

Officials have said the turnover, and shifting priorities that have come and gone with various leaders, have led to an extended unsettled period for the district. Hiring and turnover can be time-consuming, distracting and expensive – and the school board has repeatedly said stability is a top priority.

“What people want is stability and the right people in the right seats. I think Xavier will bring a fresh perspective,” Thompson said. “Not that we want a lot of major changes, but education changes all the time.”

Botana said the changes “really bring … home for me” how the district suffers from a lack of stability.

“One of the big takeaways for me is the importance of trying to build the leadership capacity within the district so that we really have a pipeline of school and district leaders and we don’t have to be reeling every time people move on,” he said.

There has been turnover at the principal level, too. This fall there will be new principals at Portland High School, King Middle School and PATHS – Portland Arts & Technology High School.

When Crocker replaced Caulk, she quickly filled three executive-level vacancies, including hiring Foley and Brandt.

Before Caulk, the superintendents were James Morse, Jeanne Whynot-Vickers and Mary Jo O’Connor, who resigned in 2007 after a $2 million deficit sent the district into a financial and management tailspin that took years to stabilize.

When the board was searching for a new superintendent, members agreed that finding someone who would stay for the long term was a high priority. When they hired Botana, who has a three-year contract, they said they were convinced he intends to remain in Portland for an extended period.

“Ideally, I wanted to have the most seasoned and consistent team possible coming in,” Botana said. “But you’re not always dealt the cards you want.”

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Southern Maine schools dealing with superintendent deficit Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 About 15 years ago, the University of Southern Maine offered a program to put aspiring superintendents on a fast track to get certified for the position. About two dozen educators took the course and the majority got superintendent jobs soon after.

When the college decided to offer the program again a couple of years ago, there weren’t enough students to justify holding it.

“We couldn’t come up with more than five,” Jody Capelluti, a professor of educational leadership at USM, said about the number of educators interested in becoming superintendents.

Pressure to improve test scores, constant communication on smartphones and heightened public criticism through social media are among the reasons many school administrators are opting to forgo the six-figure salaries that go with the top job in the district to stay in less stressful positions.

At the same time, higher turnover in the position – whether because of burnout, local politics or clashes with the community – has put school boards on the hunt for new superintendents more often.

“I think it’s a crisis situation,” Capelluti said.

In the past year, at least seven school districts in southern Maine have had superintendent openings and some have found just how hard it is to fill the job. School districts have conducted multiple searches, and sometimes have competed for the same candidates.

After having its two finalists withdraw from consideration, Cape Elizabeth will start its search anew this winter, when it will likely compete for candidates with Westbrook and Bonny Eagle, who lost their superintendents this spring – one to a smaller district with a higher salary, and the other after a scandal over hiring his son.

Being in a crowded field of prospective employers is nothing new to Cape, which lost its superintendent when Meredith Nadeau took a job in the Newmarket, New Hampshire, school district.

In its initial search, Cape shared a finalist with neighboring Scarborough, whose superintendent is retiring this summer. That finalist ended up going elsewhere, and Scarborough eventually hired a candidate who was the runner-up to Nadeau in New Hampshire.

Cape now has an interim superintendent to provide more time for its search.

Although superintendents’ reasons for leaving their jobs vary, districts are facing common challenges.

Superintendents don’t stay in one job as long as they used to and their jobs are harder to fill.

In southern Maine, Portland probably knows best how high turnover can affect a school district.

With seven superintendents in less than 10 years – the most recent hired last month – the state’s largest school system seems to be searching for a superintendent more often than it’s not. That instability can stymie a district’s ability to effect positive change, said Susan Pratt, president of the Maine School Superintendents Association and superintendent of School Administrative District 58 in Phillips.

“It takes awhile to gear up when you move to a system,” she said. “That consistency in leadership is critical to be able to move the system forward.”

A commitment to stay in the job – and not just use the position to forward their career – was stressed in interviews with candidates for the Portland superintendency, said Debra Hill, managing partner of BWP and Associates, the Illinois-based firm hired to conduct the search.

She said their tenure in past positions was scrutinized and the candidates were asked point-blank about their intentions.

And Portland’s school board made no secret of the fact that the city’s new superintendent, Xavier Botana, expressed a commitment to stay “for the long haul.”

Five to seven years is considered the typical tenure for a superintendent in one district, Hill said.

In Maine, the average is less than five years, said Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, which leads the vast majority of superintendent searches in the state, including 10 this year.

A 2015 study by the American Association of School Administrators found that the most common reason for superintendents leaving their jobs was for a new challenge in a different type of district, followed by better pay, then conflict with school board members.

When asked what they’d like to be doing in five years, 30 percent said they hoped to be retired.

The aging of baby boomers is one reason more superintendent jobs are opening up, Hill said.

Another, like in most industries, is that people simply tend to move around more, both geographically and between companies.

“The old model, the superintendent that came up through the district and stayed for 25 years, is unusual,” Brown said.

Turnover on school boards can also lead superintendents to jump ship – when the people they’re working for are completely different from the ones who hired them, especially if new board members have a specific agenda.

Capelluti said it’s becoming less common for people to run for the office simply to serve their community.

“Many people run to get something or get rid of something,” he said.

The superintendent’s relationship with the board and the community can make or break his or her job, in Hill’s opinion.

And with social media giving a platform to spread criticism – often anonymously – those relationships can sour quickly.

“People tend to read what’s on the surface without understanding the rationale or underlying reasons,” Hill said about the effect of social media, leading people to pass judgment based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

Pratt agreed.

“There’s more of being in the limelight, more accountability to the public,” she said. “Everything is out there and upfront and things hit the airway before the dust settles at the local level. It’s just the way society has changed.”

Technology has also made superintendents more accessible. Email, text message and Facebook allow members of the school board and the community to get in touch on any day at any time, often expecting an immediate response.

“It has become a job that really is 24-7,” Brown said. “It’s very difficult to manage the expectation that you must always be available to people.”

All that is happening at the same time that more is asked of superintendents, who used to be more like business managers and are now expected to be experts on curriculum and to improve student test scores, along with managing finances while receiving fewer resources, Hill said.

Pratt has heard from other superintendents and felt firsthand how the job has gotten “bigger and bigger” with more responsibilities than ever before.

“The value of our job is huge and yet we don’t always feel like we’ve gotten that respect that we have in the past,” she said.

Capelluti said he thinks things started to change about 20 years ago when districts started cutting assistant superintendents, a position that was once in nearly every Maine school system and now exists only in the largest ones.

That’s left superintendents with less opportunity to train for the job and less support when they’re in it.

As a result, more people are staying at the principal level or taking other jobs in the central office with no further aspirations, and it’s creating a problem.

Clearly the salary doesn’t seem worth it, although districts may have started to offer more money to the right candidate. Brown estimated that the average salary of superintendents in Cumberland County is around $125,000. However, recent hires have been offered between $128,000 – the new salary of Becky Foley in Freeport-based Regional School Unit 5 – and $148,000 – the new salary of Botana in Portland.

Capelluti believes the solution is to make school boards understand their boundaries, both in terms of time and responsibilities, and to give superintendents adequate support and compensation for a job that, in many Maine towns, is essentially the chief executive officer of its largest employer.

“We desperately need more superintendents, but the job has to be more attractive,” he said.

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Casco Bay High students cast off for summer with cardboard boat races Fri, 17 Jun 2016 21:34:55 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — Tanner Nussinow wasn’t overly optimistic about his chances of paddling his cardboard pirate ship to victory, but that did little to dampen his spirits.

The Casco Bay High School junior, decked out in a sailor hat and pirate eyepatch, stood on Willard Beach just after noon Friday as crowds of spectators gathered along the water’s edge. Next to him was the pirate ship he and classmates from the Portland high school had crafted using cardboard, tape and paint. A mermaid graced the bow, her tail wrapped artfully around the side of the little brown ship.

“It’s not going to float, absolutely not,” Nussinow said as his crewmates waved cardboard swords, hoisted a treasure chest in the air and got themselves hyped up for the race.

Friday marked the 11th year that Casco Bay High School students trekked across the bridge to South Portland to race cardboard boats at Willard Beach. The grand prize is bragging rights.

As the school year draws to a close, each crew – or advisory team – at the expeditionary learning school designs and builds a boat. Each boat carries two paddlers who try to navigate about 50 yards into the water, around a teacher in a kayak and back to shore.

