Residents: Long-term plan needed to merge middle schools

Thomaston Grammar School would close
By Kim Lincoln | Mar 19, 2014
Photo by: Kim Lincoln RSU 13 Interim Superintendent Michael Wilhelm outlines the pros and cons of a middle school merger March 18 at Thomaston Grammar School.

Thomaston — Parents and teachers said March 18 the current proposal to merge middle schools is  rushed and they would be more supportive of consolidating if the district had a long-range plan.

About 40 people, including Regional School Unit 13 board members, parents and teachers attended the first of three public forums to gather input from the community on a proposal to have fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade students attend Rockland District Middle School. Under this proposal, Thomaston Grammar School would close.

Two more meetings are planned for Tuesday, March 25, at Cushing Community School and Wednesday, April 2 at Rockland District Middle School. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

The RSU 13 Board is expected to make a decision on whether or not to consolidate for the 2014-2015 school year at its Thursday, April 3 meeting. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at McLain School in Rockland.

 

Merger by the numbers

129 —Thomaston Grammar School

194 — Rockland District Middle School

27 — Owls Head Central School

350 total students to move to Rockland

Under the proposal, 129 Thomaston Grammar School, and 27 Owls Head Central School fifth-graders would all attend Rockland District Middle School. St. George School students in those grades would remain in Tenants Harbor.

St. George School, which has at total of 160 kindergarten to seventh-grade students, has been working on a proposal to withdraw from the district and operate independently. The proposal is currently being negotiated with the district, but voters could decide on the issue in November 2014.

"I'm really against it at this point — it's putting the cart before the horse when we do not have a long-range plan," said Cynthia McGuirl of Thomaston.

A lot of promises were made about improved programs and services for students when the two districts merged and it did not happen, she said.

"What guarantee do we have that we will see these potential improvements in education?" McGuirl questioned. "More opportunities have not materialized."

Thomaston Grammar School music teacher Angela Johnson said she does see pluses to consolidating, but questioned if the district has a plan.

Johnson said the district has moved students a lot already and there also has been talk of returning Oceanside High School East to a traditional ninth through 12th-grade school. Currently, freshmen students attend Oceanside High School West in Thomaston.

"Is Rockland middle school really large enough for us to merge?" Johnson questioned.

She was concerned about moving special education and LifeSkills programs close to each other in the new school because one group can be loud, while the other group cannot really tolerate noise.

Joanna Duke, a physical education teacher at RDMS, said she is concerned that with a merged school she will see even less time with students and also concerned about cuts that will be made in staff.

"I hope the schedule will benefit students in allied arts," Duke said.

One student from Cushing, who said she lives at the end of the peninsula on a dead-end road, questioned how long her commute would be. She also said it may be a difficult transition for students are are used to going to a small school to now instead be sent to a very large school.

Patricia Hubbard of Thomaston suggested hiring an outside consultant to to come in and look at the district as a whole. As a taxpayer, she said, she is worried about the resale on her home because families are not moving to the district.

"They think it's totally dysfunctional and I agree," Hubbard said. "I encourage the school board to stop and take a breath."

Hubbard said no one has even seen a full disclosure of the financial benefits of merging the two schools.

"To say you are going to make a decision on April 3 is irresponsible," she said.

Rev. Peter Jenks of Thomaston said the communities are very supportive of young people, but there is a school district that does not support that. He also noted there is no long-term vision. He said Thomaston residents have felt alienated ever since the two districts consolidated and this middle school plan is furthering that sentiment.

The community would get behind anything if it was an exciting plan for the kids, Jenks said.

"We want what is best for our kids. We will do what is best for our kids, but we want a long-range plan," he said.

A survey to gather public input is also available online at surveymonkey.com/s/MiddleSchoolMerger and RSU 13 also has a Facebook page, which can be found at facebook.com/pages/RSU-13/121885347830570?ref=br_rs

NOTE: An earlier version of this story indicated St. George fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders are also part of the proposed merger. Incorrect information was given to the paper.

Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 21, 2014 10:06

Caroline: I agree with you! I think the bus system is so expensive and time consuming for the kids to ride around for hours to get to school. I used to drop my children off at the school myself. Also I agree that the local parents have lost the ability to choose smaller over larger. Also agree that the taxpayer is so in debt paying for the big consolidated school systems that the buildings will be outgrown before the are paid for. Just my opinion. One on one, smaller is better to teach the children. Hours on the bus route is tiring and confusing for youngsters. Consolidation eliminated the ability of teachers to really know the children they teach. I know a teacher who retired when consolidation came in and he was so one on one with the children he would no longer teach.

Mickey Mckeever



Posted by: Caroline Woodman | Mar 19, 2014 21:52

I am one of those jparents and tax payers that has made the decision for many years to stay home as I felt it did no good to have a voice, what was going to be done was going to be done regardless.  I feel that in order to complain or have any opinion I should at the least try to fight for the kids.  I think that it is important to stand up for what you believe in and I believe in a good education, community ties, a true chance to excel in whatever you are good at which is why many of us live in ME it isn't a big city life where kids get lost and left behind.  I think that it is beyond time and a pivotal time to share my thoughts and concerns.  I feel it is a liability to both the children, taxpayers, and the schools to merge any more.  The consolidation that has taken place hasn't proven to be all that efficient and many feel it is hindering their kids from thriving as we use to in a smaller community backed school.  Save taxes I think not, as eventually we will have closed down yet more schools to find we don't have room for the kids and have to build a new one!  I know that the 8th and 9th graders may or may not be able to participate in the AA classes they choose as there is not enough to go around for all the kids, this will happen for the younger ones.  Most kids want to stay home, stay where they are secure and feel a sense of security in what they know and expect.  Please come have a voice, try it one more time or until it is heard!



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Kim Lincoln
Editor
594-4401 ext. 120
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The Camden Herald editor Kim Lincoln has worked for Courier Publications since 2003.

During her time with the company she has worked for each of the three newspapers, The Courier-Gazette, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal.

When she is not in the newsroom, Kim likes to be outside, whether it be gardening, swimming, hiking or just enjoying the sunshine.

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