CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative 51 Board of Directors held a workshop on Monday on an initiative that integrates environmental stewardship with education and entrepreneurship.

Superintendent of Schools Robert Hasson said that while no Maine Farm Enterprise Schools currently exist in Maine, its administrators are looking into implementing the concept at various schools throughout the state.

“The idea is that these would be located in places that have farms or associated agricultural businesses,” Hasson said. “It’s really at the very, very beginning. We haven’t made any commitments, and it’s exploration time.”

John D’Anieri, executive director of Maine Farm Enterprise Schools, said the program would include grades six through 12 and include subject areas of traditional schools.

“What we’re trying to do is create a Maine-based replicable school reform model,” he said, through which “any community can create public small schools that are linked to sustainable economic development.”

The program focuses on three economic development clusters: farming and food security, green energy and green building, and a creative economy.

“A big part of what we’re trying to do is recapture those kids who are, for whatever reason, not engaged by the traditional (school) system,” D’Anieri said. “So we want to do this very much in partnership with public schools – I’m a public school educator – but we’re able to say those schools work really well for some kids and not so well for others.”

Students going through the Maine Farm Enterprise Schools system would ultimately receive a high school diploma.

“We believe that all of the avenues that are open to any high school graduate in the state of Maine will be open to our graduates,” D’Anieri said. “In terms of the kinds of academic learning and skills that our kids will get, the only thing that’s going to be different is that we honestly expect to be able to get much further with our kids, and do it for less money.”

He added that “by rethinking the way we structure schools, we can actually be much more effective with the money we are spending.”

The students would learn skills such as problem solving, public relations and Web design, attributes important to running a small business in Maine, he noted.

“Our kids are going to be the ones who envision and build the new sustainable economy,” D’Anieri said.

Whether they decide to go onto college right after high school, he said, “… We want to make sure that kids come out of high school feeling absolutely well-prepared to join the work force and to do good satisfying work.”

D’Anieri said he hopes that districts will share the schools; that a 100-student facility like the farm schools would be could have pupils from not only SAD 51’s towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, but also from surrounding communities.

The schools would operate under functional autonomy, he said. They would be accountable to their host school districts, and have to produce annual reports.

“We wouldn’t be able to do things that a traditional school wouldn’t do,” D’Anieri said. “… We’re answerable to the school (districts), but we’re not administered by (them).”

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Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

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