CUMBERLAND — The new school year, which begins in two weeks, marks a time of transition in School Administrative District 51.
A new superintendent heads the Cumberland-North Yarmouth district for the first time in two decades, and a school that operated in North Yarmouth for 36 years is now closed; its students and staff will be in an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland.
Jeff Porter started work as school chief July 1. After seven years as assistant superintendent in the Biddeford School Department, he replaced Robert Hasson, who left after 20 years last November to become deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association. Sally Loughlin, the district director of curriculum, assessment, instruction and professional development since 2010, served as interim superintendent before Porter was hired.
“I think there’s always a learning curve when you go to a different position, especially when you’re in a different position in a different district,” Porter said July 25. “But one thing I’ve learned very quickly in four weeks is that there’s a very strong team here … so it’s been a good start for me. It’s been very smooth.”
In light of rising costs and dwindling enrollments, the SAD 51 Board of Directors voted in December 2012 to close North Yarmouth Memorial School, and move its fourth- and fifth-graders to an expanded Greely Middle School. Voters in the two towns endorsed that decision last year, and the School Board turned the building over to the town.
North Yarmouth residents must now decide what to do with the property. Options already discussed include selling it for redevelopment, or having it serve as a new town office, with its gym replacing Wescustogo Hall, which was destroyed by fire in August 2013. The property’s septic system has also been proposed as the backbone for higher-density development in the town’s village district.
The move from North Yarmouth Memorial School to the new sections of Greely Middle School was recently concluded, Porter said. An access road was widened to facilitate bus travel, new playground equipment for the fourth- and fifth-graders is being installed, and new parking spaces have been added.
Trees removed to make room for expanded parking have been replanted, Porter said.
The new sections, designed just for the new elementary grades, should be a good match for those students, the superintendent said. While some parents have expressed concerns about the younger students mixing with the existing sixth, seventh and eighth grades, Porter expressed confidence in the steps that will be taken to keep the two age groups separate.
“I think, once you physically go into the building, see where the fourth and fifth is, (people should find that) they really do have their own space,” he said. “They have their own principal, which is great. And they have their own guidance counselor.”
The two sets of students also have different drop-off and departure times, and lunch times, and they ride different buses.
“I’m not going to say that there’s no interaction, but there’s very little interaction that’s going to be in place,” Porter said. “If I were a parent here, sending my kid to this school, I would be pretty comfortable.”
He praised the work of a transition committee. “They were extremely thorough,” Porter said. “I think they planned it very well.”
Another SAD 51 committee will soon begin its search for a community development and resource manager. The job, which could be filled by October, is still being defined, but its responsibilities may include helping the district attain financial and in-kind support for key projects, volunteer management, and building an alumni base.
The district also plans to renew its focus on strategic planning. Background work has been done, but the plan itself – a mapping of district priorities – has yet to be written, Porter said.
“This district is … high-performing to begin with, but how can we take this high-performing district and … take it to the next level?,” he said. “That’s what strategic planning does.”
The results of a district energy audit, geared toward finding ways SAD 51 can improve its efficiency, are also being considered by the School Board.
Classes for grades 1-12 begin Wednesday, Aug. 27. Kindergarteners start on Tuesday, Sept. 2.
Jeff Porter, formerly assistant superintendent in the Biddeford School Department, became school chief in School Administrative District 51 on July 1.