Wiscasset’s three school principals all seem to share a sense of newness and excitement for the coming school year.
Principals Susan Poppish, Linda Bleile and Cheryl Howe attribute much of this excitement to new associations and working relationships they and other Wiscasset staff members have been experiencing through the formation of Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit No. 12.
All three professionals say the exchange of ideas and networking made possible under the RSU system has been positive and expands the possibilities in educational opportunities for students in the RSU.
Together, they paint a very positive picture of the consolidation that has taken place in RSU 12, which they hope ordinary citizens become aware of before the upcoming vote on RSU budget in September and the whole school consolidation issue in November.
Although policy changes may occur this year, for the most part, the three schools’ operation and education programs will continue as planned with a few exceptions.
“I’m incredibly excited that we’re going to implement every day math,” Howe said this week. “Some students will benefit greatly from this program. It’s cyclical.”
The Maine Math and Science Alliance promotes the program as a creative way to present math, which Howe describes as both teacher and student friendly.
“I have used it before in another district,” she said. “It’s well thought out and makes sure students are skilled at those things they’re expected to be skilled at.”
Students will receive booklets for the new math program, which the school will implement this year for grades 1-4. Kindergarten will have its own program for every day math.
“It’s a very positive thing to start things off with,” she said.
Howe also mentioned the Barbara Bush literacy program grant, which continues for another year.
When the school opens Monday, two new teachers, Lucy Preston and Karen Erdman will assume positions as fourth grade teachers replacing Darlene Bell, who retired in the spring after teaching 33 years; 32 of them at the primary school and Caroline Harris, who resigned last school year to teach at Great Salt Bay School.
The school will share a half-time social worker, Amy Sellers, with Wiscasset Middle School. Michael Barrett will be a new half-time counselor for the school.
Other staff changes at the school include a new teacher Terrence Garner to teach math half-time and two new special education ed techs, Heather Webber and Michele Johnson.
New secretary Leslie Burgess is replacing Sue James, who will be working full time at the bus garage.
Enrollment figures as of Monday total 230 students in kindergarten through grade four plus 40 Head Start children with possibly a few more students registering during the week, according to Howe.
“That changes daily,” she said. “It’s a moving target.”
“It’s given me a chance to do networking I never would have had,” Bleile said.
Last year Bleile served as president-elect of the association to prepare her for this year.
When interviewed Monday, Bleile said she appreciates the association with Regional School Unit 12, citing especially the focus Supt. Greg Potter has on the student’s well being.
One of the changes WMS will institute this school year concerns the teaching of math. For the first time, the school will have two teachers for math for grades 5-8 instead of having each grade’s teacher taking care of math learning.
Sue Townsend will teach math to grades five and six, and Chris Hammond will teach math to grades seven and eight.
“We’re doing connected math,” Bleile said.
According to Bleile, the new program has similar language to the every day math at the primary school, but the school cannot go directly to every day math until the incoming fifth graders have been prepared for a totally new way of doing things in math.
“We’re thinking this is going to strengthen our math program,” she said.
Flexibility built into the program allows for differentiating students who can accelerate their learning and at the same time giving added attention to those who need more one-on-one, according to Bleile.
Another change the school plans to implement this year concerns early intervention for student learning/behavioral problems and taking more steps to help students before deciding on placement in the special education program, she said.
The program called Response To Intervention (RTI) will have to be in place in school systems by 2010 under state and federal regulations. The regulations outline efforts the school has been making already but did not have a name for, Bleile said.
If a student has a problem with reading and even stops reading, an RTI team in place this school year, made up of WMS staff members, will immediately assess the problem and attempt to find a solution to help the child.
“It’s what’s going to be happening across the country,” she said.
The program nationally has begun as a sidebar to the No Child Left Behind federal legislation.
“No one person becomes responsible,” she said. “A child could possibly stay in the classroom and not have to be placed in the special education program.”
This year, Bleile said the school will give no more MEA’s (Maine Educational Assessment exams) in the spring as in the past. Instead students will be tested with a New England standardized test (NECP) in October. “The MEA’s are going away except in science,” she said.
Last month the school received good news it has made the No Child Left Behind rating of Average Yearly Progress in math and reading for the third year in a row in all three grade levels.
As of Monday, the enrollment for the middle school totaled 196, which is up from the closing enrollment of 188 in the spring, Bleile reported.
“At least we’re not declining,” she said.
“It’s been a great summer getting ready,” she said. “It seems like a good start to the year and a good climate around the RSU.”
Like the other principals, Poppish sees the RSU as a plus to education for the high school, which will have a few students from RSU towns this year. “It’s been very pleasant so far,” she said.
Poppish said she appreciates Supt. Potter’s approach to education “keeping the kids at the forefront.”
As of Aug. 24, WHS enrollment estimate totals 210. “We were really hoping we would get more kids from the RSU,” Poppish said.
Despite the lower enrollment figure, down from an already low figure of around 240 last year, Poppish said plans for the school year call for a full program offering the same opportunities as 2008-’09. There will be no staff changes and continuing special emphases, such as the early college program and a Melmac grant program focusing on post-secondary education that provides $14,000 each year for the next four years.
“We’re excited about that,” she said.
This year all four classes will receive brand new laptops through a program the state has sponsored. “That’s another pretty important piece,” she said.
Because the RSU budget awaits a third vote next month, everything concerning improvements to the school facility is on hold. Poppish said she was hoping new bleachers and other things would be in place for students when they arrive next week.
Poppish said the association with the RSU makes for a good working relationship with the administrative team for the whole RSU. The team held an opening meeting with about 380 RSU staff members at Wiscasset High School.
“That’s been really positive,” she said. “Things are already working for cost-saving measures. The efficiency of a scale, that hasn’t been realized yet. We have an admin team does not want to spend taxpayers’ money crazily.”