Amy Vaughn (center) and Andy Vaughn (right) discuss options for the future of high school education on Deer Isle during a public meeting July 26 at the aging high school. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Future of high school education in Deer Isle discussed

DEER ISLE — Deer Isle-Stonington High School’s enrollment has dropped by nearly half since 2000.

The 1999-2000 school year saw 212 students. This past year high school enrollment was 108.

“With fewer students, our per-pupil costs have gone up putting … the high school … in the top three most expensive public high school options in the state of Maine over the last three years,” said School Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington in a memo to the School Board.

Add an aging high school building that needs major renovation to the equation.

Deer Isle and Stonington residents and public officials are trying to determine what to do.

To that end, a committee of educators, municipal officials, parents, residents and school officials called “Future of Our Schools” has been meeting to determine the future of high school education on the island.

That committee held its first public hearing at the high school on July 26. Over 60 residents, parents and town officials attended.

School Board Chairwoman Jane Osborne offered a few minutes for questions at the beginning before having everyone meet in small groups to offer options.

The potential options for future high school education on Deer Isle are numerous.

Here are just a few options drafted by the superintendent:

  • Make space for the high school students at the elementary school building.
  • Eliminate high school programming and allow island high school students to choose a school in another district. Students could enroll at George Stevens Academy, Bucksport High School or Ellsworth High School.
  • Eliminate the high school programming but sign an “exclusive contract with one 9-12 school district.”
  • Keep high school education on the island but make major repairs to the high school building and expand a middle school program to include students from other towns.

Former School Board member Andy Vaughn was one resident who attended the hearing.

Vaughn questioned the wording of one question to be discussed.

“What’s meant by viable school structure options?” Vaughn asked.

Osborne replied, “We have a lot of work to do. We have site visits to make.”

Vaughn suggested the committee be more plain-spoken in its approach.

“‘Is there going to be a high school on the island or not?’ That’s a question that would get residents participating,” Vaughn said. “‘Viable school structure options’ is not clear.”

Another resident said she needed to know how many children were coming up from younger grades.

Elkington said the K-8 school has on average 200 students.

“Some classes we have 30 kids, 34 kids, others we have 20,” Elkington said.

The results of each small group’s discussion will be put into a document, which will be available on the school website in the future.

The committee has scheduled another public hearing for Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m.

Meetings are also scheduled for Oct. 3 and Nov. 7 in advance of a public vote in March 2019 to decide which option to pursue.

New principal Dennis Duquette is on the “Future of Our Schools” committee, as are community member Bobbi Billings, Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings, Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher, Superintendent Elkington, School Board member Skip Greenlaw, parents Kim Hutchinson, Jill Larrabee and Tracie Morey, teachers Mary Penfold and Terry Siebert, Head of School Lynne Witham and building contractor Jeremy Stewart.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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