News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 20, 2012
Blue Hill School Board forms pre-K subcommittee after hearing a variety of proposals
Partnership with CFO and YMCA offered as early childhood care model

Blue Hill School Board meeting

From left, Britt Uhr-Morse and Doug Orville of Child and Family Opportunities, Peter Farragher of Downeast YMCA and Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz attend the Blue Hill School Board meeting on September 12 to discuss after school and preschool programming.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

At their September 12 meeting, school board members listened to possible programs involving pre-K, early childhood care, and after-school programming from Child and Family Opportunities Executive Director Doug Orville and Associate Director of Program Operations Britt Uhr-Morse, Downeast YMCA Executive Director Peter Farragher and Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz, who spoke on behalf of Chuck Lawrence, owner of TradeWinds Marketplace in Blue Hill.

All have a strong interest in providing services to and through Blue Hill Consolidated School.

This is not the first time the board has received proposals for a pre-K program collaboration. At its November 2011 meeting, Peninsula Montessori Director Kathleen Burke and head teacher Elsa Marsh presented the framework of a collaboration that would provide pre-K to Blue Hill residents through BHCS but be based at the preschool’s Sedgwick site. At that time, the board was receptive and planned a follow-up meeting, but no substantive action followed.

A straw poll at last town meeting brought in a 176-104 vote in favor of some kind of public school pre-K program.

A major stumbling block to starting such a program at the school is lack of space. With enrollment up this year to 252 students, the highest in years, the only quick solution is to hold a pre-K class in a mobile classroom, or trailer, equipped with a bathroom appropriate for that age group.

Another proposal— for YMCA after school program

Initially, Farragher answered board questions on a proposal he submitted on starting a YMCA after-school program at BHCS, similar to the program the Y runs at a school in Lamoine. Running from 2:30 to 6 p.m. and “designed for working parents,” Farragher said the state-licensed program would offer homework help, healthy snacks and outdoor activities. The staff-child ratio would be 1 to 13 and the cost would range from $17 per day to $70 per week. The participation of seven students is the “break-even number,” Farragher said.

Board members raised the question of where such a program could be held. The drama club uses the cafeteria after school and the basketball teams occupy the gym in winter. Farragher said classrooms can be utilized, with teacher permission, as the need arises. As in Lamoine, the program would be staffed by ed. techs. already on BHCS staff.

“We rolled the dice in Lamoine and it worked,” Farragher said. “The program has been well-received by parents who use it. It’s not the only program available in Lamoine.”

An after school program is currently run by Peninsula Metamorphic Arts and Learning, with the BHCS school bus regularly dropping off around a dozen students a day, PMAL co-director Chris Muise told the board. PMAL serves K-5 students, with a junior counselor program for middle school students starting after the soccer season, according to Muise.

Chairman Jon Smallidge suggested continuing the discussion with a view towards the 2013-14 school year, but member John Richardson said a decision should be made “sooner rather than later.” A possible decision on the YMCA after school proposal is slated for the board’s October meeting.

Substantial donation offered for off-site pre-K

A lengthy discussion on pre-K program models followed, presented first by Schatz, who said he was present to relay to the board Lawrence’s desire to expand the building behind TradeWinds Marketplace, where the Blue Hill YMCA is housed, for a pre-school. Lawrence is “pretty passionate about early childhood education,” said Schatz and, as an employer, would like to provide some form of childcare for his employees.

“Chuck is donating $50,000 to whichever entity to remodel the building,” Schatz said. Renovating the building behind TradeWinds would provide space for 34 students age 2 to 5, he said.

However, BHCS wants to “see pre-K on campus because then it’s an introduction to our school,” said Smallidge.

Schatz said that if the school was involved “with a different model”—presumably meaning an on-campus pre-K—then a program held behind TradeWinds would be “a tuition model.”

Orville and Uhr-Morse both spoke on early childhood care and education programs through Healthy Peninsula, a branch of CFO. They outlined a three-way collaboration between BHCS, Healthy Peninsula and the Head Start program administered through CFO to provide child care before school, pre-school curriculum during school hours and after-school care for young children.

“There’s lots of ways to do things,” Uhr-Morse said. “That’s one that works very well.”

There are 184 Head Start slots in Hancock County granted by the federal government, Orville said.

“We have flexibility as where to assign those slots,” said Orville, and some “in-house” money to “fill the gap for those who don’t qualify for Head Start or childcare subsidies” but can’t afford to pay.

Marsh, of Peninsula Montessori, said her school already provides pre-school for Blue Hill and asked how many of the 184 federal slots would be available for BHCS. Orville’s answer was 34, subsidized by Head Start federal funds.

“We give out a lot of financial aid,” said Marsh. “If you guys come in, we’re going to be cooked, because a majority of our students come from Blue Hill.”

“I don’t think anyone’s proposing [BHCS] starts selecting providers,” said Schatz.

“We really need to move forward with this,” Smallidge said. “Our issue is space in this school.”

The board agreed by consensus to form a subcommittee.

Security camera proposal put on hold

In other business, the board heard from building and grounds supervisor Franklin Burke, who said installing outside security cameras without inside ones was “a waste of time, a waste of money.”

The board agreed, by consensus, to not install outside security cameras, a motion approved at its August meeting, and formed a subcommittee on BHCS security needs composed of members Susan Keenan and John Richardson, Burke, Principal Della Martin and technology instructor Matt Jurick.

The board then unanimously approved three BEEM grants: $4,800 for math enrichment, $1,000 for professional development and $1,100 for rental of instructional materials form Penobscot Marine Museum.

The board also unanimously approved the following coaching appointments for 2012-13: Tara McKechnie, athletic director; Kim Williamson, cross-country, $900; Debbie Tapley, cross-country assistant, $450; Mike Astbury, “A” team soccer, $900; Mark Baxter, “B” team soccer, $900; Rachel Nightingale, intermural soccer, $650. Martin explained that there really is no “B” team soccer but two “A” teams, and that an assistant cross-country coach is needed because 37 students signed up for that sport.

Finally, board member Ben Wootten brought up the upcoming Union 93 officer elections, to be held at its November meeting.

“The interest of Blue Hill may be better served by a different [chairman],” Wootten said.