Members of a committee studying what form a future combined Mount Desert Island middle school should take — were such a school to be created — presented the results of their work last week. Members of the group are hopeful and excited about ways to improve opportunity and equity for students in seventh and eighth grades from MDI and Trenton.
The discussion of a consolidated middle school has been moving in fits and starts since at least 1993. The current committee is only the most recent of several similar panels formed and disbanded over the years. In addition to new energy, the current committee’s work surfaced old tensions that will need to be addressed head-on if the project is to move forward.
In 2012, Southwest Harbor and Tremont took a straw poll vote on whether to partially or completely consolidate those towns’ elementary schools. Voters in Southwest were in favor of closing the Tremont Consolidated School and sending all the students to Pemetic Elementary. In Tremont, 51 percent of voters were in favor of keeping the schools as they are, 28 percent favored a cooperative structure with the younger students from both towns at the Tremont school and the older students at Pemetic and 21 percent favored closing the Tremont school.
In 2014, at the request of Howard Coulter, who had returned for his second stint as superintendent, the school committees in each of the towns in the school system were asked to decide whether the single middle school concept should be pursued. The project did not get the go-ahead from the local school committees and it died again.
Last week, when the current committee made its report to the school system board, some Tremont teachers expressed frustration with both the proposal and the process.
Because the committee was tasked with recommending a structure for a combined middle school, not recommending whether or not to combine, the latter debate appears to have been cut off at the knees. One teacher called the committee process, which did not include anyone from Tremont, an “attempt to manufacture consent for a conclusion that was already drawn.”
The superintendent and board did not have an intent to exclude. All the committee members volunteered for the project because they were interested. But if any change to school structure is going to get off the ground, officials are going to have to make room in the deliberations for these stakeholders’ valid concerns.