Teachers at merging midcoast high schools help create innovative curriculum plan

Posted March 29, 2011, at 7:03 p.m.
Last modified March 30, 2011, at 8:52 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Two high schools will merge and create expanded, higher-level curriculum offerings that attract students and engage instructors to teach to their own interests all while having reduced budgets and staff.

That’s the hypothesis two principals will work from when Georges Valley and Rockland District high schools meld together into an eighth- and ninth-grade campus in Thomaston and a 10th- through 12th-grade campus in Rockland next fall.

At a special Regional School Unit 13  board meeting Monday night, the two principals of the high schools presented the curriculum that will be offered beginning next year.

The two high schools will merge their 10th through 12th grades into the Rockland building, which will be known as Oceanside High School east campus. The Thomaston school known as Oceanside High School west campus will house eighth- and ninth-graders. At present, some classes don’t have enough students to run at the individual high schools, but the combined enrollment at each grade level will enable more offerings. The board hopes that joining the eighth- and ninth-graders in Thomaston will help the students make the transition into high school, a problem the district had been struggling with.

For starters, the two schools will phase out the “comprehensive” level courses in two years, leaving only college-preparation level and advanced level courses.

Board member Brian Messing worried if the comprehensive level students were forced into a more rigorous study program, they would fail.

Rockland District High School Principal Tom Forti disagreed.

“Sometimes it does more harm than good [to have comprehensive level classes]. They get comfortable in those courses and realize they have less homework,” Forti said. “We don’t want anyone getting comfortable at a lower level when we know they can do more.”

Board chairwoman Ruth Anne Hohfeld said the term “college-prep” was a misnomer, that military and vocational schools, not just universities, like to see that high level coursework on a transcript.

In addition to the more rigorous workload, the principals said students will be discouraged from taking study halls and instead will be asked to carry seven to eight courses at a time.

“We want them busy all the time,” Forti said.

To support the students through the transition, the school will ramp up its lower-level courses during the next two years to prepare the teenagers for college-prep level classes. The new school, Oceanside High School, will offer “interventions,” which will give students in-school time to get extra help with reading and writing skills.

The new plan includes teachers playing a part in elective courses, Forti and Georges Valley High School Principal Larry Schooley said. The teachers were allowed to create elective courses that they are excited about.

For instance, Oceanside High School will offer a Stephen King literature course and an introduction to robotics technical course. The science department will offer botany, meteorology, forensic science and marine science in addition to the ubiquitous physics, chemistry and biology courses.

“One thing about electives is you get teachers who are passionate about what they are teaching, which leads to student engagement,” Forti said during his Monday night presentation.

Board chairwoman Hohfeld  was especially pleased about the new additions to the science curriculum.

“I’m really thrilled,” she said. “I want to go to high school.”

The elective courses will be offered each semester, but will run only if there are enough students. Forti and Schooley said they plan to use resources wisely.

“We’re not going to run a class with three or four students,” Forti said.

After the two men’s presentation, which was met with board support, Superintendent Judith Lucarelli discussed how the district will know whether the new curriculum is successful.

The school will publish an annual report card based on internal surveys, grades,  teacher evaluations and analysis from outside sources.

The new course offerings will be posted on the RSU’s website in the next week, the principals said.

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