This year, 21 cardboard boats built by students – plus one designed and raced by teachers – were carried onto the beach as parents, alumni and beachgoers cheered.

Everyone was ready to race.

Brooke Teller, a chemistry teacher, said the races showcase not just boat-building skills, but the creativity, teamwork and camaraderie the school fosters. It’s also a chance for students to show off their competitive side at a school that doesn’t have sports teams, she said.

“It’s really a big community event,” Teller said. “It shows the joy of our school.”

Anna Hall, a 17-year-old junior, helped her crew craft the Titanic, a wide boat designed to allow a rower’s legs to dangle in the water.

“By the time you get to junior year, you build the boat the way you feel,” she said of the Titanic, whose ultimate fate was similar to its namesake.

“We wanted to go for silly,” chimed in her crewmate, Devon Case. “We’re going for giggles.”

After students lined up the boats in the sand, paddlers were outfitted with life jackets. The first three races were for individual grade levels, with the winner of each heat moving on to the final championship race.

During the freshman heat, several boats broke into pieces the second they hit the water. The Leque Crew boat cut quickly through the water and made it back to shore first, though it was sitting noticeably lower in the water by the time two paddlers scrambled back to the sand.

“It was cold, but it was a lot of fun,” paddler Anna Power of the Leque Crew said as she dragged the boat up to dry land. “We didn’t think it would make it, but it was exciting.”

By the time the junior heat began, Jasper Sommer, a crewmate of Nussinow and the second paddler in the pirate ship, was ready to race.

“I’m going to get pretty wet,” he said. “Hopefully I make it back to shore.”

Sommer did make it back to shore, but not before the pirate ship sank. Nussinow and Sommer waved their cardboard swords in the air victoriously as pieces of cardboard floated around them and their classmates raced ahead of them in the water.

In the championship heat, the canoe-shaped boat built by teachers finished ahead of the students, but it was the Bernstein Crew of sophomores who were declared the winners. Students cheered and hugged, then picked up the soggy remnants of their ship and headed to the buses for the short ride back to school.

“It’s a last day of school all the kids want to be at,” said Teller, the chemistry teacher. “It’s a great way to send the kids off into summer.”


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Incoming Portland superintendent tours schools ahead of July 1 start Fri, 17 Jun 2016 01:10:57 +0000 Xavier Botana, the incoming superintendent for Portland Public Schools, spent many years teaching English as a second language prior to becoming an administrator.

But for the last six, while he was associate superintendent in Michigan City, Indiana, he never really got to employ those skills. That school district’s diversity, he said, was black and white, and not international.

That’s one of the things that drew Botana to Portland, a district that has seen its enrollment diversify considerably through immigration, primarily from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Roughly 1 in 4 students in Portland is an English language learner.

“I think the ELL component is something I’m looking forward to embracing,” Botana said Thursday during a break while touring several Portland schools. “It’s a big challenge for the district but I think a great opportunity as well.”

Botana, 53, was hired by the school board last month and begins a three-year term as superintendent on July 1. He decided to come to Portland for two days this week to tour the schools and meet staff and students before the summer break starts.

At King Middle School on Thursday morning, newly named principal Caitlin LeClair gave Botana a tour. The halls were unusually quiet. The eighth-graders were all at an end-of-year ceremony and the seventh-graders were on a field trip to a local beach.

He stopped and spoke with teachers and a few students. When he introduced himself, a slight accent came through. Botana is a Cuban immigrant and speaks fluent Spanish.

Although he’s spent his career mostly in the Midwest, Botana and his family have ties to Maine. They have been coming for several years to participate in a program at Sunday River for skiers with special needs. Botana and his wife, Suzanne, have a 13-year-old son, David, who has a limb difference.

“We don’t have deep roots here,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to settling down. I don’t see this as a springboard to something else.”

Board members cited Botana’s interest in staying long-term as one of the reasons he was chosen. Since 2007, Portland has had six superintendents. Botana succeeds Jeanne Crocker, who has served as interim superintendent since Emmanuel Caulk left last summer after three years to take a job as head of a school district in Kentucky.

Botana said he envisions staying in Portland indefinitely and wants to build on a strong foundation that already exists.

“This is a district that has so many things going for it,” he said. “It’s not a situation where I feel I need to come in and turn it around or fix anything.”

After touring King, Botana visited Hall Elementary, one of the city’s oldest schools and one that is due to be replaced by 2018. The pupils at Hall were much chattier than the ones at King and Botana engaged with several. When he was introduced to a group of second-graders as the new superintendent, many asked, “What’s that?”

“Well, it’s kind of like the head teacher,” he said. “I work for all of you. I get to help make decisions about what happens next and how to improve things for everyone.”

As he left Hall and made his way to Deering High School, Botana remarked that although he wanted to meet as many staff members as possible over the next two days, he likely wouldn’t remember many names. Yet when he entered the main office at Deering, he greeted the principal, Ira Waltz, by his first name.

“Good memory,” Waltz said, before leading Botana to the library, where teachers had gathered for an informal meet-and-greet.

Botana began his career as a teacher in Illinois and graduated to administrative positions on the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools. He has been associate superintendent in Michigan City, Indiana – a district of 6,000 students – since 2010.

Sue Olafsen, president of the Portland Education Association, spent Thursday chaperoning Botana throughout the district. She said the response to his hiring has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think everyone is excited to have him on board,” she said.

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SAD 6 nepotism policy got short shrift in hiring of superintendent’s son Thu, 16 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 School Administrative District 6 board officials knew that hiring the superintendent’s son as an ed tech might violate the district’s nepotism policy, but there is no indication they read the policy in detail to find out, according to an investigators’ report released to the Portland Press Herald.

The hiring of Zachariah Sherburne came to light after he was charged with sexually assaulting a female student in another district. The outcry over his hiring grew after revelations that he did not hold any state credentials. The ensuing uproar led his father, Frank Sherburne, to resign as superintendent May 16.

A short summary of the 21-page report was released the day Sherburne resigned. The Press Herald received the full report, with some sections heavily redacted, in response to a Freedom of Access Act request. The redactions, the district’s attorney said, are mostly because of laws protecting employee confidentiality.

The investigation, by board members Paul Mosley and Cindy Meserve and the district’s attorney, Elek Miller of Drummond Woodsum, was mostly limited to the nepotism policy. SAD 6 board Chairwoman Rebecca Bowley and Vice Chairman Jacob Stoddard have acknowledged that they approved the hire despite knowing about the nepotism policy.

The SAD 6 investigators also questioned officials about whether they knew of “an alleged relationship” between Zachariah Sherburne, 23, and a student in SAD 55. The report found that no one did.

According to police reports, Zachariah Sherburne is accused of sexually assaulting a student in SAD 55 on Feb. 12, four days after he began working at SAD 6.


In the full report, Frank Sherburne told investigators that he “pointed out that hiring Zachariah could be a violation of the (nepotism) policy, but that the district needs education technicians.” Stoddard said that when he, Sherburne and Bowley discussed the hire, “the existence of the nepotism policy was brought up, as was the fact that hiring Zachariah might be a violation of that policy.”

In the findings, the investigators say Bowley “was not familiar” with the specifics of the nepotism policy, that Stoddard was aware but misunderstood the policy, and that Sherburne “did not know” the policy required a full board vote to grant a hire under the exception provision.

The report does not indicate if any of them read the policy, or looked it up as they discussed whether hiring Zachariah Sherburne would be a violation.

Before Sherburne resigned, the community was in an uproar, packing the audience at hours-long board meetings and demanding that Sherburne be fired. Most of the outrage was focused on the sexual assault and the violation of the nepotism policy, but many critics say they are more concerned about the lack of credentials. They questioned whether the district had other instructors who were not properly credentialed.

In an email this week, SAD 6 attorney Peter Felmly said the district had 33 employees at the beginning of the school year who had some sort of problem regarding their state certification, license or criminal background check, but were allowed to teach under a district-issued extension. Felmly said that list has since been narrowed to one ed tech, who is not working as an ed tech while his state authorization is being renewed.

“That is not to say that they were not certified, authorized or permitted to work in a public school or that there was a gap in their certification/authorization,” Felmly wrote. “Many employees were in the process of obtaining their renewal from the Maine Department of Education and, as you are likely aware, due to staffing levels at the Maine Department of Education last fall, the processing of employees’ renewal applications took much longer than anticipated.” He said the department told the district that if the renewal application was filed and being processed by the state, the prior credential remained valid.

