BAR HARBOR — The local schools do a great job of teaching kids, but they could be operating smarter and more efficiently, says Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.
To help find ways to do that, Gousse and the school system board are looking for community members to serve on committees now being set up to look at various aspects of the schools’ operations. Those areas include transportation, food services and educational technicians (ed techs). Also to be studied are the school year calendar and the best way to provide education for students in the middle school grades.
Gousse said that when school buses leave the high school each afternoon to take students to various parts of the island, none of them is even half full.
“That’s not efficient,” he said. “If, for example, a bus from Tremont is going through Southwest Harbor and Somesville, why can’t it also pick up and drop off students there?”
“If we were to work collaboratively and employ routing software, which we can get at no cost, we may find that we have resources that we can free up for other things, such as field trips. And maybe our bus [replacement] rotations won’t be as rapid because we will be putting fewer miles on them.”
Gousse said he is pleased that the schools are offering a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which the students and staffs grow themselves. But he thinks there might be some merit in a greater degree of combined menu planning.
“If all the schools are doing different menus at different times, we lessen our ability to do bulk purchasing,” he said.
“The way we’re structured, if a child who needs services moves somewhere else within the district, we have to re-advertise that position at the child’s new school,” Gousse said. “We can’t just transfer it from one school to another, and that’s cumbersome.”
He noted that some ed tech positions are full time and some are part time.
“Do we have positions [within the various schools] that we could combine?” he asked. “Are we operating most efficiently with ed techs?”
Local school administrators and board members have been talking for years about the pros and cons of creating a middle school for all MDIRSS students in, for example, grades six through eight.
“The question is, ‘What’s best for our kids?’” Gousse said. “If we concentrate programming for middle school students, I would offer that we could offer more programming and more choices for kids. But it has to be something that is perceived as positive by teachers, by parents and by students.
“Is what we have now working? Sure it is. But are we limiting opportunities for kids?”
Gousse said no one is talking about building a new school or closing any existing schools.
“If there is energy around studying this (middle school) idea, my thought would be to pilot it in one or two locations and see how it works,” he said. “I think we could do that with our existing buildings, without having to expend tax dollars to build a new facility.”
“It comes up every year, the debate about when we start and end school and when we schedule vacations,” Gousse said. “We and most other public schools have an agrarian calendar that was built on a model that’s well over 150 years old.”
Currently, the MDIRSS schools have week-long breaks in February and April.
“Do we need to have both?” Gousse asked. “What if we considered eliminating those and having a March break? Then school could get out a week earlier [in June].”
The study committees
Each of MDIRSS study committees will be made up of school board members, teachers, administrators, support staff and community members. Anyone interested in serving on a committee may contact Gousse at 288-5049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have a great school system,” he said. “I just believe there are ways we can improve on that. It’s an opportunity to look within, and we want people (in the community) to be engaged in that process.”