School boards have decided on the last day of the school year for elementary, middle and high schools.

All three schools have been closed since March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Remote education using video conferencing and online programs began March 17.

Over a month ago, Superintendent Maria Libby indicated school could end earlier this year, than usual. While citing the success of remote learning, and prior experience with offering remote school days in place of snow days, she also noted the difficulty of sustaining it over a long period of time.

School boards vote May 6

On May 6, the Camden-Rockport School board (grades K-8) met May 6 and voted unanimously to approve year-end dates recommended by Superintendent Maria Libby.

Camden-Rockport Elementary School's last day of school will be Friday, June 5. The kindergarten through fourth grade school year originally was scheduled to end June 18.

Camden-Rockport Middle School's last day will be Thursday, May 28.

The decision to shorten the middle school calendar has been planned for over a year. It is due to the need to demolish the existing school building and complete work on the new middle school building opening in the fall. The number of days off for holidays and vacations during the 2019-20 school year was trimmed for this reason.

The Five Town CSD School Board also met May 6, when members debated the year-end date for Camden Hills Regional High School for over an hour. Libby recommended a last day of May 29 for seniors, and June 5 for grades 9 through 11.

The Board's three student members Julianna Day, Sam Maltese and Oliver Worner supported May 22 for the last day of school.

Maltese said high school students were reaching the end of their ability to maintain remote learning.

The Five Town Board's vote was eight in favor and four against Libby's recommendation. The three student members and Board member Brooks Crane voted against prolonging the school year.

The teacher contract, with its mandated number of 185 work days, was a weighty factor in Libby's recommendations, and votes of both boards on end dates for the schools.

Libby's recommendations for all three schools also included the idea of ending remote learning a week before the last day of school, with the last week devoted to student projects.

Superintendent survey of parents, students and teachers

At both board meetings, Libby reviewed results from surveys asking about preferred end dates for the school year, sent to parents, students and teachers.

For the last day of school, the choices of parents were evenly distributed between May 22, May 29 and June 5, she said. About 800 parents responded to the survey, according to Libby.

Students in grades 5 through 12 chose May 22.

Of the 160 Camden Hills teachers who responded to the survey, 44% chose May 29 as the last day, followed by May 22, then June 5.

Camden Hills student class officers send out their own survey

The Five Town CSD School Board includes three Camden Hills students, who are also class officers, Sam Maltese, who is senior class president, Julianna Day and Oliver Worner.

At the May 6 meeting, Maltese told the board that class officers sent their own survey to all Camden Hills students, after seeing that Libby was not considering the majority opinion of high school students.

The student-written survey asked peers their opinion on the June 5 end date; what they would change the date to, if they could; if they agreed on the end-of-school project, their feelings now about remote learning and if their mental health would improve or worsen with the new information (end date, school project) .

Of the 222 Camden Hills students who responded, 77.5% did not agree with the June 5 end-of-school date, Maltese said. The overwhelming majority of students who responded to this survey chose May 22 as the last day.

The majority opinions of students responding to the survey is that remote learning does not measure up to what they had before, isn't as beneficial and isn't working, Maltese said.

He pointed out that students are the group most impacted by remote learning, yet their opinion on how long it should continue is not being acted on.

Maltese said it was very important to students that the superintendent initially surveyed them about their opinion on the end-of-school date. He said it meant a lot to students and gave them hope that they could make an impact at a time when it is very difficult for them to make an impact.

Teacher contract

Libby made it clear that the decision on final dates was not determined by survey votes, but also factored in teacher contracts, which require 185 work days.

With the new 2019-20 end dates, elementary and high school teachers will have worked 165 days and have 10 professional development days afterwards to fulfill the contract. Middle school teachers will have worked 168 days, and have 6 professional development days. The remainder of work days are teacher conference and prep days, according to Libby.

Libby advised members of both school boards that ending the school year earlier than her recommendations would require adding on an unreasonable number of professional development days after the year end. She also said paying teachers for 185 days, if they work fewer days, would not be supported.

Principals weigh in

Principals Chris Walker-Spencer, for the elementary school, and Jamie Stone, for the middle school, said instruction could be adjusted to the new end dates.

Camden Hills Principal Shawn Carlson weighed in on the discussion about remote learning that took place at the Five Town CSD board meeting.

It is very important to be aware of difficulties remote learning has placed on people "The sentiment of the student body is 'we're at our wits end,'" he said.

He has heard from teachers that some of the best and brightest students are reaching a breaking point and are worn out, he said. Other students are struggling and teachers will need to use the project week to help them.

He added that remote learning may have to be used again in the future. "For that reason, I want this to end as well as possible. I want teachers and students to feel we'll be ready and able to do this again," he said.

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