Interim Head of School Mel Christensen Fletcher updates Monday’s to-do list as volunteers help unpack supplies from the closed Brunswick campus. John Terhune / The Times Record

“Extra bookcases to furniture corner.”

“Kayak gear in shed.”

“4 picnic tables to garden.”

Only three weeks into her job as Harpswell Coastal Academy principal, Amy Marx has already started earning sweat equity. On Monday morning, the Camden native helped a small group of student, parent and staff volunteers tackle another to-do list in a summer full of them, as the charter school races to prepare its newly consolidated campus for students.

“I’m stepping in at a time when, yes, it’s tumultuous,” Marx said. “But there’s a positive energy moving forward. Things are on track.”

Amy Marx stands outside Harpswell Coastal Academy Monday, Aug. 8, three weeks after taking over as principal. John Terhune / The Times Record

Marx, who has led schools for 25 years, including the past two in Thailand, wasn’t deterred by Harpswell Coastal Academy’s brush with closure this spring or the logistical challenge of consolidation this summer.


Instead, she was attracted to its model of experiential learning, to which Marx has devoted her entire career.

She called the model, which encourages students to learn through hands-on projects and experiences, “the way all schools should be.”

(Students) can see that there’s a purpose for what they’re doing in the classroom,” Marx said. “They can see that people care about it besides their teachers, and that they can make a difference in the world. They can do things even as young people that radically make their communities better.”

According to HCA teacher Amy Gertner, Marx stood out during the hiring process for both her decades of experience leading similar schools and her optimism.

New HCA Principal Amy Marx (far right) helps parent volunteers prepare an outdoor area for the school’s high school students Monday, Aug. 8. John Terhune / The Times Record

“She was Zooming from Thailand, so the time change was wacky,” Gertner recalled. “But she was still really present — smiling, asking the right questions. I think she exuded confidence, and she made the team feel like we could move forward.”

“It seemed like she really had the understanding of what we do,” said Interim Head of School Mel Christensen Fletcher, who also recently stepped into her leadership role. “Since she started, it’s just been so evident that she’s been able to step in seamlessly. You could tell it was familiar to her.”


Marx and Christensen Fletcher both hope to help faculty integrate even more projects and hands-on experiences into the school’s curriculum, which does a better job of engaging some students than the traditional public school system, according to parents and teachers.

Yet first, HCA must accomplish two more immediate tasks: unpacking supplies from the closed Brunswick campus and renewing its expiring charter with the Maine State Charter Schools Commission.

During weekly volunteer days, parents, students, board members and staff have slowly chipped away at the towers of furniture and cardboard boxes that have filled the gym since the end of the school year, Christensen Fletcher said.

“We’ve had a ton of volunteer help our summer, which has been huge,” she said. “Our community has just been awesome at moving along a lot of these projects.”

Over the next two weeks, a contractor and volunteers will construct three yurts that will serve as classrooms.

Meanwhile, the school has been finalizing its charter renewal application, which is due Sept. 2. The commission, which is scheduled to visit HCA’s campus on Tuesday, will determine at its Oct. 11 meeting whether the institution can remain open past this academic year.

Although there’s more work to be done this summer, including hosting an Aug. 16 open house aimed at boosting enrollment from 160 to 180, Marx is optimistic that her first year at HCA will start smoothly.

“We’ll be done well before opening,” she said of the yurts’ construction. “We’re a little delayed but not too delayed.”

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