Schools & Education – Portland Press Herald Sun, 17 Dec 2017 21:30:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 All together, Casco Bay High School seniors march toward their future Sat, 16 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The temperature is barely 20 degrees, the sidewalk in front of the Portland Museum of Art is a sheet of ice, and Ray Intwari has forgotten his gloves.

But the 18-year-old senior is beaming anyway when he steps off the school bus in downtown Portland, where he congregates with his classmates from Casco Bay High School. They’ve all been waiting for this moment for 3½ years. Today is the annual College March, when the senior class marches together down Congress Street in Portland to mail college applications and letters at the post office. When they step off, they will join a national movement of 2,300 students marching at 25 high schools across the country.

“Senior year always has a lot of hoopla at the end around graduation, and there’s a lot of hoopla around getting in,” Casco Bay Principal Derek Pierce said. “It can be a long anxious spell between applying and finding out for many kids. When I heard about this ritual, I was like, ‘That’s fantastic.’ ”

Casco Bay requires every student to submit at least one college application. Ninety-three students graduated in the class of 2017. Eighty-two went to college this fall. Seven planned to take a gap year after their high school graduation and then go to college. One entered the U.S. Marine Corps, and three entered the workforce.

“We want every kid to know they are college material, whether they choose to take a gap year or enter the military or the workforce,” Pierce said. “We want everybody to graduate knowing they can go to college if they so choose.”

While some mail applications to nearby schools like Southern Maine Community College, Pierce said most kids already have submitted their applications online by mid-December. So Intwari, like most of his classmates, will mail thank-you letters to teachers who wrote his recommendation letters. Others are mailing updated transcripts or test scores, waivers for application fees or notes for their families.


Intwari, 18, stashes his three envelopes in his backpack. One is for Scott Shibles, the director of student life and the leader of Intwari’s homeroom crew.

“Ray is extremely gregarious, outgoing and hardworking,” Shibles said. “He’s one of those kids who is friends with all friend groups.”

Intwari wasn’t always that way.

When his family moved to the United States from Burundi in 2011, Intwari said he was shy. He grew up speaking Kirundi and French, and he only knew basic English phrases. He was too young to fully understand the reasons why his family left their home, but he knew America promised a safer life – and a better education.

“America, my parents told me, it was the best education,” Intwari said.

So at King Middle School in Portland, he joined sports clubs to make friends and practice his English. He swam and played basketball. He volunteered and participated in a summer rock-climbing camp in New Hampshire.

When he advanced to ninth grade at Casco Bay, Intwari found a perfect fit. He said he’ll never forget spending a week in Detroit during his junior year, making a documentary and meeting new people and getting to know his classmates better.

“We all encourage each other,” Intwari said.


Outside the art museum, the seniors are buzzing. Intwari shoves his hands in the pockets of his blue vest to keep them warm. He stands in the back of a group photo, but he still stands out with his bright smile and colorful L.L. Bean beanie. He flashes a peace sign at the camera, then stuffs his hands in his pockets again.

With a cheer, the senior class starts marching down Congress Street toward the post office and Portland City Hall. Intwari jogs to catch up with a friend. The group chants periodically – “We are Casco Bay! We are Casco Bay!”

Police officers and teachers in yellow traffic vests have cleared them a path in the right lane. In the left lane, a line of cars is stopped at a red light. The drivers roll down their windows as Intwari trots down the center line with a hand outstretched for a high-five. Bystanders in Monument Square wave at the students, and Intwari pulls his hand out of his pocket to wave back. On the roof of the Portland Public Library, employees are on the roof, waving congratulatory signs and shaking red pom-poms.

The post office is just two blocks away now. Intwari received mail of his own this week – an acceptance letter from Curry College south of Boston, his first. He sent applications to a host of schools in New England, most in Massachusetts, such as Bunker Hill Community College, Greenfield Community College and Babson College. He will likely start at a community college to get an associate degree and then transfer to a four-year school, he said. He’s thinking about a major in liberal arts, and he’s not quite sure what he wants to do for a career yet.

Still, opening his first acceptance letter with his parents was unforgettable.

“I opened it, and it was one of those memories you will hold onto forever,” he said.


In front of the post office, students swarm a large mail bin, tossing their envelopes into a pile in the bottom. A friend drops Intwari’s three letters into the bin for him. The rush of seniors crosses Congress Street toward City Hall, slapping the hands of their principal and teachers as they go. The entire student body is waiting for them, screaming cheers with clouds of frozen breath, waving posters in the air like a pep rally. The messages are written in bright markers: “Wow” and “Yay Seniors!” One says, “Congrats on not dropping out.”

“It sends a really important message to the ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders,” Pierce said. “They see the kids they look up to have made it to this point. That can give them inspiration.”

Intwari finds a spot halfway up the steps and sandwiches in the rows of his classmates. His hands are ice cold and still shoved in his pockets, but he is beaming. On the steps of City Hall, a girl in the front row leads a chorus of “C-B-H-S! C-B-H-S!” He joins the chant.

“That was really surreal,” he said later. “To be graduating with these incredible people is amazing.”

Pierce grabs a microphone and congratulates the students. Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and Superintendent Xavier Botana follow suit. A couple members of the senior class have the chance to share their thoughts.

“When others are walking in life, you should march,” Emmanuel Kab said. “When others are marching in life, you should run. When others are running in life, you should fly.”

The students hoot and applaud and cheer for each speaker. When Pierce dismisses them, they scramble across the plaza, running to their friends or a coffee shop or a seat on the next bus. Some students seek warmth inside City Hall. There, a younger classmate breaks away from his group to approach Intwari.

“Congratulations, bro,” the boy says, reaching out for a handshake.

Intwari extends his hand as well and flashes that wide smile.

“You’re up next,” he says.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

]]> 0, ME - DECEMBER 15: Casco Bay High School students complete their annual College March Friday, December 15, 2017. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Sat, 16 Dec 2017 01:08:37 +0000
Noble High School named state winner in STEAM competition Sat, 16 Dec 2017 02:19:19 +0000 Noble High School in North Berwick has been named the Maine state winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, a program that encourages teachers and students to solve real-world issues in their community using classroom skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and math – or STEAM.

The nationwide contest aims to raise enthusiasm in STEAM subjects by encouraging teachers and students to solve issues in their community, according to a news release.

Each of the 51 winners, representing all 50 states and Washington, D.C., will receive a minimum of $25,000 in Samsung products. The state winners were selected from thousands of schools representing communities across the country, Samsung said.

Each state winner will create a video showcasing its proposed solution to a local problem. Ten schools will be chosen to receive additional prizes, including $150,000 worth of Samsung products for each of the top three schools.

Noble students are looking for a remedy to the manganese contamination of the public water supply discovered in fall 2016. Manganese from the rocks and riverbed soil was leaching into the public water supply because of the decreased water level.

The Noble project proposes using STEAM skills to find a way to filter the manganese out of the water and bring the water supply back to a level safe for drinking.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0, 15 Dec 2017 21:53:05 +0000
Cape Elizabeth picks Maranacook school chief as its superintendent, ending 2-year search Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:07:39 +0000 CAPE ELIZABETH — After a nearly two-year process and a couple of false starts, the School Board has selected the superintendent of Regional School Unit 38 in Readfield to become Cape Elizabeth’s school chief.

Donna H. Wolfrom is in her sixth year as superintendent of the Maranacook Area Schools. She has meetings with Cape Elizabeth administrators, teachers and students today and will be at Town Hall from 6:30-7:30 p.m. to talk with parents and other community members.

“I’m honored and overwhelmed to have been selected,” Wolfrom said Wednesday. “Cape Elizabeth has a reputation of having an excellent school system and community.”

Wolfrom said she hasn’t signed a contract yet, and expects to finish the school year in RSU 38 and start in Cape Elizabeth in time for the 2018-2019 session.

Born in New Jersey, Wolfrom, 66, moved to Maine in 1988. She now lives in Monmouth, and said she plans to find an apartment in or around Cape Elizabeth to stay during the work week.

Wolfrom previously was assistant superintendent in Bangor, where she was responsible for K-12 curriculum development, district-wide professional development, and writing and oversight of federal grant applications.

Before that she worked for 20 years in School Administrative District 55 (Sacopee Valley), first as a classroom teacher, then literacy specialist, and finally curriculum director.

Wolfrom graduated from Lycoming College in Pennsylvania with a degree in English and elementary education. She later received a master’s degree in literacy at the University of Southern Maine, and then a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Maine at Orono.

“The School Board feels strongly it has found the right fit for the position of superintendent,” outgoing board Chairwoman Elizabeth Scifres said. “Dr. Donna Wolfrom is not only warm and personable, but highly qualified with a rich professional background.”

A search committee of current and incoming School Board members, school administrators, a teacher from each school, parents, and community members, first screened applications then conducted two rounds of interviews with a pool of 10 applicants.

“Dr. Wolfrom was outstanding because she encompasses a combination of qualities that our stakeholders felt were important for our next superintendent,” Scifres said.

The board has been looking for a permanent superintendent since Meredith Nadeau, who was hired in 2011, announced her resignation in January 2016. She left that July for a job in New Hampshire.

Retired Mount Desert Island Superintendent Howard Colter has served as interim superintendent since then. The search to take his place has not been an easy one.

After Nadeau resigned, two candidates were selected to interview for the post, but both backed out in April 2016.

The board hoped to secure another finalist by last April, but instead suspended its search on March 28 because a suitable candidate could not be found.

Colter, who had expected to stay as interim superintendent until a new superintendent could start on July 1, 2017, agreed to remain for another year. A new search for his replacement began in October.

Wolfrom said Colter called her last year during the School Board’s search in 2016 to suggest she apply for the position, but she didn’t feel the time was right.

When she was invited again this fall, Wolfrom decided it was time to make the move.

“I’m really excited to get to know the community and learn what has been working so well for Cape Elizabeth schools,” she said. “I can’t wait to get into the schools and get a feel for the district.”

Scifres said it’s been a pleasure working with Colter.

“He has not been a traditional interim superintendent, in that he has done much more for Cape Elizabeth schools than just ‘keep the ship off the rocks,'” she said.

]]> 0, 16 Dec 2017 00:44:46 +0000
Auburn middle school assistant principal convicted of OUI Fri, 15 Dec 2017 16:55:36 +0000 AUBURN — The assistant principal at the city’s middle school was convicted Wednesday of operating under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident.

A jury of eight men and four women in Androscoggin County Superior Court returned guilty verdicts on the two misdemeanor charges at the conclusion of the two-day trial of Kevin Shaw, 48, of Minot.

The OUI charge is punishable by up to 364 days in jail. The jury found him guilty of an enhancement on that charge, having determined that his blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent or more. For that reason, he faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 48 hours in jail. The legal threshold for blood-alcohol content while driving is 0.08 percent.

The charge of leaving the scene of an accident is punishable by up to six months in jail.

Shaw will remain free on personal recognizance until his sentencing, scheduled for Dec. 27, a judge said.

He is operating with a restricted driver’s license.

Auburn Schools Superintendent Katy Grondin said Wednesday that Shaw had called her with the verdict.

Personnel issues are handled in private at the school, she said. Shaw remained employed at the school as of Wednesday as a faculty member in good standing, she said.

Shaw has worked in the local school district for more than 20 years and understands the importance of serving in his capacity as a role model, she said.

“I’m confident that he has taken the necessary steps to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “He also takes his role of responsibility very seriously. And he does recognize that he’s going to have to address concerns from the community.”

]]> 0, 15 Dec 2017 22:06:45 +0000
Panel vote supports retired Jay teacher’s age discrimination, retaliation claims Mon, 11 Dec 2017 17:59:04 +0000 AUGUSTA — A human rights panel has sided with a teacher from Jay who said he was a victim of age discrimination by a central Maine school district when his Advanced Placement history classes were taken from him last year.

Regional School Unit 73, the Spruce Mountain School District, later retaliated against the teacher when he complained about the course changes, according to a commission investigation.

The charges by Michael J. Henry of Jay were considered Monday by the Maine Human Rights Commission under the consent agenda. Henry was not present at the meeting nor were attorneys for him or the school district, since there were no objections to the reasonable grounds finding recommended by commission investigator Jenn Corey.

In her report, dated Nov. 9, 2017, Henry’s age is listed as 68. The case now moves into a conciliation phase.

Commission findings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Schools Superintendent Kenneth Healey declined comment on Henry’s case, saying that the district does not comment on “personnel matters and ongoing litigation.”

The Livermore Falls-based school district, which also includes Jay and Livermore, says the district “needed to train a new teacher to teach AP classes to prepare for the future” and that Henry “acted unprofessionally in response to the reassignment,” according to Corey’s report.

Henry was assigned to teach lower level classes.

He had been employed by the district since 1972, taught AP classes there for 23 years, and had provided the district with “notice to retire” — a practice to preserve certain benefits under the union contract — for several years running, although he did not follow up with a second letter.

Henry retired in June 2016.

“Complainant provided he felt pressured to do so earlier than he had otherwise planned because of respondent’s response to his age discrimination claim, which he felt was embarrassing and created intolerable social pressures and conditions for possible dismissal in what was otherwise an unsullied career,” Corey’s report states.

Corey concluded, “The only action (the district) took in response to (Henry’s) complaint of age discrimination was to issue disciplinary letters.

“The (district) did not conduct any investigation into (his) age discrimination claim; instead, it disciplined him for making it.”

She recommended a finding of reasonable grounds to believe that the district subjected Henry “to unlawful age discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment” and that it “retaliated against him for asserting” his rights under the Maine Human Rights Act.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

Twitter: @betadams

]]> 0, 11 Dec 2017 15:59:56 +0000
Wave of immigrants brings ‘richness,’ rapid change to Maine’s classrooms Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 LEWISTON — Pointing to the words on the page, Ja’Syiah Doyle reads out “I . . . am . . . a . . . CROC-odile!” then tips her head sideways and turns on her megawatt grin to kindergarten teacher Lynn Adams. “Beautiful! That’s right,” Adams tells her.

Across the table, Jaycob Costello takes his turn: “Ba . . . Ba . . . Big!” he reads, twisting his feet around the legs of his small chair as he concentrates. “Sssssmall!”

Adams’ class is a typical kindergarten class in Maine, where the lessons are focused on teaching students about colors, numbers, shapes and letters.

But a huge difference is the students themselves: In the whitest state in the nation, 75 percent of the students here at Longley Elementary School are minorities, mostly in families of immigrants who have arrived in Maine within the last 20 years. By contrast, 15 years ago, minorities made up just over 15 percent of the students at Longley.

Recent waves of immigrants coming to Maine have rapidly changed the racial makeup of schools, with huge impacts on state education funding and potentially altering Maine’s economic future.

As local districts quickly moved to provide new supports and services to immigrants, state funding for English Language Learners – or ELL students – has almost tripled in the last dozen years, according to the Maine Department of Education.

In 2006, the state allocated $7.9 million in ELL funds for 3,128 students. This year, the state allocated $19 million in ELL funds for 5,349 students.

Longley Elementary has seen the biggest change in racial makeup between 2000 and 2015, going from 83 percent white in 2000-2001 to 23 percent white in 2014-15, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal enrollment demographics data. In Maine, the data reflect how racial diversity that was initially clustered in bigger cities like Portland and Lewiston is moving into smaller towns and suburbs.

In 2000, only 18 Maine schools had fewer than 90 percent white students. In 2014-15, there were 50 such schools – and at five of those schools, white students made up less than half the student body.

“When arrivals started arriving in Lewiston, roughly around 2000, there was no crystal ball about what was coming. Nor were there any programs in place, or any awareness of what programs would be needed,” said Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster.


The new student demographics have been welcomed as the state’s population ages and officials fear the impacts of a growing shortage of workers. A 2016 report from the Maine Development Foundation and state Chamber of Commerce similarly said the economy will suffer if Maine fails to attract, integrate and train more immigrants.

According to that report, new immigrants and their children are expected to account for 83 percent of the growth in the U.S. workforce from 2000 to 2050.

“Our first influx of ELL students are now graduating from college and entering the workforce, and a number of them have been very successful. I want to encourage more of them to go into teaching and education as a profession and, at some point, to return to Lewiston and teach,” Webster said.

That’s one of the state’s top priorities, too, said a Maine Department of Education specialist who works with districts on issues involving English language learners.

“We’re putting a lot of energy into how to bring new Mainers into education,” said April Perkins. “New Mainers are an amazing pool of people in our state and contribute to our education system in really important ways,” such as linguistic and cultural knowledge.

Webster said he’s seen a change in downtown Lewiston, fueled by entrepreneurial immigrants.

According to U.S. Census data, the number of foreign-born immigrants living in Maine increased by about 8,000 people between 2000 and 2015. Over the same period, the number of Mainers born in Africa increased from 1,067 people to 5,791.

“I think Lewiston’s future is much brighter because of the influx. That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges,” Webster said. But he can see the influence in the wider city. In recent months, three immigrants ran – unsuccessfully – for the school committee. A street that was previously full of shuttered businesses is now a mix of ethnic groceries, restaurants and other open businesses. There are approximately 7,500 immigrants in Lewiston.

“I find it quite exciting to see,” Webster said.


In the school system, the immigrant population is seen as more highly engaged than traditional families, with a sharper focus on academic success.

“Immigrants see education as their ticket to the American dream,” Webster said.

“In all my years, I have heard more thank-yous from the Somali families than anyone else,” Adams said. “They really value education.”

Lynn Adams, a kindergarten teacher for more than four decades, answers pupils’ questions at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston. The immigrant families she has interacted with “really value education,” Adams says. “In all my years, I have heard more thank-yous from the Somali families than anyone else.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

That is a change from earlier years in Lewiston, which saw a rash of anti-immigrant violence soon after 2000 when thousands of Somali immigrants arrived. In 2002, the mayor sent a letter to the Somali community asking them to discourage their friends and family from moving to Lewiston, saying, “Our city is maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally.”

Then an out-of-state white supremacist group seized upon the upheaval to hold an anti-immigrant rally. Three years after the rally, a pig’s head was thrown into a local mosque. The act was widely condemned, the governor at the time visited Lewiston to denounce the act, and police quickly charged the perpetrator.

That level of angst and anger has passed, Webster and others say.

For school communities, a diverse school setting is now seen as a learning opportunity.

“What a richness of experience that is for all of our students,” said South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin. About 25 percent of South Portland students today are not white. “Our students are growing up in Maine, but they are getting an experience that prepares them to work in a diverse world. We see that as a tremendous advantage,” Kunin said.

Kunin, who experienced the first wave of immigrant students as a principal in Portland, said immigrants started moving to South Portland in recent years when the cost of living in Portland got too expensive. But that’s starting to change.

“We’re losing families to Westbrook because there is more housing there,” Kunin said.


Westbrook saw its percentage of white students drop from 95 percent in 2000 to 77 percent in 2014, according to the data.

Schools have to hire teachers for English language learners and provide space for ELL instruction. In districts with a large number of ELL students, they may need ELL directors or coordinators, or hire translators.

In Portland, for example, one in four students is an English language learner and the district has a multilingual and multicultural center that provides translation services, a family welcome center to centralize paperwork and a college preparation program tailored for multilingual students. The center also holds special student financial aid nights and cultural events during the year.

Center Director Grace Valenzuela said she remembers joining the district in 1987, when there were only 150 ELL students and five other languages being spoken in the district, mostly from Southeast Asia. Today there are 1,739 ELL students who come from homes where about 60 different languages are spoken.

“It’s been sustained growth,” Valenzuela said. Portland, she said, has always been welcoming for immigrants and the district’s programs reflect a close partnership with immigrant families.

“I think that’s why people come to Portland and that’s the reason they stay,” she said.

Substitute teacher Zainab Hussein, center, supervises in the Longley Elementary School cafeteria last week. “When arrivals started arriving in Lewiston, roughly around 2000, there was no crystal ball about what was coming. Nor were there any programs in place, or any awareness of what programs would be needed,” said Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup


But the demographic shift has played out differently at Portland’s two largest high schools, where students can choose to attend any high school no matter where they live.

Traditionally, Portland High School in downtown Portland has been the most ethnically diverse. But the percentage of black students at Deering High, located off the peninsula, increased from 2 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2014 – a 1,300 percent increase. Valenzuela said she believes that’s because Deering has adopted a new global competency model, a schedule that allows in-depth study of a few subjects at a time, and a new agreement with the Metro bus system that allows students to ride city buses for free, easing transportation issues.

At Portland High School, the percentage of black students didn’t even double during that same period, going from 14 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2014.

Portland’s neighborhood elementary schools reflect the demographics of their local neighborhoods.

The local elementary school in the traditionally diverse Munjoy Hill neighborhood – Jack Elementary in 2000 and East End Community School in 2014 – saw its black student enrollment quadruple from 10 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2014. But the whitest elementary school – Longfellow Elementary in the Deering Center neighborhood, next door to Deering High – saw its black student enrollment barely budge from 3 percent in 2000 to 5 percent in 2014.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> eat breakfast at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston before the start of class last week. The school's demographic makeup has changed dramatically since 2000; now, more than 75 percent of its students are minorities, many of them new arrivals to America.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:48:00 +0000
MECA’s new president sees arts education as key to navigating an ever-changing world Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Laura Freid has a resume peppered with Ivy League schools that led to a globe-trotting job with a world-famous musician, which she left to become the newest president of Maine College of Art.

“I wanted to do something in my career that could really help artists stay artists their whole life,” she said.

Freid became MECA president this past July, leaving a 12-year partnership with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and their collaboration, the Silk Road Project. He was the public face of the global cultural arts organization, while Freid served as CEO and executive director. Before that, she worked as chief communications officer at Harvard University and as an executive vice president at Brown University.

