September 19, 2019
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The state’s first high school for future sailors is getting closer to opening

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Rick Fitzsimmons (right) works with Eye Cheenthada (second from right), 17, to drill anchor holes while Liam MacMillan (left), 16, and Colby Johnson, 15, measure boards at the Penobscot Marine Museum's Hamilton Educational Center in Searsport in this January 2016 file photo.

SEARSPORT, Maine — A magnet school for students interested in maritime careers is preparing to launch in Searsport, and this weekend, organizers plan to lay out what they’ve accomplished so far.

Leaders behind the push to start The Maine Ocean School will host an informational session from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, inside the Searsport middle/high school cafeteria.

“To use a nautical term, we’re well underway,” said Rep. James Gillway, who sponsored the bill that launched the planning for the school and who serves as Searsport’s town manager. Now, he’s leading the nonprofit foundation that will supplement the state’s funding of the new school.

The board has settled on the school’s logos, and it is ironing out governing documents, curriculum and programing. It plans to launch the school’s new website MaineOceanSchool.org, shortly after Saturday’s session.

“These folks have worked tremendously hard to get us to where we’re at today,” Gillway said of the six-member board chaired by Capt. Eric Jergenson of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. Other board members represent the University of Maine marine sciences program, the Maine Marine Patrol and the town of Searsport.

Gillway said the school will offer a full science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, but it also will give students the opportunity to specialize in maritime-focused studies ranging from climate change to seafaring.

There are four set “tracks” that students can pursue — marine science, marine transportation, marine engineering and marine management. All students will have the chance to earn an entry-level U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Certificate.

“We’re a maritime state, we need to get back to that with our kids,” Gillway said. “It’s part of our heritage.”

The school, which will lease empty space in the existing Searsport middle/high school, likely will have courses in sailing, kayaking, small boat handling, swimming and small engine repair. Arts offerings will range from two- and three-dimensional ship design to a music course focused on sea shanties.

Gillway said he expects 150 to 200 students. The board is still weighing whether it will give students the option of living in dormitories, or if it will be a commuter school.

After completing bylaws, curriculum and other details, the Maine Ocean School’s plans will go to the state’s education committee for vetting.

By law, the Maine Ocean School could start in the fall of 2017, but it might not open until September 2018. The planning process got off to a late start because the bill proposing the school was included in a stack of bills that Gov. Paul LePage had intended to veto but did not do so in time, allowing them to become law after a significant delay.

Organizers hope to launch a few extracurricular programs this summer to help interested students get their feet wet.

“Sometime in the past 60 or 70 years, we lost track of preparing kids for these good jobs,” Gillway said. “This is a chance to expose these kids to this path, even if they don’t have it in their background.”

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

 



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