June 23, 2018
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School board chairwoman offers plan to realign Rockland area schools

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins (left) and board Chairwoman Esther "Tess" Kilgour listen to debate on the proposed merger of the district's two middle schools in April.
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The chairwoman of the Regional School Unit 13 board called Tuesday night for a merger of the district’s two high schools, a consolidation of its middle schools and a realignment of the elementary schools.

The proposal by Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour was met with a mixed reaction by other board members who attended the session, aimed at looking at how to most efficiently use the district’s 11 schools spread out among six communities.

“There’s a lot of merit to Tess’ idea,” Superintendent Lewis Collins said.

He said major savings could be achieved by aligning schools to be more efficient.

Board Vice Chairman Loren Andrews said the board needs to be sensitive to the desire of communities to have a school.

The superintendent conceded the desire of towns to have their own schools, saying it was often those communities’ identities.

Kilgour’s proposal calls for consolidating Oceanside High School into one building at the east campus in Rockland rather than the current arrangement, in which sophomores, juniors and seniors attend Oceanside East and eighth- and ninth-graders attend Oceanside West in Thomaston.

Under the chairwoman’s proposal, the high school would revert back to a ninth-through-12th-grade school. She pointed out that that the district would need to spend money to renovate the school and accommodate the greater number of students. The renovations would include a larger cafeteria.

Board member George Emery said he would like to see improved science laboratories. Kilgour agreed, saying the improvements made to the labs recently were nothing to be proud of.

The current two-campus arrangement is nearing the completion of its second year.

Andrews said that a decision on whether to continue the arrangement should be based on academic data rather than building needs.

In addition to merging the two high schools, Kilgour called for merging the district’s two middle schools into the building that now serves as Oceanside West. The school could easily handle all the district’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, she said.

The district now has two middle schools, Rockland District Middle School in Rockland and Thomaston Grammar School in Thomaston.

The superintendent had recommended earlier this year merging the two middle schools but into the Thomaston Grammar School. The board rejected that proposal.

KIlgour’s plan also calls for closing the Lura Libby School in Thomaston, an elementary school, and moving those students to the Thomaston Grammar School. This would alleviate borderline overcrowding at Lura Libby, she said.

The Lura Libby building could then be turned over to the town of Thomaston, which has been looking for space for municipal offices, Kilgour said.

And in Rockland, students in second through fifth grades would be moved from the South School to the adjacent Rockland District Middle School, which would be vacated by the merger of the middle schools.

The kindergarten and first grade would remain at the South School. The administrative offices of the district would be relocated from the McLain School in Rockland to the South School.

In the final phase of her realignment plan for the district schools, Kilgour said she would encourage joint gatherings of students from Gilford Butler in South Thomaston and Owls Head Central School in Owls Head to make an easier transition toward a possible move of those students to Rockland a year after the other mergers were made.

She said a vote in Owls Head and South Thomaston on whether to close their schools could be made in 2014-2015.

Andrews said the district should consider a new school to be be located in Owls Head or South Thomaston to replace the two older ones.

Board members said they would like to invest the savings in the buildings into education programs. The superintendent said he would like to offer an immersion program in foreign languages for younger students and he would like the district to offer a pre-kindergarten program.

The Cushing School would see fifth-graders return to the school, according to the plan.

The St. George School is not a part of Kilgour’s realignment of the schools. The town is developing a withdrawal plan.

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