Coming to an art school feels like a natural landing spot at this moment in her life and career, and also at this moment in the world. Freid is an advocate for passion-based learning and believes that art-school students are best equipped to handle the challenges and opportunities of the world today and tomorrow, because art is present everywhere we look.

“Designers are the problem-solvers of the future,” Freid said in an interview in her Portland office. “The 21st century is the creative century, and an arts education is a great education to have. We are all walking around with art on our wrists, on our tablets and on our phones. We need people in the world who can present that art in a beautiful way.”

Freid lives in a condo in Portland’s East End and walks to work most days. She appreciates the vibrancy of Munjoy Hill and Portland as a whole. Her husband lives and works in Massachusetts, and they own a house in Newton.

She spent her first 100 days in Portland listening. She’s met with more than 800 people since she arrived in July, including folks directly associated with MECA and those on the periphery of the school.

She said yes to MECA because she wanted to further integrate her interests in arts and education. Freid studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Washington University, earned a master’s in business from the Boston University School of Management and a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. “My intellectual interest is in aesthetics and the philosophy of aesthetics, so art is very important to me, and I think to the world,” she said. “Art helps us understand what’s going on in our life.”

Mostly, she loves being around students who are creative, active and engaged. The period in people’s lives between the ages of 18 and 24 are when so many transformational experiences occur, “and when you find out who you are and what you contribute to your world,” she said.

When Freid researched MECA after being asked to apply, one of the things she noted was the school’s Artists at Work program, which connects students to internships, jobs, commissions, professional development opportunities, community partners and residencies so they can work in their fields of training. At Harvard, Freid began a cultural entrepreneurship program that encouraged artists and business people to create businesses that serve society. She saw parallels between the program at Harvard and the program at MECA and was impressed.

As president, her job is to figure out what the school will look like in five, 10 and 20 years from now.

The challenges are mostly financial, and those are tied to the cost of doing business in Portland. MECA’s fall enrollment was 512, which continues a trend of enrollment increases. Of those students, about half live in downtown dorms owned or rented by MECA. The school has to increase its housing stock at a time when affordable housing is harder to find. “Supply and demand is decreasing our students’ ability to find housing at a reasonable cost,” Freid said. “We want students to focus on their learning and not have to worry too much about their housing.”

Toward that end, she has convened an informal task force to explore downtown options. The next step will be making a plan and raising money. The school’s annual budget is $14.3 million, and Freid said the school “needs to increase fundraising and corporate and foundation support.”

The opportunities are as endless as imagination. She wants MECA students to “go deep” in their studies so they can avail themselves to all possibilities.

When she talks about MECA to people in the community, she reminds them of the importance of creativity in America’s economy and culture. “It’s important to understand that everything we touch and see and feel has been designed and made by somebody,” she reminds people. “When we go online, everything we look at was designed by an artist.”

Supporting students through scholarships, she said, is one of the most important things a person can do. That’s especially true now, when America’s investment in the arts is less than solid. “We spend a lot of time applauding ourselves for our creativity, but we are not investing enough in the creative leaders of tomorrow. If we don’t watch it, we might turn out like some societies that have very accomplished engineers and mathematicians, but they are lacking creativity. And when you lack creativity, you aren’t innovating.”


]]> 0"I can think of nothing more important than investing in our artists of tomorrow," said Maine College of Art President Laura Freid, who is working on improving housing availability and scholarship opportunities for MECA students.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:46:40 +0000
Hall-Dale youth athletic director ranks among top in U.S. Sun, 10 Dec 2017 00:31:53 +0000 FARMINGDALE — Colin Roy never wanted to be a high school athletic director, but after more than 40 years in education, including nearly three decades as an athletic administrator, he’s being honored for being one of the country’s best.

Roy, the retired-but-part-time athletic director at Hall-Dale High School and Middle School, was among eight athletic directors cited for their achievements by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Roy, 65, is expected to receive his award Monday during the 48th annual National Athletic Directors Conference in Phoenix.

“Being an athletic director was not on my radar, and it wasn’t something I aspired to be,” Roy said during an interview Tuesday in his office. “I got hired here to coach in 1975, and my dream job was to come to Hall-Dale High School to coach football and teach.”

Roy graduated from Hall-Dale and then from the University of Maine with a degree in physical education and health. He was hired to teach middle school social studies, and he did so for 14 years. The school needed an athletic director in 1989, and he was asked by then-Principal David Cannan to take the job.

Roy left Hall-Dale in 1996 and became the full-time athletic director at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, remaining at the school for 16 years. While at Mt. Ararat, Roy was responsible for adding seven varsity athletic programs – including football – and 14 new teams.

“I feel pretty good about that, because I was blamed for the loss of football at Hall-Dale even though we were told what we had to cut,” Roy said. “I’m still trying to find kids here the opportunity to play football.”

As a full-time athletic director at the Topsham school, Roy was working 80 hours per week some weeks, and his sole focus was on managing the athletic department.

After enjoying retirement for two years, Roy went back to Hall-Dale in 2014 and now serves as the school’s athletic director in a part-time capacity. He says he probably works 40 to 50 hours a week.

“I come to school early because I want to be in the hallways and meet the kids,” he said. “That’s the fun part for me.”

“He is dedicated to purpose. He knows and understands that athletics is the underpinning to a young person’s future success, and he’s always there to serve his coaches and athletes in any way that he can,” Cannan said.

]]> 0 athletic director Colin Roy greets the visiting Cony Middle School girls' teams and directs them to locker rooms before a game against the Hall-Dale Middle School Bulldogs on Tuesday at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale.Sat, 09 Dec 2017 20:18:01 +0000
More than 100 Maine schools look to launch regional service centers Sat, 09 Dec 2017 21:30:53 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Education said last week that it has received nearly two dozen proposals from 102 schools that want to launch new regional centers.

Maine’s shrinking, largely rural schools have been working to share resources with other schools for years. But Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration pushed lawmakers this year to create new incentives for such efforts.

The education department announced this month that it will be reviewing applications for nine to 12 new regional service centers.

The state would cover 100 percent of the costs of accounting, payroll and a student information system. State funding would also cover 55 percent of an executive director’s salary and benefits.

Lawmakers passed a two-year, roughly $7 billion budget that would gradually decrease state funding for school administration costs while aiming to increase funding for instruction.

Lawmakers decreased state funding for school system administration from $135 per pupil this school year to $92 per pupil in the 2018 school year and to $47 per pupil in 2019.

School districts that are part of regional service centers can receive an additional $46-per-pupil allocation for the regional service center next school year that increases to $94 in 2019.

Starting in 2020, Maine’s education commissioner would determine the per-pupil allocation.

In order to receive funding, a regional service center must provide certain categories of services, such as a regional special education director or regional transportation services for homeless youths.

The LePage administration stresses that the centers are voluntary, though schools that form or join the centers are eligible for additional funds.

The governor has long argued that the large, rural state has too many superintendents who are too costly and has fought to shift more costs to local school districts.

A statewide association representing superintendents has criticized cuts to administration funding and argued that LePage’s proposals face opposition from communities that want “visible and accessible” school superintendents.

Schools that join a regional center can continue to pay for a full-time or part-time superintendent, or they can choose to share a superintendent with other members of the center, according to the Department of Education.

There may be another option for schools looking to keep their superintendent: The department says the law doesn’t prohibit a school’s superintendent from serving as a regional center’s executive director.

]]> 0 Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:30:53 +0000
Maine school officials alarmed about rising popularity of vaping Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Vaping is a growing substance abuse concern at high schools around the nation, and students in Maine are more likely to have tried an e-cigarette or vaporizer to inhale an aerosol that can contain nicotine, flavoring and other additives that can include THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeffrey Shedd sent a warning to students and parents in October after students had been caught vaping five days in a row. Some of those students told school officials they were addicted and couldn’t stop.

It “was the first time we had to send out something like that,” Shedd said.

Greely High School in Cumberland followed with a similar notice in November about “multiple incidents.” And this week, Yarmouth’s superintendent sent an email to parents about an increase in students vaping, both at the high school and at the middle school.

Around 15 percent of Maine high school students say they had used an electronic vapor product within the past 30 days, according to the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey conducted in February 2017 and released last month. Nationwide, about 11 percent of high schoolers said they have vaped, according to a survey released in June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Maine survey indicates that usage dropped from the 2015 survey, when about 18 percent of students said they had used a vaporizer. However, school officials and students said they have seen a noticeable increase since the 2015 survey, and especially in recent weeks and months.

The easily hidden devices are seen as harmless by some teenagers, but can lead to nicotine addiction and could impact students’ health in ways that are not yet fully understood. Students have been caught vaping in bathrooms, and are even doing it in their classrooms.

Electronic vapor products, also known as vaporizers, are similar to e-cigarettes. Vaporizers have a battery that heats a cartridge, tank or pod of liquid, which often contains nicotine and sweet and fruity flavoring, until an aerosol is produced. The nicotine in the vapor causes the brain to release adrenaline, which leads to a short head rush or buzz.

Vaporizers also can deliver THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but that appears to be much less common in schools, where officials are more worried that students are becoming addicted to nicotine and at risk of transitioning to cigarettes.

Shedd, who has been Cape Elizabeth High School’s principal for 17 years, said vaping has become popular among high school students within the last two or three years. So far this school year, there have been eight or nine students caught vaping. Most of them were juniors or seniors.

“It’s almost always the boy’s bathroom,” he said, “and occasionally in the boy’s locker room.”

Interim Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Howard Colter said that while he doesn’t believe a large number of students vape, “even a small number” is concerning.

“My impression is that this is a growing trend among some young people who think vaping is a better option than smoking,” Colter said, “because it doesn’t involve some of the health risks of smoking cigarettes.”


Some of the vaporizers can appear “discreet-looking,” Colter said. They can be small and resemble everyday objects, such as pens, and students can use their laptops to charge the batteries in their devices while they sit in class. One of the most popular, and most inconspicuous, devices is sold by JUUL and resembles a slim, silver flash drive. This device costs $34.99 and includes a USB charger. When someone uses a JUUL device to vape, it is commonly referred to as ‘juuling,’ a new vaping trend that has gained traction at high schools across the country and in Maine.

The maker of the devices, JUUL Labs, provided a written statement to the Portland Press Herald saying its products are not intended for teens and are intended to help adults who want to quit smoking.

“JUUL Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a better alternative to combustible cigarettes. JUUL is not intended for anyone else. No minor should be in possession of a JUUL. We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors,” the company said.

The manufacturers also said the sweet and fruity flavors are not intended to entice children, but are offered to “meet the preferences and needs of adult smokers.”

Cape school officials, meanwhile, are making additional efforts to check bathrooms for vaping so other students can feel comfortable using them for “their intended purpose,” Colter added.

Dan McKeone has been Greely’s principal for eight years and said school officials first became aware of vaping last year, but that incidents have gone up over the past few months. “It mostly occurs in the bathrooms, or anywhere it can be hidden,” he said.

South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin said the vaping trend at South Portland High is consistent with what other school districts in Maine are finding.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase over the last several years,” Kunin said. “In the 2015-2016 school year, it really began to kick up a bit, but we’ve seen a greater increase in the last year. It’s worrisome to us.”

A big concern for school officials is that the industry is mostly unregulated. According to McKeone’s school notice, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has passed regulations that will require ingredient labeling, but those regulations have not gone into effect yet. Right now, the ingredients in various vaping liquids may be a mystery to students who inhale them, if the students even bother to read the labels.

“Even though a lot of the products claim they don’t have nicotine, they are mislabeled,” said Lance Boucher, the Maine director of public policy for the American Lung Association. “(Vaping) products that claim to be nicotine-free have been shown to have nicotine in them.”

Studies are showing that teenagers who use these products transition into becoming regular users of tobacco. A study in this month’s Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, concluded that e-cigarette use by high school students predicted future cigarette use.


“They’re getting addicted to nicotine at a time in their lives when they’re brains are susceptible to addiction,” Boucher said.

E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used form of tobacco by youth in the country, according to the CDC website. The CDC says that many students who use the devices cite their belief they are less harmful than other tobacco products.

Even liquids free of nicotine may not be entirely without risk.

“The longitudinal data doesn’t exist that shows that there aren’t health risks associated with vaping,” he said. “Inhaling anything into your lungs is not safe and without harm.”

School officials say students caught with vaporizers are, at least in some cases, suspended from extracurricular activities and could be suspended from school, depending on the number of times a student has been caught. Schools also are referring offenders to a school substance abuse counselor or anti-substance abuse programs. They can potentially be referred to law enforcement, as well.

“If students are caught vaping, it’s (like) being caught smoking. It can even be (like being) caught with drug paraphernalia, because we know some of the cartridges being used contain THC,” Kunin said.

While prices for the vaporizers vary widely, Lee Anne Dodge, director of the SoPo Unite: All Ages, All In Drug-Free Community Coalition, a group consisting of substance abuse professionals, students, parents, and school stakeholders, noted that some vaping liquids are cheaper than cigarettes. Four liquid pods from JUUL, for instance, cost $15.99 altogether. Each pod contains as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes and can last a week. The cheapest cigarettes go for $7 or $8 a pack, Dodge said.

Student members of the SoPo Unite Coalition have reported to coalition and school officials that students at the high school have vaped in their classrooms, as the devices can be so small and odorless that they are difficult to detect.

Students also have been selling vaping liquids in school, Dodge said, while other students have avoided going to the bathrooms because of students vaping in them. One student who had been caught vaping was inhaling the nicotine equivalent of one pack of cigarettes a day, she said.

Another concern is the sweet flavors the liquids come in, like mango or cotton candy, flavors may appeal to teenagers.

“Really, how many adults do you know that crave cotton candy?” Dodge said.

Although vaping products are considered tobacco products and cannot be legally sold to individuals under 18, some students acquire vaping products either online or from their peers. Beginning July 2018, the legal age goes to 21.

Aidan Schifano, a senior at South Portland High School and student member of the SoPo Unite Coalition, said some students have become addicted to vaping, to the detriment of their extracurricular and academic success.

“Some student athletes are ineligible to play because of grades or were suspended from fall teams,” he said. “(Vaping) consumes their time and they’re not as focused on school work or practice.”

Cara DeRose can be contacted at 7916363 or at:

]]> 0, ME - DECEMBER 7: Ryan Purington, an employee at Lucky Juju, holds a JUUL vape in his hand. The store started stocking the vapes last month and Purington said that they are "flying off" the shelves because they are discreet, easy to use and powerful. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:23:25 +0000
Campus puppy party helps UMF students, staff relieve stress Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:12:01 +0000 FARMINGTON — Seven cute and fuzzy golden retriever puppies were a big hit with the nearly 500 students and staff who came to de-stress at a puppy party held Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Students were able to forget the essays due and the finals planned for next week as they held, played with or simply watched the puppies. Students took turns sitting in one of seven circles on the floor of The Landing in the Student Center. One puppy per circle calmly made his or her way from student to student.

A tired puppy receives plenty of attention from UMF students and staff. Sun Journal/Andree Kehn

“It makes me happy,” said Ripley Biggs, a freshman from Saco. “It is a great break. I can forget about my essays.”

Meadhbh Carroll, a freshman from New Jersey, said she had not been home yet and she couldn’t wait to see her own puppy over the holiday break.

When Kelly Bean, the puppies’ owner, was a student in Rehabilitation Services at UMF, she wanted something like this to happen.

When her emotional support therapy dog, Freyja, had seven puppies about seven and a half weeks ago, she mentioned it to a friend who suggested she talk with the professor of an animal therapy course at UMF.

Staff at the Health Center were contacted and a party was planned to help relieve a little stress before finals.

Students Sean Zubrod de-stesses with a puppy during Wednesday’s event. Sun Journal/Andree Kehn

Bean, now of Old Town and formerly of Canton, graduated in 2015 and is now working with foster children as a case worker. She has found good homes for all seven puppies, she said.

Each puppy sported a Christmas collar for the party. They basked in the attention and were benefiting from the socialization, she said. Bean has worked with the puppies to help them with those skills.

One puppy tested well and will receive training to become a therapy dog, she said. He responded well to tests on things such as attentiveness and response to loud noises.

A few small dogs joined the party to provide even more “dog time.” The two-hour party began at 11 a.m. Within the first half hour, 150 students had signed in with a waiting line going out the door. By noon, the number had doubled to 300.

“The response has been very positive,” said Lisa Lisius, RN, and Step UP! nurse manager at the campus Health Center. “Students needed it. Staff came, too. We all needed it.”

Staff from the Health Center’s Step UP! program helped plan the party, said Katia Kordek, a sophomore and Health Center employee.

Step UP! provides presentations around campus on how to respond to acts of bullying and assault, she said.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2017 21:56:54 +0000
Brown University begins investigation of hazing on men’s swimming, diving team Thu, 07 Dec 2017 03:37:18 +0000 PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University says it has launched an investigation into alleged hazing on the men’s varsity swimming and diving team at the Ivy League school, after a probe by its student newspaper.

The Brown Daily Herald reported that it reviewed text messages, emails, photos and recordings of conversations among team members, who described Oct. 7 as a night of “initiation” or “hazing,” with heavy drinking, vandalism and other activities.

The newspaper found that multiple first-year members of the team vomited that night and team members vandalized a statue of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius seated atop a horse by climbing on it and smashing Smirnoff Ice vodka bottles against it. A swimming and diving captain described it on an audio recording as a tradition of “smashing the ‘Ices’ against the statues.”

A photo viewed by the newspaper’s staff showed new team members stripped down to underwear or swimsuits and photographed in front of the university’s Van Wickle Gates on campus. Another photo showed one team member with the name “Oedipus” written on his bare back, along with the drawing of a penis. Oedipus is a mythological king who killed his father and married his mother.

Brown spokesman Brian Clark said in a written statement that the university received a media inquiry about alleged hazing Nov. 14, which included few details. He said the university’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards began looking into it, and launched an investigation Nov. 29.

As of Wednesday, he said, no student had yet expressed concerns directly to Brown.

“The university remains deeply troubled by the allegations and continues to actively investigate. Any activity proven to constitute hazing is a violation of both Brown’s Code of Student Conduct and Rhode Island state law,” Clark said.

Students found responsible for violating the code are subject to university sanctions, he said.

At team meetings in October and November, captains were captured on audio recordings telling team members to deny any hazing if they were asked about it, and to deny even meeting to talk about the investigation.

“There’s things that are out there that could be damaging. It’s just about how we spin it right now,” one captain was recorded saying in a Nov. 14 meeting.

Student athletes must commit in writing to following Brown’s hazing policy and must attend an NCAA compliance meeting with their team, he said. Athletes who violate Ivy League or NCAA regulations are subject to sanctions, Clark added.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2017 08:18:25 +0000
Kaplan University closes South Portland campus Wed, 06 Dec 2017 16:20:45 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — Kaplan University, a for-profit, largely online college best known for offering career-building degree programs, has closed its campus on Western Avenue and consolidated its operations in Lewiston.

“As with all situations, including this one, we will put our students first by continuing to support their educational goals,” Kaplan spokesman Stephen White said this week.

“All of our students assigned to South Portland learn and study online, so we don’t expect this to have any bearing on their ability to finish their programs and graduate as planned,” he added.

The lease on Kaplan’s building on Western Avenue in South Portland expired in late November, when the decision was made to close.

The lease on the South Portland building expired in late November, when the decision was made to close, White said.

“Kaplan’s commitment to the Maine community is long-standing and strong,” he said. “We have two outstanding campus locations in Lewiston and Augusta and will remain active in the greater Portland community.”

Josh Reny, South Portland’s assistant city manager and economic development director, said Monday that he worked with Kaplan to try to find another suitable location, but nothing met its requirements.

He said he’s sorry to see Kaplan leave the area and called it “a good partner in the community” and an institution that “plays a great role in providing workforce education. … It would be great if it could re-establish a footprint here sometime in the future.”

Drew Sigfridson, a broker with CBRE|The Boulos Co., confirmed Monday that Kaplan University had given up its lease at 265 Western Ave.

He said the 19,500-square-foot building will now be occupied by Maine Medical Center, which will use the space for medical offices beginning in 2018.

White said that “flexibility and convenience are two big reasons why (people) choose Kaplan University.” He said most students “are adults who are working and raising families while going to school.”

Kaplan serves more than 33,000 students nationally, with online and on-campus classes, according to its website. Sixty percent of the students are 30 or older and 74 percent are women.

Kaplan’s offerings include degree programs in business, criminal justice, education, information technology, legal studies, nursing and more, the website states.

In addition, six years ago, Kaplan added entry-level and ongoing professional licensing programs through its School of Professional and Continuing Education.

Kaplan, an affiliate of Graham Holdings, was founded in 1938 by Stanley H. Kaplan. In an unprecedented deal, Indiana’s Purdue University this year agreed to acquire Kaplan for $1 in a deal that is still pending.

According to The Washington Post, the for-profit company will provide a range of services in exchange for 12.5 percent of the new school’s total revenue. But Kaplan will get paid only after the new entity generates enough revenue to cover its operating costs and other expenses.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2017 06:03:57 +0000
Board debates how to oversee renovation projects at 4 Portland schools Wed, 06 Dec 2017 03:37:52 +0000 Now that voters have approved a $64.3 million bond to renovate Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools, the Portland Board of Education is figuring out how to organize the building committee that will oversee the projects.

At a workshop Tuesday, the board debated various ways to organize a committee – from simply having the existing Operations Committee take on the work with the help of an advisory committee, to creating a “supercommittee” that would exist for the four-plus years that it will take to complete all the renovations.

Several members emphasized the need for members of the public to be on the building committee, while others cautioned that if the group got too big – Hall School has a 15-member building committee, for example – it could slow down decision making and the time line to get renovations on the first school started by mid-2019.