SAD 6 has more than 600 employees and serves about 3,900 students.


Under state law, Zachariah Sherburne should have been fingerprinted, had a criminal background check and been authorized by the state as an ed tech before he first started working in a school, for SAD 55 in November 2015. He began working for SAD 6 in February and was arrested in March.

The SAD 6 report has conflicting and incomplete information regarding Sherburne’s credentialing, including the question of when, where and if he was fingerprinted, and when and whether he had a criminal history background check – both required of all school employees in Maine before they begin working in a school district.

The report says the state approval process, “which includes fingerprinting and a background check, had begun for Zachariah (Sherburne) when he applied for work” in late January, which is not consistent with a reference in the report’s time line to his fingerprinting appointment on Feb. 16.

The summary of the report said Sherburne had applied for education technician certification with the state, and the Department of Education acknowledged receipt of his application on Feb. 2, but later said the paperwork was incomplete because of transcript problems. The summary report said Zachariah Sherburne had his fingerprints taken on Feb. 16, but the state said it never issued an eight-week temporary card indicating he had applied for a criminal background check.

The department is investigating the situation, and will not comment until a final decision is issued.

Under state law, superintendents can be disciplined or even stripped of state credentials if their district employs someone without proper certification, authorization or approval from the Department of Education. It also can lead the district to lose state funding equal to the state’s share of salary and benefits paid to unauthorized employees.

Don Isaacs, board chairman in SAD 55, has refused to comment on any questions regarding Zachariah Sherburne, citing both employee confidentiality and the Department of Education investigation. Superintendent Carl Landry confirmed Sherburne’s employment, but declined to answer more detailed questions, citing employee confidentiality.


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Feds seek shutdown of largest accreditor of for-profit colleges Wed, 15 Jun 2016 14:51:27 +0000 BOSTON — The U.S. Department of Education is taking the first step to close the nation’s biggest accreditor of for-profit colleges.

Department staff recommended Wednesday that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools be terminated.

The council serves as a watchdog for 900 campuses and decides if they can receive federal funding.

But several state attorneys general have accused it of overlooking deception by some schools. The council has accredited some institutions accused of fraud, including the now-defunct Corinthian College chain.

Education officials found problems with the group’s standards during a review.

The recommendation goes to an advisory committee before top department officials make a final decision.

If the council closes, its schools would have 18 months to find new accreditors or lose federal funding. The council did not immediately comment.

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University of Maine at Presque Isle president leaving Tue, 14 Jun 2016 01:27:06 +0000 The president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Linda Schott, is leaving to be president of Southern Oregon University, the University of Maine System announced Monday.

“President Linda Schott brought innovative and engaged leadership to the University of Maine at Presque Isle,” Chancellor James Page said in a statement. “While we will miss Linda as a colleague and leader, she leaves in place an award-winning strategic mission and a leadership team with a greater capacity to serve our students, the region, and our statewide needs.”

Page said he planned to name a transitional leader sometime before Schott leaves. She will begin her new job before this fall.

Schott was known for moving UMPI, which enrolled about 1,300 students last fall, to “personalized education” – also known as proficiency-based learning – in which students learn at their own pace and are educated in an array of methods that are “personalized” for them. The state is moving to a proficiency-based diploma system for graduating high school seniors.

The New England Board of Higher Education recognized UMPI’s achievements in personalized education with its 2016 Maine State Merit Award.

Southern Oregon University, located in Ashland, enrolls about 6,200 students.

]]> 0 Tue, 14 Jun 2016 08:03:30 +0000
Court: Maine educator who won $1 million must prove she is donating money Mon, 13 Jun 2016 14:11:28 +0000 A shoplifting charge against Nancie Atwell – the Maine educator awarded $1 million last year when she won a prestigious international teaching prize – will be dropped if she stays out of trouble for two years, undergoes a psychological evaluation, completes 100 hours of community service and proves that she is donating the prize money to her own school.

The plea arrangement, called a deferred disposition, was formalized Monday in District Court in Wiscasset, and was approved by Assistant District Attorney Katie Hollstrom. Atwell was not present at the hearing, but was represented by Damariscotta attorney William Avantaggio.

Avantaggio said the prize money is disbursed in annual $100,000 increments, and Atwell has already forwarded this year’s payment to the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Edgecomb school she founded in 1990.

Atwell was the first recipient, in March 2015, of the Global Teacher Prize.

Although Atwell entered a guilty plea during Monday’s hearing, the court will only accept it if she breaks the conditions of the deal. If she is not accused of further crimes in the two-year period and satisfies the other conditions, the charge will be dismissed in June 2018.

Avantaggio was critical of the deal, but said it offered his client a known outcome without incurring more legal fees.

“This seemed to be the best way to see things through,” he said.

In a statement, Hollstrom declined to say why her office included the donation of the teacher’s prize as part of the deferred disposition, and referred those questions to Avantaggio, who did not return calls for comment after the hearing.

“The State does not believe this is an inappropriate resolution to this case,” Hollstrom said. “When reviewing a case and making a recommendation the State takes into account all known circumstances of the defendant and all known circumstances of the case.”

The school has ended its academic year, and no one could be reached to verify whether Atwell has donated the prize money as she had said she would. The school’s latest I-990 tax filing is for the 2013 tax year. A more recent filing that might include more current information on any large contributions to the nonprofit school was not immediately available.

A telephone message left for Atwell was not returned, and no one answered the door at her Southport home Monday.

Damariscotta police were called to the Renys department store in April after security recorded Atwell taking a $14.99 blouse from a rack, rolling it up and placing it in another bag and walking out of the store without paying for it.

Although Avantaggio said his client had a “viable defense,” the deferred disposition deal was the least costly option for her.

Avantaggio said what was captured on video was a clumsy attempt at exchanging another item from the store, but at the time she was summonsed, police said she never tried to return another item.

Reached immediately after she was issued the summons by Damariscotta police, Atwell and Head of School Matt MacDonald both said Atwell was innocent.

“I am not guilty,” Atwell told the Press Herald in April. “This is a misunderstanding. I have no further comment.”

Before founding the school in 1990, Atwell previously taught middle school English and writing in Boothbay Harbor.

The Global Teacher Prize was created by the Varkey Foundation, a philanthropic offshoot of Global Education Management Systems, a Dubai-based company and the largest operator of private elementary and secondary schools in the world. It has schools in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, North America and Europe.

Other finalists for the prize included educators from Indonesia, the United Kingdom, India, Haiti, Kenya, Cambodia, Afghanistan and two other teachers from the United States. The award was created to elevate the profession of teaching and improve education.

Atwell was chosen from a field of 5,000 nominees from 127 countries who were winnowed down to 50 in January 2015 and then to 10 finalists. After winning the award, she said she planned to donate the full amount to her school to fund scholarships, book purchases and building maintenance projects.

About 40 to 50 teachers from around the world go to the Edgecomb school each year to study the teaching methods of its 10 full- and part-time staff members. The student teachers’ tuition goes toward a scholarship fund for students who cannot afford the school’s annual $8,500 tuition. The school has an enrollment of 69 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Atwell has written nine books on teaching, one of which has sold more than 500,000 copies.

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Maine schools’ rate of protection against measles improving Mon, 13 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 While Maine’s voluntary opt-out rate for school-required vaccines remains among the highest in the nation, state records show that up to 400 more Maine grade school children received the measles vaccine in the 2015-16 school year when compared to last year, substantially improving the state’s protection against a measles outbreak.

Public health experts cheered the improved immunization coverage, as vaccines prevent dangerous diseases such as measles, pertussis, polio and chickenpox.

“It’s great to see the vaccination rates go up,” said Cassandra Grantham, executive director of the Maine Immunization Coalition, a group of medical professionals that advocates for vaccination.

Hundreds more were vaccinated for measles this school year while the student population remained steady, representing improved immunization coverage.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, vice president of clinical affairs at the University of New England, said the 2014-15 measles outbreak that started in Disneyland may have helped persuade parents to get the measles vaccine, but that Maine still has a long way to go to prevent infectious diseases.

“We need to make more progress,” Mills said. “It continues to be a big challenge.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention released school-by-school vaccination rates in early June in response to a Freedom of Access Act request by the Portland Press Herald. It’s the second year that the state has released school-by-school rates, and the Press Herald has compiled an online searchable database.

