The Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School in Cumberland, part of School Administrative District 51, now has a third modular unit to contain a growing number of students, as well as a reconfigured playground. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — With 680 students projected this fall at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School – built two decades ago for a capacity of about 600 – School Administrative District 51 is exploring options to address the swollen enrollment.

A facilities task force geared around students in kindergarten through five is due in the coming months to complete its study about enrollment and deliver a recommendation to the SAD 51 Board of Directors in January 2020, Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an interview Aug. 21.

The nearly 20-member panel, composed of various community stakeholders, is “currently reviewing a dozen different options,” guided in part by a facilities study performed by Steve Blatt Architects, Porter said.

The district is also establishing initiatives to address race and equality issues, launching a pre-K program , and creating new space for art students at Greely High School.

The facilities task force is exploring grade configurations, as well as whether the school should be expanded or a new school should be built, and where, along with estimated costs. Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters could vote on the School Board’s recommended project in November 2020, the time of the next presidential election.

“We get the most people voting” at such times, “so we would get a clear picture of what people are interested in doing,” Porter said.

SAD 51 voters in 2011 approved closing the former Drowne Road School and transferring third grade students to the Wilson School. They voted in 2013 to close the former North Yarmouth Memorial School and relocate its fourth and fifth grade students to an expanded Greely Middle School. Declining enrollment was a major factor in both cases, although levels never fell to the point two major studies predicted 10 years ago, and the past four years have seen “a steady increase,” Porter said.

With two modular units, each containing two classrooms, already in use outside the Tuttle Road school, the district this summer added a third. The neighboring playground has meanwhile been retrofitted with new play structures and expanded to accommodate the increased enrollment.

“It’s going to be a little bit different when kids come back,” Porter said.

The leadership at Mabel I. Wilson will change, too. Sally Loughlin, the district’s director of academic services, will serve as interim principal of the school for the next year. She replaces Susie Robbins, who will in turn temporarily take on Loughlin’s role.

Robbins – who was assistant principal at Wilson from 1998-2004 and principal from 2004-2010, before assuming the head role once again in January 2016 – stepped down to follow other academic pursuits, Loughlin said, and was approached by the district to help out for another year.

Robbins “delayed her departure to help us out,” Porter said.

This year marks the launch of SAD 51’s pre-kindergarten program, which the School Board approved in 2017. Thirty-two 4-year-olds are enrolled in the first year of the initiative, through which the district is partnering with the state’s Child Development Services system.

Pre-K begins Monday, Sept. 9. Meanwhile, grades 1 through 12 start Wednesday, Aug. 28, followed by kindergarten Tuesday, Sept. 3.

Previously-cramped art rooms at Greely High School have been replaced by two “beautiful” new rooms. Those spaces have been created from the old band and chorus rooms, which had in turn been relocated to the new Greely Center for the Arts. The cafeteria has also been renovated.

In response to reports earlier this year of racist behavior by students, SAD 51 has launched an equity initiative in concert with Community Change Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts. A day-long workshop is to be held Sept. 24 for interested students, parents and staff, after which a leadership group is to develop an equity plan for the district, Porter said.

Space at the workshop – the location of which has yet to be determined – is limited to about 40 people; those who would like to attend can sign up by calling the district office at 829-4800.

Porter said in a March 26 letter to parents that he was aware of “a handful of incidents … dealing with hate speech and specifically racial discrimination” in grades 6-12.

While administrators “swiftly and thoroughly responded” to those incidents, Porter said he felt a “broader response” was needed.

SAD 51 is also reviewing its early release schedule, which, district-wide, includes 27 days. Concerns from parents about that number being too high prompted the study, which a panel began last fall and is due to complete this November. Parents, students and staff are to be surveyed on the matter.

A regular day runs from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., while a K-5 early release Wednesday has traditionally ended at 12:30 p.m., allowing for professional development time for teachers. Grades 6-12 get out an hour early.

“There could be a new way of looking at our early release schedule as early as the next school year,” a year from now, Porter said.


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