Reiche parent Emily Figdor, who led the group that backed the four-school bond, said there needed to be significant public involvement – more than the one person from each of the four schools that was suggested in one proposal.

“That is a very minimal role for the public,” she said, noting the Hall Building Committee has 10 members of the public for just one school.

Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said the board would vote on the building committee composition at its Dec. 19 meeting. After that school officials will solicit suggestions for members of the committee. School board members said they hoped to attract members of the public with experience in construction and building design.

Once a building committee is formed, the members will debate – and bring to the full school board for approval – the order in which the schools will be renovated, managing the RFP process and overseeing the project.

Under a tentative time line discussed Tuesday, the committee members would be appointed on Jan. 16, an RFP would be issued in July and awarded in October. Final plans would be approved in June 2019 and renovations on the first school would begin in July 2019.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 four Portland elementary schools in need of renovation have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago. The school board has raised the restoration issue for more than two decades.Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:47:49 +0000
Panel should streamline evaluations of Maine charter schools, experts say Wed, 06 Dec 2017 00:11:13 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Maine Charter School Commission should standardize and streamline the way it oversees charter schools to better track how they are performing, according to an external review by education experts.

“You are far ahead of brick-and -mortar and traditional schools in terms of having a framework and using that framework to advise and monitor charter schools,” David Silvernail told the commission members at their regular meeting Tuesday. “This (report) is how to sharpen and enhance that framework.”

Also Tuesday, the commission members raised the possibility that they will take a one-year hiatus in considering applications for a 10th charter school – the last allowed under Maine’s 10-charter school cap. That’s because they are in the process of updating and revising their internal work flow, and may want to complete that process before beginning another competitive and time-consuming RFP – or request for proposals – process.

The commission said it would make the decision about whether to open the RFP process at its January meeting.

Maine’s nine charter schools, which include two online virtual charter schools, serve about 2,200 students.

Tuesday’s report was co-authored by Silvernail, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation, and former Charter Commission member Richard Barnes, also a professor emeritus at USM and a former York County school superintendent.

The report was the first of three presentations planned by Silvernail and Barnes on Maine charter schools, focused on how the commission evaluates the schools. The final two reports will be about how to best assess charter schools and an analysis of student performance.

In his presentation, Silvernail emphasized the need to have charter schools use test results to set realistic growth goals and drill down into the performance of subgroups, based on student demographics such as gender, economic-advantaged status and special needs.

Under state charter law, the schools are required to address achievement gaps in major student subgroups, he noted.

“However, we found little evidence through our analyses that this was occurring on a consistent basis and in all the charter schools,” he said in the report.

The commission should also require all charter schools to give the same assessment test, instead of the current regulation that they have a “school selected assessment” in addition to the required Maine Educational Assessment – or MEA – used by all traditional public schools in Maine, according to the report.

Currently six of the nine schools use the Northwestern Evaluation Association – or NWEA – test. The report recommends that all nine use that test at least twice a year, in the fall and spring.

All charter schools should also document how they are improving academic proficiency in specific subgroups, such as students who were not meeting proficiency in one year, then evaluating those students to see if they reached proficiency the next year.

Traditional schools have similar testing data, but are not required to set growth goals or improve performance of subgroups, Silvernail said.

He said he’d like all schools in Maine to have that requirement, and noted that the state charter school law has more rigorous academic standards and explicit growth goals than traditional schools.

“We actually believe the framework you have would be very good to use statewide,” Silvernail said. “Schools should be doing the same kind of reporting and monitoring.”

The commission also unveiled its first annual report Tuesday, with descriptions of each of the charter schools and demographic and academic data on each school.

Statewide charter school student demographics are 51 percent female to 49 percent male; 18 percent special education students; 34 percent students getting free and reduced lunch, an indicator of low income; and are almost universally English-speaking students.

That compares to an average 17.5 percent special education, 44 percent free and reduced lunch and 3 percent English language learners at all public schools statewide, which includes charter schools, and some private schools that report those statistics to the DOE.

The report also includes MEA test results on each school, compared to the state average.

For the fiscal year ending in June 2017, the commission received $581,538 from the state – or 2.5 percent of the charter schools’ state education funds – to cover its costs. It used $304,007 and carried over the balance to the next year. In previous years, the commission has returned excess funds to the charter schools.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Tue, 05 Dec 2017 22:43:23 +0000
Colorado school board scraps long-fought voucher program Tue, 05 Dec 2017 03:59:41 +0000 CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — A new anti-voucher majority on a suburban Denver school district board voted Monday night to eliminate a program enacted by an earlier conservative-dominated board to help public school students attend secular and religious schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers.

The Douglas County school board voted on a resolution to end the voucher program and years of litigation that reached the U.S. Supreme Court and reflected the national debate over publicly funded school choice.

One of the seven board members abstained from voting because he is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the voucher program. All others voted to end it.

The vote came after a few dozen people spoke in favor of ending the program in Castle Rock, about 25 miles south of Denver. About 80 people in the room applauded the outcome after the vote.

Stephanie Van Zante, a parent of two graduates of schools in the county, criticized conservative political interests she said were behind the voucher program.

“This is what you were elected to do – serve the taxpayers in a public school district,” Van Zante told the board. “Ending this policy shows that this board has returned its focus to local educational practices and not national politics.”

Advocates and opponents of taxpayer-funded vouchers closely followed the case, which involved a 2011 attempt by its then-conservative board in the wealthy district to let students attend schools of their choice using taxpayer-funded vouchers.

The program has since been tied up in litigation initiated against it by a parents’ group called Taxpayers for Public Education. The Nov. 7 election of an anti-voucher slate of candidates, supported by a $300,000 campaign contribution from the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, turned the tables on the program’s prospects.

Douglas County has been a national example in the school voucher movement because it is the only school district in the nation where vouchers were implemented by a local school board, as opposed to a state legislature, said Leslie Hiner of the EdChoice Legal Defense and Education Center, which advocates for greater school choice.

]]> 0 filter into a hearing room to attend the Douglas County School Board meeting, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Castle Rock, Colo. A new anti-voucher majority on the board was set to eliminate a program enacted by an earlier conservative-dominated board to help public school students attend secular and religious schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Tue, 05 Dec 2017 01:01:06 +0000
High school graduation rate reaches a record high Mon, 04 Dec 2017 23:55:45 +0000 The nation’s graduation rate rose again to a record high, with more than 84 percent of students graduating on time in 2016, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education.

That is the highest graduation rate recorded since 2011, when the Education Department began requiring schools to report rates in a standardized way. The graduation rate rose by nearly a percentage point from 2015 to 2016, from 83.2 percent to 84.1 percent. It has risen about 4 percentage points since 2011, when 79 percent of students obtained a high school diploma within four years.

All minority groups saw a rise in on-time graduation rates in 2016, but gaps persist. Only 76 percent of black students and 79 percent of Hispanic students graduated on time, compared to 88 percent of white students and 91 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students.

The Obama administration considered the rise in graduation rates among its important achievements in education, but experts caution those rates can be a poor measure of how prepared graduates are for work and higher education. Even as they are graduating at higher rates, performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test of reading and math achievement, is unchanged or slipping.

There are other reasons to be skeptical. Some districts have used questionable methods to get students to the finish line, including softening grading scales and using credit recovery programs, which allow students to take abbreviated versions of courses to make up for failing grades. In Maryland’s Prince George’s County, officials are investigating accusations that administrators inflated grades so students could graduate. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has begun an investigation into allegations that Ballou High School students were allowed to graduate despite being chronically absent.

In the D.C. area, Maryland was 12th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with nearly 88 percent of students graduating on time. Virginia was close behind, with nearly 87 percent graduating on time, putting it at 20th. Schools in the District ranked last in the nation, with a graduation rate of 69 percent in 2016, though the rate rose to 73 percent in 2017.


]]> 0 Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:09:34 +0000
Police: Substitute teacher encouraged students to smoke pot Fri, 01 Dec 2017 13:55:43 +0000 SOMERSWORTH, N.H. —Police in New Hampshire have charged a former substitute teacher who they say encouraged middle school students to smoke pot and gave one student a vaping device.

Twenty-year-old Elisha Mahar, of Rochester, was arrested Thursday and charged with four misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child. It wasn’t immediately known if she had a lawyer and a phone number couldn’t be found for her.

Authorities say a school resource officer at Somersworth Middle School spoke with Somersworth police on Oct. 13 after he learned Mahar had invited students to smoke and given a student a vaping device while she was a substitute teacher.

Interim Superintendent Connie Brown says the school district is cooperating fully with police.

A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 26.

]]> 0 in Augusta have had training to prepare for marijuana's legalization, and the city's police chief says they'll adapt their approach in tandem with lawmakers.Fri, 01 Dec 2017 09:25:39 +0000
Brunswick schools explore consolidating with another district into a ‘service center’ Thu, 30 Nov 2017 17:09:35 +0000 BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick School Department is exploring consolidation of town schools with another school district.

At a special School Board workshop, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the discussion was inspired by an administrative push from the state.

According to Perzanoski, the state wants to form between nine and 12 regional education “service centers,” and he is interested in submitting a preliminary application for Brunswick to be involved.

The service centers would provide uniform professional development, technical assistance and other services statewide. The state has tied “some financial incentives into the mix” for districts that comply, Perzanoski said, without providing any detail.

Vice Chairman Jim Grant said he thinks reorganization is a worthy consideration for Brunswick, and the School Department should start making contact with other nearby districts that may be interested in collaborating. He compared the other towns to “dance partners.”

In keeping with the dance analogy, at-large member William Thompson said he thinks considering West Bath as a candidate would be a good idea, although a partnership likely wouldn’t come to fruition for a while.

“We did a little tango with West Bath,” Thompson said. “When they were breaking up with Bath we sat down with them. I think it would be worth getting a better understanding of the arrangement they have with (Regional School Unit 1).”

Prescott also asked if there was any way for Brunswick to meet the Department of Education’s request without being required to form an alternative organizational structure or regional school unit, to which Perzanoski answered yes.

“I think I’d rather see us focus on those (options),” Prescott said, adding she was also not opposed to reorganization. “I think we could probably get further faster exploring some of those.”

Brunswick is classified as a municipal, or standalone district, meaning its geographic and political scope is the town boundary. A municipal district also only elects board representatives from the municipality, and its legislative body is the Town Council.

Perzanoski gave a presentation outlining the different district designations that exist, including regional school units, alternative organizational structures and community school districts.

Perzanoski said an RSU comprises at least two towns, as well as board representatives from each town. Its legislative body is a district voter referendum or meeting.

An AOS comprises two or more school units, which share some administrative services, but keep separate school boards. The governance of an AOS is dictated by a organizational plan and agreement between the school units. An AOS is also required to consolidate system administration, and administration of special education, transportation and business functions.

A CSD comprises more than one municipality, and is responsible for some public school grades within its area, though typically not all. Schools in a CSD also retain separate boards for students in preschool through eighth grade.

Perzanoski also said he does not think towns involved in an RSU or AOS must be abutters, and that from his observations there seem to be more instances of schools entering an AOS in the northern Mid-Coast and northern regions of the state, rather than southern Maine.

The superintendent added he had experience working with regional service centers in upstate New York.

“It takes a while to get them up and running,” Perzanoski said. “My experience with them in New York is they work fairly well as long as the members can (join) voluntarily.”

See this story in The Forecaster.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

]]> 0, 30 Nov 2017 12:45:46 +0000
Yarmouth student organizes TED-style day to showcase Maine leaders’ reasons for ‘hope’ Thu, 30 Nov 2017 05:42:06 +0000 YARMOUTH — Sammy Potter wants to know where others find hope and how they use it to make a positive impact.

A desire to find answers to those questions led Potter to organize the first Day of Hope, at Yarmouth High School on Saturday. He believes that hope is a relevant theme in the current turbulent political and cultural climate.

Sammy Potter: “The worst thing we can do is be comfortable living in a homogeneous society.”

“(Day of Hope) is definitely a result of these kinds of tumultuous times that we live in,” said Potter, a senior at Yarmouth High.

The event will be held in the school’s auditorium and will feature seven TED-style talks from 1-3:30 p.m., followed by a 30-minute reception where attendees can ask questions. TED is a media organization that focuses on “ideas worth spreading,” by experts from many fields.

Potter began thinking of what hope means to varying mindsets and political viewpoints when he was interning for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in Washington, D.C., from January to June.

“I had a community of fellow interns who really represented a wide diversity of ideas and varying political opinions from across the country,” Potter said. After returning from Washington, Potter traveled to Israel with a group of pluralistic Jews.

“I wanted to do something that brought this spirit of having an open marketplace for ideas home to Maine to try to share what I gained while I was in D.C. and Israel,” he said.

Potter, who identifies politically as an independent, said he’s found a sense of unity in what brings people hope – regardless of political views.

“The worst thing we can do is be comfortable living in a homogeneous society,” he said.

As for himself, Potter finds hope in potential. “We have this awesome chunk of paradise with beautiful natural resources and hardworking people, but we’ve also got some really big problems,” he said. “I get hope from the potential of solving those problems.”

Potter said the purpose of the Day of Hope is to hear from innovators who are working toward a brighter future in Maine.

Speakers will include Maine immigration attorney Leslie Silverstein, former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, Maine Accelerates Growth CEO Jess Knox, musician Spencer Albee, state Sen. Cathy Breen, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and Maine Heritage Policy Center CEO Matthew Gagnon. Each will speak about where they find hope in turbulent times.

“These are speakers that represent very diverse ideas. Some of them have very conflicting ideas for how to improve the state,” Potter said. “… One of the things I think is really dangerous in a community like Yarmouth, and in southern Maine too, is the potential to become echo chambers of our own ideas and opinions.”

Admission to the Day of Hope is $7 for adults and $5 for ages 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased at the event’s web page,

All proceeds will be donated to Preble Street, which provides services for people experiencing homelessness and hunger.

Although Potter plans to attend college next year, he envisions Day of Hope continuing in his absence.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 183 or at:

Twitter JocelynVanSaun.

Read this story in The Forecaster.

]]> 0, 30 Nov 2017 09:08:18 +0000
Lewiston High students receive $113,000 ‘restorative practices’ grant Thu, 30 Nov 2017 03:33:05 +0000 LEWISTON — A group of Lewiston High School students has won a $113,000 grant to create a new position at the high school to decrease detentions and turn disciplinary cases into “teaching moments.”

The students, leaders for the 21st Century after-school program, have been awarded the restorative practices grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation, the foundation said Wednesday.

“When I first heard we got the grant, we did a little dance. We’re excited,” said Fadimatou Katou, 18, a senior.

The students started the project two years ago after attending a restorative practices event in Bangor offered by the Maine Youth Action Network. The Lewiston students discovered not all high schools discipline the way their school does.

“We wanted to change our school, to make a difference,” said Bisharo Odowa, 17, a senior. “We never thought it would be this big.”

Fadimatou Katou hopes the grant will help change how students are disciplined. “Talk to them more, punish them less, build relationships,” she said.

Restorative practices is a growing trend that involves finding ways to have students learn from their mistakes rather than just receiving punishment.

Odowa said she’s been given detention for being late for school.

“You just sit there. Then nothing happens … you don’t learn anything from what you did,” she said.

Students who are late may have a good reason, she said, but students aren’t heard. “The disciplinary system needs work.”

Lewiston High School Principal Jake Langlais said the grant will allow a restorative practices coordinator to be hired, possibly in the spring, and money for student leadership and staff training.

“We are in a planning year,” he said. “I’m really excited. We will take a look at our policies and practices.”

Like a lot of schools, detention is a long tradition at Lewiston High, but it doesn’t work, said Langlais, who was middle school principal last year and started as high school principal this fall.

As he came to the high school “one thing I’ve struggled with is how detention can escalate,” he said. A student gets detention for being late or skipping class. If they skip that detention, they get another detention. It can snowball until the student has an in-school suspension.

“That sequence doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. And the student has learned nothing. Students get detention for unexcused tardiness, skipping class, academic dishonesty, classroom disruptions or misuse of hall passes.

Restorative practices is an approach of “how do we instill good decision-making with the kids.” Bad behavior is treated more like a “teaching moment” with guidance to help students understand how to make the right decisions, and will come to it on their own in the future, Langlais said.

A coordinator will bring a different set of eyes to the school, looking at policies and ways things could be done differently to support students, Langlais said.

It’s effective, but time-consuming, which is why a coordinator is needed, he said.

The 21st century students researched their school culture last year and surveyed students. They were invited by the Gorman Foundation to apply for a grant.

Langlais helped them apply for the grant. Jenn Carter, director of the 21st Century program, said students received support from Langlais, Superintendent Bill Webster and Assistant Superintendent Shawn Chabot, the former principal at Lewiston High.

The John T. Gorman Foundation is committed to improving school performance in Maine, Senior Associate Sara Gagne Homes said in a statement emailed to the Sun Journal.

The foundation has supported similar a restorative practice model at Lewistion’s Longley and Montello elementary schools that “has since shown impressive results,” she said. The foundation is thrilled to help restorative practices expand to the high school, she said.

“Sometimes you have to look outside the box to find the solution that works,” Gagne Homes said.

]]> 0 group of Lewiston High School students working to reduce the number of student detentions and create more teaching moments has won a $113,000 grant to create a new position at the school. Members of the group celebrating at the school Wednesday are, from left, Bisharo Odowa, Amino Aden, Fadimatou Katou and Fardowsa Aden. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)Wed, 29 Nov 2017 22:47:27 +0000
Cities, towns paying more for schools as state pays less, study finds Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000  

Local residents have been picking up an increasing portion of education costs in Maine in the years since the recession, according to an analysis of state budget documents by a think tank in Washington, D.C.

State funding for Maine’s K-12 public schools declined 9 percent between 2008 and 2015, says the report, released Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Local spending was up 14 percent over the same period – bringing overall state and local spending on education up 3 percent.

Federal spending over the same period was down 9 percent, according to the study.

“If we neglect our schools, we diminish our future,” said Michael Leachman, one of the study’s authors. Leachman is director of state fiscal research with the center, a left-leaning organization that supports federal and state policies to reduce poverty and inequality.

Nationally, Maine was ranked 19th in the list of states that had cut state funding the most, according to the study.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, said the figures reveal priorities.

“I think what this says is that the state, with all their talking, does not value education that highly, whereas the citizens in individual towns do value it very highly and are willing to sacrifice and pay more through their property tax,” said Kornfield, a former teacher who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

She said lawmakers are working to lower education costs through efficiencies, such as a current task force examining ways to lower special education costs, which have increased dramatically in recent years. Other costs, such as contractual wages and benefits, are fixed and impossible to change.

The report found that the recession sharply reduced state revenue, and while emergency federal aid prevented deeper cuts, many states made spending cuts to address budget shortfalls.

Arizona cut state education spending the most – 37 percent – between 2008 and 2015, according to the report. In North Dakota, where an oil boom boosted revenues, state funding increased 96 percent over the same period. The next highest increase was 31 percent, in Illinois.

Nationally, 29 states were spending less total school funding per student in 2015 than they were in 2008, according to the center, which also used spending data from the U.S. Census Bureau in compiling its report. In 19 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period.

The impact of reduced state funding, Leachman said, can hurt efforts to expand pre-K programs, to recruit and retain staff, to lower classroom size and to increase teacher development programs.

“Deep cuts in state K-12 spending can undermine those reforms by limiting the funds generally available to improve schools and by terminating or undercutting specific reform initiatives,” the study said.

Leachman said it was “concerning” that some states, including Maine, continue to debate cutting taxes when education spending has already been cut.

“That’s just digging the hole deeper,” he said Tuesday. “Income taxes are the prime source for school funding. It’s just going to make it harder for you to adequately fund your schools.”

Maine funds education through a state “essential programs and services” formula, which determines how much money is needed for each school district to provide a baseline education. The formula also determines what percentage of that total amount the state will pay, and what percentage the local community will pay.

A local community can choose to spend more that what the state determines is the amount needed for a “baseline” education. About two-thirds of Maine communities have school budgets bigger than the baseline amount in the formula.

Among the formula’s key factors are:

State valuation. Wealthier towns are expected to fund more, if not almost all, of their school costs. So-called “low receiver” or wealthy towns get less money, and poorer towns get more.

Student body profile. The state pays a per-pupil amount, but increases that figure for students who need special education services or are disadvantaged.

Staff-to-student ratio. The state determines baseline staffing levels needed for every employee, such as one elementary teacher for every 17 students and one health worker for every 800 students. This year, Gov. Paul LePage increased the class size ratio, resulting in less money for teachers.

Support costs. The state pays a flat per-pupil amount for certain costs, such as $367 per elementary school pupil for supplies and $1,073 per student for operations and maintenance. In the most recent budget, the governor cut administration costs from $235 per student to $135 per student.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 by John Ewing/staff photographer... Thursday, September 9, 2010...Parents arrive at Portland's Presumscot Elementary School to pick up students at the end of the school day. The city, with the help of bicycle-pedestrian coordinator Bruce Hyman, is looking to inprove pedestrian safety on Presumpscot Street near the school.Tue, 28 Nov 2017 23:50:55 +0000
Portland school board adopts comprehensive transgender policy Wed, 29 Nov 2017 03:36:26 +0000 The Portland Board of Education on Tuesday night unanimously approved what’s considered one of Maine’s most comprehensive transgender policies, requiring staff training, using a student’s preferred name and personal pronoun, and taking the student’s side at school if there is disagreement with a parent’s wishes.

