CRANBERRY ISLES — The Ashley Bryan School on Islesford and Longfellow School on Great Cranberry Island, where no classes have been held for 15 years, will be used on an alternating basis starting next fall.
The town’s School Committee made that decision in a 3-0 vote at a special meeting last Friday.
Yet to be decided is whether the switch from one school to another will occur every year or every two years.
Longfellow School closed at the end of the 1999-2000 school year because there were so few school-age children on Great Cranberry; there were only two. Since then, students who live on that island have been taking the mail boat to Islesford every day to attend the Ashley Bryan School. Currently, eight of the K-8 school’s 17 students live on Great Cranberry.
The town has spent about $573,000 over the last few years to renovate Longfellow School and bring it up to code in anticipation of it being used for classes again at some point. The work is expected to be completed next month.
School Committee Chairman Kelly Sanborn said a big reason for the decision to use both schools, but on an alternating basis, is to create a greater sense of community among residents of the two islands.
“The kids are kind of a bridge to the community,” she said. “They haven’t grown up knowing the animosity that was once there and is still there with some of the old timers.
“They’ve created a special bond, and our intent is they will grow up and bring these islands together, as they should be, rather than one island against the other.”
There had been some thought of having both schools open at the same time, with Islesford students going to Ashley Bryan and Great Cranberry students going to Longfellow. With that arrangement, each island would have an active school every year, and no students would have to take the mail boat to school.
Although there was some support for that concept, Sanborn said most people felt that, for educational and socialization purposes, it was important to keep all of the children together.
“They learn so much from each other,” she said. “We think we’re doing the best thing for the children, and we’re really excited about it.”
The renowned Islesford artist and children’s book author for whom the Ashley Bryan School is named said he strongly supports the decision to keep the students together, even if that means “his” school will be closed for a year or two at a time.
“The children gain so much from being together and learning together,” Bryan said. “They should always have all the children going to the same school.”
Both of the current teachers, Lauren Simmons and Audrey Noether, recommended that approach, as did former teachers Lindsay Eysnogle and Donna Isaacs.
“They said that with today’s demands on education and the changes that have come in the last few years, it would be almost impossible for one teacher to handle K through eight with eight to 10 kids on each island,” Sanborn said.
She said Principal Heather Webster and school system Superintendent Howard Colter also urged the School Committee to keep the students together. The current teachers have suggested that classes be held at each school on a two-year alternating basis. Sanford said the committee would be discussing the rotation schedule at future meetings.
Bryan acknowledged that having some students take the mail boat to school every day might not be ideal. But he noted that children who live on Great Cranberry have been doing it for the past 15 years.
“That does not affect what education means to them,” he said.