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New school year focuses on instructional, facility needs in South Portland

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New school year focuses on instructional, facility needs in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — As students return to class on Wednesday, Sept. 1, teachers and administrators will be working behind the scenes to address the needs of 21st-century learners.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin said the school year will begin with an assembly led by national brain research expert Karen Williams, who will present the latest findings about adolescent brain development.

Williams is expected to speak about the most effective intervention strategies for adolescent students, indicating peak development times.

"We're excited for her to come," Godin said.

The presentation will take place on the same evening the district hosts it annual welcome-back barbecue for high school freshmen.

High school students will have two new courses offered this fall, robotics and an online graphic arts course.

The after-school robotics program has long been popular and successful in South Portland, garnering interest from all age levels and attracting corporate sponsors like Fairchild Semiconductor.

High school Principal Jeanne Crocker said the craft incorporates not only math, science, technology and engineering, but also web design, writing and public relations.

"It's definitely an important area of study in the 21st century," Crocker said, noting there are 12 students enrolled this fall.

This year, school officials will also be working to convince a skeptical City Council and citizenry to take on up to $44.2 million in debt to build a high school that meets the needs of 21st-century learners and solves accreditation issues that have put the school on warning status from New England Association of Schools and Colleges. 

On Monday, the City Council voted 4-2 to advance a $44.2 million bond proposal to a public hearing and final vote on Sept. 8. If approved, residents, who overwhelmingly turned down a $56 million plan in 2007, would vote on the issue in November.

Tthere are still several councilors skeptical that citizens will support a large borrowing plan in the midst the current economy and lingering threat of a double-dip recession. The council may vote to reduce funding for the plan, which could force architects to scale down the $47.3 million project, or force the schools to find other private sources of funding.

Meanwhile, there are also three new administrators joining the school system.

Rebecca Brown will become the new principal of Dyer Elementary School. Brown, who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College and a master's degree from Harvard University, has been principal of Greenville's only school since 2007; she started there as  a French teacher in 1996. 

Rolfe Foreland has been named the district's new director of finance, human resources and operations, replacing Polly Ward, who retired. Foreland holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University and has 11 years of relevant experience, working for nonprofits and educational institutions.

The district has also hired Scott McKernan as the new director of buildings and grounds. He takes over for Greg Marles, who left after more than a year on the job to take a similar position in Cape Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the district has hired 14 new teachers at all grade levels, Godin said, to fill openings created by retirements and employees leaving the district.

When it comes to instruction, Godin said it will be a "refining year" of improving student achievement through rigor, relevance and relationships.

"We're excited about the upcoming school year," she said. "We're focused on meeting our goals."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net