“This is a watershed moment in the state of Maine,” said attorney Mary Bonauto, a Portland parent who helped the school board craft the policy. Bonauto, the Maine lawyer who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court for same-sex couples to have the right to marry, has two high school-aged children in the Portland school district.

Portland is one of about a half-dozen Maine school districts that have adopted transgender policies. The first, in Millinocket, was adopted in early 2015 soon after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued the nation’s first state court ruling affirming the right of a transgender student to use a bathroom corresponding with her gender identity.

The policies are similar, and many are based on boilerplate language suggested by the law firm Drummond Woodsum, which represents most school districts, and the Maine School Management Association. The language reflects an interpretation of the court ruling by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

In general, the policies say students should be addressed by their chosen names and pronouns, and be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. The policies also define terms such as sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and transgender, and address student privacy issues.

Portland’s policy uses more expansive language to make clear that it applies not just to transgender students, but students who have wider gender identities. The policy also requires staff training, and includes language recommended by the Maine Human Rights Commission spelling out that the district should “abide by the wishes of the student” regarding his or her gender identity at school if there is a disagreement with the student’s parents or legal guardian.

“This policy is about knocking down walls between our students and their learning and their well-being,” said Jeanne Crocker, the district’s assistant superintendent.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of the policy during the public comment period. No one spoke in opposition.

“Thank you for a policy that is truly reflective of our priorities. It took courageous leadership to make this happen,” said Kathie Marquis-Girard, the assistant principal at Portland High School. “I can’t tell you what this will mean for so many students.”

Exact figures on how many transgender students are in a particular district or statewide are not available from state sources, but about 80 middle and high schools in Maine have student clubs formed around gender identity and sexual orientation, according to Equality Maine.

Superintendent Xavier Botana, who was hired after the planning for the policy was already underway, acknowledged that he was initially unsure about it.

“On a personal note, this is a very significant policy for me,” he told the board. “I’ve come to understand the significance of this issue late in life. I grew up with a fixed notion of gender and the idea of a fluid gender was foreign to me.” He said working on developing the policy over the last year has helped him to overcome “misconceptions” and that with his new understanding, “I am better prepared to meet the needs of all of our students.”

Cultural competence, he said, “is not easy, but it is what we need to do as educators.”

During the board discussion, several members were visibly moved as they spoke in support of the policy. Board member Sarah Thompson struggled as she read a letter from a mother of a now-deceased transgender student who was bullied and not supported by her school. Holly Seeliger, who led the committee that crafted the policy, wiped away tears as others spoke.

“This is truly what our work is about: putting students first and making sure students are supported emotionally. Lives are on the line,” said Jenna Vendil, also wiping away tears.

Maine has been at the forefront of the national discussion around transgender student rights. In 2014, Maine had the nation’s first state court ruling that affirmed the right of a transgender student to use the bathroom corresponding with her gender identity.

The issue began in 2007, when Nicole Maines, then a transgender fifth-grader at Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono, was instructed to use a staff bathroom after a grandparent of another student, a boy, complained that Maines was allowed to use the girls’ bathroom.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Maines’ favor in December 2014.

In January 2016, the human rights commission issued guidance to reflect its interpretation of the Maines ruling on the Maine Human Rights Act.

The guidance says schools should allow any student with a “sincerely held” gender identity to be recognized in all ways as that gender, including using bathrooms, playing sports, being addressed by a preferred name and pronoun, being allowed to dress as preferred, and in the event of a conflict with parents’ wishes, to abide by the student’s wishes while at school.

Other districts that have adopted a transgender policy include Mount Desert, Kennebunk and Scarborough. disables reader comments on certain news stories, including those dealing with sexual assaults and other violent crimes, personal tragedy, racism and other forms of discrimination.


]]> Smith, left, and Alexander Fitzgerald, both 18-year-old seniors at Deering High School in Portland, helped shape the policy city school officials created to address transgender issues.Tue, 28 Nov 2017 22:45:04 +0000
Maranacook middle and high schools to reopen Wednesday after threat Tue, 28 Nov 2017 14:09:44 +0000 Maranacook Community High and Middle schools, which were closed Tuesday because of an anonymous threat posted on social media, are expected to open as usual on Wednesday.

Police determined that the threat against MCHS was targeting Madison Central High School in Richmond, Kentucky, rather than the high school in Readfield, Maine.

According to a posting by a Kentucky State Police Trooper Robert Purdy, public affairs officer for Post 7 in Richmond, a juvenile at the Kentucky school was being questioned on Tuesday.

“The post on social media did not specify a state,” said Donna Wolfrom, superintendent of Regional School Unit 38, the Maranacook Area Schools. “In this day and age, it’s about student and staff safety.”

She said the threat was passed on to the principal by a parent.

Both schools at the Maranacook campus were closed on Tuesday. The elementary schools in the district had classes as usual.

The district sent notifications and posted an announcement on Facebook saying, “Due to a concern for campus safety, there will not be school today, November 28 at the middle school and high school. Middle school and high school students and staff should not report to school, as the schools will be closed. Additionally, there will be no activities after school today. Planned activities will be rescheduled.”

Wolfrom also said that cones were put across the road early Tuesday to ensure that people could not drive up onto the campus.

She said she was grateful for extra patrols that have been conducted by both Maine State Police and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

About 700 students attend the two schools.

“Hopefully, we’ll be all set,” Wolfrom said on Wednesday.

She said she had spoken to state police around noon on Tuesday and that they had been in contact with police in Kentucky.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 14:23:55 +0000
Man with Maine ties helps lead charge against Harvard’s admissions policy Sat, 25 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 A part-time resident of Maine is leading a high-profile challenge to Harvard University’s admissions policy, alleging that it unfairly turns away qualified Asian-American students.

The case against one of the country’s most prestigious universities is just the latest challenge to admissions policies that are at least partly based on race. A lawsuit filed in federal court this past summer is being pushed by Edward Blum, who lives part time in South Thomaston and heads two foundations – one that targets gerrymandering of election districts on racial grounds and another that seeks to have courts overrule college admissions processes that rely heavily on race to bring diversity to campuses.

Blum, at one time a stockbroker in Houston, said he found his true calling a quarter-century ago, when his fellow Republicans in Texas recruited him to stage a quixotic run for Congress in a heavily Democratic district.

While knocking on doors with his wife, Blum said, he noticed how congressional lines crisscrossed through neighborhoods – predominantly black areas fell in one district, heavily Hispanic streets in another and mostly white stretches were in another.


After losing the election, Blum found a lawyer and launched a legal challenge to what he saw as “racial gerrymandering,” with the Supreme Court ultimately ordering Texas officials to redraw the lines for three districts. The case was so consuming that Blum said he and his partners decided it was time to leave the world of investments behind.

“That led me to my amateur legal career,” said Blum, who has not gone to law school and is not licensed to practice law.

Instead, Blum focuses on finding plaintiffs to challenge what some conservatives have called “reverse discrimination” – policies intended to redress decades of discrimination by favoring minority groups in college admissions or electoral districts, but which critics say harm whites in the process.

“I’m a legal strategist/legal matchmaker,” Blum said. “I see something that I think is wrong, I look for plaintiffs, I find lawyers and we go into federal court. And then I go and beg for money from individuals and foundations to pay the lawyers.”


He has set up two nonprofit foundations to help foot the bills for the lawsuits. One, the Project on Fair Representation, took in nearly $1.6 million in donations and grants in 2015, according to tax filings. Blum drew a salary of $110,000 as its executive director.

That organization’s most prominent ongoing case is a challenge to a California state law that would force a small town to set up electoral districts that would likely lead to the election of minorities to the city council. The foundation was also behind an Alabama case over the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which resulted in a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a major provision of that landmark legislation.

His other group is Students for Fair Admissions, which underwrites the suits challenging college admission processes. It had $826,664 in revenue in 2015. Neither Blum, its president, nor the other four directors drew a salary from the group, according to its tax filings.

Blum said a key feature of that organization is that people who donate to the group are also signed up as members, which now number more than 22,000. That gives the foundation legal standing to challenge admission processes directly on behalf of its members without having to name a specific student in legal filings.

Before the group was formed, Blum spearheaded an unsuccessful challenge to the University of Texas’ admission process that he said relied too heavily on race in determining which students got in. The plaintiff was Abigail Fisher, the daughter of a friend of Blum’s who was denied admission to the school. The Supreme Court last year ruled that the University of Texas could consider the race of student applicants in a limited way to build a diverse student body.


Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges were among the 37 highly selective liberal arts colleges that signed on to a brief supporting the University of Texas and the use of race-conscious admissions, arguing that they cannot create sufficiently inclusive and vibrant environments through race-neutral admissions.

Fisher, Blum said, was subjected to harsh online attacks that led him to try to find a way to challenge the colleges without having an individual bear the burden of being identified with the case.

“She was vilified,” he said. “Social media was very unkind and very cruel to Abby, so we certainly didn’t want that to happen again.”

The nonprofit group is a way to raise money to finance the suits and also to file in court without having to name the individual plaintiffs, he said.

His goal with the lawsuits, Blum said, is a truly race-blind society.

“Race should never be a consideration in whether you’re admitted to college, whether you get a job, whether you’re fired or promoted, whether you’re pulled over by a cop, whether you’re eliminated from a jury pool,” he said. “Race should never be an element to help an individual in life or harm an individual in life. That’s the basis of all this. Using race is unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

Not surprisingly, there are people who question Blum’s motives.

“During the long struggle for racial equality in this country, there have always been people who fought back against that and Ed Blum is one of those people,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “Mr. Blum is going after the very modest rules that have been established to ensure the progress that has been made on racial equality.”

But Blum said he thinks that colleges should focus on economic disadvantages, not race, among prospective students, in seeking a more diverse student body. A large part of Harvard’s student body still consists of students from wealthy families who attended private schools, and that’s the inequality the school should focus on eliminating, he said.

Taking out race as a factor, he said, and substituting those more diverse backgrounds, would probably result in a less white student body.


The legal challenge to Harvard’s admission policies, Blum said, rests on the argument that the school excludes many Asian-American students who qualify for admission.

It’s similar to an approach Harvard used in the 1920s and ’30s, he said, when the school allegedly limited how many Jewish students could attend.

“Harvard is really doing the same thing with Asian applicants,” he said. “They don’t want too many Asians there.”

The legal team has a Maine flavor, Blum said, with Patrick Strawbridge, a Maine native and resident, as one of the key members.

Blum jokes that his lawyers are “grossly overpaid,” although most offer to work for less than their normal rate to take part in high-profile cases likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

“They do give me significant discounts on cases like this,” he said. “This is why kids go to law school. They want cases like this.”

Blum argues that the public agrees with him, pointing to a Gallup poll last year that found that 65 percent of people disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher case.

While Blum takes a pragmatic approach to choosing which cases he should pursue, he said his connection to Maine is more emotional.

He and his wife honeymooned in Maine in 1981, he said, and returned to the state almost every summer, for longer and longer stays.

They bought a house in Camden in 2003 and have since moved to South Thomaston, which he said he prizes for its “downtown,” consisting of a store and post office.

They spend less than six months a year in the state, he said, relocating to Florida in the winter to escape the harsh weather and Maine’s income taxes. But if his wife had her way, Blum said, the couple would live in Maine year-round.

For now, he said, that’s one decision on which he holds sway. “Between the weather and the taxes, I’m going to have to trump her desire,” he said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

]]> 0, 24 Nov 2017 23:00:19 +0000
Portland school officials craft transgender policy Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The Portland school board is poised to adopt one of the state’s most comprehensive transgender student policies, one that goes beyond the “bathroom issue” by requiring staff training, using a student’s preferred name and personal pronoun, and taking the student’s side at school if there is disagreement with a parent’s wishes.

The changes will make Portland one of the first few school districts in the state to adopt policies surrounding transgender students.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said the district decided to act after the Trump administration withdrew in February the Obama-era guidelines that included gender identity under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.

“The community and board members rallied to ensure that we, as a school district committed to equity, made clear our commitment to support our transgender and gender expansive students,” Botana said. “Our equity goals state that (Portland Public Schools) is vigilant in supporting each and every student’s particular path to achieving high standards and rooting out systemic or ongoing inequities, and this policy is an effort to do just that.”

The school board will vote on the policy at its regular meeting Tuesday.

“It’s a good official first step,” said Alexander Fitzgerald, 18, a transgender student who worked on the policy with board and district officials. “It’s really important to me that I can come here and know my identity will be respected by staff. I feel like I can be myself here.”

Fitzgerald, a senior at Deering High School, said the staff training component is important because that lets students know they can go to any teacher for help – not just a counselor or someone they think might be sympathetic – and everyone will know what their rights are under the policy.

“Students won’t have to stumble around,” Fitzgerald said. He noted that in his experience so far, school officials and teachers have generally been supportive and have “good intentions,” but it’s largely been up to individual students to educate their peers and teachers about respectful language and terminology.

“It will be nice to know that it’s the adults’ job to educate each other, and not the children’s job to educate the adults,” he said.


The policy also normalizes the idea that students have different gender identities, said Izzy Smith, who also worked on the policy and is co-president with Fitzgerald of Deering’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance school club. Smith, a senior, said the group has grown from four members when she was a freshman to more than 20 members this year.

“It will help,” Smith said. “It will make the process a lot more smooth.”

There are only about a half-dozen schools in Maine that have adopted transgender policies, said Gia Drew, program director of Equality Maine.

The first was adopted by Millinocket in early 2015, soon after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued the nation’s first state court ruling affirming the right of a transgender student to use a bathroom corresponding with her gender identity. The most recent was last week, when South Portland adopted its transgender student policy.

Drew said the policies are similar, and many are based on boilerplate language suggested by the law firm Drummond Woodsum, which represents most school districts, and the Maine School Management Association. The language reflects an interpretation of the court ruling by the Maine Human Rights Commission, she said.

In general, the policies say students should be addressed by their chosen names and pronouns, and be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. The policies also define terms such as sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and transgender, and address student privacy issues.


But Portland’s policy is different in that it uses more expansive language to make clear that it applies to not just transgender students, but students who have wider gender identities. The policy also requires staff training.

For example, the policy is called the “transgender and gender expansive student policy” – with the term “gender expansive” meant to acknowledge and include students who have other gender identities: “male, female, both, neither, or in some other way (for example, students who identify in some other way such as nonbinary, queer, genderqueer or gender fluid),” the policy states.

It also includes language explicitly stating that if there is disagreement between a student and his or her parents or legal guardian, the district will “abide by the wishes of the student with regard to their gender identity and gender expression while at school.” This language is the same as recommended by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The district has transgender students at all school levels, from elementary school to high school.

A social worker at Ocean Avenue Elementary School said he welcomed the policy, telling the school board about his experience two years ago with an 8-year-old student who came to him to say he was going to transition to female.

“This student said she knew since he was 2 years old that he was female,” said Chris Salamone. “We were mostly led by this child and her family.”

Several years ago, an elementary student at Lyseth Elementary School transitioned with the support of the school.

Exact figures on how many transgender students are in a particular district or statewide are not available from state sources.

However, in January a think tank estimated that there were 450 Maine teens ages 13 to 17, or 0.55 percent of that age group, who identify as transgender. The study was conducted by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles, which researches gender identity. The institute based its estimates on statistical modeling using data from a 2014 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey in which people in 19 states were asked about gender identity. Maine did not participate in the survey.

Drew, at Equality Maine, said there are now about 80 middle and high schools in Maine that have student clubs formed around gender identity and sexual orientation, increasingly in rural areas.

Transgender policies do more than just give students the tools to advocate for themselves, Drew said. “It also gives parents something to use, and it gives schools uniformity on how to talk about these issues,” she said.


Melissa McStay, a social worker at Deering High School, said there is also a public health component to the policy. Students who feel marginalized or isolated have higher rates of self-harm and suicide.

“This policy is a message to our staff, youth and faculty that they are accepted and will be supported. This can be lifesaving,” McStay said.

Maine has been at the forefront of the national discussion around transgender student rights. In 2014, Maine had the nation’s first state court ruling that affirmed the right of a transgender student to use the bathroom corresponding with her gender identity.

The issue began in 2007, when Nicole Maines, then a transgender fifth-grader at Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono, was instructed to use a staff bathroom after a grandparent of another student, a boy, complained that Maines was allowed to use the girls’ bathroom.

The Maine Human Rights Commission found that was unlawful discrimination and sued in Superior Court along with Nicole’s parents, Wayne and Kelly Maines. The case went all the way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled in Maines’ favor in December 2014.

Within a year of the ruling, the Millinocket school district adopted the state’s first transgender policy, and Orono quickly followed.

In January 2016, the human rights commission issued guidance to reflect its interpretation of the Maines ruling on the Maine Human Rights Act.

The guidance says schools should allow any student with a “sincerely held” gender identity to be recognized in all ways as that gender, including using bathrooms, playing sports, being addressed by a preferred name and pronoun, being allowed to dress as preferred, and in the event of a conflict with parents’ wishes, to abide by the students’ wishes while at school.

But Gov. Paul LePage stopped the guidance from becoming the basis for rulemaking, saying the Legislature should pass a law before regulations are imposed.

That left it up to individual school districts to pass a patchwork of transgender policies, Drew said.

Even without statewide rules, officials say any Maine public school that prohibits transgender students from using bathrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity likely would be in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act. The human rights commission can investigate alleged violations, and can sue to stop discrimination in the public interest. If the commission makes a finding of “reasonable grounds,” students or parents also have a right to file a lawsuit.

Other districts that have adopted a transgender policy include Mount Desert, Kennebunk and Scarborough. disables reader comments on certain news stories, including those dealing with sexual assaults and other violent crimes, personal tragedy, racism and other forms of discrimination.


]]> Smith, left, and Alexander Fitzgerald, both 18-year-old seniors at Deering High School in Portland, helped shape the policy city school officials created to address transgender issues.Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:38:14 +0000
English language learners – and challenges – on the rise in Biddeford Fri, 24 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 BIDDEFORD — Patsy Gendron’s students pushed their arms above their heads, wiggling their fingers to get her attention as she added to a growing list of words associated with Thanksgiving.

Turkey. Stuffing. Family.

They broke into fits of giggles when one girl, searching her memory for the word “Pilgrim,” called out “penguins.”

For new Mainers like the 12 sixth-graders in Gendron’s class for English language learners at Biddeford Middle School, Thanksgiving provided an opportunity for a fun lesson about an American tradition and its similarities to holidays and feasts they celebrate with their families. Conversations that involve different cultures, religions and languages are increasingly common in Biddeford schools as the student population grows to include more immigrants, refugees and migrants whose families are settling in the city.

The number of English language learners in Biddeford has doubled in the past two years as families move from outside the United States or from other areas of the state. It is the latest Maine community to see a significant increase in students who speak little or no English.

Families are drawn to Biddeford as a safe city with good schools and access to jobs and transportation, and as a community that has been welcoming, say students, parents and school officials who spoke at a recent community gathering.

Over half of the English language learners in York County now attend Biddeford schools, which has more than 200 students from 20 countries this year. They speak a total of 22 languages. Arabic is the most common, with 111 students identifying it as their native language.

Some of the 202 English language learners, or ELL students, came to Biddeford knowing some English, while others have had interrupted schooling or have never attended school before.

The influx of students who are not native English speakers has both “extraordinary” benefits and challenges, said Assistant Superintendent Chris Indorf, who oversees the ELL teaching staff and curriculum. Students who come to Maine from other countries bring with them different worldviews, cultures and religions, he said.

“It’s a living curriculum,” Indorf said. “You can’t get that out of a history book.”


To meet the needs of new students, the district has more than doubled its staff of ELL instructors to eight. Indorf said he is in the process of hiring a ninth instructor, and he hopes to add a 10th during the upcoming budget process. The ELL instructors and all other teachers and staff have worked together to learn about cultural and religious differences and how to teach students with limited English skills, he said.

Indorf said that learning takes many forms: In some cases, it’s learning that a student being disciplined may not look the teacher in the eyes because in their culture that is not appropriate. It also means understanding that some students have endured hard and emotional journeys to get to Maine, often fleeing war and being separated from extended family.

“For us to be able to serve kids who come to us from war-torn countries or who cannot speak the language or who can’t eat the meat in the cafeteria, we have a ton to learn,” Indorf said. “We have a moral imperative as educators to do this.”

Superintendent Jeremy Ray said he knows the increase of students with limited English proficiency brings unique challenges, “but these are challenges we want to work on.”

“These students enrich our schools, enliven our curriculum and enhance the quality and diversity of our schools,” he said. “Their families have a parallel impact on our community.”


To bring the schools and “new Mainers” in Biddeford together, the school department last week launched a new initiative, Biddeford Rising, in collaboration with Spurwink, the behavioral health and education services nonprofit. The community-based Biddeford Rising is modeled after a similar school-to-home program in Portland, which, like Lewiston, Westbrook and South Portland, has also seen a surge in the number of students who speak languages other than English.

As students and their parents streamed into the school gym, Khulood Al Hasan greeted many of them by name and helped translate for Arabic speakers when needed. Al Hasan, an education technician at the middle and high schools, moved to Maine from Iraq two years ago with her two children and her husband, who was an Army translator and now works as an interpreter with Catholic Charities. She taught high school math for 12 years in Iraq.

Al Hasan said Biddeford Rising is a nice way to bring people together, especially families that don’t understand English.

“It’s important to connect people,” she said.

During the meeting, families and school employees sat together at long tables to talk about what Biddeford schools are doing right and what can be done better to make everyone feel welcome. Parents described finding a school community with honest teachers who are respectful to parents and students, and said their children enjoy going to school. They said they feel welcome in Biddeford, but sometimes feel like they’re learning English in slow motion.

