May 25, 2018
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RSU 68 directors discuss programs, look to future

By Stuart Hedstrom, Piscataquis Observer

MONSON, Maine — Two months after the start of classes, officials in RSU 68 discussed current programs and policies and what these offerings and guidelines could look like in the future. They met Nov. 6 at the Monson Community Center for the district’s annual board meeting, which is held in the northernmost town of the four-town RSU 68.

SeDoMoCha School Principal Julie Kimball gave an overview of the pre-kindergarten program, which has a pair of sessions in both the morning and afternoon for students who have turned 4 by Oct. 15. “We currently have 41 students enrolled in pre-K,” Kimball said. The program’s capacity is 48 pupils.

Kimball said a typical day in pre-K, which lasts for a few hours in either the morning or afternoon, includes fine motor skill activity, such as cutting and coloring, followed by “a visit to the classroom library to look at books.” The students then gather for “rug time,” when they may be read a story, then have time for math and science inquiry, and then they enjoy a snack.

“They have free choice to move around the classroom,” Kimball said, “and there’s always an outdoor period.” She said the day always concludes with a finale, with the students all gathering together before heading home.

Currently 32 of the students are from Dover-Foxcroft, five are Sebec residents and the other four are from Monson. Kimball said during the enrollment period Dover-Foxcroft is allotted 24 spots and the other three towns have eight spots apiece. If these are not filled, students on the waiting list are then offered positions in the pre-K program.

Board member Peter Caruso said he strongly disagreed with the 4-year-old age limit on the pre-K program, saying some parents, particularly those with sons, are opting to wait a year before enrolling their students in a school program. He said having an age limit in place for pre-K would prevent the older potential students from receiving the benefits of the program.

“I think we should be giving every educational opportunity,” Caruso said.

Kimball said transportation is not provided for pre-K, “and that is primarily due to funding.”

“We would like to transport, but it is a financial issue,” Superintendent Alan Smith said. He said pre-K transportation, which would require equipment such as booster seats and seat belts, may be looked at during the budget process for the next school year “to see if the money will support the transportation.”

Board Chairman Rick Johnston encouraged the other directors to talk with Smith and/or members of the finance committee to see if they have ideas for other items to consider in the next year’s budget.

Special Services Director Susan Watson provided an update on several programs, including the sign language classes, which are being offered again in 2012-13 to help students to communicate with several of their peers. “There are 116 students in third- and fourth-grade who are taking classes, four ed techs and six teachers,” Watson said, with 63 students having signed up for an after-school sign language club.

She said day treatment social worker Shirley Kirkpatrick and special education teacher Andrea Philbrick-Cooper have volunteered again to teach students in the sign language club. “They are not paid. They never ask for anything, not even supplies,” Watson said.

Sign language is considered to be a foreign language, and “you can see kids using it throughout our building all the time,” Watson said.

“We started again with D.J.’s Cafe. The kids shop and cook and the teachers go in and eat on Fridays,” she said about another special services program taking place again this year.

“One of the things I’m really proud of since I’ve been here is the lack of turnover in staff,” Watson said.

She said the only change in special services staff has come with three retirements, with the positions then filled for the ensuing school year.

With the winter sports season right around the corner, the school board approved the five head coaching positions for SeDoMoCha Middle School. Ryan Dankert will be guiding the boys A basketball team, Ryan Nickerson boys B basketball, Gayle Allen girls A basketball, Teresa Sinclair girls B basketball and Jennifer Batchelder will be leading the cheering squad.

“I’m happy to see more staff members taking those positions,” Board Vice Chairman Blake Smith said.

Nickerson, Allen and Sinclair all teach at the middle school, while Batchelder is returning to the cheering team and Dankert has previously coached a number of sports at various levels at SeDoMoCha, Foxcroft Academy and in the community over the years.

A policy committee meeting before the regular board meeting featured a discussion on the school dress code, which now includes a ban on holes and rips in articles of clothing. Administrators mentioned how dress code violations are handled and what they do in other instances, such as when students wear short or tattered shorts and skirts over leggings.

“I think we need more time to get into this,” said board member Sue Mackey Andrews. “When we did the Future Search, there was an overwhelming desire to go to a common dress, but we decided not to pursue that,” she said, mentioning that there were several reasons, such as economic factors. “At our next meeting we will bring this back up.”

At the end of the meeting Johnston said he would like the district to look at ways to let the community know how it handles bullying. He said he wants “to get out the message the school is not just sitting back on its heels; this district is trying to be proactive.”

“We do not have an unsafe school, but as you know, it only takes one,” Superintendent Smith said.

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