PITTSFIELD, Maine — As the high school for students from three towns, there’s no question that Maine Central Institute plays a crucial role in the community.
But because MCI is so different from the typical high school, with its ornate campus-style boarding facilities and students from 20 countries, the bond between school and community isn’t as strong as it could be, according to Roberta McGuire, director of residential life and co-chair of a committee charged with solidifying MCI’s community connections.
“We would like to get more involved with the community and have the community come to our campus as well,” said McGuire. “We’re trying to get the word out about what we have here.”
McGuire’s committee is one of 11 groups that is pondering a range of issues at MCI with the collective intent of developing a five-year strategic plan by this summer. One of the goals is putting to rest the notion that because MCI is partially a private school that boards about 135 of its 500 students — a model that in Maine is known as a “town academy” — that the public isn’t welcome.
Head of School Christopher Hopkins said dispensing that idea has benefits for both the school and the community.
“MCI is a school that is going seven days a week,” said Hopkins. “We’re asking ourselves how can MCI become more of a community center, How can we get out into the community more?”
Some ideas that have been generated so far include inviting community groups to make more use of MCI meeting rooms and athletic facilities. Conversely, the school believes that communities could benefit more from the expertise of faculty and staff, not to mention the rich mix of cultures among the student body.
MCI, which serves high school students from Pittsfield, Burnham and Detroit, is one of 11 town academies in Maine that have 60 percent or more publicly funded students, according to the Maine Department of Education. Because they accept taxpayer dollars as tuition money, town academies must meet Maine’s Learning Re-sults standards and abide by other requirements that all-private schools do not.
David Connerty-Marin, a spokesman for the department, said a private school being seen through a different lens than a public school is not a phenomenon unique to MCI.
“When you have a public high school that the school board is in charge of, and which the community owns, I don’t doubt that there’s a different level of attachment,” he said. Still, places like MCI are very much integral parts of their communities.”
As part of her research, McGuire has visited several community institutions, including the SAD 53 board of directors at a recent meeting. SAD 53 Superintendent Michael Gallagher provided several ideas, ranging from using MCI classrooms for adult education programs to better integrating younger-level sports programs with MCI’s teams.
“There might be a perception in the community that because they are an independent school that they might not be as responsive,” said Gallagher. “I think that sometimes is something in people’s minds. It’s great that they are looking to integrate into the district in a planned way that, hopefully, creates a better understanding among parents and other citizens about what MCI is all about.”
Jason Judd, MCI’s guidance director who also co-chairs the strategic planning effort, said preliminary recommendations will be shared with faculty and staff next week and are scheduled for approval by the board of trustees in June. Anyone with suggestions about how MCI could improve its link with the community can call Jennifer Voter Beane at 487-5915.