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Back to school: SAD 75 to start planning new or remodeled Topsham building

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Back to school: SAD 75 to start planning new or remodeled Topsham building

TOPSHAM — With Mt. Ararat High School ranked seventh this spring on a state construction funding list, School Administrative District 75 goes back to school this year with some planning to do.

A district Building Committee will soon choose an architect, who will determine whether the existing structure should be remodeled, or if a new school should be built.

Construction would not take place for several years, but planning and design will start this fall, according to Superintendent Brad Smith.

"The most common concern I hear from parents, students and staff seems to focus on the design of the school and the impact it has on learning," he said in April, after the state funding list was announced. "There are also system issues that have a certain life expectancy, and as buildings age, those systems need to be replaced."

Donna Brunette  starts her first full year as principal at the high school, having been promoted from an interim position by the School Board in March. Brunette spent 12 years as an assistant principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School, a year as interim co-principal, and then two years as an assistant principal at the high school.

"Donna is one of the most dedicated, thorough and conscientious administrators I've known," Smith said in an email late last month. "She knows and cares about her students and parents.  She is in a unique position of having known many of them for years, due to her experience at the middle school. We are fortunate to have her continue in the leadership position at the high school."

Don Gray has returned to the school's co-assistant principal role after a year-long deployment with the U.S. Navy. Alison Pols, who has headed the school's special education program for several years, also became an assistant principal there last year.

"We are so pleased that Don is back home," Smith said. "He has the exceptional ability to hold students accountable with high expectations, while at the same time earning their respect and trust."

Nick Riggie, who the district chose as technology director in May, previously served in that capacity at a Boston charter school. The School Board was scheduled to appoint a new transportation director at its Thursday, Aug. 14, meeting.

Chris Lajoie, the new principal at Bowdoinham Community School, has spent 10 years in elementary education in the district. Following his time as an educational technician, special education teacher and Response to Intervention strategist at Woodside Elementary School in Topsham, he spent the past year as assistant principal at the high school, filling in for Gray.

Due to changes in Maine law, students must show proficiency in standards to earn a high school diploma, a key focus in SAD 75, Smith noted.

"In many ways, graduating from high school has become more difficult," he explained. "Every school district in Maine must determine what it means to 'be proficient' in their district, what evidence students can present to demonstrate their knowledge and skill, and what changes are needed to shift to a proficiency based system. It also creates new avenues for students to learn and different ways to assess student progress."

"We know that significant changes in any system take time," the superintendent added. "We need to plan thoughtfully, engage the community in the process, provide the necessary training and professional development, and be certain the changes we make will increase student achievement and truly prepare students for college or careers of tomorrow"

SAD 75 and other Maine districts also face new assessments this year, Smith said. The NECAP and SAT tests are out, and SmarterBalanced Assessments are now in, for grades three through eight, and the third year of high school. Unlike their predecessors, the SmarterBalanced tests are done online and adjust to each test-taker in accordance with the answers given, Smith explained.

"They are also far more rigorous and comprehensive than students have experienced previously, and will be conducted in the spring," he said. "At this point, the Maine Department of Education is proposing to continue to make SAT tests available for high school students. The SAT scores, often used by colleges and universities for admission, will no longer be required in Maine."

The district will also increase its emphasis on the importance of good attendance, Smith said.

School starts Tuesday, Sept. 2.

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