The voluntary opt-out rate represents parents who sign a form forgoing vaccines for their children based on religious or philosophic grounds. Parents whose children have a legitimate health reason to opt out – such as a medical condition like leukemia – can obtain a medical exemption to vaccines.

Maine’s overall non-medical opt-out rate for kindergarten students declined from 3.9 percent last year to 3.7 percent in 2015-16. State-by-state results for 2015-16 will be released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this fall.

Maine was fifth-worst for vaccine coverage in the 2013-14 school year, when kindergarten opt-outs reached 5.2 percent, but has improved since then. Typically, the national median for opt-outs is about 2 percent or less.

High opt-out rates put thousands of Maine children at risk for the return of preventable infectious diseases.

In Maine, parents can easily opt out of vaccines, and the state is among the most lenient in the country for avoiding required vaccines. Other states require that parents jump through more hoops before opting out, such as requiring counseling or watching a pro-vaccine presentation, and other states do not permit philosophic exemptions. Efforts in Maine to tighten those rules by requiring counseling with a medical professional before taking the philosophic exemption failed in 2015 after Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill. Advocates may be gearing up for another attempt to pass a vaccine bill in 2017.

The voluntary opt-out rates might not seem high – the rates have ranged between 3.7 and 5.2 percent over the past four years. But for vaccines to work most effectively and provide “herd immunity” for those who are most susceptible to infections diseases – such as cancer patients, the immune-compromised, the elderly and infants too young to have received their vaccines – the opt-out rates should be as low as possible, public health experts say.

Also, the opt-out percentage is an average, and while some schools reported close to 100 percent vaccination coverage, 40 Maine elementary schools with at least 15 students in kindergarten or first grade have 10 percent or more of the student population forgoing vaccines, leaving those schools most at risk for a disease outbreak.

A few schools reported 20 percent or more unvaccinated kindergartners or first-graders, including elementary schools in Pownal, Hancock and the Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science, a public charter school in Gray.

In recent years, more parents in Maine and nationwide have refused vaccines for their children, in part because of since-debunked theories dating to the 1990s that vaccines were linked to autism. Vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and do not cause autism, according to numerous scientific studies.

Last year, the number of unvaccinated children was actually higher than the reported 3.9 percent who opted out, the records show.

In 2014-15, while Maine’s official opt-out rate was 3.9 percent for children entering kindergarten, the actual rate of unvaccinated children was much higher.

For instance, 968 kindergarten students in 2014-15 reportedly did not have the MMR vaccine – for measles, mumps and rubella – or 7.9 percent of all Maine kindergartners.

Tonya Philbrick, who heads up the immunization program at the Maine CDC, said state health officials last year noticed the discrepancy, that there were hundreds of children who did not have any vaccine documentation – no proof they had gotten their shots and no signed forms opting out.

She said some of the children may have been vaccinated but parents didn’t turn in the forms – so there’s no proof that they received their vaccines – while others may have been unvaccinated. Thirty-nine primary schools in 2014-15 were reporting measles vaccine coverage at 80 percent or worse, alarming public health officials.

Philbrick said heading into 2015-16, the Maine CDC and Maine Department of Education launched a public education campaign for school nurses, Head Start pre-school programs, and the Women Infant and Children nutritional program to emphasize the importance of having complete documentation on immunizations. The Maine CDC tracked records as they came in and made extra calls to schools if it seemed like they were falling behind in turning in the required forms.

All new school nurses were required to attend a training session in Augusta that included a session on vaccine documentation. “I know that what we did (made) an impact,” Philbrick said.

During this school year, there was improved vaccine coverage for not only the MMR vaccine, but also for vaccines for pertussis, polio and chickenpox, the records show.

Philbrick said the CDC does not give any incentives to encourage compliance or impose penalties against schools that do not turn in the vaccine documentation.

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a Yarmouth pediatrician and vaccine advocate who has been studying human behavior surrounding vaccine refusal, said making the data public and easily searchable could also be making a difference.

Now parents, teachers and school officials can see how their school stacks up against others. There’s a sociological penalty if too many opt out, Blaisdell said.

“With the data becoming public and now transparent, there is somewhat of a consequence, because now people know someone is watching and tracking this data,” said Blaisdell, pointing to studies that show people behave better when they know they are being monitored.

“This allows for an awareness and a dialogue that didn’t happen before. Studies show that when you’re trying to quit smoking, and you tell people you’re going to quit smoking, you’re more likely to be successful.”

In one case, Saccarrappa School in Westbrook improved from one of the worst schools in the state for measles vaccine coverage in 2014-15 to one of the best this year.

In 2014-15, only 80 percent of first-grade students had their measles vaccine, but this year, 97 percent did. No parents signed philosophic or religious exemptions this year.

Brian Mazjanis, Saccarrappa’a principal, said that this year, the school nurse and head nurse for the school emphasized public education for parents on getting their vaccines and turning in their forms. The school also helped parents navigate the system, removing any logistical barriers to providing the school vaccine documentation.

“We really made a commitment to doing this and made it a priority,” Mazjanis said.

Other schools that made dramatic improvements in MMR coverage included Boothbay Regional Elementary School and Small Elementary in South Portland.

Blaisdell said she expects there will be another attempt to introduce a bill that would make it more difficult to opt out of school-required vaccines. She said the improved vaccination coverage that happened by enforcing existing law seems to indicate that there are fewer philosophic objections to vaccines and some of the reason people opt out is because it’s simply easier to sign a form.

“When people are approached by the school, they’re getting their vaccines,” Blaisdell said. “We think that if they’re going to have to go to the doctor to get a consultation, that many would instead just go ahead and get the vaccine.”

Correction: The chart accompanying this story was revised at 10:32 a.m., June 13, 2016, to reflect that the data applies to religious/philosophical exemption rates for classes with at least 15 students. An earlier version of the chart misstated the class size.


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Graduates to watch in the class of 2016 Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:30 +0000 4, 12 Jun 2016 07:41:12 +0000 Michael Lombardi, Traip Academy Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 When Michael Lombardi graduates from Traip Academy in Kittery on Friday, it won’t be the end of his high school education.

Lombardi has been accepted to Bates College, but he’s delaying the start of his college career for one year so he can attend another year of high school in Aomori, Japan, a prefecture that has a sister-state relationship with Maine.

Lombardi developed an interest in Japan when he was a sixth-grader at Shapleigh Middle School. A contingent of students and officials from the Tobu-Kamikita Schools in Oirase and Rokunohe, Aomori, came to visit the middle school and Lombardi struck up a friendship with one of the boys.

“I had a good time talking with him and after he left, we continued communicating,” Lombardi said.

The summer after eighth grade, Lombardi traveled to Aomori with a group from the middle school and stayed with his Japanese friend’s family.

“It was an eye-opening experience, where I found out the whole world isn’t just Maine,” Lombardi said. “On the plane trip back, I was sitting next to a man from China who spoke Chinese, Japanese and was fluent in English. It made me realize that some people spend their whole lives immersing themselves in other cultures and languages just so they can bridge the gaps between people.”

When Lombardi started high school, he began studying Japanese online and has become conversational, enough so that he acts as a translator and guide whenever students visit from Aomori and he volunteers as an instructor for the Japan Club at the middle school.

Described as one of the friendliest students at Traip, Lombardi is an Eagle Scout who played alto saxophone in the academy’s bands and was a member of the academy’s drama club, making the all-cast list at the regional drama festival this spring. He also plays guitar in the youth band that he started at the Church at Spruce Creek and he works at Terra Cotta Pasta Co., a part-time job that turns full time each summer.

Lombardi held community fundraisers, assisted by the Kittery Lions Club, that raised $4,000 to help pay for his year abroad. He’s looking forward to meeting new people, honing his Japanese language skills and learning more about Japanese culture. He plans to study Japanese and economics in college, but he also hopes his experience encourages other Kittery kids to look far beyond Maine’s borders.

“I want to show students there are opportunities out there,” he said. “You just have to work for them.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Meredith Hawkins, Yarmouth High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Meredith Hawkins was young when she realized that some words can hurt.

As a seventh-grader at Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, she launched a campaign, “Spread the Word to End the Word,” to stop the derogatory use of “retard” and “retarded” in the town’s schools.

“It was especially prevalent when I was in seventh grade,” Hawkins recalled. “It was used a lot, often without any intention to hurt people, but it really does offend some people.”

Hawkins displayed a campaign banner in the middle school hallway and asked students to sign a pledge to remove the R-word from their vocabulary. Students embraced the effort, and it became a yearly effort among seventh-graders.

