Technical high school eyes comprehensive program at Brunswick Landing

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BRUNSWICK — On the wall of Nancy Weed’s office hangs an ornately shaped and colored sculpture of a marlin created by her students at the Region 10 Technical High School.

It’s something that should be awarded a fine arts credit, the school’s superintendent and director said Dec. 5.

“That’s definitely not just ‘dzzt, dzzt, dzzt’ welding,” she said. “That’s a piece of work; that’s a piece of sculpture.”

Region 10 doesn’t offer a fine arts credit. But that may be changing with the evolution of technical studies as part of a the whole academic experience.

Weed is among those advocating for a comprehensive four-year high school at Brunswick Landing that would offer full-time immersion in academic and technical studies for 350 students, potentially from a 30-mile radius around Brunswick.

Weed is fiercely proud of the 232 students from the Brunswick, School Administrative 75, and Regional School Unit 5 systems that attend the Region 10 school on Church Road on a part-time basis. She rejects any suggestion that technical studies should be an alternative to academics, rather than a choice, and embraces them as part of a complete education for many students.

“Everybody would be doing something in the technical field,” Weed said. “Whereas in our schools now, not everybody does something in the technical field.”

Typically, students would spend two weeks in a trades program and two in academics, “but their academics also tie in,” she said. “They’ll do integrated units where their science, and their math, and their welding all go together.”

It’s a concept that’s worked well in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut: one competitive school in Massachusetts, near where Weed grew up, has 900 applications for 300 slots, she said.

“I don’t want it to be super-competitive to the point where we miss the core students,” Weed added, “but that middle group of students that we are not getting from our ascending schools for a lot of reasons.”

Maybe the youths don’t know about career and technical education, she suggested. Perhaps their parents don’t want them to attend, remembering vocational schools as places for students struggling in the academic system who just want to go straight to work.

“All those fallacies,” said Weed. “… It’s a huge stigma; huge.”

She noted that career and technical schools are not an alternative to high schools, but rather an elective. One that trains students to be highly-paid professionals who come in handy when your fuses blow or your pipes leak.

“These are kids that have to have certain abilities in math; they have to be able to apply that math, they have to be able to think for themselves and be problem- solvers,” she noted. “It isn’t for someone who’s like ‘hey, I just don’t want to go to your school.'”

Weed, who spoke of the endeavor to the Topsham Board of Selectmen Dec. 7, hopes this area’s school will be up and running in three years – not as an alternative to high schools around the area, but as another choice for students as they decide their futures.

“We’re trying to … get concept approval (from the state), and get stakeholder approval, and get people to talk about it and have the dialogue,” Weed said, noting that the Region 10 board has discussed the endeavor for three years.

Educational facilities are a target at Brunswick Landing as the former base continues to be redeveloped, she noted.

Such a school would better ready students for high-demand, high-wage careers in the state, meet students’ strengths and interests, create a partnership between Maine’s workforce and public education, and provide a strong pathway to post-secondary education and careers, Weed said.

Region 10 offers a part-time program at which a student spends either the morning (8:30-10:45 a.m.) or afternoon (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and the rest of the day at Region 10’s member high schools: Brunswick, Freeport and Mt. Ararat in Topsham.

“We depend on everybody’s schedule, and everybody who guides students to us or not to us,” Weed explained. 

The school would allow students to remain in one place all day, instead of having to spend part of the day at one school and then travel to another, wasting time that could be spent learning, Weed pointed out.

Having to switch schools “presents a lot of scheduling conflicts for students, because if you have requirements that you have to meet, that’s difficult to do,” she said. “Plus you miss time on the bus, sometimes you miss your lunch … and you’re always part time at one school or the other.”

For example, Region 10 students building a garage for RSU 5 climb on the bus in Brunswick at 8:30 a.m., get set up in Freeport at 9 a.m., and return to the bus at 10:15 a.m.

“How much time are you actually building?” Weed questioned. “I’m surprised they can get any of the walls up, really.”

Weed is hopeful the comprehensive school will gain the backing and funding it needs to become a reality.

“People are very supportive; the time is ripe at the state level,” she said, noting that younger people are needed for fields such as electrical, plumbing and nursing.

A comprehensive high school, being able to enroll more students, would mean educating more people for those professions.

“Should we be the model (for) the state of Maine?” Weed asked. “Would it be great to be able to keep kids here in this state with high-tech, high-demand, high-paying jobs?”

“That would be exciting,” she said.

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

Region 10 Technical High School student Tommy Van Savage, left, general trades instructor Wade Boudreau, and student Justin Spencer calculate centers of pieces of wood to be used in building a Christmas tree.

Nancy Weed, right, is the superintendent/direcotr and John Stivers is the assistant director of Region 10 Technical High School. They plan to grow the school into a four-year comprehensive facility at Brunswick Landing.

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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.