Back to school: Cumberland-North Yarmouth to break ground for arts center

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CUMBERLAND — School Administrative District 51 goes back to school with plans to begin construction of a performing arts center, scheduled to open in November 2018.

A ceremonial groundbreaking will be held in late September, SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an interview Aug. 4. Construction bids on the project are due Aug. 29.

Grades one through 12 start the school year Wednesday, Aug. 30, with kindergarten beginning Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents last November voted by a 2 percent margin, 4,149 to 3,953, to borrow as much as $9.5 million to build the PAC.

The 26,000-square-foot center, designed by Stephen Blatt Architects to seat 500, will be built at the rear of Greely High School, on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. building and the outdoor track. Detailed information on the project is posted at

Proficiency-based learning is also high on the school district’s agenda this year, since the incoming ninth grade will be the first group to graduate with a proficiency-based diploma.

“The law was designed so it gave you a couple different options for due dates, when you had to be ready,” Porter said. “So we applied for this year, to be the first ninth grade class going in. … It gave us more time to settle things that we needed to.”

As part of its three-year strategic plan, established in 2015, the district reviewed how its proficiency grading approach lines up with graduation requirements. Proficiency grading involves learning targets that students are expected to reach, “but there may be different ways for them to get to the target,” Porter said at the time.

In line with the proficiency-based approach is this year’s introduction of a learning specialist for the Pathways program, a $55,000 item originally kept out of the fiscal year 2018 budget, but included after receiving strong School Board support.

The program stems from SAD 51’s Alternative Education program, started in 2015. Alternative Education teacher Mark Bay will spearhead Pathways, “which is similar to Alternative Education, but it’s a broader audience, and it’s open to a lot of kids,” Porter said.

Pathways will be piloted on a limited basis this year as Bay develops the program. It will be available to struggling and excelling students alike, exposing them to experiences outside the district that will help them progress toward career goals while earning school credits.

“It’s an approach that opens up multiple pathways for learning,” Porter said. “We’re recognizing that not all kids learn by sitting in a classroom. There are other ways to learn.”

The superintendent added that he envisions every Greely graduate will spend at least a week in the community involved with something they might be interested in doing as a career.

SAD 51’s Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, program will be expanded from its middle school offering to comprise grades four through 12.

“Businesses are telling us, invest in STEM,” Porter said.

Although pre-kindergarten – which the SAD 51 Board of Directors approved earlier this year – is to begin in the 2018-2019 school year, the district will spend the months ahead planning the new initiative. SAD 51 still must apply to the state, which must approve the plan.

Meanwhile, new air conditioning and heating systems are being installed at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School. The upgrade, being conducted with the Siemens company, is meant to address temperature issues in the approximately 20-year-old building. About $2 million will be spent on the endeavor over several years, Porter said.

“It’s a guaranteed payback on the project,” he noted in reference to anticipated energy efficiencies. “… We’ll see payback from our energy costs from year to year.”

With the 2015-18 strategic plan coming to the end of its cycle, much of the school year ahead will be spent developing a new plan. A survey will go out to stakeholders, and a community dialogue event will be held Thursday, Nov. 9.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A groundbreaking ceremony for a School Administrative District 51 performing arts center is to be held in Cumberland in late September.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.