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Changes taking place in SAD 17
OXFORD HILLS — With the new school year comes a number of challenges, including a change in staff, a change in curriculum and integrating new technology into the classroom, SAD 17 school administrators reported to the school board at a meeting September 4.
The merging of elementary schools and a change in bus routes are also among challenges, administrators told the board.
Despite the changes, administrators reported that the 2012-2013 school year started off "fantastic."
"I felt like our start in both schools was wonderful," said Kim Ramharter, principal of Oxford Elementary and Otisfield Elementary schools. According to Ramharter, both schools have undergone significant changes.
Oxford Elementary, she said, now houses a pre-k program. As of September 4, Ramharter said the program had 19 students. "There's 16 boys," she said. "It's quite the experience!"
Ramharter also said another exciting thing happening at Oxford Elementary is that fifth grade students will be visiting the Roberts Farm in Norway once a week. "Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday a different group will go," she said.
For the science unit, she said, the students will study ecology and nutrition at the farm. For the math unit, the Otisfield greenhouse, which has been moved to Roberts Farm, will be reconstructed by the students.
The students will then write persuasive essays and newspaper articles about what they've learned, said Ramharter. "We're really excited."
However, Ramharter reported that enrollment at both schools is tremendous. She said class sizes at Oxford has grown to 24, while in Otisfield, class sizes are 28, even 29.
"They are big kids and they are squished in there, but the teachers are going a good job," said Ramharter. Another challenge, she said, is that there are only "one-and-a-half secretaries" at Oxford Elementary.
"That's been hard for a big school," she said, despite hiring a part-time secretary who's "phenomenal."
"Our regular secretary is having to do what the other big schools do, with only two secretaries," said Ramharter. "When I left school at 6:30, she was still there."
For middle school and high school students, the year began by reassessing school discipline and its role, said OHCHS Principal Ted Moccia.
The school is also working on reevaluating its core beliefs, Moccia reported.
David Knightly, Spanish teacher in Oxford, has a passion for restorative practices, Moccia said – Knightly has been working with students in Oxford Hills to help them understand discipline.
"It's this idea of, how we can help kids understand when they've wronged someone or made a mistake," Moccia said. "We understand that just pure discipline isn't really working."
Moccia told the board restorative justice hasn't been practiced in Oxford Hills for about 10 years.
"We've been trying to find ways to get back at this," he said.
"We, as an entire school ... have adopted some language of how we are going to integrate them [students] back into the classroom when they've been removed from the class for being disruptive or being innappropriate," Moccia explained.
According to Moccia, another major change is "writing across the curriculum," particularly argumentative writing, so students can learn to "bolster an argument or position."
He said it's really to get students to understand that writing isn't just in English class – it can be applied in science, social studies and other courses.
According to Moccia, the goal is to really look at student writing to see whether they are truly meeting the core curriculum.
Moccia said a technology component has also been added to curriculum – all teachers are now equipped with an iPad, which he believes is "exciting" and can "really transform the class."
According to Oxford Hills Middle School Principal Troy Eastman, one-third of his staff has an iPad and will be studying how to use them effectively before the school considers giving an iPad to all staff.
At Rowe, the biggest change, says Principal George Sincerbeaux, is the addition of 18 new staff over the past two years. Similar to Oxford, he said, the plan is to get all the staff on board using e-books.
In addition, grades two, four and five will be studying at Bryant Pond Learning Center, Roberts Farm and other areas.
One challenge at Rowe, said Sincerbeaux, is that "there is no space."
He said like Oxford and Otisfield, class sizes at Rowe are up, especially grade four. "It's not so much, can we get another teacher – it's where do we put the kids?"
Sincerbeaux also stressed that the school's equipment is outdated, not to mention the school lacks projectors. "We're working on it, because they [teachers] love them; they all want to have them in the rooms," Sincerbeaux reported.
Building a sense of community is one change for Harrison and Waterford Elementary schools, said Jennifer Felt, a teacher at Harrison.
The school is working on the issue by holding regular assemblies.
"It gives that sense of community and that we are all together," agreed Sue Merrill, lead second-grade teacher in Waterford.
"That's what we're trying to develop between the two schools, with all these kids coming from different directions."
The new school year began with some Harrison Elementary School students having to attend Waterford Elementary and vice versa.
In addition, Merrill said the biggest change in Waterford is that a majority of the staff are new.
"We are not only trying to help our pre-k and k [kindergarten] learn the new routines, but our staff members as well," said Merrill.
One routine is a breakfast routine, where the students and staff eat breakfast together, have a morning meeting and get to know each other, she said.
According to Felt, staff at both Harrison and Waterford hold joint meetings through video conferencing, and have combined their staff folders, which she said has greatly improved communication between the schools.
"It's been a huge benefit," she said.
It also meant that the school bus routes had to be reconfigured.
This means an earlier drop off at Harrison, said Felt. Parents who need to drop students off at both schools have a few extra minutes to get them there without feeling rushed, she explained.
"Our one challenge has been transportation," she said, "but it sounds like folks are on their way to solving that issue."