Despite their enthusiasm for the schools, parents told Indorf and other school officials there are still challenges they’re trying to overcome as they settle in Biddeford. The local public transportation can be confusing, jobs are not always easy to find and heat is expensive. They also said their children run into cultural restrictions with food served in the school cafeterias. Students often eat a lot of pizza to stay away from meat, because it is not prepared in a way that meets their needs.

Best friends Rusul Ahmed, 17, and Mariam Gassab, 19, sat together, chatting easily with community members who asked them questions about their native Iraq, their journeys to Maine and their thoughts on attending Biddeford High School.

Ahmed, a junior, came to Maine two years ago and settled first in Westbrook before her family moved to Biddeford. She did not speak any English when she arrived and would say “yes” to every question. Two years later, she is a member of multiple school clubs and plans to attend college to become a dentist.

Ahmed said the first big challenge she and other non-native Mainers face is learning English.

In Biddeford, Ahmed said it has been easier to learn English because she is in mainstream classes with American students and not surrounded all day by other Arabic speakers. After learning English, the next big challenge is helping other people “understand why we are here” so they do not bully or discriminate against new members of the community, Ahmed said.

“We have to teach people why we came here and what I’ve done with my life,” she said.


Gendron, the middle school teacher, has been an educator for 22 years and is now in her third year teaching English language learners. She said she has “learned so much” from her roughly 50 students, who came to Maine from Iraq, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Jamaica, El Salvador, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Ghana, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, United Arab Emirates, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines.

A map on her classroom wall includes a photo of each student and a string connecting them to their native country.

“Talk about resilient kids who are really motivated and have a passion to learn,” Gendron said. “You would never know looking at them the stories behind these students. They are really something special.”

English language learners at the middle school have a reading and writing class with Gendron, plus a learning lab where they get help with other subjects. Every lesson in her class includes reading, writing, listening and speaking. She tries to use a lot of visuals, as do teachers of other subjects with ELL students in their classrooms.

Gendron said ELL students spend most of their time in mainstream classrooms, which allows them to connect with their peers and do important learning about how the school works, how to get to classes and even how to open their lockers.

“The social language is the first language,” she said.

During the last class before Thanksgiving break, students played the game “Hedbanz” with the holiday-themed words they brainstormed at the start of the class. Students took turns standing at the head of their work table trying to guess the image on the card attached to their head.

Fatima Gassab, 11, wiggled her eyebrows at her classmates as Gendron attached a card showing a picture of an ear of corn to the headband strapped around her forehead. She asked a series of yes-or-no questions: Is it an animal? Does it have legs? Does it have hair? (Yes, they told her). Ultimately, she figured out it was a food product, but never guessed corn.

“That does NOT have hair!” Fatima told her classmates as she headed back to her seat.

After sampling homemade cranberry sauce – most had never tried cranberries – the students and Gendron talked about what it means to be thankful. The room grew quiet as students focused on writing out lists of the things they are most thankful for in their lives.

Rawan Ahmed, 11, who is originally from Iraq, printed neatly in her notebook that she is thankful for her friends, her life and “to have the nicest brothers, sisters, mom, dad.”

Like many of his classmates, Huseen Saad, 12, said he is thankful for his parents, his brothers and sister, and God.

“I’m thankful all of my family is alive,” he said. disables reader comments on certain news stories, including those dealing with sexual assault and other violent crimes, personal tragedy, racism and other forms of discrimination.


]]> Al Badri, who is from Iraq, volunteers to answer a question during an English Language Learners class Tuesday at Biddeford Middle School. An influx of families has doubled the number of English language learners in this southern Maine city in the past two years.Fri, 24 Nov 2017 08:58:57 +0000
Police probe allegations that teacher at Freeport High ‘sexted’ with student Tue, 21 Nov 2017 23:24:36 +0000 Freeport police and school officials said Tuesday that they are investigating allegations that a teacher at Freeport High School has been “sexting” a student.

The Freeport officials would verify only that an investigation is underway, but did not identify the teacher, his or her age, or length of tenure. Sexting is sending sexually explicit photographs or messages to another person via a cellphone.

“The Freeport Police Department has been made aware of an allegation that there was unlawful telephonic contact between a teacher and student over the past month or so,” said Freeport police Lt. Nathaniel Goodman in a statement Tuesday night. “The case is in the preliminary stage and we are not going to make any further statements about the details of an ongoing investigation at this time.”

Regional School Unit 5 officials also declined to provide details of the sexting allegations at Freeport High, which serves more than 500 students from Freeport, Durham and Pownal in grades 9-12.

In an email response to questions about the allegations, RSU 5 Superintendent Becky Foley said she is unable, as a matter of law, to discuss personnel issues such as the teacher’s identity and employment status.

“However, if there is ever an allegation of a boundary issue between an adult and students, including one of sexting, we take immediate action to investigate and to ensure the safety of students entrusted in our care,” Foley said in a statement.

Foley declined to comment further regarding the teacher’s gender and length of tenure, and whether the teacher went through the school district’s background check process.

WCSH-TV reported that the student who has been receiving the graphic images is a minor.

Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Alexander also issued a statement, saying: “We take the safety of our students very seriously and investigate all matters brought to our attention. We have policies in place and we take any situation with great seriousness.”

“We are concerned for all students all of the time,” Alexander said.

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

]]>, 22 Nov 2017 00:13:39 +0000
Board chairwoman says Portland schools working to close academic gap Tue, 21 Nov 2017 00:48:15 +0000 The Portland school district is working to close the academic gap between affluent and non-affluent students, launching new staff training about understanding various cultures, passing policies that condemn hate speech and support Muslim students and staff, and planning to approve a policy protecting the rights of transgender students.

“We strive every day to give this community – its residents, taxpayers, voters and elected officials alike – a grand sense of pride in its public education system,” Board of Education Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said Monday in the annual State of the Schools address to the City Council.

“It takes a community to ensure that we meet our commitment of preparing our students to succeed in college and career,” she said. “We are deeply grateful to Portland for being that generous and supportive community.”

Trevorrow said standardized test scores show that students from affluent families score on par with surrounding districts, while students from less-affluent families score lower. More than half the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, a sign of poverty.

“That’s our call to action; that drives everything that we do,” she said, referring to efforts to improve academic results for all students and close that “equity” gap.

The district, she said, is providing cultural competency training for staff, reviewing academic offerings to ensure all students have access to the same learning opportunities such as advanced placement and gifted and talented programs, and analyzing whether classroom resources are culturally responsive. It also started a new teacher training program with the University of Southern Maine to increase the diversity of teaching staff.

Trevorrow also referred to the recent successful bond campaign to renovate four elementary schools, which she described as a “contentious” issue for the community.

“With Election Day behind us, it is now our duty to honor the voters’ decision and to move forward in a fashion of togetherness,” she said. “I pledge that the district and the school board will be good stewards of these projects and work hand-in-hand with the city and the public to fulfill the will of the voters.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 four Portland elementary schools in need of renovation have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago. The school board has raised the restoration issue for more than two decades.Mon, 20 Nov 2017 21:01:25 +0000
Surge in out-of-state enrollment boosts UMaine System’s finances Mon, 20 Nov 2017 22:20:10 +0000 An unexpected jump in out-of-state enrollment at the University of Maine System this fall is boosting the finances at the two biggest campuses, officials told system trustees Monday.

The University of Maine in Orono booked an additional $2.5 million in tuition revenue and the University of Southern Maine an additional $500,000. Through cuts and leaving some positions vacant, USM eliminated an anticipated budget deficit of $3.4 million, leaving it with a projected $78,999 surplus for the fiscal year ending in June 2018, officials said.

“Given Maine’s demographic challenges, we are pleased with the results of our work to bring new out-of-state talent and energy to our institution and state,” said USM President Glenn Cummings.

The increase in fall tuition revenue is a fraction of the system’s annual $529 million budget and comes amid ongoing efforts to stabilize system finances. The latest five-year financial projections do not anticipate a systemwide budget surplus until 2022, when a predicted surplus of $632,841 would be the first since 2009.

The report on the financial impact of fall enrollment was presented Monday at the trustees’ regular meeting in Orono.

Out-of-state students pay up to three times the tuition of in-state students. At the flagship campus in Orono, which more than half of the out-of-state students attend, annual tuition is $27,960 for out-of-state students, compared with $8,580 for in-state students. Orono has 3,820 out-of-state students.

At USM, which has 1,011 out-of-state students, in-state tuition is $7,860, compared with $20,670 for out-of-state students.

Out-of-state enrollment systemwide is at an all-time high, and has increased 36 percent over the past five years. Out-of-state students now make up 20 percent of the system’s enrollment of 28,997.

“The strength of our programs and commitment to affordability are creating competitive advantages for our universities that are attracting more students to our aging state,” Chancellor James Page said.

The other five campuses have either flat or lower-than-expected tuition revenue. Systemwide, there was an increase in fall tuition and fee revenue of $1.8 million, and a third of it – $630,000 – was immediately used in financial aid for additional students.

Also Monday, the trustees approved the transfer of land from USM’s Portland campus to the city to allow for construction of a roundabout at what is now a six-way intersection at the edge of the USM campus and next to the University of Maine School of Law.

Construction on the single-lane roundabout at the intersection of Brighton Avenue, Deering Avenue and Falmouth Street will begin in 2019.

USM benefits because the southern end of Brighton Avenue, which currently runs through the Portland campus, will be cut off. That will help campus officials pursuing a $189 million vision to revamp the Portland campus to include a new $30 million student center, a five-story dorm, a boutique hotel and perhaps a food studies culinary institute.

The trustees also approved a plan for USM to lease campus space to Maine Composites Alliance for a lab located in the Bioscience Wing of the Science Building on the Portland campus.

The Maine Composites Alliance, an industry trade group, had previously had the Composites Engineering Research Lab – or CERL – in Brunswick Landing in partnership with Southern Maine Community College.

Also Monday, the trustees approved new World Language Education programs in Spanish and French at the University of Maine at Farmington, in response to a foreign language teacher shortage in Maine’s K-12 schools.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, ME - OCTOBER 24: Isaac Yeboah of Portland, a communications major at University of Southern Maine, smiles as he walks across the skywalk following class on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Yeboah said he was in a particularly good mood after receiving a test score that was better than he anticipated. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff photographer)Mon, 20 Nov 2017 21:16:33 +0000
U.S. Rhodes scholars class includes record 10 African-Americans Mon, 20 Nov 2017 02:55:06 +0000 The latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African-Americans – the most ever in a single Rhodes class – as well as a transgender man and four students from colleges that had never had received the honor before.

The Rhodes Trust on Sunday announced the 32 men and women chosen for post-graduate studies at Oxford University in England. Among them: the first black woman to lead the Corps of Cadets at West Point; a wrestler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s helping develop a prosthetic knee for use in the developing world; and a Portland, Oregon, man who has studied gaps in his hometown’s “sanctuary city” policy protecting immigrants in the country illegally from deportation.

“This year’s selections – independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously – reflects the rich diversity of America,” Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said in a news release announcing the winners Sunday. “They plan to study a wide range of fields across the social sciences, biological and medical sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, and the humanities.”

The scholarships, considered by many to be the most prestigious available to American students, cover all expenses for two or three years of study starting next October. In some cases, the scholarships may allow funding for four years. The winners came from a group of 866 applicants who were endorsed by 299 colleges and universities. Four of the institutions had winners for the first time: Hunter College at the City University of New York; Temple University in Philadelphia; the University of Alaska in Anchorage; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The 10 African-Americans in the class include Simone Askew, of Fairfax, Virginia, who made headlines in August when she became the first black woman to serve as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy – the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point. Askew, a senior, is majoring in international history, focused her undergraduate thesis on the use of rape as a tool of genocide and plans to study evidence-based social intervention at Oxford.

Her mother told reporters over the summer: “That leadership is something I’ve seen throughout her life – wanting to be first, wanting to be the best, wanting to win, in sports, in academics, in every aspect of her life. … And to serve others, as well.”

Several of the winners have devoted efforts to racial, social and economic justice.

Harvard College senior Tania N. Fabo, of Saugus, Massachusetts, created and co-directed the first Black Health Matters Conference at the university. An immigrant who was born in Germany to Cameroonian parents, she plans to research oncology at Oxford.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Fabo said Sunday. “When they told me on Saturday I didn’t really fully believe it.”

Samantha M. Mack, the first winner from the University of Alaska Anchorage, is an Aleut woman who was born in a remote village before her parents brought her to Anchorage for better educational opportunities. She studies political theory from an indigenous and feminist perspective.

Thamara V. Jean, of Brooklyn, New York, completed her senior thesis at Hunter College of the City University of New York on the Black Lives Matter movement. Jean is a child of Haitian immigrants, according to Debbie Raskin, a spokeswoman for Hunter College.

And JaVaughn T. “J.T.” Flowers, who graduated this year from Yale University with a degree in political science, helped start an organization at Yale that provides mentors, tutors and summer stipends to make sure low-income students receive the same academic opportunities as others. Flowers has also examined gaps in Portland’s sanctuary city policy. After graduating, he returned to Portland to work in the field office of Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who said Flowers has worked on a variety of issues, including on how high costs of phone or video calls in prisons not only rip off the inmates, but make it harder for them to keep in touch with their families and thus to readjust to society when they’re released.

“He’s just an outstanding candidate for the Rhodes,” Blumenauer said Sunday. “He’s a very quick study, very good with people, an incisive listener who is able to translate that back to people who contact him and to the staff in our office. We’re excited for him, and we’re excited for what he’s going to do when he’s back.”

Calvin Runnels, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is the second self-identified transgender Rhodes scholar from the U.S., following Pema McLaughlin, who was named a winner last year. A senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he has organized rallies in solidarity with the immigrant community and led efforts to increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Runnels will study biochemistry at Oxford. His research investigates the origin of the ribosome, which could provide insight into the origins of life, the Rhodes Trust said.

Matthew Chun, of Arlington, Virginia, the captain of the MIT’s wrestling team, researches the impact of intellectual property law on innovation and has worked as a patent technology specialist. He leads a team designing the first prosthetic knee for use in the developing world. He plans to study jurisprudence at Oxford.

Also selected was an international group of scholars representing 64 different countries. About 100 scholars will be selected worldwide this year.

The scholarships are worth about $68,000 per year, according to the Rhodes Trust.

The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904.

]]> 0 Sun, 19 Nov 2017 22:00:35 +0000
Students showcase crafsmanship at annual Augusta trade show Sat, 18 Nov 2017 03:39:23 +0000 AUGUSTA — Over the sounds of welding torches, hammers and robotic lifts, Jackson Fortin talked Friday about what he hopes will be a promising career of building houses.

Fortin, a junior at the Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville, was one of more than 1,200 students at the 18th Annual Crafts Championships at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I really like construction, so the nailing stations and doing measurements are my favorite,” Fortin said. “The lifts here look pretty cool, too.”

Fortin was speaking of the two large scissor lifts taking several students at a time – secured in safety harnesses – more than 20 feet above the civic center floor. It was one of the areas that was most popular among the attendees, said Hope Perkins, president and CEO of the Maine chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors.

“This is my 11th year, and it grows every year,” Perkins said. “Some of these kids are from families of contractors, and it’s what they’re doing in their schools.”

Throughout the daylong event, students from across the state worked on projects inside the civic center and outside on welding trailers and line trucks. Students showcased their talents and skills by participating in a variety of competitions and activities, including hammering nails, installing light switches on a mock wall, pouring cement and welding pieces of steel.

At the welding station, Rob Piccirilli, a district sales manager at Maine Oxy, said the activity gives students a chance to try their hand using a welding torch and helmet in a controlled environment.

Andrew Longpre, of Fryeberg, tries out welding Friday during the 18th Annual Crafts Championships at the Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“It’s one of the easier (welding) processes, and it gives them some exposure,” he said.

In the center of the main civic center floor, judges were watching about 10 budding electricians as they spent about three hours working on a mock interior wall. The judges, including Rusty Travers, were looking for neat workspaces, proper safety techniques and the ability to follow directions and adhere to construction codes.

Anthony Warner, a home-schooled student from Portland, was watching with interest because he hopes to begin a career as an electrician upon completing his high school education. Warner, 17, said he wants to work with smart-home technology, because home automation is the future.

“Using a smartphone or tablet to control most of the electronic devices in your home is going to be common soon, and I love computers and technology,” Warner said. “But installing light switches or thermostats, whether controlled by hand or a smart device, is the same.”

Rick Forbush is a territory sales manager for Leviton Manufacturing Co., the nation’s largest electrical wiring manufacturer. He said smart homes and smart technology are the future, and the industry is starting to catch up.

Students pound nails during a contest Friday at the 18th Annual Crafts Championships at the Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“All the devices these kids are learning how to install install the same way,” he said. “There’s a fear factor because of connected technology, so the progress isn’t moving as fast as we’d hope.”

Outside the civic center, boom trucks, line trucks and excavators were set up as students took turns operating the equipment. A representative from Cianbro said the students weren’t having much success picking up a rubber ball with the excavator and putting it into a bucket.

Perkins said the event includes more than 84 instructors and 27 members with hands-on activities for students. Colleges and trade schools were promoting their programs, and many companies were handing out business cards by the hundreds.

Langford & Low Construction in Portland held a hammering competition in which four students simultaneously hammered four nails into four places on a large wooden display. Foreman Lawrence Campbell said despite what people might think, being good with a hammer isn’t about how hard you hit the object or how strong a person is.

“It’s about persistence and not giving up,” Campbell said. “It says a lot about a person.”

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

]]> 0 Forget, of Oxford Hills, pounds nails Friday during a contest at the 18th Annual Crafts Championships at the Augusta Civic Center.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:44:43 +0000
UMaine student discovers new species of wasp in Harpswell – and it doesn’t sting Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:39:21 +0000

The tiny Ormocerus dirigoius is about 2.7 mm long – the size of a grain of rice. Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

A former University of Maine student has discovered a new species of wasp.

Brunswick native Hillary Morin Peterson discovered the wasp species while doing field work for her thesis in Harpswell. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry announced the discovery on Thursday.

Peterson swept up the small, non-stinging wasp as by-catch while she was collecting specimens of invasive winter moths.

Peterson named the wasp Ormocerus dirigoius in honor of Maine’s motto, “Dirigo,” which means “I lead” in Latin.

All the wasp specimens were collected in oak forest groves and four were collected from beatings of oak trees.

Peterson wrote her senior honors thesis on the predatory and parasitic  relationship some wasps have with the winter moths that have invaded  Maine from the south in recent years

As a UMaine student she wanted to learn more about wasps and joined faculty in the Hymenoptera (Wasp) Blitz at Acadia National Park in 2015. That led to a research stint at the Smithsonian. She’s now a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University.

Her discovery of the Ormocerus dirigoius is documented in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 09:41:21 +0000
Skowhegan area school board asked to reconsider ‘Indian’ mascot Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:35:15 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — Members of a local group who want the school board to vote again on changing the “Indians” nickname for high school sports teams presented a letter to the board Thursday night asking them to do just that — vote again.

Retired medical doctor Roger Renfrew of Skowhegan read the letter aloud for the full school board, saying the district should show respect for Native Americans who say use of the nickname is insulting and respect their wishes to retire the name.

“As citizens of the communities in SAD 54, we call on the Board of SAD 54 to discontinue the use of the term ‘Indians,’” the letter, signed by more than 20 area professionals, including doctors, lawyers and educators, reads. “We request establishment of a robust educational program devoted to study of the history and culture of local Native Americans as well as cultural sensitivity to all people who might be seen as ‘others.’ In addition we encourage the school’s Civil Rights teams to take leadership in expanding awareness of local Native Americans and their unique challenges.”

Dr. Roger Renfrew reads a letter Thursday requesting that the school board again address changing the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School, during a Regional School Unit 54 school board meeting at Skowhegan Junior High School.

School Administrative District 54 is made up of the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

The letter, addressed to SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry, school board Chairman Tim Downing, of Smithfield, and the board in general, states that the recent Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce business promotion called “Hunt for the Indian” offered a chance “to help heal the wounds inflicted upon Native Americans who have lived on the banks of the Kennebec for centuries.”

The chamber quickly withdrew the promotion after a barrage of complaints on social media, apologized and promised community meetings with Maine’s Native American tribes.

Nicole Carter argues Thursday against changing the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School during a Regional School Unit 54 school board meeting at Skowhegan Junior High School.

The SAD 54 board voted 11-9 to keep the “Indians” nickname in May 2015 after several public meetings and a forum with Maine’s four remaining Native American tribes.

Renfrew, who is part of the effort to get rid of the “Indians” nickname, said before the meeting that he doesn’t know how much outward support there will be for change because people are intimidated.

“I don’t know numbers. There are people who are intimidated about speaking up,” he said. “Some of them are teachers. Some of them are small-business people. Small-business people don’t want to lose business, and teachers think they shouldn’t be speaking up. I don’t know exactly why.”

The letter goes on to say that Skowhegan’s future is evolving. New businesses have planted roots in the area.

“A new economy centered on our natural resources, farming and the arts is growing,” the letter reads. “We are an attractive town with a downtown which has been steadily improving over the past two decades. Yet we are perceived by people across the country as racist because of the use of the Indian mascot. As the chamber recognized, this has an adverse effect on our economy and potential for continued growth.”

After Renfrew spoke Thursday night, Skowhegan parent Nicole Brown asked the school board not to take another vote to change the name of the sports teams. She said the school board vote two years ago was supposed to be final, and going back now would be unfair.

“I’m not angry. It just frustrates me that they took a vote, and to me — even when you vote for the president, you’re unhappy with who we got if you’re a Democrat, or if you’re Republican — we both have different sides, and one is going to win,” Brown said after the meeting. “Why can’t the other just let it be?”

