April 19, 2018
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There’s a refreshing new attitude in Bangor schools

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

I’ve heard it rumored before that some members of the Bangor School Committee and some of Bangor’s former administrators are not among my biggest fans.

That’s to be expected. We have had our professional differences.

I did once suggest that 17 years as the chairwoman of the Bangor School Committee was long enough for Bangor’s Martha Newman and that it was time for new leadership.

I, like several other residents, thought it odd and perhaps troublesome when this newspaper revealed that over a three-year period and 70 meetings the seven-member school committee had cast only unanimous votes.

Former Bangor School Superintendent Robert “Sandy” Ervin and I have disagreed at times on the school’s refusal to allow its students to take part in a statewide drug survey.

Back in 2007, I took him to task, just a bit, for his hesitation to implement a computer-based academic and attendance tool that allows parents to check on their students’ grades and homework assignments and easily communicate with teachers online.

He said such a program would take away from the good old-fashioned sit-down talks that all parents should be having with their children.

I also was skeptical when Ervin and Newman discovered a rule that would disallow a committee member who had an immediate family member working within the school system from serving. Ervin and Newman brought it up only after Dan Tremble was elected to the committee by a large margin and soon after voted against Newman as committee chairman.

Tremble’s wife was employed as an ed tech at Fairmount School. Tremble was forced to resign his position on the board.

But new faces on the school committee, a new superintendent in 2008 and now a new principal at Bangor High School seem to be resulting in some positive changes.

Last week on two occasions I saw new principal Paul Butler standing outside and talking with students arriving at school.

“He does that pretty much every morning,” my son said.

He wasn’t standing with his arms crossed and his face stern. He was laughing, talking about a game the night before. He was accessible and friendly and welcoming.

He was the same way with parents a week earlier at the school’s open house.

It’s a refreshing and overdue change.

Earlier this week, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia and Lt. Tom Reagan spoke before the school committee about bath salts and their concern that use of the drug could filter down to the city’s school population.

Historically there have been concerns that the school committee and its administration have not aggressively addressed drug problems in the school or been receptive to other community outreach programs.

A group of high school kids trudged through my kitchen after school a week or so ago and were talking about bath salts as they slung their backpacks onto the countertop.

“Are you guys talking about bath salts in school?” I asked.

“Yep, sort of, a little bit,” was the reply.

I know there were officials knocking the hinges off the school doors in Bangor 10 years ago trying to get some face time with students to talk about the heroin and OxyContin epidemic the community was dealing with at the time.

The reception was vastly different.

Like Butler, Superintendent Betsy Webb seems to be ready to stand at the door and offer a warmer and more welcoming face to other community leaders and specialists with lessons and knowledge to share.

It’s the right and logical direction.

Now I’m hearing rumors that there just may be a tiny spark of hope in the long-term but always failed discussions of cooperative programming between the school system and the Bangor Y.

Such cooperation could stand to serve the students and the parents of this community well. That it hasn’t been done before is because of old politics, old schools of thought and a more closed than open approach from the school committee and administration.

It’s a new day and the residents of Bangor should welcome it.

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