Back to school: Cumberland, North Yarmouth weigh arts center

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CUMBERLAND — A topic sure to generate discussion this fall in School Administrative District 51 will be whether to build a performing arts center.

The center, which could go to voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth in November, would be added to the rear of Greely High School, on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. school and its outdoor track.

A concept design with cost estimates will come out of a study spearheaded by a building committee that has been meeting since June. The study is due back to the School Board by early September in order for the project to be included on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

School starts Wednesday, Aug. 31 for grades 1-12, and Tuesday, Sept. 6 for kindergarten.

Due to increased enrollment at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School – about 150 kindergartners are enrolled this year, compared to an average of about 130 – a new teacher was added, and existing space at the facility has been reconfigured this summer.

“We hired a company to create more space in places that we could,” Porter said, noting that the cost, coming from the district’s capital reserve account, could end up being between $100,000 and $120,000. “Quite a few things have been moved around. … Just a better use of our internal space.”

Although kids who’ve enjoyed sleeping in throughout the summer will have to set their alarms once more, they will get an extra half hour of sleep. Greely High and Middle schools will start at 8 a.m., and the elementary grades at 8:45 a.m.

“We were looking at adolescent sleep research, and we really feel like all kids can benefit from a little more sleep in the morning before they come to school,” Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an interview Aug. 4.

On that note, SAD 51 will launch a committee next month geared toward student and staff wellness in areas such as fitness, homework, access to wellness facilities, and time management. The panel is expected to complete a wellness plan by next June.

Another study focus has been on bringing pre-kindergarten to the district, which could happen as early as the 2017-2018 school year. The committee looking into that initiative hopes to conclude its work by December, Porter said.

Proficiency is another goal, “and one of our big pushes this year around proficiency is grading and reporting,” the superintendent noted. “And looking at how students are graded, what kind of assessments we’re using, and how we’re reporting those grading practices out to parents.”

The class of 2021, now entering eighth grade, will be the first to graduate with a proficiency-based diploma, he said.

A STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program exists throughout the 13 grades; a comprehensive K-12 curriculum will be developed.

Having budgeted more funds for devices this year, the district will purchase Chromebook computers for students – a less expensive alternative that is equal in quality to laptops, Porter said – and a new BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program will begin at the high school.

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

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.