Resident Sean Poirier noted that recently a Native American student attended school in the district and was not offended by use of the nickname “Indians.”

“In fact, he was honored by it,” Poirier said.

The school board heard the statements and will decide later how to proceed.

Dr. Roger Renfrew reads a letter Thursday saying, “We call on the Board of SAD 54 to discontinue the use of the term ‘Indians.’ Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Earlier Thursday, Barry Dana, of Solon, a Penobscot elder and former tribal chief, said use of the nickname is racist and he welcomes the change if it ever comes. He said acts such as the “Hunt for the Indian” promotion will continue as long as the community supports the Skowhegan “Indians” as a nickname.

“To have local people of the school’s community unite against this is very empowering and shows the real strength of the Skowhegan people,” he said. “It’s time to end the racism and do better for today’s school community and all future school generations. If there is to be real civil rights in this country, then no better place to model it is in our educational institutions. Almost all schools in Maine have already taken the lead on this. It is time that Skowhegan does the same.”

Debate in Maine over using Native American images and nicknames dates back to at least 2001; and nationally, back 40 years. The dialog is always the same: Locals feel pride in their heritage of naming sports teams after brave and noble Indians, while the actual Indians insist that using them as a mascot is insulting and demeaning, even racist.

The first Maine school to change was Scarborough High School, in 2001. The school dropped “Redskins” in favor of “Red Storm.” Husson University eliminated the “Braves” nickname and became the Eagles. Wiscasset High School and Sanford High School eliminated the “Redskins” nickname. Wiscasset teams are now known as the Wolverines, while Sanford athletes are the Spartans. In Old Town, the nickname “Indians” was dropped and “Coyotes” was adopted.

Wells High School continues to use Native American imagery, as does Skowhegan.

SAD 54 school board member and former town Selectwoman and County Commissioner Lynda Quinn said this month that the nickname “Indians” is all that is left from the bad old days of insensitivity.

“We got rid of that mascot in 1990,” Quinn said last week. “We all agreed that the little running Indians were a caricature, were insensitive and it wasn’t right. That was when we painted all that stuff out from the cafeteria, from the gymnasium, on the football field — we took care of all those caricatures. We retired the costume that somebody used at games. The only logo the high school has now is the Indian on the riverbank spearing fish, which kind of goes with Skowhegan.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2001 called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-native schools, saying that “references, whether mascots and their performances, logos, or names, are disrespectful and offensive to American Indians and others who are offended by such stereotyping.”

” … the Commission believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided. In addition, some Native American and civil rights advocates maintain that these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws. They are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.”

The SAD 54 letter agrees with the commission, noting, “The time has come for a change; the time to talk is now. If we truly ‘honor’ Native Americans we need to respect their wishes and end the use of the Indian mascot. We also need to reach out and establish a bilateral conversation about culture, history and heritage.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


]]> 0 Roger Renfrew, right center, reads a letter Thursday requesting that the school board again address changing the mascot of the Skowhegan Area High School during a Regional School Unit 54 school board meeting at Skowhegan Junior High School.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:27:48 +0000
South Portland school board approves policies to protect transgender students Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:31:44 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The school board approved a policy on Monday aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students.

The policy passed by a vote of 4-2, with Chairman Dick Matthews and Jennifer Kirk opposed.

“We think having a clear policy will protect students. We want all students to feel safe, ready to learn and welcome in our schools,” Supt. Ken Kunin said. “We know sadly the rate of suicide and attempted suicide is far higher than the numbers in general for youth and we think having clear policies that guard our actions and policies will save lives.”

Matthews and Kunin said there are transgender students attending South Portland schools, but neither could say how many.

Kunin said the policy is supported by transgender students and their parents, and support was also voiced from parents, students and the community at a Sept. 25 workshop.

Kunin said there are also federal laws in place to accommodate transgender youth under Title IX. He said the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a 2014 case, Doe v. Regional School Unit 26, in favor of Nicole Maines (Doe), a transgender girl who been had denied the use of a girl’s restroom by Regional School Unit 26. The court ruled the school district violated Maine’s Human Rights Act.

The new policy is intended to ensure that transgender students will be able to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with and will be free from bullying.

Gender identity is defined in the policy as “a person’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the gender assigned at birth.”

Under South Portland’s new policy, “A student who has been identified as transgender … should be permitted to use the restrooms assigned to the gender which the student consistently asserts at school. A transgender student who expresses a need for privacy will be provided with reasonable alternative facilities or accommodations such as using a separate stall or a staff facility. However, a student shall not be required to use a separate non-communal facility over his/her objection.”

According to the policy, “A transgender student will not be required to use a locker room that conflicts with the gender identity consistently asserted at school. A transgender student who expresses a need for privacy will be provided with reasonable alternative facilities or accommodations, such as using a separate stall, a staff facility or separate schedule.”

Kunin said the intent is to make everyone feel comfortable in school. “Somebody being a little uncomfortable is not enough to deny someone’s rights, so that is an important marker for us,” he said.

He said there have been no reports of students being made uncomfortable in school restrooms.

“I’ve never had a situation, nor have I heard of any in reading or in consultations but it’s the one (issue) that gets people excited,” Kunin said.

Matthews said he voted against the policy because schools already have policies in place to protect children of all races, religions, nationalities and sexual orientations.

“We have policies in place for all of our children. I felt we already covered everything with that process,” Matthews said. “It wasn’t that I was against it.”

The policy does not permit students to “casually” say they are a different gender, but that “a student will be considered transgender if, at school, he/she consistently asserts a gender identity or expression different from the gender assigned at birth.”

Also, identifying as transgender does not necessarily require a medical diagnosis, according to the policy.

School officials are directed to protect transgender students from being bullied, and teachers and staff members are encouraged to notify administrators if they see students being bullied or harassed.

The policy also reminds school officials not to disclose that the student is transgender if the student does not want others to know. Also, staff should address the transgender student by the pronoun he or she prefers.

Name changes will only be done “upon receipt of documentation that a student’s name or gender has been changed in accordance with any applicable laws. Any requests to change a student’s legal name or gender in official records should be referred to the Superintendent,” according to the policy.

“Transgender students may dress in accordance with their consistently asserted gender identity, consistent with any applicable requirements in the dress code or school rules,” the policy states.

The board also approved a set of guidelines so school administrators can set standards while working with transgender students, but also stipulated that administrators and school staff are to “consider the needs of students on a case-by-case basis.”

“We think it is really important that we have a policy on the books and we will continue to keep looking at it to make sure it is the right policy,” Kunin said.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

]]> 0, 16 Nov 2017 12:37:59 +0000
Portland schools again cut back request to city for maintenance funding Wed, 15 Nov 2017 04:20:32 +0000 The Portland Board of Education on Tuesday once again sharply trimmed its maintenance wish list for next year, scaling back its request to the city just one week after voters passed a controversial $64.3 million local bond to upgrade four elementary schools that deteriorated from years of deferred maintenance.

The school district has a comprehensive, 10-year plan for maintenance, financed in part with city capital improvement funds. However, the city must approve funding for those projects every year, and usually funding is far short of what both municipal and school officials identify as their capital improvement plan requests. Last year, the district got $2.5 million in capital improvement funding, about half what it requested.

For the 2018 cycle, district officials said they scaled back their request after city officials said only $4 million in school projects would be considered – even though the district identified more than $20 million in upkeep and “top priority” projects.

“This work is not going away,” board member Laurie Davis said Tuesday about the unfunded projects. “We are simply continuing to defer that maintenance. We have very serious questions to ask ourselves and our community. We are really going to have to wrestle with this: How do we maintain our facilities or what are the facilities we can afford to maintain?”

The board held a workshop Tuesday on the CIP request after its regular board meeting.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana told the board that City Manager Jon Jennings advised the district that total city CIP borrowing would be about $15 million, and the district should request no more than $4 million, with $1 million of that coming from school district reserve funds.

The city’s five-year CIP plan says the recommended general fund borrowing for CIP in 2019 should be limited to $14.4 million. In 2020, it recommends general fund borrowing of only $8 million.

During the bond campaign, a major complaint was that the bond became necessary because of years of deferring basic maintenance at the elementary schools.

The district’s original plan anticipated the need for $7.7 million in CIP project funding for 2018, and another $12.9 million in “top level priorities” for maintenance that were not included in the 10-year plan. Among the projects were installing curb cuts at Portland High School, replacing the vent system at Casco Bay High School/Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS), replacing the roof at Portland High School and numerous upgrades at various schools to make handrails, bathrooms and other features compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other items included $750,000 for replacing windows at Deering High School, adding a freight elevator to PATHS for $250,000, installing $1.2 million in fire-suppression sprinklers at Deering High School and $700,000 to replace a retaining wall and iron railings at Portland High School. All of those projects, among others, were not included in the final CIP request and will be pushed out to future years’ requests.

The board’s request will be included in the city’s overall fiscal year 2019 capital improvement plan. The overall list will be reviewed by the City Council’s finance committee before a public hearing and council vote.

Botana said district and board officials understand the funding simply isn’t available to meet all the district needs.

“That’s the reality of this,” he said. “While not an ideal situation, it’s one we’re dealing with and trying to be realistic about that.”

Davis noted that the city can’t fund its own maintenance demands either.

“The city’s needs are there too,” she said. “(The limited funding) is realistic, but does it address our needs long term? No. There’s a day of reckoning coming.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 four Portland elementary schools in need of renovation have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago. The school board has raised the restoration issue for more than two decades.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 08:33:27 +0000
Maine Girls’ Academy to add middle school in the fall Tue, 14 Nov 2017 22:53:41 +0000 Maine Girls’ Academy will expand to include seventh- and eighth-grade students beginning with the 2018 academic year, according to Amy Jolly, the head of school.

“We firmly believe girls need us at this age,” Jolly said this week. “We will take what are often considered the most challenging developmental years for a girl, and offer an encouraging, validating, and supportive environment.”

Jolly said the academy decided to offer a middle-school curriculum because “we saw a need in the marketplace for an all-girls environment for the middle-school years.”

In addition, she said, there was a “desire from current and prospective families to have their daughters at MGA sooner than high school.”

Maine Girls’ Academy is a private all-girls college preparatory school located on Stevens Avenue in Portland.

Kristen Dow, an alumna of the school when it was Catherine McAuley High School, agreed.

She said she and her husband “cannot wait to send our (younger daughter to MGA) next year for seventh grade. The opportunity for her to be a part of this amazing school for six years is one that’s not to be missed.”

An informational session on the new middle school program will be held at Thursday at 631 Stevens Ave.

Jolly said the school is “fortunate to (already) have several faculty members with extensive experience educating this age group,” but also said new hires would be made as necessary.

She said that middle school “takes a certain kind of educator, one who will embrace the complexity and nuance of this age group, and we are lucky to have current faculty who are clamoring for the chance to teach seventh- and eighth-grade students.”

At the middle school level, Jolly said, “each student has unique needs, primary of which is having a close rapport with their teachers where (they can) develop the confidence to take intellectual risks and learn at their fullest potential.”

Jolly said MGA hopes to enroll 15 to 18 middle school girls for the fall of 2018, with a plan to grow the program in years to come.

But, she also said, “Our small-school model facilitates relationship-building, which is at the heart of learning for girls.”

Jolly said there is a big difference between educating middle-schoolers and high school students.

“Developmentally, middle school is an amazing time of explosive cognitive and social-emotional growth,” she said. But for girls, it’s even more so, “with dramatic changes occurring in (their) brains and bodies.”

That means, Jolly said, that “there is a huge opportunity to maximize academic and leadership growth” at this age, particularly for girls.

She said the addition of middle-schoolers should also benefit the high school students enrolled at MGA.

“The addition of seventh and eighth grades provides an amazing opportunity for our high school girls to step up as mentors and leaders,” Jolly said. “They are already leading conversations on how they want to welcome and integrate the middle school students into our community.”

Even so, she said it’s the intent of the administration to “create a balance of integration with our high school students while providing middle school students their own space to learn, grow, and lead.”

In general, she said, “We already have evidence that this expansion is invigorating our school, as we’ve seen over a 50 percent increase in interest by prospective students.”

Along with expanding to include seventh- and eighth-grade students, Jolly said MGA also intends to offer the Coastal Studies for Girls program as part of its curriculum.

Coastal Studies for Girls has offered a residential semester school and summer camp in Freeport for several years.

“We are delighted” that the addition of MGA will allow even more girls “to experience the powerful combination of science and leadership education,” Jennifer Mathews, the interim head of school for the coastal studies program, said this week.

“MGA girls pursue STEM-related majors at twice the national average, so it’s natural for us to want to grow Maine-related opportunities for field research, leadership development, and critical thinking,” Jolly said about the new partnership.

“The addition of the program developed by Coastal Studies for Girls is just one more way that we are strengthening our school and continuing to make the case for (an all) girls’ education,” she added.

See this story in The Forecaster.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2017 to clarify that the added classes would be for 7th and 8th grade.

]]> 0, 15 Nov 2017 09:41:02 +0000
No plans to change Native American mascot at schools in Skowhegan Mon, 13 Nov 2017 02:16:19 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — The continuing debate over the use of Native American images and nicknames for school sports teams is not about a handful of complainers seeking their 15 minutes in the spotlight, opponents say.

It’s about people and respect for a race that was nearly wiped out with the arrival of white European settlers.

And it’s not just a local issue in Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54, where the school board voted in 2015 to keep the “Indians” nickname for its sports teams, despite opposition from the four Maine Native American tribes.

The tradition of the Skowhegan Indian on the field and on the court remains in place with no immediate plans for change, local school officials said Friday. This comes amid controversy after the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce announced a holiday promotion called “Hunt for the Indian,” in which a small replica of the town’s iconic Skowhegan Indian sculpture by artist Bernard Langlais was to be placed in stores for shoppers to find for discounts and prizes. The chamber canceled the promotion after backlash on social media.

“No – not a chance,” SAD 54 school board member Harold Bigelow of Skowhegan, one of the district’s loudest supporters of “Skowhegan Indian Pride,” said of any possibility of a new vote on the issue. “We’ve already discussed this. With the taxes the way they are and everything – I’ve got a feeling – no. Why would you want to?”

Supporters of keeping the “Indians” name say the practice honors the strength and prowess of the people who first settled along the Kennebec River, which runs through Skowhegan. Opponents say Native Americans are not honored by being used as a mascot and that it is an insult to their culture and the real heritage of the region.

Representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes – all members of the umbrella Wabanaki federation in Maine – told a school board subcommittee in 2015 that the use of the word “Indians” is an insult to them. Members of the four tribes, as well as the Bangor NAACP and others in the state, want the name changed, saying the tribes are people and people are not mascots.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said Friday that the school board has not scheduled another vote on the “Indians” question, but the public can ask the board to revisit the issue.

“The board has not discussed it – we’re still operating within the same guidelines that were set after that last vote, which is that the only image that there is is that one that’s in the gym. That’s the only image that we endorse. We’ve had no further discussion since then; there’s no directive to do that.”

Nor is the mascot just a local issue at Wells High School, where one Micmac mother said players mocked Native Americans with offensive stereotypes at a recent football game. Wells fans – both students and adults – were “running around with hands over their mouths,” making whooping sounds and banging on drums and 5-gallon buckets while making offensive chants, said Amelia Tuplin, whose 16-year-old son, Lucas Francis, is quarterback for rival Lisbon High School.

Some fans had painted their faces with “war paint,” she said. At the end of the game, the Wells football team gathered and did what Tuplin termed “a mock dance, putting their helmets up and down, and doing a mock chant.”

The school committee said it will review the Wells High School mascot and logo and plans to conduct a community forum on the issue.

Skowhegan school board member and former selectwoman and county commissioner Lynda Quinn said she doesn’t see any reason to vote again on the nickname and added that she takes issue with the use of the word “mascot” to describe the Skowhegan Indians.

“We got rid of that mascot in 1990,” Quinn said. “We all agreed that the little running Indians were a caricature, were insensitive and it wasn’t right. That was when we painted all that stuff out from the cafeteria, from the gymnasium, on the football field – we took care of all those caricatures. We retired the costume that somebody used at games. The only logo the high school has now is the Indian on the riverbank spearing fish, which kind of goes with Skowhegan.”

As for the teams’ nickname, is there a chance for another vote?

“From my perspective, no, I don’t think so – I think that was put to rest,” Quinn said. “My question is I don’t know what’s wrong with the name ‘Indian.’ It’s not making fun of anyone. It’s not disrespectful. I just don’t understand why they’re so opposed to the name ‘Indian.’ ”

The matter of “hunting native peoples” came rushing to the forefront this month when the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce announced its holiday promotion called “Hunt for the Indian.”

The ensuing social media storm objecting to the promotion forced the chamber to withdraw the promotion, suspend sales of the wooden replicas and promise a community forum on the issue, but the hurt – and the memory – were real, said Maulian Dana, a Penobscot woman from Indian Island and the local founder of the “Not Your Mascot” group.

Dana said tribal members are taught about the massacre of their ancestors at the Norridgewock village of Old Point in what is now Madison in 1724. Survivors of the attack by British soldiers fled north to Canada and to Indian Island, where some of Dana’s ancestors settled.

]]> 0 Skowhegan Area High School "Indians" mascot is emblazoned on the wall of the gymnasium during a basketball game in December 2013.Mon, 13 Nov 2017 05:56:25 +0000
U.S. schools alarmed at uptick in racial incidents Sat, 11 Nov 2017 23:38:49 +0000 CHICAGO — Maryland students using their shirts to spell a racial slur used against black people at a rally. Pennsylvania students posing with swastika-carved pumpkins. A Montana student photographed with a gun accompanied with a racial epithet.

Racial incidents are appearing to pop up at an alarming rate in the nation’s public schools. There were roughly 80 incidents in October alone, by one expert’s count, including a Chicago-area student who was charged with a hate crime for racially charged posts on social media.

Many educators note a spike anecdotally, and social media can give such incidents wider and faster exposure. But it’s far trickier to assess whether there’s an increase numerically, with no organization or agency consistently tracking the issue over time.

School officials acknowledge the incidents are more visible and brazen, fueled by a polarizing presidential administration, divided public and “meme culture.” As a result, schools have responded more publicly and intensely than before.

“You have to be aware of it. You have to monitor it. You have to prevent it from escalating,” said Dan Domenech, head of the School Superintendents Association, who believes there is a spike this year.

Studies surveying schools and teachers during the 2016 presidential campaign noted an increase in anxiety and fear. Many traced it to fiery comments that then-Republican candidate Donald Trump made about immigrants, African Americans and Muslims.

A study released last month by the University of California in Los Angeles showed a surge in teachers reporting student anxiety, from roughly 7 percent in past years to 51 percent this year. It also showed nearly 28 percent of teachers reporting a spike in students making derogatory remarks about other groups during class discussions.

And high-profile incidents such as the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent and the spate of police shootings of blacks and other minorities can accelerate racially charged reactions.

Teaching Tolerance, an anti-hate program, used to get requests from schools once a month for help. But since the election it’s been daily, according to Maureen Costello, who runs the Southern Poverty Law Center program.

She started tracking incidents through news media accounts at the start of October after there seemed to be a rise. Part of the explanation for the recent spate, she said, could be the homecoming season. Students become more settled in school and start attending events such as pep rallies and dress-up days.

Administrators and teachers, once reluctant to discuss incidents over privacy concerns, are being more proactive, Costello said. They’re beefing up curriculums and training staff for difficult conversations.

“Schools are looking for professional development. They’re looking for interventions,” she said. “There’s a sense of just really not knowing quite what to do.”

Social studies teacher Terry Jess in Bellevue, Washington, said he’s had to be more vigilant this year in reminding students about classroom rules on appropriate language and listening even when there’s disagreement. He also keeps closer tabs on Snapchat and Twitter to watch for incidents.

“It has gotten where there seems to be a lack of decorum and respect … as far as what we’re seeing from our political candidates, what students are seeing on social media,” he said. “That has started to creep in our hallways.”

In the past few weeks shows, schools have taken steps like forfeiting football games – one school canceled the rest of the season – and investigating and disciplining offenders.

Chicago high school senior Hira Zeeshan, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, said one of the hardest days for her was after Charlottesville. “It was really disturbing the way people were just able to walk out on the street and show all this hatred and use Nazi symbols,” she said.

“We just resumed our day like it was normal.”

]]> 0 high school senior Hira Zeeshan, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, said she's been affected personally by anti-immigrant rhetoric that appears to be on the rise in U.S. schools.Sat, 11 Nov 2017 18:49:33 +0000
Album by choruses in Oakland schools nominated for Grammy Award Fri, 10 Nov 2017 02:12:22 +0000 OAKLAND — The chorus program in Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18 recently received a big surprise: Its recorded album, “Songs of Darkness and Hope,” had been nominated for a Grammy Award.

The central Maine students have the distinction in the choral category of being the only nominees hailing from a kindergarten-through-grade 12 school.

But for some students, the award doesn’t mean as much as the opportunity they got to take on a project with such a deep meaning. The album is about the Holocaust.

“The message (the album) promotes is more important than the recognition it’s gotten,” said Julia Cooke, a junior at the high school who is part of the chorus and the women’s chorus.

The 11-song album, recorded in April 2016 at local churches, was a collaborative project between the district’s choral music program, made up of 400 students ages 10 to 18, and the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, as well as two record companies. It includes traditional European Jewish folk music, songs that were sung in concentration camps both for marches and as a sign of rebellion, and a song from the modern musical “Ragtime,” among others.

This month, Members of the Recording Academy will reduce the field of first-round nominees for the choral category from about 20 nominations from across the country, including RSU 18, listed as Messalonskee Public Schools on the ballot. The final round of Grammy nominations will be announced officially on Nov. 28, with five nominees per category, and the 60th annual awards ceremony for the top categories will be held Jan. 28 in Madison Square Garden.

