Schools open around MDI



BAR HARBOR — Ready or not, school starts next week for the 1,500 students and hundreds of educators in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.

MDI High School freshmen will be in school for half a day on Monday, Aug. 31.

Tuesday, Sept. 1, will be the first day of classes for all other high school students and the system’s eight elementary schools.

It will be a few weeks before the number of students enrolled in each school is firmed up. Superintendent Howard Colter said last week that he doesn’t anticipate any significant changes from last year. But he said preliminary indications are that enrollment might be up slightly at Mount Desert Elementary and down slightly at Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor.

Colter said school administrators and board members will have a number of important issues to deal with this year. One has to do with standardized testing and how test results are used. Colter said he and his staff are finalizing a proposal to present to the school system board that would “absolutely minimize student test scores as a factor in a teacher’s evaluation.”

He said assessing teacher effectiveness is much more complicated than that.

“Obviously, student progress and achievement is terribly important, and our teachers have a lot to do with that. But we are not going to fall into the trap of letting it drive teachers’ evaluation and job security and add stress that’s not productive to what is already a quite stressful job.”

Colter said he expects principals to have more regular, informal interaction with students and teachers this year than they might have in the past.

“They are going to be having a lot more face time with their administration,” he said. “Everybody is committed to getting out of their offices more, into classrooms more, putting aside other priorities and just saying, ‘Nothing means more than our students and teachers seeing us in the halls and classrooms and cafeterias.’”

For the first time in 14 years, Pemetic Elementary is starting a school year without Dianne Helprin as principal. She resigned in May to become superintendent of a school district in the mid-coast area. Veteran school administrator Cathy Lewis will serve as interim principal for one year, giving the school committee time to find someone to fill the post on a permanent basis.

At the same time, the Mount Desert school committee will be looking for a successor to longtime principal Scott McFarland, who intends to step down at the end of the school year.

This will be Colter’s final year as superintendent, as well; he plans to retire when his current contract expires next summer. But he told the Islander last week that no one should expect him to coast through the year.

“I’m going to be the superintendent here until the day I turn in my keys,” he said. “I’m not going to be a lame duck. I still have a passion for it. I totally enjoy it.”

This is Colter’s second stint as superintendent here. He held the job from 1992 to 2004, when he resigned and was succeeded by Rob Liebow. When Liebow left in 2012 to head a school district in Massachusetts, Colter agreed to return.

“It has been a treat coming back and being able to work with people I have learned to know and really respect professionally,” he said. “I feel blessed. I love this district.”

Along with Mount Desert Island High School, district schools include Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor, Pemetic, Mount Desert Elementary, Tremont Consolidated, Trenton Elementary, the Longfellow School on Great Cranberry, and schools on Swans Island and Frenchboro.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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