Many Flags receives federal support for planning

Jan 17, 2013

The Many Flags One Community model has evolved to keep momentum moving forward for the past nine years. In December, the federal government assisted efforts with a grant of more than $300,000.

The grant — one of 10 given to innovative education models — is for a one-year period and is designated to be spent on planning. Two hundred programs applied for the grant nationwide.

Many Flags and Penquis, a regional community action agency, jointly applied for the grant.

Many Flags Executive Director Alan Hinsey said he dislikes the term planning grant "because you get these images of the report that gets stuck up on the shelf and nobody does anything with."

This money is for an implementation strategy, he said, including a needs assessment to understanding social issues in the area that require attention.

The grant, called a Promise Neighborhoods grant, started in urban areas using the school and a network of services, bringing together social, health and academic organizations to revitalize communities.

Area organizations that are likely partners include the YMCA, Pen Bay Chamber of Commerce, and Broadreach, among others, to coordinate data and design an implementation strategy and a database to track impact on students and make "evidence based" decisions about where to improve education and expend resources.

"How do we pull together everything so that a student has everything they need to achieve their highest potential?," Hinsey said, adding this is the basic question collaborating partners will answer.

Funds will be spent paying employees, printing and travel costs, holding meetings and other expenses associated with bringing partners together, said Hinsey.

A consultant will also be hired to help develop the database. "It's a lot of money, but it's a lot of work," Hinsey said.

Creating common scheduling and curriculum between area schools to allow for resource sharing and fostering opportunities for students to acquire college credits while attending high school is another core facet of the plan taking action now.

Hinsey said a physical campus remains one primary goal, but educational collaboration of area schools for students in the region currently is also a prominent focus.

The secondary and post-secondary academic complex would be paid by for the state at 95 percent of the cost, said Hinsey. Currently, the building of a new school has a funding line of $10 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, he said.

Whether or not the money will available is uncertain, considering multi-million dollar budget shortfalls the state is facing, he said.

Funding allotted in phases for designing the school complex and then for subsequent steps is a realistic approach when money is tight, Hinsey said, adding that creative funding is a viable option for realizing the infrastructure component also — including a piecemeal and privately-funded approach.

However, if Many Flags was to deviate from the 21-step construction process mandated by the state school construction funding — Chapter 61 —  they may become ineligible to receive state funding, said Hinsey. That includes private funding for design or construction.

The Department of Education wants design and then construction to happen all at one time and be paid for by the state, he said.

The recession caused Many Flags to hold off on the physical campus long-term vision and focus on sharing curriculum and offering college credits to serve students now.

The integrated approach, offering a 9-16 grade academic plan, would give the area a much-needed educational infrastructure, Hinsey said, including a career and technical college.

Hinsey said he doesn't know yet whether a new school complex would raise property taxes, adding that speculating gets him into trouble.

"We're going to have a lot of cost sharing and space sharing driving cost down," he said. He further cited innovative design and maximizing the use of facilities to ensure efficiency and keep costs "as low as possible."

In 2003, Knox County was ranked last in a state-wide survey about student and family career aspirations. The local marine culture, although a benefit to the area, also affects secondary education rates, as many students decide they will continue with family tradition and be fishermen.

The original Many Flags vision began when area businesses said it was difficult to find skilled employees in the area because of a lack for a community college in close proximity to the area.

Other communities that received the grant included Roxbury, Mass., Camden, N.J. and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hinsey said this grant will allow for a higher visibility for the public to be more aware of the progress of the Many Flags model.

"We're ready — we got a bow on it — we're ready to be a model for the state and country at this level," he said.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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