In eighth grade, Hawkins started the annual Young Athletes Festival, a program for kids ages 2 to 7 that helps them develop motor skills and introduces them to competitive play. While it aims to prepare children for the Special Olympics, it’s open to children with or without intellectual disabilities.

At Yarmouth High School, she started the Youth Activation Council, a club including students with special needs that works on education and acceptance of people’s differences. She and another student started a lunch buddy program, which partners upperclassmen with students with special needs who often end up sitting alone.

And she helped to start a “unified” basketball team at the high school to participate in the interscholastic program co-sponsored by Special Olympics and the Maine Principals’ Association. Unified teams include students with developmental disabilities and nonvarsity students without disabilities.

Hawkins was a three-sport athlete at Yarmouth High who speaks Spanish and graduated magna cum laude. She plans to study international relations at Boston College, with a possible minor in social work and psychology. She hopes to further interests she developed on service trips to Ghana in Africa with her mother’s Yale University alumni group, and to Nicaragua in Central America and Appalachia in West Virginia with her church youth group.

She credits her parents, Eileen, a nurse practitioner, and Craig, a surgeon, with showing her how to live fully and help others. “My parents have always allowed me to explore a lot of different opportunities and do whatever I’m interested in,” Hawkins said. “They’re extremely hard-working, but they’re also amazing human beings.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Darren Thiboutot, Cheverus High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Darren “Lil’ Bluesman” Thiboutot got a taste of the music business beyond Maine in January, when he performed at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sponsored by the Maine Blues Society, Thiboutot was there as a noncompeting youth performer under age 21. Guitar in hand, he took the stage at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale Street alone, without the two older members of his Topsham-based band, Memphis Lightning.

Before an audience of about 200 people, he played and sang a few of his originals, including “Trouble” and “Go Away,” and a few classics, including “Dust My Broom,” which was recorded first by Robert Johnson and later by Elmore James.

“It was surreal,” recalled Thiboutot, a Cheverus High School graduate. “It was a little frightening because I was used to playing with a band. But it was fun and it was great exposure, and afterward I had a great feeling of accomplishment.”

In the audience was his dad and fellow band member, Darren “Big Red” Thiboutot, a drummer who backed the great blues guitarist Eddie Kirkland in the 1990s. The bass guitarist in Memphis Lightning is Rick “Slow Driver” McLennan, another accomplished Maine musician.

Memphis Lightning’s first album, “Trouble,” is due out this summer. A video of the band performing ” ’67 Cadillac,” with music and lyrics by Thiboutot, is available on and on the band’s Facebook page. The band is set to perform at the Maine Blues Festival in Naples next weekend and the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland July 16-17.

Now 18, Thiboutot has come a long way in a decade.

“I got my first guitar when I was 8, but I didn’t really get into it until I was 10,” Thiboutot said. “My first paying gig was about 12 at Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel. It was with my dad. I was pretty much hooked then.”

Thiboutot’s father gave him his first guitar and showed him how to play. He also took lessons from prominent Maine guitarists Mike Hayward and Scott Hughes, and he picked up a few things from Eddie Kirkland, too. Now, he teaches himself.

“You see other bands and you always learn something new,” Thiboutot said. “And you learn a lot just by doing it.”

Playing in pubs and at festivals at such a young age, Thiboutot got some early life lessons, but his father always watched over him.

“I had to mature sooner and act older,” he said. “Being in a band kept me in line, in a way. Knowing I had a show coming up, I had to have all my homework caught up.”

Thiboutot, who played in the jazz combo at Cheverus, said he’s grateful for his family’s unflagging encouragement, including his mom, Deborah. He plans to study music education at the University of Maine at Augusta, where he received a president’s scholarship for half tuition. And he’ll keep on playing the blues.

“I’ve always loved the blues,” he said. “You can encompass several styles when you play the blues, including rock, country and roots music. And I like the rawness and the emotion in the blues. There’s always something more to it than the eye can see.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Fred Pierce, Greely High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Fred Pierce wasn’t getting much out of Greely High School before his junior year. Halfway through 10th grade, the Cumberland student was failing a few classes and wondering whether he’d graduate on time, let alone get his name on the honor roll.

Then he visited the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, which also serves students from Buxton, Falmouth, Gorham, Hollis, Limington, Scarborough, Standish and Windham. He heard a teacher explaining how to maintain heavy equipment, including forklifts, bulldozers, bucket excavators and front-end loaders. He saw students moving piles of snow and sand with a skid-steer loader.

For a kid who loves pickup trucks and four-wheeling and snowmobiling, it seemed like heaven.

“I really wanted to be doing that,” Pierce said. “They said if I got my grades up, I could go there.”

So Pierce set his sights on improving his grades. He made sure he got his homework done. He started using study halls for studying rather than talking with friends or fooling around.

By junior year, his grades were good enough to enroll in the heavy equipment operation program at the vocational center – “the Voc,” for short. He started taking courses there every afternoon, following his regular classes at Greely High. He started making the honor roll. And he loved it.

“Every day I went to the Voc, I was excited to be there,” Pierce said. “I was happy to be doing what I enjoy and what I want to do in the future.”

During his senior year, Pierce worked on an independent study project overseen by Mark Bay, coordinator of the alternative pathways program at Greely High. Pierce learned about personal and business finances through the lens of his passion for trucks. He researched everything related to buying a truck for a business, from selecting the best vehicle to financing it through a credit union. He learned about credit scores, interest rates and loan applications. He even met with truck sales people.

“Mr. Bay supported me the whole way and kept me focused,” Pierce said. “He was always asking me what I wanted to learn about. Further down the road, when I want to buy a truck, I’ll know what to do.”

Pierce also had a weekly internship at CMP Constructors in Freeport, where he helped the company’s master mechanics repair and maintain heavy equipment. And for his senior project, he restored a 1987 Chevrolet pickup that wowed school officials when he presented it last month.

Pierce’s future plans include working with his father, Robert, at R.A. Pierce Excavating in North Yarmouth.

“Someday I’d like to run the business myself,” he said.

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Maryam Abdullah, Portland High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 As a little girl growing up in Baghdad, Maryam Abdullah marveled at the sight of airplanes soaring across the sky.

She never imagined that she would one day fly to a new home in the United States or that she could ever hope to get a job at NASA.

Abdullah was 8 years old when her father, Habiq, was killed during the Iraq war, an event that sent her life into an understandable tailspin.

“He used to help me study. He always told me education was important,” Abdullah said. “But after he died, we had to move a lot, and I couldn’t keep up in school. Eventually I dropped out.”

Abdullah came to the United States when she was 12 years old, first settling in Georgia. “Yes” and “no” were the only English words she knew. She tried to fit in at school, but she felt “invisible.”

Her mother, Salwa Alnadiry, had several siblings living in Portland, so they moved here when Abdullah was in eighth grade. She started attending King Middle School, where she blossomed in classes for students who were learning to speak English. She saw other students from immigrant families were succeeding and knew that she could, too.

“It changed a lot of what I thought,” Abdullah said. “I felt like nothing was impossible.”

She continued taking classes for English language learners at Portland High School but quickly advanced. By her senior year, she was taking three Advanced Placement courses. She became a member and leader of several groups that promote civil rights and global understanding, and she developed into a talented writer, artist and photographer.

Abdullah has a part-time job and is working on a graphic novel based on her life. It’s about a girl who moves to a new country and must adapt to a new culture and make good decisions for her future while maintaining respect for home, faith and family.

“It’s about what a Muslim girl can do,” Abdullah said. She credits her mother with being supportive and understanding and not holding her back from achieving her dreams.

Abdullah has a full scholarship to attend the University of Southern Maine, where she plans to study mechanical and electrical engineering.

“I’ve always wanted to build things to help people,” she said. “I want to work for NASA.”

Because nothing is impossible.

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Henry Jones, Casco Bay High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Henry Jones relishes his weirdness. His upbringing in a large, loving, diverse family is a major reason he enjoys solving problems for others, especially when it involves computers.

And it explains why he was considered one of the friendliest and most helpful students at Casco Bay High School in Portland.

“I’m a weird dude,” Jones said. “I’m a big black guy who loves computers and sails and has two white moms. I have no shame about myself or my family. I have a pretty weird perspective, and I’m glad about that.”

Jones is the adopted son of Gwyneth Jones and Gretchen Berg, both performance artists and educators. He discovered that he had a gift for computer coding through the robotics team at Portland High School.