While the album covers a dark time in history, it includes messages of hope and encourages peace.

Pam and Kevin Rhein, both chorus directors at RSU 18 for the past 36 years, had wanted to do a recording project with the students for a number of years. While at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine for an event, the Rheins spoke with its executive director, Liz Helitzer, about collaborating on a project that would incorporate the cultural and musical history of the event into a recording.

They found that the center was looking for a way to engage more young people and raise awareness about the Holocaust, which began in 1933.

“As more time builds between now and then, it’s easier to feel more and more removed from it,” Helitzer said.

What originally was going to be a small program turned into multiple schoolwide events and an album recording, along with a presentation at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine.

Helitzer came to the schools multiple times to give presentations about the Holocaust to provide context for the songs, she said. She spoke about the steps that led to the genocide and parallels that exist in the world today, which is why it’s important to continue raising awareness for future generations.

“Genocide didn’t stop after the Holocaust,” she said. “Discrimination based on religion or ethnicity or sexuality or gender – that didn’t stop.”

Recording an album with 400 students was an exciting feat in itself, and no one expected the album to become nationally distributed and then nominated for a Grammy Award.

The school had won a $1,200 grant for the project, Pam Rhein said, and choral groups were raising money at concerts for the recording. John Baker, a recording engineer who runs Affecto Records in New Jersey, agreed to travel to the school to record the album.

When Baker heard about the project, he was “so overwhelmed with the meaning behind” it, Kevin Rhein said, that his company took over the remaining expenses and produced a polished album. Each student received a copy, and the center in Maine received 100 copies for visitors.

The Tri-M Music Honor Society is now sending copies to each Holocaust and Human Rights Center in the country.

Baker also got Naxos Records, the largest independent classical label in the world, involved with the project as he thought it should be heard on a larger scale. Naxos distributed the music through Amazon, Spotify, and ultimately submitted it to the Recording Academy for a Grammy Award.

When the director of Naxos Records listened to the album, he said that it was important that it be heard, given the current divisive political climate, Pam Rhein said.

Taylor Doone, a 10th-grader who is in the chorus, agreed.

“It’s really needed at this time, when there’s so much hate in this nation,” Doone said. He hopes that the album is a reminder of what hate can turn into when left unchecked.

Doone said one of the reasons he joined the Messalonskee High School Concert Chorus is that the Rheins incorporate other cultures and their music into the lessons. He was in the eighth grade when he sang “Ani Ma’Amin” for the album, which is an ancient Hebrew song that was sung by concentration camp victims as they were led into the gas chambers, and it’s an experience he still remembers.

“It really opened my eyes to the fact that, even in the most oppressive moments, the human spirit can carry on,” Doone said.

Learning more about the history of the Holocaust and how the people in those situations lived through the lens of music can provide a better understanding than history or social studies classes, both Doone and Cooke said.

“I feel very fortunate to be in such an amazing chorus that tackles such difficult issues,” Cooke said.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: @madelinestamour;

]]> 0 High School Concert Chorus co-directors Pam and Kevin Rhein show copies Thursday of "Songs of Darkness and Hope," performed by Messalonskee students, which is nominated for a Grammy Award in the choral category.Thu, 09 Nov 2017 23:30:16 +0000
South Portland panel calls for 1 new middle school for grades 5-8 Fri, 10 Nov 2017 00:50:43 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — A recommendation to build a new, consolidated middle school for students in grades 5 through 8 got a warm reception when it was announced at a public forum Thursday night.

The $50 million school would be funded by the state and replace both Mahoney and Memorial, aging middle schools that house grades 6 through 8.

Building a larger middle school, on a site yet to be determined, would help address school deficiencies throughout the district, as required by the state.

“We looked K-8 for a district solution,” Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani told an audience of about 100 community members.

Germani noted that the city’s elementary schools are so crowded that some instruction is provided in closets, hallways and alcoves. Though all five were renovated in the early 2000s, instructional needs have evolved and expanded significantly in the last decade, she said.

Moving the fifth grades to a consolidated middle school would free up 17 to 19 classrooms for other purposes, Germani said, such as special education instruction, classes for students who are learning to speak English and expansion of the district’s pre-kindergarten program.

In its recommendation, the Middle School Facilities Committee suggested that the design of a consolidated middle school might separate grades 5 and 6 from grades 7 and 8 by placing them in different wings or sections of the building. This would address some parents’ concerns about fifth-graders social and academic readiness for middle school.

“We have looked closely at the pros and cons of moving to a 5-8 configuration,” the committee wrote on an FAQ sheet handed out at the meeting. “Based on the input we have received from the community, we are committed to a design that makes a large school feel small.”


Comments and questions from about a dozen speakers were overwhelmingly positive. School officials dispelled concerns about the impact of a larger school on learning, sports teams and after-school activities. Several people praised the consolidation plan as thoughtful, practical and fiscally responsible.

“It makes sense to me,” said Susan Adams, parent of an eighth-grader.

Adams acknowledged after the meeting that the location of a consolidated middle school remains a worry for many people in a city with an east side and a west side. School officials won’t say which sites are being considered while the review and negotiations are underway.

“I do think there is concern about where it’s going to be because we’re so limited,” Adams said, noting that the city recently funded a $47.3 million high school renovation and expansion because a suitable alternative site couldn’t be found.

Mahoney serves about 325 students and sits on 15 acres at Ocean Street and Broadway, near Mill Creek Park, on the east side. Renovating or building a new Mahoney on a different site would cost $23 million to $26 million, the facilities committee determined.

Memorial serves about 400 students and sits on 17 acres at 120 Wescott Road, in the Thornton Heights neighborhood, on the west side. Building a new Mahoney would cost $30 million. A consolidated 6-8 middle school would cost at least $44 million.


Both Mahoney and Memorial have significant structural, health, safety and handicapped-access deficiencies, along with asbestos throughout and inadequate heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and communication systems.

State funding is available to renovate Mahoney, build a new school for Mahoney students or build a new, consolidated middle school, said Michael Johanning, a senior architect at WBRC Architects-Engineers, the firm working on the project.

Mahoney’s site is too small to accommodate a consolidated school, but the architecturally and historically important building would be preserved, Johanning said. Memorial’s site could accommodate a consolidated school, but it isn’t considered ideal because it’s not centrally located and the building has too many problems to warrant renovation.

City taxpayers would have to foot the bill to renovate Memorial, build a new school for Memorial students, or include any features in a middle school that are beyond state guidelines, such as larger classrooms or green enhancements.

Superintendent Ken Kunin said one green enhancement under consideration is a geothermal heating system. It would eliminate the nearly $200,000 heating bill for Mahoney and Memorial and provide free air conditioning to greatly improve learning in warm weather, he said.

Next steps include recommending and holding a straw vote on a site, hopefully in the spring, Germani said. A second straw vote would be held on a concept plan, followed by a citywide referendum on the project as early as November 2018.

With that time line, the state would put the project out to bond in 2020 and the school could be completed as early as 2022.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0 funding is available to renovate Mahoney Middle School, build a new school for Mahoney students or build one school for all South Portland students in grades 6 through 8.Thu, 09 Nov 2017 22:35:54 +0000
New directive in place for Augusta ed tech punished for telling colleague ‘I will pray for you’ Thu, 09 Nov 2017 22:29:33 +0000 AUGUSTA — A woman who accused the Augusta School Department of religious discrimination last spring now says that school officials have responded adequately to her complaint, withdrawing an order that she not tell fellow employees she’ll pray for them.

The woman, Toni Richardson, works as a special education technician at Cony High School. Last May, she announced that she was filing a complaint about her treatment by the School Department with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces civil rights cases involving workplace discrimination.

Richardson, who announced her complaint during a news conference at the State House, has been represented by the First Liberty Institute, a Texas group that describes itself as “the largest legal organization in the nation” focused on protecting religious liberty.

The case was widely publicized, catching the attention of Franklin Graham, a prominent Christian evangelist who wrote about it on Facebook. His post, which advised people to contact the Augusta school board, was shared more than 16,000 times.

But an attorney for the Augusta School Department questioned the tactics employed by Richardson’s legal team, saying that school officials were committed to working with Richardson to resolve the disagreement and blindsided by the attention it received.

In her written complaint, Richardson said she was disciplined after trying to offer words of encouragement to a co-worker, who also attends her church, by telling him she would pray for him. She said she was “interrogated” by school officials, who sent her a “coaching memorandum” telling her what she can and cannot say in school.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declined to consider Richardson’s case, but her attorneys kept working with the School Department, which agreed to make changes in the memorandum it sent to her, they said in a news release Thursday afternoon.

The department removed language that barred Richardson from making statements such as “I will pray for you” to her colleagues and replaced it with an affirmation that she can make those statements outside the hearing of students, Richardson’s legal team said.

The new memorandum also eliminated a threat that Richardson would be “subject to disciplinary action and/or possibly dismissal” if she had “any additional interactions that are deemed unprofessional by administration,” her attorneys said in the release.

“The Supreme Court has been very clear on this: neither students nor teachers lose their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty, in the release. “The Constitution protects teachers like Toni who do not and should not have to censor their religious beliefs in private conversations at work.”

Richardson was not available for an interview Thursday.

In the news release, she’s quoted as saying, “I love my job helping special needs students succeed, and I am glad that I don’t have to sacrifice my First Amendment rights in order to be here. I hope my colleagues, and school employees across the country, will remember that the First Amendment still protects our private conversations at work.”

An attorney for the School Department, Peter Lowe, declined to provide a copy of the adjusted memo, on the grounds that it’s part of an employment record deemed confidential by Maine law, or to comment on the specific changes described by Richardson’s attorneys.

“We’ve initiated very productive discussions with our employee’s representatives, and we’re confident that this matter has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction,” said one school official, Assistant Superintendent Donna Madore, in a voice mail message left with the Kennebec Journal.

Lowe did criticize the manner in which Richardson’s attorneys publicized her case, even as school officials were trying “in good faith” to “clear up any misunderstanding” about the original memo.

“The fact that it’s been resolved doesn’t mean the School Department is taking the position that it did anything wrong, and of course the EEOC, in fact, dismissed the complaint,” Lowe said. “That would certainly support the School Department’s perspective. But the School Department is more interested in problem solving and working with employees, so reaching a satisfactory solution makes sense.”

Because of the publicity around the case, school employees have received “some highly inappropriate and profane communications,” Lowe added. “This was very stressful for staff, and very unfortunate and unnecessary because the School Department was already engaged in discussions to address the employee’s concerns.”

Kimberly Martin, chairwoman of the Augusta School Board, declined to answer whether asked whether she or other board members have received feedback related to Richardson’s case.

But she did write a response to Franklin Graham’s post on Facebook, in which he urged “Christians to run for school boards across the country — to put an end to this kind of nonsense.”

“Maybe Christians should not pass judgment over a situation that has only been shared from one perspective (and can not be shared from the other perspective because of employee confidentiality laws …),” Martin wrote on the social network. “I AM a Christian and am also the Chair of this particular School Board… can I say, it feels ‘great’ to have people who know nothing about me making judgments on my (and my fellow Board Members’) personal faith.”

Alex Luchenitser, the associate legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization in Washington D.C., said he couldn’t comment on the merits of Richardson’s complaint without knowing more about the School Department’s position. But he did question the necessity of the First Liberty Institute drawing so much publicity to the case.

When his organization works with schools to resolve complaints involving the separation of church and state, Luchenitser said, “we try to resolve these kinds of situations quietly, as long as the school district is working in good faith to resolve it.” Richardson’s attorneys, he continued, “went and issued a press release, and they went and filed a federal complaint. It makes you wonder whether they really are trying to get the best result for their client, or trying to use this situation to publicize their causes.”

But Dys and Tim Woodcock, a Maine attorney who represented Richardson, said that it was necessary to take the legal steps they did.

While it’s common for the EEOC to not proceed with complaints, Richardson would have needed that determination to file a civil complaint against the School Department, a step she was eventually able to avoid, according to Woodcock.

And Dys pointed to changes in the new memo he thinks the School Department would not have been willing to make without the EEOC complaint.

The original memo stated that “school-sponsored religious expression” is barred under the establishment clause of the First Amendment, but the new version suggests that Richardson’s right to make comments such as “God bless you” to co-workers, away from the hearing of students, is supported by the First Amendment, Dys said.

“We’re about a year past when that original memo came out,” he said. “Had we not taken the step of forcing the issue through the EEOC, they would never have voluntarily done that. … If the School Department all of sudden thinks this was protected speech, why didn’t it bring that to our attention in the first place?”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker


]]> 0 Richardson, center, an education technician in the Augusta School Department, addresses news media representatives earlier this year at a news conference in the State House Hall of Flags in Augusta. She is joined by her attorney Jeremy Dys, left, of the First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that specializes in defending religious freedom.Thu, 09 Nov 2017 20:41:25 +0000
Portland voters approve $64.3 million plan to renovate 4 elementary schools Wed, 08 Nov 2017 02:33:35 +0000 Faced with dueling bond proposals, Portland voters overwhelmingly decided to borrow $64.3 million to renovate Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools in a plan that was backed by a majority of school board and City Council members.

The vote was 13,742 to 7,445, or 65 percent in favor.

“We’re overjoyed by this grass-roots victory for our children and our city’s schools,” said Emily Figdor, a leader of the four-school campaign. “You can’t have a strong city without strong schools. We’d like to get started as soon as possible. The problems are urgent and they need our attention right away.”

A competing bond measure called for borrowing $32 million to renovate only Lyseth and Presumpscot schools. It was supported by people who want to wait and see if the state will pay to renovate or replace Reiche and Longfellow.

The vote was 10,541 to 9,907, or 52 percent in favor. Voters were able to vote “yes” or “no” on either or both questions. If both won a majority, then the measure with the most “yes” votes was approved.

While supporters of the four-school bond said it wasn’t fair to fix some schools and not others, supporters of the two-school bond said it wasn’t practical or fair to taxpayers to forgo potential state funding.

“We’re very happy with the votes we received and proud of our campaign,” said Joanie Gildart, a leader of the two-school campaign.

Gildart said she was disappointed that Portland won’t be able to take advantage of state funding that might be available soon to renovate or replace Reiche and Longfellow.

“We feel terribly about that,” she said. “Taking on debt of this magnitude will make it challenging to take care of 17 schools going forward and have a significant impact on the affordabilty of living in Portland.

City officials estimate that the four-school $64 million bond – which would be $91 million with interest – would increase property taxes by 3 percent over a 26-year period. That is expected to cost the owner of a $225,000 house an average of $104 a year, or $2,700 over the life of the bond, said Deputy City Manager Anita LaChance.

The two-school, $32 million bond – $45 million with interest – would increase property taxes by 1.5 percent over a 22-year period, adding an average of $59 a year to the tax bill, or $1,300 over the life of the bond, LaChance said.

The state, which provides construction funds for the neediest schools, closed the most recent funding cycle in September 2016, just as Reiche and Longfellow had moved up to No. 2 and No. 3 on the list of projects in line for funding. Typically, no more than about a dozen schools receive money in any funding cycle.

Supporters of the two-school referendum said they would immediately support a second bond issue to cover the next two schools if the state’s list doesn’t give priority to Reiche and Longfellow. The state is expected to release a proposed priority list in spring 2018 and a final priority list in August 2018.

The school board has raised the issue of renovating the four schools for more than two decades. The schools haven’t received significant capital investment since they were built 40 to 65 years ago.

The schools have outdated heating systems and windows and a variety of structural problems, including asbestos and auditoriums that don’t meet modern safety codes. Students attend classes in modular buildings because of crowding and in classrooms without walls, and receive non-classroom instruction in hallways and converted closet spaces.

The push for a four-school solution quickly polarized as parents launched a well-coordinated campaign to speak out at public meetings and attend school tours, keeping pressure on the school board and City Council. The two-school plan emerged in March, when city councilors Nicholas Mavodones, Jill Duson and Belinda Ray announced support to put a smaller bond issue on the ballot.

The four-school supporters, Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, canvassed neighborhoods on weekends, ran a social media campaign and put up lawn signs around town. They saw no significant opposition until early October, when Dory Waxman, a former city councilor, and former state Sen. Justin Alfond launched the Better Schools, Better Deal campaign for the two-school bond option.

Each group raised thousands of dollars to promote their campaigns. Protect Our Neighborhood Schools had more than $21,000 on hand on Oct. 1 and raised an additional $16,600 by Oct. 24, according to campaign finance reports. The group received $25,000 from Progressive Portland’s ballot question committee and $4,800 from Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools.

Better Schools, Better Way raised nearly $14,300 in October, including $6,000 from Bayside Maine, a limited liability company headed by former state Sen. Justin Alfond. Other notable donations were $3,000 from Cyrus Hagge, $1,000 from Tom Watson of Port Properties Management and $100 from former Mayor Michael Brennan.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0 Ethan Strimling pops the cork off a bottle of champagne while celebrating with supporters of the Protect Our Neighborhood Schools campaign, which asked voters to support the renovation of four schools, at Think Tank in Portland on Tuesday. At left is Emily Figdor, director of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools. The four-school renovation appeared headed for approval.Tue, 07 Nov 2017 23:33:33 +0000
Three Maine schools unanimously approved for charter extensions Tue, 07 Nov 2017 23:46:28 +0000 The Maine Charter School Commission voted unanimously to approve the charter extensions for three schools: Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, Fiddlehead School of Arts & Sciences and Harpswell Coastal Academy.

“Congratulations everyone,” Commission Chairwoman Laurie Pendelton told representatives of the three schools who were at the meeting in Augusta. Maine currently has nine charter schools, and the room to add one more in future years under the state’s “10 charters in 10 years” cap.

Under state law, all charter schools must go through a comprehensive evaluation at the five-year mark to renew their charters for up to another 10 years. In addition to evaluating student outcomes and organizational models, the commission determines whether the schools are fulfilling their mission and are financially and academically viable.

Baxter and Fiddlehead were renewed for 10 years, and Harpswell was renewed for five years, all by 5-0 votes.

“We have worked very hard to prove that Baxter has a place in Maine’s educational infrastructure and are encouraged by the MCSC’s vote today,” Baxter Executive Director Kelli Pryor said in an email. “During the school’s challenging startup years, we’ve remained focused on our mission of providing an excellent student-centered STEM option for Maine high school students.”

The commission said in its review that the Portland-based high school “is an example of a charter school education at its best.”

Baxter went through a change in leadership as it launched, and faced challenges opening in a new building. Today, the school is in the process of moving into a new building in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, and its enrollment has grown to 400.

The commission noted Baxter’s strong showing in state assessment tests – it got the highest statewide ranking for English and a top-10 slot for math – and that 72 of the 74 graduates in its first class, in 2016, planned to attend college.

About 2,000 of Maine’s roughly 182,000 students attend charter schools. State funding for the schools, which are continuing to add whole grades as they expand in their startup years, is $19 million in 2017-18.

The executive director for Fiddlehead, a pre-K-5 school in Gray, sent out an email to parents and employees thanking them for their “tireless work and commitment over the past four years.”

“It is because of this strong foundation that we have built together – that we were successful today!” Jacinda Cotton-Castro wrote.

Harpswell serves 6th- through 12th-graders in Harpswell and Brunswick. The commission noted concerns about the school’s results on statewide tests, but said it is showing signs of academic growth on other tests. It also said the school had been out of compliance with charter requirements four times over the last four years, but has taken steps to not repeat the errors, which included not providing proper notice and documentation of school changes to the commission and failing to conduct a state assessment one year.

Harpswell Executive Director Carrie Branson said they were “excited’ to get the renewal.

“When we started HCA in the fall of 2013, we were a team of six educators and sixty students. Over the last four years, we have grown to 200 students and more than 20 faculty,” she wrote. “We have expanded to two campuses, developed partnerships with incredible community organizations, and offered students real world experience in things from documentary creation to unmanned vehicle piloting, and bike repair to culinary arts.”

Maine’s nine charter schools include two virtual schools and two schools that offer residential options. There is no limit on the number of charters that could be opened by a school board within the boundaries of its school administrative unit, but so far no district has pursued a charter.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, ME - DECEMBER 18: An exterior shot of Baxter Academy on Thursday, December 18, 2014. Justin Woodbury, 16, is a student at Baxter Academy, who is being charged with a felony for terrorizing in connection with e-mailed threats that shut down Windham and Raymond schools for three days. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Staff Photographer)Tue, 07 Nov 2017 19:50:49 +0000
MIT student’s suicide stirs question of school liability Mon, 06 Nov 2017 01:05:22 +0000 BOSTON — Han Nguyen was consumed by depression and struggling to stay afloat at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. His mental health continued to decline until one day, moments after a professor confronted him about an offensive email, the 25-year-old jumped from the top of a campus building to his death.

Nguyen’s suicide has sparked a contentious legal battle headed to Massachusetts’ highest court over whether schools can be held responsible when students take their own lives. The case is being closely watched by colleges and universities, who say a decision against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would place an unreasonable burden on untrained employees to stop suicides.

“It would be groundbreaking,” said Gary Pavela, a consultant on law and policy issues in higher education and author of a book about legal questions surrounding student suicides. “It would cause alarm in higher education,” he said.

The student’s family says his death was preventable and that the school had a legal duty to use reasonable care to protect him from harm. Nguyen’s professors and other MIT officials knew he was a suicide risk, but failed to get him the help he needed, an attorney for Nguyen’s family argues.

Months before Nguyen’s death, a professor encouraged his colleagues to pass him or they might have “blood on their hands.” Moments before Nguyen jumped, the professor “read him the riot act” over an email Nguyen sent to another MIT official that they deemed inappropriate, court records say.

