News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 2, 2014
GSA strategic plan puts students in the community

by Rich Hewitt

The downtown area got a bit of sprucing up on September 24 thanks to a group of students from George Stevens Academy. This and other matters were discussed during the school’s annual open meeting of the board of trustees later that day.

About 85 GSA sophomores and their advisors worked at various sites around the downtown area, raking, doing groundwork and other general clean-up chores. The community service day was part of an overall effort to improve the student advisory program at the high school.

According to Libby Rosemeier, GSA dean of students, the community service day was a way for students to do something that the community will remember. It also provided an opportunity for advisors to work with their advisees outside of the school environment.

Other classes were busy in other parts of the community. Seniors took their annual hike up Blue Hill Mountain; juniors were on the Blue Hill Heritage Trust trails, and freshmen worked on campus. Rosemeier told trustees at their annual meeting that although the community service effort took a great deal of work to organize, it was well worth it. She added that she may try to organize another such community service work day in the spring.

“I think this is the start of something good,” she said.

The activity was part of a wider effort to improve the advisory experience, one element of the overall goal in the trustees’ strategic plan to make every student a success story. The school has received a $20,000 challenge grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation and is currently working to raise the matching $20,000. Those funds will be used for professional development and training for faculty members and to develop a stronger advisory program. GSA already is working to arrange schedules to provide more time for advisors to meet with students and has scheduled a workshop for advisors later this fall.

Much of the trustees’ meeting focused on the strategic plan goals, especially those related to student success. Rosemeier, guidance counselor Martha Garfield and science teacher Sue Jellison reported on the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, a collaboration among seven Maine high schools and the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington designed to provide a strong academic background for students planning a career in commercial fishing or other marine related fields.

Representatives from the different schools worked together to develop a curriculum in the course. Although there are differences in the way the individual schools use the curriculum, all of the students are getting the same information, Garfield said.

Head of School Paul Perkinson outlined the successes of the GSA culinary arts program, which has attracted enough interest among students for the school to consider expanding the program. Students work in the school cafeteria providing lunch for students and faculty which, at $5, is “the best value on the peninsula,” Perkinson said.

Perkinson also noted that the school has strengthened its efforts to support students who struggle academically. He said that the new director of special education, Cory Schildroth, has worked with the sending schools to ensure a smooth transition to high school. They also have created a new position of reading specialist to work with students.

The continuing effort to improve the special education program will likely require additional staff and more teaching space, Perkinson said.

The strategic plan also targeted the school’s facilities and finances, and trustees reported successes in those areas as well. Board president Marion Morris said that fundraising efforts had been successful, bringing in about $338,000 and resulted in expanded involvement from alumni.

One of the major improvements to the buildings this summer was the replacement of lights in the gymnasium. That project replaced 40, 400-watt lights with 30 220-watt high efficiency LED lights. That will not only reduce maintenance on the lights, but is expected to save the school between $5,000 and $6,000 a year in electricity costs, savings that will pay for the project within three years.

In other business, the trustees bade farewell to longtime board member Emil Andy. Andy served for 14 years on the board, a tenure that followed more than two decades as a teacher and assistant headmaster at the school.

Morris said it was difficult to imagine GSA without Andy, whose passion, integrity and willingness for “gritty debate” have helped to move the school forward.

“George Stevens Academy is stronger and better for his many contributions,” she said.

The board did not elect any new trustees at its meeting, but two new trustees did join the board earlier this year: Mike McMillan of Brooksville and Lin Parker of Penobscot. The trustees reelected Jim Markos and Tyler Knowles to their second three-year term, and Jim Henry and Marjorie Olivari to their third three-year term.

Morris was reelected as the board president; Markos as vice president; and Henry as clerk. Brian van Emmerik was elected as the board’s new treasurer.