Ellsworth school groups (mostly) settled, administrators prep for September

ELLSWORTH — The Ellsworth School Department has worked out preliminary groups for students starting school in less than two weeks, but transportation schedules and other details are still being ironed out, administrators reported at a workshop on Tuesday evening.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 1,314 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12, said School Department Superintendent Dan Higgins. That includes 832 in kindergarten through eighth grade and 482 at the high school level, although school administrators said enrollment continues to fluctuate.

Students had the option of fully remote instruction or a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning. Students whose families opted for the hybrid model will be divided into two groups – maroon and gray – and attend school on alternating days.

“Our enrollment is certainly still in flux,” said Erica Gabbianelli, principal at Ellsworth Middle School. “I have three new registrations sitting on my desk for placement, so that is changing daily.”

Ellsworth High School Principal Dan Clifford said the school had 19 new registrations that were supposed to come in this week.

Administrators are trying “the best that we can,” said Gabbianelli, to honor families’ preferences. But it may be that some new students have to start the semester remotely if grades are at capacity.

As of Tuesday, 134 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade had chosen the full remote option, according to figures provided by Higgins. The remaining 698 students have chosen the hybrid model. At the high school, 57 students will be remote only, while the remaining 425 will be part of the hybrid model.

Hancock County Technical Center (HCTC) Director Amy Boles said enrollment has fallen from April, when there were 252 students enrolled, to 224 as of Tuesday.

“A lot of families, as it’s getting closer, they’re getting more nervous,” said Boles. “The thought of their child being in two places is kind of a determining factor and is worrying them.”

Boles is working on scheduling students individually, taking into consideration their program, how many live work hours they need, whether they are fully remote and what group they’re in at their respective high schools. Some programs require that students attend in person to get their certification, said Boles, adding that she hopes to get schedules to families by next week.

“Right now, the programs filled to capacity are multimedia and welding,” said Boles.

The school is close to capacity for its biomedical and early childhood programs, but has openings for law enforcement, culinary, certified nursing assisting, automotive, diesel and its new program, hospitality.

“We’ve lost four or five kids at that program over the last week,” said Boles. “I think people are just really nervous.”

“All of those numbers are below capacity we determined in spacing out our classrooms,” said Higgins, reading the number of students in each group, maroon and gray.

Now that groups have been (mostly) set, administrators will turn to figuring out other questions, such as bus schedules, plans for kids with food allergies and how to get food to students when they’re studying remotely.

Director of Food Services Ray Daily urged families to apply for the free and reduced lunch programs before Oct. 1, even if they’re not sure they’re eligible.

“The big thing we need for everyone to do is fill out those free and reduced applications, to bring our numbers up above the 50 percent mark,” said Daily. “That’s very important as far as qualifying for a bunch of programs the state offers us.” The applications are confidential and there will be no indication if a child gets free or reduced lunch when they are served.

Qualifying for free and reduced lunch also could help families save on child-care costs as part of the program being offered by the Down East Family YMCA, said Director Peter Farragher. The nonprofit is offering spots for 100 children per day as part of its Remote Support Care program, which will run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (There are also after-school and before-school options.) A full day is slated to cost $40, but that will be reduced for families that receive free and reduced lunch.

Higgins said there also would likely be state and possibly federal support to help defray the cost of child care, but those figures have yet to be finalized.

Farragher said the Y had already given out 68 applications in less than 24 hours.

“I think the program is going to fill with Ellsworth kids,” he said.

As for bussing, those schedules are being worked out, said Director of Transportation Don Saunders.

“We’re only going to be able to carry 21 kids on the bus at the time — more if they’re from the same household,” he said. That will likely mean multiple bus runs, and the department is trying to figure out how to get students to school and home in a timely fashion.

Saunders said the department also is looking for bus drivers.

“If there is anybody out there that is at least thinking they might like to drive a school bus,” said Saunders, call 812-1105.

Administrators also urged parents to send back devices that had been sent home in the spring, such as laptops and iPads. Several hundred are still missing, said Ellsworth Elementary School Principal April Clifford, and they must be returned and updated so they can be distributed to students.

“We really need to have them in before because we’re missing several hundred devices and for IT to take them in, let them sit for 72 hours, clean them, update them, we really need people not to wait,” said Clifford.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Bar Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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