“Academic freedom is not a license to needlessly and recklessly endanger students known to be at risk of death with impunity; and this court should not allow it to become one at institutions that routinely admit students – many with mental health issues – as young as their mid-teens,” attorney Jeffrey Beeler wrote in court documents.

Beeler declined to comment and said Nguyen’s family didn’t want to speak to the media.

MIT says the school wasn’t aware of the severity of his condition and he was treated by outside professionals and refused on-campus resources. None of the nine professionals who treated Nguyen while he was at MIT believed he was at imminent risk of killing himself, the school says.

“Mr. Nguyen’s suicide was a tragedy. That does not warrant a legal conclusion that MIT or any individual associated with MIT had a legal duty to prevent it,” attorneys for the school, two professors and one dean named in the lawsuit say in court documents.

MIT, which refused to answer questions about the case, said in a statement it “remains committed to the well-being of its students, offering a robust network of support resources, including comprehensive mental health services.”

Nguyen’s family attorney disputes the idea that the man didn’t want help and has accused MIT of blaming the victim.

No state supreme court has ever found that colleges and universities have a legal duty to prevent student suicides, MIT’s attorneys say. Courts have generally been reluctant to do so because, among other things, suicide is an impulsive act that’s difficult to predict, Pavela said.

A Massachusetts trial court judge ruled in 2005 that an MIT housemaster and dean could be held responsible for the death of a woman who lit herself on fire in her dorm room. But Elizabeth Shin’s case, which was later settled for an undisclosed amount, never reached the state’s highest court.

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments in Nguyen’s case Tuesday after a lower court judge tossed out the lawsuit last year.

A group of 18 colleges and universities – including Harvard University and Boston College – is urging the court to reject the case, saying a decision in favor of the family could have devastating consequences.

Fear of liability may cause professors and others without mental health expertise to overreact to concerns, which in turn could discourage students from coming forward with their problems, the schools say.

Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatry expert at Columbia University, agrees.

“To the extent that you heighten every resident assistant’s sensitivity to the risk of suicidality, with the threat of liability hanging over them, they are far more likely to over predict, over intervene, see it where it’s not,” Appelbaum said.

The Nguyen family attorney and their supporters – including the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys – say the schools’ concerns are baseless.

Beeler, in his filing, said he merely wants the court to affirm that the duty to provide reasonable care “extends to the ivory tower as it does every other civilized corner of the Commonwealth.”

Thomas Murphy, chair of the amicus committee of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, says a jury should get to decide whether MIT was negligent and caused Nguyen’s suicide.

“Maybe the school can convince them that they didn’t cause (Nguyen’s suicide) and it was going to happen anyway,” he said.

]]> 0 walk on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. The state's Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit filed against the university by the family of graduate student Han Nguyen, who killed himself in 2009.Sun, 05 Nov 2017 20:06:44 +0000
Former Bates student leads charge for veterans memorial on Lewiston campus Sun, 05 Nov 2017 22:39:46 +0000 LEWISTON — Steven Arango never met Capt. George “Alexi” Whitney, but he still feels a connection to the late Bates College graduate.

Having spent a semester at Bates, Arango understands the commitment required by Whitney to have graduated cum laude from Bates in 2000. But the greater connection is that both men served in the Marines, though never together.

Whitney was an officer in a recon battalion in Iraq and later worked as a paramilitary officer for the CIA. “He was a Renaissance man with all he accomplished,” Arango said.

So when Arango heard about Whitney’s death while working for the CIA in Afghanistan, he felt compelled to do something to honor his fallen comrade.

Bates, however, does not have any memorials for veterans on its campus. Arango hopes to change that.

Arango wants to present the college with a bust of Whitney and a memorial marble or granite marker with the names of Bates veterans. He estimates the stone would hold up to 250 names. He envisions its placement along a walkway near Garcelon Field.

Garcelon Field is where the college’s football and lacrosse teams play. Whitney was the starting fullback on the football team and was a starting midfielder in lacrosse.


George Alexius Whitney was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, on Feb. 16, 1978. He graduated from Brooks School, a private school in North Andover, Mass., in 1996 and enrolled at Bates College that fall. Known by his friends as “Alexi,” Whitney majored in classics.

“One of the best guys I have ever met,” said Aaron Sells, a 2001 Bates graduate. He is now CEO of a marketing company in Boston and is one of several people helping Arango.

Sells, who considered Whitney one of his best friends at Bates, was a lacrosse teammate.

“He was the hardest worker on and off the field,” Sells said. “He was a loyal friend. He would run through a brick wall for you. I think those qualities carried on into his work in the military.”

After graduating, Whitney joined the Marines and was deployed in Anbar Province in Iraq in 2002 as a captain in the 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion.

After leaving the Marines in 2006, Whitney worked for the CIA. He was killed during a mission on Dec. 18, 2016, outside the city of Jalalabad, according to the New York Times. He was 38 years old.

The mission and details of his death will likely remain classified for years, Arango said.

He was the 18th CIA contractor or paramilitary officer to die in action since 9/11, according to The Times.


Arango arrived at Bates in the fall of 2011 and lasted one semester before Maine’s cold temperatures sent the Southerner packing, he said.

A lieutenant in the Marines, Arango is attending law school at the University of Alabama. Upon graduation, he will be recommissioned into the Marines.

He had never heard of Whitney until he read about his death. His short stay at Bates left him in awe of Whitney’s talents – the ability to graduate with honors as well as play two varsity sports. And as a Marine, Arango knows the training required to serve on a reconnaissance unit and then to work as a paramilitary officer for the CIA.

Arango calls Whitney an “American hero.”

Memorializing him at Bates was the perfect location because that is where 18- to 22-year-olds are most influenced about their place in the world, Arango said.

He found an artist, retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Alabama, to make a bust of Whitney. Busby has volunteered his time to create busts of several servicemen who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arango expects the bronze bust to be completed by late December or early January.


Bowdoin and Colby colleges have multiple memorials on campus to honor their war veterans from the Civil War through Vietnam. Not Bates.

Instead of a marker, plaque or some other permanent location, the college has used other means to honor such individuals.

“To honor veterans on our campus, we have artwork, endowed financial aid funds, and Veterans Day recognition events each year,” Bates College spokesman Sean Findlen wrote in an email.

Financial aid is terrific, Arango said, but only the person receiving the scholarship will learn of the sacrifice made. However, a memorial on campus would allow students, members of the Bates community and visitors to learn about their lives and sacrifices.

He is seeking a 4-by-4-foot spot for a 6- to 8-foot-tall marker with a bust of Whitney on top.

He described the response from Bates to his initial offer as “lukewarm.” His last response from the administration was an email that simply read: “Thank you so much for the additional information.”

That hasn’t lessened his enthusiasm.

“Some Bates alumni have said to me that it’s been too long for there to be no memorial on campus,” Arango said.

Because of the diligence of Arango and other supporters, Bates may be moving toward a permanent memorial.

“We are also in the planning stages of a more general memorial to recognize the lives of those who have served in the U.S. armed forces,” Findlen said.

He said college officials are discussing with members of the Bates community the potential ways to honor Whitney.

“Different individuals, including a classmate and close friend of Mr. Whitney, have been in touch with various suggestions about how Bates might honor him. We are open to a range of possibilities and are in the early stages of discussions,” Findlen said.

Those possibilities include a scholarship fund and the memorial Arango hopes to place on campus.

Arango said he doesn’t care whether he gets credit for his idea to place a memorial to Bates veterans. He just feels it is his mission to see the project through to completion.

]]> 0 Arango holds the bust of Bates College graduate George "Alexi" Whitney, while artist and retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Alabama works on the details.Sun, 05 Nov 2017 17:42:51 +0000
Former Bates College student leads charge for a veterans memorial on campus Sun, 05 Nov 2017 01:48:05 +0000 LEWISTON — Steven Arango never met Capt. George “Alexi” Whitney, but he still feels a connection to the late Bates College graduate.

Having spent a semester at Bates, Arango understands the commitment required by Whitney to have graduated cum laude from Bates in 2000. But the greater connection is that both men served in the Marines, though never together.

Whitney was an officer in a recon battalion in Iraq and later worked as a paramilitary officer for the CIA. “He was a Renaissance man with all he accomplished,” Arango said.

So when Arango heard about Whitney’s death while working for the CIA in Afghanistan, he felt compelled to do something to honor his fallen comrade.

Bates, however, does not have any memorials for veterans on its campus. Arango hopes to change that.

Arango wants to present the college with a bust of Whitney and a memorial marble or granite marker with the names of Bates veterans. He estimates the stone would hold up to 250 names. He envisions its placement along a walkway near Garcelon Field.

Garcelon Field is where the college’s football and lacrosse teams play. Whitney was the starting fullback on the football team and was a starting midfielder in lacrosse.


George Alexius Whitney was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, on Feb. 16, 1978. He graduated from Brooks School, a private school in North Andover, Mass., in 1996 and enrolled at Bates College that fall. Known by his friends as “Alexi,” Whitney majored in classics.

“One of the best guys I have ever met,” said Aaron Sells, a 2001 Bates graduate. He is now CEO of a marketing company in Boston and is one of several people helping Arango.

Sells, who considered Whitney one of his best friends at Bates, was a lacrosse teammate.

“He was the hardest worker on and off the field,” Sells said. “He was a loyal friend. He would run through a brick wall for you. I think those qualities carried on into his work in the military.”

After graduating, Whitney joined the Marines and was deployed in Anbar Province in Iraq in 2002 as a captain in the 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion.

After leaving the Marines in 2006, Whitney worked for the CIA. He was killed during a mission on Dec. 18, 2016, outside the city of Jalalabad, according to the New York Times. He was 38 years old.

The mission and details of his death will likely remain classified for years, Arango said.

He was the 18th CIA contractor or paramilitary officer to die in action since 9/11, according to The Times.


Arango arrived at Bates in the fall of 2011 and lasted one semester before Maine’s cold temperatures sent the Southerner packing, he said.

A lieutenant in the Marines, Arango is attending law school at the University of Alabama. Upon graduation, he will be recommissioned into the Marines.

He had never heard of Whitney until he read about his death. His short stay at Bates left him in awe of Whitney’s talents – the ability to graduate with honors as well as play two varsity sports. And as a Marine, Arango knows the training required to serve on a reconnaissance unit and then to work as a paramilitary officer for the CIA.

Arango calls Whitney an “American hero.”

Memorializing him at Bates was the perfect location because that is where 18- to 22-year-olds are most influenced about their place in the world, Arango said.

He found an artist, retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Alabama, to make a bust of Whitney. Busby has volunteered his time to create busts of several servicemen who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arango expects the bronze bust to be completed by late December or early January.


Bowdoin and Colby colleges have multiple memorials on campus to honor their war veterans from the Civil War through Vietnam. Not Bates.

Instead of a marker, plaque or some other permanent location, the college has used other means to honor such individuals.

“To honor veterans on our campus, we have artwork, endowed financial aid funds, and Veterans Day recognition events each year,” Bates College spokesman Sean Findlen wrote in an email.

Financial aid is terrific, Arango said, but only the person receiving the scholarship will learn of the sacrifice made. However, a memorial on campus would allow students, members of the Bates community and visitors to learn about their lives and sacrifices.

He is seeking a 4-by-4-foot spot for a 6- to 8-foot-tall marker with a bust of Whitney on top.

He described the response from Bates to his initial offer as “lukewarm.” His last response from the administration was an email that simply read: “Thank you so much for the additional information.”

That hasn’t lessened his enthusiasm.

“Some Bates alumni have said to me that it’s been too long for there to be no memorial on campus,” Arango said.

Because of the diligence of Arango and other supporters, Bates may be moving toward a permanent memorial.

“We are also in the planning stages of a more general memorial to recognize the lives of those who have served in the U.S. armed forces,” Findlen said.

He said college officials are discussing with members of the Bates community the potential ways to honor Whitney.

“Different individuals, including a classmate and close friend of Mr. Whitney, have been in touch with various suggestions about how Bates might honor him. We are open to a range of possibilities and are in the early stages of discussions,” Findlen said.

Those possibilities include a scholarship fund and the memorial Arango hopes to place on campus.

Arango said he doesn’t care whether he gets credit for his idea to place a memorial to Bates veterans. He just feels it is his mission to see the project through to completion.

]]> 0 Sat, 04 Nov 2017 21:50:39 +0000
Three running for two Freeport seats on RSU 5 school board Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:21:30 +0000 Three candidates are competing for two seats representing Freeport on the Regional School Unit 5 school board on Nov. 7.

Vice Chairwoman Beth Parker has decided not to run again. Lindsay Sterling is running for a second term on the board and is facing challengers Maddy Vertenten and Tiffany Jones.

Three candidates are running unopposed for seats on the Town Council: Chairwoman Sarah Tracy in District 2, Eric Horne for an at-large seat and Douglas Reighley in District 3.

Polls will be open Nov. 7 from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at the Freeport High School gymnasium.

n Sterling, 43, is a chef and author of “Immigrants Kitchen,” an online cookbook and live series of cooking classes. She also founded and led Friends of Freeport High School to promote the recent high school renovation.

Sterling said she decided to run for re-election because she was inspired by the progress she’s seen in the district over the past three years and feels she has more to offer to keep that positive momentum going.

If elected, Sterling would like to resume the board’s work on what she feels is the biggest challenge facing the district: differentiated learning.

“There is a wide range of abilities in each class,” Sterling said. “I think we can continue to improve on … how (to) help teachers inspire and engage every single student in the classroom.”

n Vertenten, 49, is a board member of the Tri-Town Track and Field Project and Friends of Wabun, a youth outdoor program. In 2006, she joined USANA Health Sciences – a multi-level marketing company that produces various nutritional products and dietary supplements.

Vertenten said she decided to run for a seat on the school board because she is more comfortable voicing what she is passionate about than most people. She said she isn’t running to promote a particular agenda, but says voters can count on her to advocate for whole and healthy kids – beyond physical wellness, public education, building relationships, authentic communication and community engagement.

When asked what she thinks the biggest challenge facing the district is, Vertenten said it has a difficult time building a budget suitable for different financial considerations in all three towns in RSU 5.

“We have a lot of economic diversity in the three towns and that can make for a lot of bitter feelings during the budget process,” she said. “I think (the board) can do a better job of hearing the concerns of our constituents, not just in the smaller towns, but in Freeport, too.”

n Jones, 46, teaches at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick. Previously she taught at public schools in Falmouth, Lewiston and Durham for 13 years.

She said becoming involved in her 5- and 10-year-olds’ school district is the main reason she decided to run. She believes her experience as an educator would make her a valuable asset to the board, helping them understand proficiency-based learning and the teacher evaluation process.

If elected, Jones said, she would like to see foreign language classes start at an earlier age, and she would like to see students and teachers from each town brought together to get to know one another before students enter high school.

Jones noted that she felt inclined to run for a seat on the school board during last year’s discussions around building a new track and field at the high school.

Jones’ house abuts the new track and field. She said while she was always in favor of the project, some of her neighbors were not. Still, during discussions, she said the board often grouped the entire neighborhood together, regardless of differing opinions.

“I want people on the board with open minds … there didn’t need to be a (neighbors) versus (board) dynamic,” she said.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or at:

Twitter: @JocelynVanSaun.

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Skowhegan police: Rumors about student going to high school with firearm false Fri, 03 Nov 2017 17:10:43 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan police say they have no information to substantiate rumors that a student was planning to go to Skowhegan Area High School and shoot people.

Such rumors apparently have gone viral on social media to the point that many parents went to the high school Friday to take their children home, according to Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam.

“There’s nothing accurate about those rumors whatsoever,” Bucknam said Friday in his office at the Municipal Building.

At the high school, Jonathan Moody, assistant superintendent of School Administrative District 54, said safety is the district’s No. 1 concern and statements made were not of a specific nature.

“Any reference to specific threats that were made on social media — we have no information to substantiate those,” Moody said.

Bucknam said the rumors started circulating a little more than a week ago when a boy and a girl, both high school students, apparently had an argument. Rumors spread that the boy threatened to go to the high school Thursday and shoot people with a firearm, Bucknam said.

But police followed up on the report and met with both the boy and his parents and determined the report was not accurate, according to Bucknam.

Even so, parents were upset and many went to the school Friday and took their children out of school, he said. He noted that last year about this time, police got reports in reference to clowns doing something similar.

“We think it’s just possibly another version of that,” he said. “Right now we’re working with the school, and our school resource officer is on top of this whole rumor, but right now we have found absolutely nothing that shows any truth to anything being said.”

Moody said that at no time was anyone concerned about an immediate threat, but school officials always want to err on the side of caution when it comes to safety.

“There was a belief in the community that something was happening here, and that was a direct result of what was posted on social media,” he said.

Meanwhile, the schools sent out an email Friday to parents, notifying them that the high school became aware of a statement allegedly made by a student Oct. 27.

“This was a non-specific statement of a threatening nature,” says the statement, issued by Moody. “The school resource officer was sent to the student’s home and determined that there was no immediate threat, pending an investigation by the school administration. Since yesterday, rumors on social media have elevated parent concern. Please know that at this point in time we believe the rumors to be false and that your child is safe.”

The statement also says schools will continue to work with police to investigate the rumors and follow up appropriately.

“We urge you to assist by directing any questions to the Skowhegan High School administration or Skowhegan police department. We take the welfare of your child seriously and will continue to put student safety first as we work through this situation.”

Bucknam said he planned to send officers to the school at the end of the school day Friday to help with traffic flow. The school was never on lockdown of any type, and school officials and students were going about their daily activities, he said.

“We take the rumor seriously and our investigation right now is ongoing, but we’re not seeing any threats,” he said. “The priority for us is the kids at the school, making sure that they’re safe. The rumors are just not substantiated. We’ll continue to monitor everything and we’ll keep the parents aware if there are any changes.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


]]> 0 Skowhegan police cruiser stands parked on Prescelly Drive in Skowhegan near the spot where a body was found Saturday in the woods.Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:09:00 +0000
Out-of-state enrollment in UMaine System soars Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The number of out-of-state students enrolled in the University of Maine System is at an all-time high this fall, even though overall enrollment in the state’s public university system dipped slightly.

There are now 5,727 out-of state-students enrolled in the system – an 11 percent increase over last year – out of a total headcount of 28,997 students.

The University of Southern Maine alone saw an increase of 18 percent in the number of out-of-state students this fall.

Out-of-state students pay higher tuition, so the rise is positive news for the system’s financial bottom line. At the flagship campus in Orono, which more than half the out-of-state students attend, annual tuition is $27,960 for out-of-state students, compared to $8,580 for in-state students.

Systemwide, the number of out-of-state students is up from 5,172 students in the fall of 2016. Among the larger campuses, USM saw an 18 percent increase in out-of-state students, while the University of Maine posted a 12 percent increase. The smaller campuses had a range of out-of-state enrollment, with the University of Maine at Presque Isle seeing an increase of 17 percent – or 23 students – while the Machias campus saw a 26 percent drop – or 29 fewer students.

In-state student enrollment is down 3.5 percent systemwide, a longtime problem for the system. It traditionally draws the vast majority of its student body from Maine, which has fewer and fewer high school graduates because of demographics.

In-state students make up 76 percent of the total student body. The only campuses with an increase in in-state students over last fall were USM, at 1.1 percent, and the University of Maine at Farmington, at 0.7 percent.

All the campuses have been pushing to increase their out-of-state enrollment to increase tuition revenue. One of the biggest efforts was the “flagship match” tuition program at Orono, which offers students from select states, including Connecticut and California, a tuition rate equal to what they would pay at their home state’s flagship public campus.

Citing a strong enrollment report, USM President Glenn Cummings noted an increase in both in-state and out-of-state students at the school, which met its fall revenue goals.

“It’s good news when students and their families have faith in us and our value,” Cummings said. “It means we’re attracting students and we’re keeping students who will thrive. And that’s really our job, to make them successful.”

Enrollment figures are closely watched because the system has been struggling financially for years, and remains focused on cutting costs and increasing revenue. For years, enrollment has been declining, state funding was flat and tuition was frozen. Hundreds of positions have been eliminated and whole academic departments cut, and there is an ongoing overhaul of academic and back-office departments to stabilize system finances. System officials project a budget surplus in 2022, the first since they began multi-year projections in 2009.

Although three campuses had enrollment declines this fall, none of the system campuses plan any layoffs due to a downturn in expected tuition revenue, in part because of system belt-tightening and back-office consolidations aimed at saving money, according to system spokesman Dan Demeritt.

“The efficiencies and budgeting reforms we have achieved under the One University Initiative have improved our ability to plan for and respond to the annual ebbs and flows of enrollment,” Demeritt said. “Savings achieved from vacant positions and expense reductions are the focus for offsetting enrollment-based revenue shortfalls at the campus level and there are no current plans to eliminate programs or positions tied to changes in credit hour production.”

Financially, the number of credit hours is one of the most closely watched figures since they are tied directly to tuition revenue.

Overall, credit hours were down 0.4 percent this fall, to 315,204 hours systemwide, compared to 316,465 last fall. Of all the campuses, USM saw the largest increase in credit hours – 3.1 percent – with UMPI up 2 percent and Orono up 1.3 percent.

A more detailed enrollment report will be reviewed by the system’s board of trustees at their November meeting.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, ME - OCTOBER 24: Isaac Yeboah of Portland, a communications major at University of Southern Maine, smiles as he walks across the skywalk following class on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Yeboah said he was in a particularly good mood after receiving a test score that was better than he anticipated. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff photographer)Mon, 30 Oct 2017 10:06:53 +0000