SULLIVAN — If the community has its say, the new high school in Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) is an opportunity to reshape the education of students in that district.
Community members from RSU 24 have weighed in with their hopes and advice for school board officials over the past few months. Education consultant Katrina Kane, who is the superintendent of Hancock and Lamoine schools, provided a detailed report to school board members Jan. 16.
Kane outlined what she had found in a series of discussions with parents, students and teachers from the district.
Broken out by category, Kane talked to stakeholders in the area about athletics, fine arts, technical education, academic requirements, physical and structural needs and the possibility of middle school students moving to the new high school facility that will be built in 2020.
One of the major themes in Kane’s findings was that parents and students expressed broad interest in more hands-on technical and career-oriented programs, both for local trades and jobs that would take students outside the area.
Participants expressed interest in local careers such as boatbuilding and car repair, but also in fields such as law, interior design, architecture, photography and game design. A heavy emphasis was placed on life skills, such as economics and cooking, and some expressed a desire for the new building to have a garden.
Technical skills were a focus because participants said the current system — driving to Hancock County Technical Center in Ellsworth — takes too much time. Instead, community members said they prefer to integrate stronger programs into the new school, and would like all students to potentially get some basic technical training.
Another suggestion was to expand the Pathways program, an alternative learning track that allows students to apply state educational standards to practical challenges. Participants said they would like that program to offer more than just technical training.
RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman echoed that idea in an interview about the report.
“We’ve recognized for a while that traditional education as it stands is not relevant for kids,” he said, suggesting that program changes should be based on the needs of students in the area.
Among the main considerations was whether middle school students should be in the same building as high school students.
Kane concluded that there were predominantly positive associations with that idea; community members preferred that to having a separate junior high school. Right now, middle school students share buildings with elementary school students.
In Steuben, some expressed concern about the driving distance. At Sumner Memorial High School, students told Kane they would want to have separate principals for the two groups of students. Cave Hill and Mountain View parents said they weren’t opposed, but wanted the plan to offer something new for middle school students.
Board officials will decide whether to include middle-schoolers in the new building during a meeting Feb. 6.
“The reception’s been warm across all stakeholder groups,” Eastman said of the idea.
Some of the other topics discussed included physical spacing for the new building. One suggestion was for a performing arts stage not to be combined with a cafeteria or gymnasium.
“I think we heard loud and clear from each one of the stakeholder groups that a separate performance area is really important,” Eastman said.
Other ideas were for the classrooms and study areas to be adaptable but not — spelled out in capital letters in Kane’s report — an open concept design. Participants said they would like study areas to be appropriate for project-based learning as well as quiet study.
For Eastman, the important part is to have a building that looks ahead to future needs of students.
“Our goal is not to rebuild Sumner in a new fashion,” he said. “We’re examining what our students need, and what they’ll need in five years.”