Back to school: SAD 75 faces decision on new high school

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TOPSHAM — Residents in School Administrative District 75 will make an important decision in the upcoming school year when they decide whether to build a new high school.

Voters in Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham could decide at referendum early next year whether to replace the 43-year-old Mt. Ararat High School at another location on the Eagles Way campus.

“Certainly this school year we’ll see the referendum for the new high school,” Superintendent Brad Smith said in an interview Monday. He said November’s general election had been eyed as a possible date for the vote, but “there are too many pieces still to work on” to have it happen that soon.

Instead of waiting until next June, SAD 75 could schedule a special vote as early as late winter or early spring, Smith said.

Also on the agenda as SAD 75 begins the 2016-2017 school year is finding a replacement for Steve Dyer, the district’s business manager since 2009, who died unexpectedly last month.

“It’s difficult to have to do that, but it’s got to be done,” Smith said, noting that Dyer’s role was “rather unique; it cuts across so many different departments and operations within the school system. It’s a key one.”

The district is now advertising the position, and could fill it with an interim manager in the short term.

Meanwhile, SAD 75 is looking to expand its alternative education program from grades seven and eight to include nine and 10. The district has added a teacher and educational technician to facilitate the expansion.

The program is geared toward “reaching kids that maybe aren’t well served in the traditional classroom model,” and offers “more hands-on, more experiential-based programming for those kids,” as well as stressing the importance of relationships, Smith explained.

Reducing class sizes at the Williams-Cone elementary school created the need for an extra teacher, and numbers for incoming kindergartners are “at or pushing above the class size limit that we’d like to see in a couple of our schools,” Smith said. “Right now it’s looking like some pretty good numbers … We love to see that.”

The district is also adding a Response to Intervention English teacher at the high school, having hired an RTI math teacher last year. The program helps students who are not meeting learning standards.

Each of the district’s five elementary schools will have an RTI behavior specialist, Smith said, noting that the move reflects “the emphasis that we want to catch kids who are struggling, whether that’s academic or behaviorally … earlier, and provide the kind of supports they need,” Smith said.

Classes start the day after Labor Day, Tuesday, Sept. 6.

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

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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.