Middle school not a done deal

BAR HARBOR — A lot of people seem to think the decision has already been made to create a combined middle school for all seventh-and-eighth-grade students of Mount Desert Island and Trenton.

It hasn’t.

But the MDI Regional School System board is seriously considering that option, which has been recommended by a 16-member committee of teachers, parents, administrators, school board members and others in the community.

Board members discussed that and other issues at a long-range planning workshop June 29 at the MDI Biological Laboratory. They agreed to ask a group composed of at least one member from each of the elementary school committees, plus Superintendent Marc Gousse and Julie Meltzer, director of curriculum, assessment and instruction, to develop a specific proposal for a middle school.

School board members at the workshop also agreed that the board should reach a consensus on how a combined middle school would be structured, as well as other details, before formally presenting the concept to residents of the four MDI towns and Trenton for their feedback.

Some board members said that many people in their communities are open to the idea, but they are concerned about the cost and where the middle school would be located.

The committee that recommended the creation of such a school felt strongly that it should be a new, separate building on the campus of MDI High School.

That committee presented its recommendations to the school system board May 13. Its vision is for “a combined middle school that directly targets the ever-evolving academic, social and emotional needs of its young adolescents.”

Committee member Maria Simpson, who teaches at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, told the board in May, “We believe that a middle school with a unified vision of education could deliver even more challenging, relevant, engaging and hands-on learning. We feel a combined middle school would draw families and students to the area. It could also serve as a model of middle school innovation.”

Middle school committee co-chair Marie Yarborough told the board that, throughout its deliberations, the group kept two guiding principles in mind: “One, keep the students at the center of the conversation and the recommendations; they are our constituents. And two, whatever we recommend has to be a better version of any middle level experience that exists in our district today.”

Following the committee’s presentation to the school board, all of the school principals, along with Gousse and Meltzer, met to discuss the committee’s proposals. A summary of their “response and recommendations” includes this: “Administrators felt strongly that a single middle school could support student government and greater student engagement (e.g. green team, civil rights team) and provide equitable programming opportunities prior to high school.”

Other advantages of a combined middle school identified by the administrators included “greater opportunity to put kids together who have the same specific needs and better serve them,” and “exposure to a greater variety of teaching styles.”

The summary of the administrators’ response to the middle school committee’s recommendations also stated: “Administrators liked that the proposed middle school would address inequity in preparedness for high school” and “would support better transition to high school.”

The group of principals, along with Gousse and Meltzer, also agreed that “a new, neutrally located building was the preference by far and that none of the existing [school] buildings can be used [for a middle school].”

The administrators emphasized in their response to the recommendation for a combined middle school that they don’t want the issue to be divisive. They said there will need to be “a campaign to gain community buy-in and that cost will be a concern to many.”

One “grave concern” they expressed was that getting voters in the four MDI towns and Trenton to support a bond issue to build a middle school “might be complicated.”

They also acknowledged that some teachers have concerns, such as how the creation of a middle school would affect jobs and at-risk students.

“We think there are also concerns that students and parents will have related to athletics and extracurricular activities, and it will be important to get ahead of these with answers,” the administrators said in their report.

Also to be considered, they said, is how students on the offshore islands might be offered “similar experiences/opportunities.”

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]

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