Principals' association puts Topsham school in spotlight

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TOPSHAM — Mt. Ararat Middle School has another feather in its mortarboard after being featured as a “Spotlight School” in this month’s Maine Principals’ Association newsletter.

The grades 6-8 school at 66 Republic Ave., which also contains the Orion Performing Arts Center, was recently visited by Holly Coutourier, MPA‘s assistant executive director, as part of the feature. Her visit gave Principal Josh Ottow a chance to show off what he feels makes his school spotlight-worthy.

He also asked three of his students – Nolan Blessington, Elsa Blease and Hannah Kenney – to contribute.

“We have such amazing students here who really buy into the positive climate that we have, and the really high expectations of learning that we have for our students,” Ottow said in an interview Feb. 10. “And it was great to have those three students come down and be interviewed for that.”

The school’s sense of community – the students’ desire to get to know one another and work together – were attributes the youths referenced in the MPA piece, written by Coutourier.

“There is a comfortable flow to this school,” she wrote. “From the cascading staircase to the overall feeling of being welcome when you walk in the door, Mt. Ararat Middle School works hard to individualize instruction, maximize potential, and prepare all their students to become independent learners.”

Ottow, named Maine’s Assistant Principal of the Year in 2014 while working at Yarmouth High School, returned to School Administrative District 75 last August to take the helm at Mt. Ararat Middle School. He previously worked in the district in 2003 as a history teacher at Mt. Ararat High School, and became an assistant principal there four years later. He left in 2011 to become assistant principal in Yarmouth.

Coutourier said in an email Feb. 10 that the MPA newsletter, “The Apprise,” has featured a few schools for each of eight regions in Maine, and also offers editions spotlighting schools with MPA principal and assistant principals of the year.

Although Ottow was in Yarmouth at the time of his recognition, “I still wanted to offer him the same opportunity to show off the great things going on in his school,” she said.

One of the school’s major efforts this year is communicating to parents the ins and outs of proficiency-based learning, “and how we best report out on student learning,” Ottow said – an explanation of what the traditional grading system looks like in a new proficiency-based learning system.

“We really understand that parents have a really important role in their child’s education, so we need to do our best to inform them about how their child is learning at school,” he explained. “… Our challenge is really making sure parents understand, as we transition away from a traditional grading model, what that will look like.”

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

Josh Ottow is principal of Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, which is being spotlighted by the Maine Principals’ Association.

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.