News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 29, 2017
GSA Open House highlights programs

by Rich Hewitt

The world is changing and education has to prepare students to adapt to those changes.

That is the challenge for educators at George Stevens Academy, according to Head of School Tim Seeley.

Seeley spoke last week at the GSA trustees’ annual meeting and said the school is meeting that challenge. Although some might question the need for school in a world where facts are available at our fingertips, Seeley stressed that facts and figures are not what schools are all about.

The role of education, he said, has never been to provide students with just facts and skills, but to prepare them “to know when they need more facts and how to use those facts wisely.’’

That role has become more important in a world where many students may one day work in jobs that don’t even exist today. GSA does a good job, and Seeley said he is proud of the work the faculty and staff does for its students.

“But we need to do better,’’ he said. “We don’t want to provide just a good, generic education; we want an excellent, flexible program that is rooted right here in this part of Maine. The goal here is to give students an education that will make them happy and make their communities better.’’

Seeley noted that about 80 percent of GSA graduates continue their education at a four-year college, but faculty presentations at the trustees’ meeting highlighted programs for students who face academic challenges.

Dr. Megan Flenniken, a recently hired science teacher who taught in the Maine Skippers Program last year, spoke about the impact that program has had on students.

The program was created through the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (formerly Penobscot East Resource Center) especially for students who plan to work in the fishing industry. It’s now in eight Maine high schools.

At GSA, the program is growing. In 2015, there were six students in the program; there were five last year and 11 are signed up for next year, including three girls and one residential student. Through field trips, technology and campus visits, the program matches students with local fishermen, scientists and other industry experts as they research specific fisheries questions, Flenniken said.

Three of the five students this year were seniors and all three graduated; two are currently working in the industry and the third is attending a two-year college. That’s a major accomplishment, Flenniken said, since four of the five students had struggled with attendance and all three seniors were, at some point, in danger of not graduating.

“There were times when this was the only thing that kept them coming [to school],’’ she said.

The program, through its interaction with industry representatives, gives the students a broader view of the fishing industry. It also broadens their view of themselves, Flenniken said.

For example, the students presented the results of their research on the potential for a scallop farm in Salt Pond in three different venues, including the Maine Fishermen’s Forum.

“That kind of experience empowers them to do more than what they might have thought they could do,’’ she said.

When Cory Schildroth was hired as GSA’s special education director, some of his relatives didn’t even know there was a special education program at the school. He told administrators that if they hired him people would certainly know that the program exists.

Now the special education program not only exists; it is thriving as it provides services to students with special needs. Next year, the program expects to serve about 51 students, he said. Working with faculty member Lori Wessel, Schildroth has adapted academic curriculum for individual and small group learning.

One of the key reasons for the success of the program, Schildroth said, was the support from the classroom teachers. He said he and Wessel have worked closely with faculty members to gather information about students that helps them customize programs for each student.

“The students don’t all get the same program, but they all get what they need to be successful,’’ he said.

The trustees also took care of some annual meeting business last week. Outgoing chairman Marion Morris noted that GSA’s annual fund drive is doing well. As of May 30, the drive, which winds up this week, had raised a little over $147,000 toward its goal of $160,000. Additional donations and fundraising events have also bolstered the school’s finances.

The board recognized retiring members: Morris, Melissa Mattes, Jim Henry and Margie Olivari, and welcomed a new member, attorney Sally Mills, a GSA alum.

Board members also recognized John Richardson, who joined the board earlier this year, and elected Jim Marcos and Tyler Knowles to their third, three-year terms.

They also elected a new slate of officers for the coming year: Samantha Politte, chair; Tyler Knowles, vice-chair; Brian van Emmerik, treasurer; and Phyllis Taylor, clerk.