SACO — In light of recent staff reductions, some Thornton Academy students are asking for a dialogue with school faculty.

Thornton Academy is a private high school and middle school in Saco that serves publicly funded students, tuition-paying students from local communities and private-pay boarding students.

As Saco does not have a public high school, the city contracts with Thornton to educate Saco’s high school students.

On Friday, Thornton Academy announced that it had laid one part-time instructor and seven non-teaching positions. The cuts were a direct response to a decline in local public enrollment said Headmaster Rene Menard in a note to parents.

“These difficult budgetary decisions were made to ensure that Thornton Academy will continue to maintain the quality and breadth of opportunities for students,” said Menard in a written statement. “We value every member of the TA community and regret having to make these difficult, but necessary budget decisions.”

Thornton Academy Communications Director Katie Beane said in an email that in 2017, Thornton’s total public high school enrollment from the sending municipalities of Arundel, Dayton, and Saco was 1,231 students. She said the school this year saw a decline of 45 public high school students and anticipates the loss of 41 in fiscal year 2020.

“Based on census data from sending municipalities, this decrease in public enrollment is expected to continue for several years, and we are seeing staffing adjustments in response to this trend in schools statewide,” Beane said.

Beane said that the positions eliminated could not be released for privacy reasons.

“Every effort was made to minimize the educational impact on students and teachers. Of the 506 courses currently offered at TA, 504 will remain after the discontinuation of two STEM electives. No arts faculty were part of this reduction; all arts, athletics, and other programs offered at TA will remain intact,” said Beane.

According to Beane, the employees impacted by these staffing changes will be paid through their contract end date and will be offered additional severance. She said their final day of work was scheduled sooner than their contract end date in an effort to provide as much paid time as possible for them to identify their next opportunity.

Thornton student Hannah Niles, a senior, said many students were upset when they heard the news on Friday.

“We were all pretty much in shock. Emotions were running high,” she said.

Niles, following practices learned as a Model United Nations member at Thornton Academy, wrote a resolution calking for student-faculty discourse regarding the terminations.

She said that she is asking for a forum for where students and faculty can ask the school administration and the board questions face to face, and have a diplomatic and respectful discussion.

“This isn’t anti-TA or anti-community,” said Niles. “We love TA so much, we want to help the school and make it better for students.”

Niles said non-teaching staff can impact students just as much, and sometimes more, than teaching staff, and she would like the administration to reevaluate how its decisions affected students and community.

She will present the resolution to administration after she collects signatures this week. Thornton alumni are invited to sign the resolution as well online at change.org.

Senior Delaney Ziegman is organizing a “peaceful and respectful” demonstration at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday on Route 1 in front of Thornton Academy. The purpose of the protest, said Ziegman in an email, is to promote more open discourse among the board and administration and the rest of the TA community, a reevaluation of the importance of the eight employees that were laid off and to make it clear to the administration that the priorities of the community have been misread.

“The termination of eight staff members on May 10, 2019, seemed shortsighted, abrupt and out of touch with the wants of the student body. We want to send a respectful message to the Thornton Academy administration that their actions are not in line with our priorities,” said Ziegman.

The demonstration is organized by members of the senior class, with permission of the city of Saco, and is not supported or affiliated with any faculty or administration from Thornton, said Ziegman.

“It is completely student run, advised, and supported, and is a respectful response advocating for change and discourse at a school we love and are proud to attend,” she said.

Ziegman is asking interested community members to join the demonstration. Participants are encouraged to bring signs, but should not bring megaphones or other loud noisemakers.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected].

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