“When I do that, I can break down anything I see into a few small problems and then fix the entire problem,” he said.

One of his happiest days was on the floor of the 2014 VEX Robotics World Championship in Anaheim, California. Surrounded by 75,000 other competitors, he wrote and rewrote code to control the team’s robot. They didn’t win, but it was awesome.

“It felt really amazing to get to that level the first year of the team,” Jones said. “It validated what I could accomplish with hard work unbounded by the limits of others.”

Jones transferred to Casco Bay High as a sophomore. In 2014, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he traveled with the junior class to Red Hook, New York, to document effects of climate change. He wrote about the experience for Education Week magazine.

“Although disaster can level cities, you don’t have to let it defeat you,” Jones wrote. “I realized that, supported by my community, I have the power to lift myself from adversity.”

Jones was among the first Portland graduates to earn a diploma endorsement for excellence in science, technology, engineering and math. He helped faculty with computer challenges and designed a website ( to showcase Junior Journey research projects.

“Everything I’ve accomplished is because I’ve given back,” Jones said.

In his spare time, Jones was captain of the high school’s sailing team and a host of the Blunt Youth Radio program at WMPG-FM, and he’s a line cook at Local 188 Restaurant & Lounge.

Jones plans to study computer science at Union College in Schenectady, New York, but he’s taking a year off for a few adventures abroad. He’ll spend a month in Switzerland working at a vineyard, a couple of weeks visiting Paris and a Carpe Diem semester in Cuba next spring.

Wherever he winds up, his long-term goal is pretty simple:

“I want to find a place where I’m happy to wake up every morning and do what I like to do.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Heritier ‘Fred’ Itangishaka and Everine Nzaninka, Westbrook High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Heritier “Fred” Itangishaka and Everine Nzaninka don’t know exactly what happened to their parents.

Brother and sister by adoption, each was about 8 years old when their birth parents were killed in 2006, a tragic result of civil strife that has plagued what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than a century. Soon thereafter, they found themselves in an orphanage in Uvira, the city where they grew up. For Itangishaka and Nzaninka, who had separate birth parents, it was as if their mothers and fathers vanished from their lives.

“They told us that our parents died, but we didn’t see them,” Nzaninka said. “For a kid, it was a confusing time.”

Fast-forward a decade, through dark and uncertain periods rife with fear, loneliness and separation, including nine months living on their own as refugees in Kenya. Now, less than two years after they came to the United States, both teens are planning hopeful futures in the medical field following their graduation from Westbrook High School with high honors.

They credit their survival and recent success to their adoptive mother, Damari Nabarebera, a former primary school teacher who plucked Itangishaka and Nzaninka from the orphanage. Nabarebera had been nursing a vacancy in her heart since 1994, when her husband, a businessman, and four of their seven children were killed while the family was visiting neighboring Rwanda.

“She wanted to help children who lost so much,” Nzaninka explained.

Nabarebera took in Itangishaka and Nzaninka, along with two younger children who also lost their parents to violence against the Tutsi ethnic group. By 2008 she had adopted all four. In 2011, faced with the opportunity to emigrate to the United States, Nabarebera left her adopted children behind with family members and came to Maine.

“It was hard to deal with all that painful stuff, but you learn to cope,” Itangishaka said.

As violence raged around them and some of their neighbors were killed, the children eventually fled to the relative safety of a refugee camp in Kenya, where they waited for an opportunity to join Nabarebera in Maine. Finally, in September 2014, the family was reunited in Westbrook.

“We were excited to see her but kind of nervous, too,” Nzaninka said.

Itangishaka and Nzaninka had to adapt to a lot pretty quickly because everything is different here, from the American lifestyle to Maine’s evergreen landscape. But they’ve settled in and made friends and now work part-time jobs at local fast-food restaurants.

And they’ve excelled at Westbrook High, where each received an honor’s medal for having a high grade point average. Itangishaka received a president’s scholarship to attend the University of Southern Maine and Nzaninka has a four-year tuition scholarship to attend Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. Both plan to study science and work toward careers in medicine.

They are grateful for the opportunities they have in the United States and hope to build successful lives here, they said, but they also would like to help people in their home country.

“I would go back and build a hospital and an orphanage,” Nzaninka said. “I want to help all people.”

– By Kelley Bouchard


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Stanzin Angmo, North Yarmouth Academy Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Stanzin Angmo comes from a place that claims the distinction of having several of the highest motorable roads in the world.

An international student at North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth, Angmo grew up in the small village of Stok in Ladakh, a remote region of northern India on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. Her father is retired from the Indian army. Her mother is a homemaker whose daily tasks include hauling water from a village pump.

Angmo was a top student at the Siddhartha School in Stok, which is sponsored by the Portland-based Siddhartha School Project. When she was in 10th grade, the school’s founder, Khen Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, offered Angmo a scholarship to finish high school in the United States.

“It was a very, very rare opportunity, and I said yes,” Angmo recalled. “I always loved English and my English teachers.”

Angmo credits a network of people with helping her to succeed here. She lives on Cousins Island with the family of Joanna See, a tutor at the academy, and she meets regularly with Freda Bernotavicz of Topsham, who has sponsored Angmo’s education since first grade.

“The first few months were very hard because I was a little homesick and I was shy,” Angmo said. But soon she made friends and got involved in activities, including several sports she played for the first time.

Last summer Angmo completed a monthlong internship at a New Jersey hospital with a fellow Siddhartha student, Tsewang Chuskit, who attended the Rockland County Day School in New York. They learned about women’s health issues and observed heart surgery and an ultrasound procedure.

Next, Angmo and Chuskit attended a summer science and engineering program for high school girls at Smith College in Massachusetts, where they took courses taught by experts in the field of young women’s health and wellness.

Then they went home to Ladakh, and traveled the Taglang La mountain pass, to share what they learned in presentations to adolescent girls and their mothers at several village schools. Much of it was basic information about puberty, menstruation, sexual health, hygiene and relationships that wasn’t readily discussed in their community.

“All of it was so new to us,” Angmo said. “Mothers don’t talk to their daughters about these things. It was nice to see them learning. I felt really happy to be able to remove taboos around women’s health issues and any doubts they have about their bodies.”

Angmo plans to study women’s health at Bennington College in Vermont.

“I want to help women in my hometown,” she said. “I have a lot more to learn here and a lot more to do there.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Gage Anderson, Berwick Academy Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 Cancer terrifies most people. For Gage Anderson, it has been the driving focus of his independent studies since he was a freshman at Berwick Academy in South Berwick.

“It’s a scourge on the Western world and the second-biggest killer in the United States,” Anderson said, “and I find it absolutely fascinating.”

As a freshman, Gage elected to participate in an extracurricular program, “Innovation Pursuit,” that was designed to build on his longstanding personal interest in science and engineering. The springboard for his studies was “Physics of the Future,” a 2011 book that he read as a seventh-grader.

Written by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, the book describes a future where computers constantly scan us for health problems and diseases such as cancer are battled by reprogramming genes through biomedical engineering and nanotechnology.

“I read that and thought, ‘I don’t believe it, but that’s absolutely fantastic,’ ” Anderson recalled.

Throughout high school, Anderson studied everything he could about ongoing cancer research. In ninth grade, it was biomedical engineering. As a sophomore, it was cancer and nanotechnology. As a junior, he studied nutrition and lifestyle choices related to cancer prevention, and as a senior, he studied the latest research on genetic mutations.

“I find it fascinating to find the exact set of circumstances that led to a mutation,” Anderson said. Researchers would then target the mutation with preventive vaccines, immunotherapy or other countermeasures.

He spent time at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire, where he shadowed oncologists and radiologists and interviewed cancer patients and research scientists. He also works part time for his family’s excavation and landscaping company in York.

Anderson was accepted early decision to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he plans to study chemical and biomedical engineering. Ultimately, he’d like to do intensive research in targeted cancer therapy.

Anderson is inspired by his grandmother, who survived breast cancer and now battles ovarian cancer. And he’s motivated by the pure challenge of figuring out one of the most fearsome diseases.

“There is no single cure for cancer,” he said. “There are millions of them. Each mutation is different, so you’re never going to cure them all at once. We’ll have to cure each one. I want to be a part of that.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Molly Merrifield, Gorham High School Sun, 12 Jun 2016 02:45:00 +0000 While some high school graduates struggle to choose a career, Molly Merrifield already has a few, and she’s been working at them for a while.

