Adaptability, efficiency urged for SAD 75
TOPSHAM — Community members at the third and final community dialogue for School Administrative District 75 were faced with a grim outlook Tuesday evening at Topsham Public Library.
SAD 75's student population has declined from a little more than 3,500 in 1998 to just more than 2,900 last year and is expected to decline even further with the closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station; cuts in state funding necessitated deep budgets cut last year, and the economy and rapidly advancing technology present challenges to students and their parents.
The purpose of the meeting, though, was "to get your opinions about where you think education is headed for the future, given the context that we're living in today," SAD 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm explained.
The coming budget season is expected to have the same obstacles as the last one, Wilhelm said, "so rather than be reactive, like we had to be last year when we got the news about the subsidy cut, we thought we'd be best to be proactive and get our feet under us before we ... launched our whole budget process."
Still, the evening was not all about money. Members of the SAD 75 board's Strategic Planning Committee were there to facilitate five smaller idea-conceiving subgroups formed from the approximately 40 people gathered.
They touched on several topics over the 90-minute meeting:
• The context of the current economic and demographic times.
• The ways students learn and best ways to make education more relevant and meaningful.
• What kinds of skills, knowledge and attitudes will be essential for students in the future and preparing them to be thinkers, community members and workers.
• And what SAD 75 should do differently for all its students to be successful.
Each subgroup then shared a few of their ideas.
Balancing technology skills with interpersonal skills and early intervention – figuring out a better way to reach children at an early age before they enter the school system – and making sure the district can afford to do what it needs to do were topics from Dee Carrier's group.
Kim Totten's group discussed making more hands-on learning opportunities, after-school programs and chances to volunteer available to students, besides getting more education for the dollar and re-examining where money is spent.
That group saw the diversity within SAD 75's towns of Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham as being beneficial "if we can pull some of those differences and the resources from the different types of communities, and bring them in to work with our kids," Totten said. "We have a rich environment here if we can tap into it."
Flexible, experiential learning came out of Joanne Reinhart's group, as well as giving students a sense of purpose behind why are they learning a given subject matter. That group also discussed fostering common sense in students to help them be responsible citizens.
Joanne Rogers' brainstormers pegged as one key objective that students be contributors to society, saying they should be taught character building and financial responsibility, and have service learning available to them at all ages, not just at the high school level.
"They felt that it was important that not only do kids experience success," Rogers said, "but that they learn how to handle and experience failure as well."
Scott McKernan's group centered around three concepts, starting with a blending of content area, activity and the community to provide for more flexibility and adaptability.
"It makes our educational environment able to follow the trends in society easier," McKernan said. "If you're not flexible, if you can't change, you will fall behind."
Collaboration and sharing of resources with the community and schools was the second of his group's concepts.
The education of the community was the third: "Everybody within our four communities needs to understand they are a stakeholder," McKernan said. "But not just understand that they're a stakeholder, they need to actually have a stake, understand their stake, use their stake ... actually contribute."