BAR HARBOR — A full-time teacher is needed to provide the appropriate amount of instruction and support for students in the adult education program at Mount Desert Island High School, according to program Director Anne Patterson.
While many know the adult ed program for its enrichment classes, such as photography, line dancing and beekeeping, its primary mission is to help adult learners prepare for the Maine high school equivalency test (HiSET), which replaced the GED. To pass the test and receive a diploma, students must show proficiency in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
Last spring, 10 adult learners earned their high school equivalency diploma through MDI Adult & Community Education. That was the same number as in the previous two years combined. Patterson said last week that a dozen students are currently enrolled in the HiSET program.
“You can’t really run a class with that many students because everybody is working at a different pace, and they can’t all come at the same time,” she said.
Patterson, who is both teacher and administrator, said she is able to meet with each student for only about 90 minutes a week.
“Best practice for adult ed students is to meet with a teacher or be in a class for three to six hours per week to get the intensity of instruction needed to make good progress,” she said. “Students can lose motivation pretty quickly if they’re not progressing fast enough.”
Patterson said a full-time teacher also would enable the expansion of other adult ed programs, such as college transition and English as a second language.
The HiSET program is free for Maine residents. The cost of administering it and helping students prepare for the test is covered by a combination of state and local funds.
Fees are charged for the adult ed “workforce skills and certification” courses and the enrichment classes, which are taught by professionals and others in the community.
Even though Patterson doesn’t have to teach those classes, she is responsible for developing them, finding instructors and registering participants.
“That gobbles up a huge amount of my time,” she said. “If I have to teach [HiSET students] on top of that, it really compromises the program.”
MDI High School Principal Matt Haney has included $70,826 in the “wish list” addendum to his proposed budget for next year to cover the adult ed teacher’s salary and benefits.
The school board is to vote on the budget at its Feb. 13 meeting.
Donations fell short
The need for the new position came to the board’s attention after the budget for the current school year already had been approved last spring. So, last July, Haney, Patterson and Ingrid Kachmar, chairman of the high school board, sent a letter to various foundations, organizations, businesses and individuals seeking donations to fund the adult ed teaching position.
“We will only need funding for one year, as we will be recommending that this position become part of the adult education budget for the following year,” the letter stated.
Patterson said the solicitation generated only $1,150 in donations.
“I am using that money for a tutor to work with some of the students …,” she said. “This is very helpful, but it is a Band-Aid, since the tutor isn’t getting the training and professional development that a teacher will get.”
Patterson said that, in addition to the 12 students currently in the HiSET program, another dozen or so who initially enrolled have been inactive for three months or more.
“A full-time teacher would be able to follow up with these students and see if we could pull them back into the fold,” she said.
When Haney presented his preliminary budget to the high school board Jan. 9, some board members expressed concern about any significant increase in spending. They asked if an adult ed teacher might be hired on a half-time basis, at least for the first year. Haney said he would consider that possibility.
But Patterson told the Islander that a half-time position “wouldn’t attract the highly qualified teacher I ultimately need.” And she noted that the adult ed program that serves the Bucksport area has not been successful in filling a part-time teaching position.