The Gorham High School graduate grew up on Merrifield Farm, a 25-acre spread in North Gorham, where she helped her parents, Lyle and Jo-Ann, produce maple syrup and make many delicious things with it.

When Merrifield was in seventh grade, she made a trip that winter to the renowned Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. She ventured into the noisy, crowded arena of the livestock auction and placed the winning bid on a bred Duroc sow.

She bought the burgundy brown pig, named Powerwheels for good reason, with $500 she had saved from raising and showing other pigs. She showed the sow’s seven piglets that September at the Cumberland Fair. They won several ribbons, and she sold them all.

“That was the spark of breeding my own,” Merrifield said. “I’ve kind of built a name for myself, and people know that I raise quality pigs.”

She continued to raise pigs and working steers, showing at five fairs each year, and became the president of two 4-H clubs, an organization she joined when she was 3 years old. She was selected to go to the weeklong 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus last summer in Washington, D.C. And she has been part of the 4-H Teens as Teachers program, an experience she especially enjoyed.

“I like working with little kids and giving them someone to look up to,” she said. “I also like showing them little tricks to help them show their animals well, like the best way to present animals and how to talk to judges and answer questions.”

Merrifield completed a two-week senior internship project at Custom Cuts & Nails in Standish, where she got a taste of her other career interest. She plans to study hairstyling at Spa Tech Institute in Westbrook in the fall.

She played varsity basketball all four years at Gorham High, and was elected captain her senior year, when the team won the state championship. She graduated with high honors, overcoming the challenges of dyslexia.

Through it all, she worked as a waitress at Gilbert’s Chowder House in Windham, a job she plans to keep while she learns hairstyling and beyond. She also hopes to become a 4-H judge next year, after she ages out of the program. And she will probably always breed and raise pigs and steers.

She sees her animals as intelligent, sensitive beings that are fun to work with and bring joy into her life. Sometimes they’re better than humans.

“The bond between owner and animals is hard to explain,” Merrifield said. “Being around them never gets old.”

– By Kelley Bouchard

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Mount Ararat senior to boycott graduation over military sash Sat, 11 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A Mount Ararat High School senior who has enlisted in the military is boycotting his graduation ceremony because school officials told him he couldn’t wear an Army sash over his gown.

Instead, Greg Woodworth picked up his diploma Friday and will have his own graduation ceremony at American Legion Post 202 in Topsham on Sunday, the day the school holds its graduation.

“I would like to see my school allow students to wear their sashes,” Woodworth said Friday. Not participating in the school graduation ceremony is his protest, he said.

“I don’t want to walk. My parents agreed as well,” said Woodworth, 19, who is going to Fort Benning, Georgia, in July for training to become an infantryman.

He and his parents met with the district superintendent, but were told that Woodworth could not wear the sash because school officials want “unification around the school” at graduation.

Typically, high schools and colleges limit what graduates can wear to graduation ceremonies, and usually allow only adornments that are issued by the school to denote service and academic honors. That’s the case at Mount Ararat, in School Administrative District 75, which allows only honor cords for graduates with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, or National Honor Society emblems, according to the student handbook.

“It is nothing about not being appreciative of the military and the commitment (the students) are about to make. It’s unfortunate some people choose to see it that way,” said Superintendent Brad Smith, noting that the issue has come up periodically over the years and the school has decided not to change its policy.

“Our graduation exercise is one that is quite traditional and has a somber tone to it. That’s how we want our graduation to go,” he said. “We want the focus to be on what was accomplished in K-12.”

That’s why they limit adornments to academic accomplishments in high school, he said.

“As much as we value and respect and appreciate those going into the military, that’s about what people are going to be doing in the future, and graduation is about what you have done K through 12,” Smith said.

A military sash could be allowed at the school’s senior awards program, when graduates’ future plans are acknowledged and honored, Smith said. Woodworth said his Army recruiter presented him with his sash and a certificate at that ceremony, held June 1.

“People who serve in the military, the police, the fire department – those are all incredibly admirable public service choices that people make,” Smith said. “I hope they will try to understand the rationale behind our decision.”

Smith noted that the district and community have strong military ties because of the nearby former Brunswick Naval Air Station, and the high school has a steady stream of graduates entering various branches of the military.

Similar controversies over military sashes have occurred around the nation for many years. In some cases, schools have made exceptions or changed their policies, while others have maintained a no-sash policy.

Three years ago, the Augusta School Board changed district policy after initially forbidding a Cony High School graduate from wearing an Army National Guard sash.

Last week in Pennsylvania, several graduates from Middletown High School were not allowed to wear military sashes, although the written program and school website noted their military service. After the ceremony, school officials said they planned to amend their policy to allow students to wear school-issued red, white and blue cords to denote military service, according to local media reports.

Woodworth said several other graduating seniors were honored at the senior awards ceremony for joining the Navy and Marines, but they were not given sashes.

“I can’t wait to put it all behind me,” he said.


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Portland’s Casco Bay High School graduates a class of 82 Fri, 10 Jun 2016 02:40:42 +0000 Portland’s newest high school held its eighth graduation ceremony Thursday evening at the Merrill Auditorium, handing out degrees to 82 graduates.

Founded in 2005, Casco Bay High School is part of the Expeditionary Learning network, which requires students to engage in project-based learning.

The graduation ceremony included remarks from interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker and music performed by students. Mayor Ethan Strimling and members of Portland’s Board of Education attended the ceremony.

Thursday’s ceremony was in keeping with the school’s non-traditional approach to learning, with lots of hugs and humor mixed with the pomp and circumstance, according to a news release by the school department.

Principal Derek Pierce, who in March was named Maine Principal of the Year for 2016, talked about how members of the class of 2016 differ from many teenagers, who have become so tied to technology that they have difficulty communicating with other people.

He commended Casco Bay students for being able to have conversations with people about the most challenging issues of the day and being able to listen to others’ points of view.

“Class of 2016, may you continue to bring us closer to a world of love and justice, just one conversation at a time,” Pierce said.

“This is a class that is unique, not just because we got class and style,” said class speaker Mohamednoor Hassan. “We have a lot of love and respect for each other.”

As students received their diplomas, humanities teacher Susan McCray read aloud their future plans and the things for which they will be remembered.

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Deering High graduates urged to ‘ask questions and take risks’ Fri, 10 Jun 2016 00:55:52 +0000 Deering High School held its 142nd graduation Thursday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, awarding diplomas to 206 students.

The ceremony included remarks by interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker, music performed by students, and the presentation of diplomas. Mayor Ethan Strimling and members of the Portland Board of Education attended, said the school department in a news release.

Deering Principal Ira Waltz encouraged the graduates to “stop, look back and smile on your years at Deering.” Waltz encouraged graduates who leave Maine to return one day and consider settling down in Portland.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take risks,” senior Salim Salim told his classmates. “Don’t ask, what do I want be when I grow up? Ask who do I want to be when I grow up?”

Valedictorian Kristin Francoeur spoke about the memories from Deering High that she and her classmates will treasure throughout their lives.

“It’s time to make a new memory,” Francoeur said.

Salutatorian Isaac Finberg said that while it’s important to prepare for some things in life, it doesn’t hurt to just “wing it” sometimes.

“Don’t be afraid to do something unpredictable and out of the ordinary,” Finberg urged the graduates.

Deering High School describes itself as the most diverse high school north of Boston.

Casco Bay High School, one of three high schools in Portland, held its graduation Thursday evening. Portland High School graduated 191 students in a ceremony Wednesday evening at the Merrill Auditorium.

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College of art in Portland losing president who led period of growth Thu, 09 Jun 2016 16:33:35 +0000 Don Tuski is leaving the Maine College of Art after overseeing an expansion that resulted in a boost in enrollment and stronger finances, departing the Portland school to become president at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon.

MECA board chairman Debbie Reed announced Tuski’s resignation Thursday morning, and said a search for a new president would begin immediately. “We were all shocked. It took us all by surprise,” Reed said. “I went from shock to anger to acceptance.”

Tuski, 53, has been at MECA for six years. He said his decision to leave was based on his desire for new challenges in his professional life. He has accomplished most of the goals that he set when he arrived at the college in July 2010.

“You lead an organization to a certain point, and sometimes the responsible thing to do is to hand it off to someone else,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I feel good. I feel that MECA is in a great place, and this is a great opportunity for the next president.”

His last day at MECA is July 8. He begins his new job July 22.


