Cumberland-North Yarmouth schools delay pre-K program, add weighted grades

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CUMBERLAND — Deferring pre-kindergarten classes and adding a weighted grading system for higher-level high school courses are among amendments to the new strategic plan in School Administrative District 51.

The School Board unanimously approved the changes Jan. 4, plus the creation of an ad-hoc committee on youth substance abuse.

The three-year strategic plan was enacted by the School Board last August, and runs through June 2018. It had called for pre-kindergarten to be available for 4-year-olds in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district in the 2016-2017 school year.

But a lack of space at Mabel I. Wilson School, due to an unanticipated 20-student increase in enrollment, in part caused Superintendent Jeff Porter to recommended postponing pre-K until at least the 2017-2018 school year.

A new special education program is responsible for the enrollment increase at the kindergarten-to-third-grade school, according to Porter, and is occupying space that had been eyed for pre-K.

While the district’s Facilities Committee discussed leasing a portable classroom to address the space issue, it opted to defer plans for pre-kindergarten classes until a long-range plan can be completed.

About 140 pre-K children may reside in the district, since that is the average number entering kindergarten each year, Porter said in an interview last week. Still, only a fraction of that number – probably between 15-30 children – would be admitted into a pre-K program, he noted.

“The district has no interest in replacing private kindergartens or … preschools in the community,” Porter said. “It’s just kids that don’t currently access pre-K and could use a public school setting.”

Another of Porter’s recommendations approved by the School Board Jan. 4 was a weighted grade system to be implemented this August.

Grades for honors, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes will carry greater weight than College Preparatory courses, he said, noting that nearby school districts in Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth at least partially weigh grades.

For example, an A in an AP course carries more weight than one earned in a CP class. The added weight could increase a student’s GPA, putting them in a better position to apply for college, Porter said. 

“For me, weighted grades mean that we’re really encouraging our kids who might take CP courses to consider taking an AP course or an IB course when they get to their junior year, instead of a CP course,” he said.

If some students are on the fence about which direction to take, “This might be … more of an encouragement to try out a course that might just be a little bit of a stretch,” he added, explaining that if a student scored worse in an AP course than a CP, the added weight of the AP course would help make up that difference.

Substance abuse panel

School Board members, parents, students, school staff, and local law enforcement will be among those involved in the ad-hoc substance abuse working group adopted by the board.

“The role of this group is to look at substance use, not just within the school context, but within the community context,” Porter said.

The committee is due to complete its work in June, after which the district’s Policy Committee will review SAD 51’s substance use policy.

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.