MOUNT DESERT — The Board of Selectmen took no action Monday night but expressed support for the school committee’s request that voters at the May 2020 annual town meeting be asked if they want school officials to proceed with planning for a district-wide middle school.
It would be a non-binding straw poll.
The Bar Harbor Town Council and Southwest Harbor Select Board have already agreed to place the question on the warrant for their next Town Meetings, and the other towns in the school district will be asked to do the same.
A committee of school board members, teachers, administrators and community members last spring issued a report on what a consolidated middle school might look like and what the advantages would be. But school officials want to get a sense of whether residents of the four Mount Desert Island towns and Trenton are in favor of the concept before investing time and resources in curriculum, staff and facilities planning.
A combined middle school, as currently envisioned, would be for students in grades seven and eight.
A “yes” vote on the straw poll question at the town meetings next spring would not authorize the creation of middle school.
Rather, it would give school officials encouragement to develop a full-blown, detailed proposal that voters would be asked consider at some later date.
Mount Desert Elementary School Principal Gloria Delsandro told the selectmen that creating a combined middle school would be “doing what’s best for our students.”
“When you’re an adolescent, you start thinking about who you are and what you want to become,” she said. “And the thought of having academic peer groups, social peer groups for these students is pretty exciting.
“I love our school,” she continued. “Our school is wonderful and we do great programming. But we’re serving kids who are five and kids who are 14, and it’s a challenge.”
Todd Graham, chairman of the Mount Desert School Committee, said that in thinking about creating one middle school for the entire district, “The focus is on the students and finding a way to get them to the top level that they can get to in a group setting that makes sense.”
Selectman Martha Dudman asked Graham if he saw any downside.
“I don’t,” he said. “There will be some time and costs involved. But for the students, this is what they need … so they can learn even more effectively than they already do.”
Delsandro noted that Mount Desert Elementary is planning to add a pre-kindergarten class, so if a middle school were created, her school would see a net loss of only one grade.
“That would give us more room to breathe programmatically and staffing-wise,” she said. “We’re using all the space we have right now.”