MECA has an annual operating budget of about $15.5 million, and a student population of more than 500. Enrollment was about 350 students when Tuski arrived. The incoming freshman class in fall 2016 will be the largest in the school’s recent history, with 175 or 180 students, Tuski said. More than 600 students applied, the school’s largest pool of applicants, he said.

MECA costs about $32,000 a year to attend. The average student cost is $18,000 with financial aid and scholarships, according to the school’s website.

Revenue and fundraising both increased under Tuski’s presidency, Reed said, and the school extended its reach and influence by adding several academic and community programs. Tuski helped create a Textile and Fashion Design major, and added minors in music, writing and public engagement. He also helped secure a $3 million gift from the Crewe Foundation to establish a music program, and recently led MECA’s acquisition of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

Under Tuski’s tenure, MECA also has expanded and improved its primary building in downtown Portland, the former Porteous department store, and added two dormitories. It now owns two buildings and leases two others for student housing. “MECA has become a much stronger institution under Don’s leadership,” Reed said in a prepared statement. “His six years as president has made MECA truly competitive in the world of art education.”

Tuski said his biggest accomplishment was changing the perception of the school in the community by securing its finances, becoming a more active community partner, and producing creative workers and thinkers who improve the quality of life for all of Portland. “Our alumni become artists and they become community leaders,” he said. “Artists are creative problem solvers, creative thinkers and they make everything better.”


Tuski came to MECA from Olivet College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, where he got his undergraduate degree and later rose through the administrative ranks to become president. His graduate degrees, from Michigan State, are in anthropology. He comes from a family of artists, and helped raise a son and daughter involved in the arts. “We’re all creative,” he said.

Reed said trustees would convene a committee to appoint an interim president while searching for Tuski’s replacement. She declined to discuss the salary structure for the new president. According to the most recent tax documents available, Tuski earned $185,000 in 2013.

MECA has an endowment of about $6.5 million. Reed said one of the challenges facing the next president will be to increase fundraising and build the endowment.

Members of Maine’s art community reacted with surprise to the news of Tuski’s departure.

Mark Bessire, director of the Portland Museum of Art, called Tuski “an inspiring leader” and said his loss is a blow to Maine.

“Don brought the right balance of great energy, artistic vision and practicality that MECA needed,” Bessire said. “For Don to leave is not only a great loss for MECA, but for Portland and for the state of Maine. He always put students, faculty and community first and served with great elegance and integrity.”

Julie Richard, director of the Maine Arts Commission, said Tuski’s legacy at MECA is his broad vision for the school.

“He has made a concerted effort to truly integrate MECA into the community, from participation in monthly art walks to taking over the Salt institute and making it part of MECA,” she wrote in an email. “He has always been open to new possibilities for the school, and that is really unprecedented. He will be difficult to replace.”


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Catherine McAuley High School reveals new name Thu, 09 Jun 2016 14:57:33 +0000 Students will take their final, final exams at Catherine McAuley High School on Friday. When they return to the same school in the fall, they’ll be attending The Maine Girls’ Academy.

The state’s only all-girls high school is changing its name at the request of the Sisters of Mercy, the religious organization that founded McAuley in 1969 but will sever ties when the private school drops its affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church in July.

After a six-week naming process that yielded more than 400 suggestions, Head of School Kathryn Barr announced the new name at an awards ceremony Thursday.

“Everyone was anxious to hear what it was,” said 16-year-old Maddy Beaulieu of Yarmouth, president of next year’s senior class.

A member of the naming committee, Beaulieu said “Coastal Maine Academy” and “Atlantic Academy” were some of the suggestions that stood out to her, but she’s pleased with the end result and said other students were, too.

“It really accentuates what we stand for,” she said. “We’re the only private school for girls in Maine, and it makes that stand out.”

The school announced in October that it would become independent, freeing its board of trustees from having to report to the Sisters of Mercy’s Northeastern Community in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

The Sisters of Mercy told the school this spring that it could no longer use the name of the Irish nun who started the religious organization.

Leslie Tremberth, a 1996 graduate and co-chairwoman of the school’s alumnae association, said the name change was the “final piece” needed to mark the next stage in the school’s history.

“The new name, Maine Girls’ Academy, makes explicit what has always been true of the school: that its doors are open to girls from across the state, from all backgrounds and faiths,” she said. “I expect that the new name will encourage even more students and families to explore the school and get to know it as a place for girls to learn, grow and develop into young women of character and confidence.”

Enrollment at McAuley has been dwindling, dropping from around 200 students a decade ago to 120 now. Tuition at the school is $15,500 for the 2015-16 school year.

Nuns, who once lived on the Stevens Avenue campus, no longer teach at the school, and their former convent is scheduled for redevelopment into senior housing.

Although the school will continue traditions such as morning prayers and religion classes, Barr has said that she hoped becoming non-sectarian would “open the doors to other girls.”

And the new name could help with that.

“I think it really opens us to a great new future,” Barr said Thursday. “We know who we are, and we know why we’re here. We’re here for the girls of Maine.”

The school solicited input on the name from faculty, alumnae and community members. Several of their suggestions recognized former principal Sister Edward Mary Kelleher, who retired in 2010 after 30 years at the school, but she declined the honor.


“I feel the new name should reflect the school’s future, not its past,” Kelleher said in a news release from the school. “The Maine Girls’ Academy is a very good selection that reflects the devotion the school has always had to helping girls find and fulfill their potential.”

Other suggestions included the words Evergreen and Baxter Woods, referring to the nearby cemetery and forest, as well as the names of notable women from Maine and around the world, said Ericka Sanborn, the school’s director of marketing.

Among the less serious entries were “No Boys Allowed High School” and “Schooly McSchoolface,” a play on Boaty McBoatface, the winning entry in an online poll to rename a British research ship that was ultimately disregarded.

Catherine Cornell, a rising junior from Portland, said she suggested “Lionheart Academy,” a reference to the school’s mascot, the lion, and to the character of its student body.

“I think it showed how courageous we are as young women,” she said, although she liked the final selection, made by the school’s board of trustees.

Now the school must change anything inscribed with the McAuley name, including the sports teams’ uniforms and the stone sign that stands on the corner of Stevens Avenue and Walton Street.

The graduating seniors thought of one themselves. Their class gift was $3,000 to update the website.

Barr said that gesture shows “they’re already embracing the change.” Younger students, she said, were talking Thursday about taking a picture on the first day of school next year to document the founding classes of The Maine Girls’ Academy, which she thinks might get shortened to MGA.

It’s not the first time the school has changed its name. Catherine McAuley was the name chosen by the Sisters of Mercy when Cathedral High School and St. Joseph’s Academy, two all-girls schools in Portland, merged.

McAuley, born in Dublin in 1778, felt a calling to help the poor and built a house and school for homeless women. Although reluctant to form a religious order, she was advised to do so to ensure that her work continued and founded the Sisters of Mercy, which now has more than 9,000 congregations worldwide.

“I can’t lie. It’s sad to say goodbye to the name Catherine McAuley High School and the history of Catherine McAuley High School,” said Jamie Schwellenbach of Westbrook, whose daughter will be a junior in the fall. “But I think Maine Girls’ Academy is exactly what it is. It’s a wonderful academic school and an amazing community. I think we’ll go forth with the new name and still be the same amazing school underneath.”


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Augusta school board OKs first reading of drug policy Thu, 09 Jun 2016 03:10:56 +0000 AUGUSTA — The school board on Wednesday approved the first reading of a new policy on drug and alcohol use by students.

The policy says that principals may suspend and/or recommend expulsion for students who violate the policy by using, possessing, distributing or being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs on school property, or at any school-sponsored event.

Kathleen Mahoney, echoing other parents’ concerns made at a meeting earlier this year that the school system’s consequences for student tobacco use were too severe, argued that students with substance abuse problems should be disciplined but stay in school.

“I totally disagree with suspending a child from school,” she said. “There is not an organization I can find that deals with children that thinks suspending a child is the best way to help them with substance abuse. If you suspend them three days they will sleep in late, hang out and not be accountable to anybody because most parents work.”

School officials listened to her concerns, but did not respond.

New policies require two readings. The policy could come up for final approval at the next board meeting.

The policy says that schools will take a three-pronged approach to student drug, tobacco and alcohol use, of prevention and education, intervention and discipline.

The policy also bans “clothing or accessories advertising and/or promoting drugs, tobacco products and alcohol.”

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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