Viewpoint: Vote Yes in straw poll to allow continued dialogue about district-wide middle school

By The MDIRSS Long Range Planning Middle Level Subcommittee


In the months ahead, voters in Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert, Tremont, and Trenton will consider the following straw poll question:

Are you in favor of the School Board continuing planning efforts for a combined, district-wide middle school?

Voting “yes” will tell the school board to continue planning efforts, including, but not limited to, developing conceptual drawings, cost estimates, potential locations, and a future referendum question.

The AOS board has been in a long-range planning process on several important issues for our schools. One of the most crucial is whether to create a combined, district-wide middle school. A “yes” vote in response to the straw poll is only an agreement to continue the conversation of what is best for our district’s middle-schoolers and how our future educational structure can best meet those needs.

The work of this sub-committee is the culmination of years of debate, research, and community input, starting in 1993 and continuing to the present. In 2018, after months of district-wide long-range planning that included community-based forums and board workshops, the AOS board assembled a sub-committee to once again explore the middle school issue. The sub-committee had one job, to answer the question: “if we were to create a combined, district-wide middle school, what would it look like?”

To that end, an open process ensued that invited participants from the district communities to explore that question. This volunteer committee included teachers, school board representatives, parents, administrators, and community members. The sub-committee agreed to a few shared principles: they had to keep students at the center of the recommendations, and whatever was created had to be better than any middle level experience existing in our district today.

Our meetings were always open to all, and we had thoughtful, sometimes spirited, but always respectful discussions. We brought new information from our communities to the table each week for participants to digest and consider, and to test the relevance and fortitude of our recommendations.

Some participants came and went, but a core group of 16 diverse members participated in almost every meeting to bring forth our recommendations, presented to the AOS board in March of 2019.

The sub-committee presented a vision of what an ideal, combined middle school could be. There is strong evidence that a middle school model would best support the educational needs of our students. Therefore, the committee recommends a middle school for seventh and eighth graders. This school would have a team-teaching structure, engaging curriculum centered on solving real world problems, an alternative program, and a strong advisory component. It would also allow for unified programming for students with unique needs. We believe this would robustly prepare students to enter high school. Because of the larger pool of students, there would be more extracurricular opportunities, allowing every child to find their niche. Moreover, middle school students need healthy, diverse peer groups as well as social emotional learning that is specifically geared to their developmental level. Currently, students have wildly different experiences depending on where they go to school. We maintain a combined middle school would ensure educational equity for all students.

We love our schools. They are the thriving epicenter and backbone of each town in our district. It is paramount that this remains so. Additionally, we need to meet the current and impending needs of each of these schools so they may continue to flourish into the future. With the addition of Pre-K and the need to address space constraints within each of our district schools, a “yes” vote guarantees that we do everything within our power to plan for the successful future of all our schools.

The sub-committee will be presenting our recommendations of a combined middle school in March ahead of the straw poll. We are proud of the work this committee has undertaken and are excited to share our vision. We are also proud of all our seventh and eighth grade students and hope this vision only serves them better. We encourage the public to attend.

In conclusion, voting “yes” does not mean approval to build a middle school, simply to continue the conversation. Schools are considering various building projects and proposals; this straw poll would allow the AOS board to continue planning with the big picture in mind. We feel that this work is worthy of further consideration. Community ideas are often strengthened by vigorous dialogue about their merits and execution. We look forward to these discussions.

Please vote “yes” so we may have them.

Erin Allen, Gary Burr, Gloria Delsandro, Rhonda Fortin, Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar, Cindy Lambert,Tara McKernan, Ben Macko, Julie Meltzer, Jaylene Roths, Kate St. Denis, Peter St. Germain, Maria Simpson, Robin Sue Tapley, Robin Torbek and Marie Yarborough are members of the MDIRSS Long Range Planning Middle Level Subcommittee.


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