Maine Ocean School 'exists now'

By Stephanie Grinnell | Apr 21, 2017
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Rep. James Gillway speaks April 15 in Curtis Hall to interested parties about plans for Maine Ocean School.

Searsport — With the approval of the state Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, Maine Ocean School has become an official public high school, according to Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport.

Gillway, who is also the town manager, told trustees and directors April 15 that the magnet school established by legislation he introduced is forging ahead with plans for a fall 2018 opening.

A proposed curriculum has been presented to the state and is available on the school website at maineoceanschool.org. The core curriculum is designed to meet state requirements, while many classes will have an ocean twist. Board of Trustees member Gayle Zydlewski described planned classes as "more about the water than if you went to a regular high school."

Tuition to the magnet school will be free for Maine students. As a public school, Maine Ocean School is governed by a Board of Trustees. Separately, Maine Ocean School Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has been established to raise funds to support school programs — e.g., residential facilities — that fall outside the core school budget. The two entities work independently.

While the governor initially proposed funding Maine Ocean School as a charter school, Gillway said opposition from the foundation and the state Education Committee ultimately turned the tide: Funding will come from the General Education budget.

"We're kind of in square one again because we're back in General Education funding," he said, noting the next step is to develop a budget. "... If the state doesn't give us money, we still exist. In 2018, we can open whether we have (state) money or not."

Maine Ocean School Foundation currently has less than $4,000 in its treasury, according to Board of Directors Chairman Monet Brazier. Subcommittees are being created to focus on specific areas of need, including finance and facilities.

Long-time educator Tom Marx, a former superintendent in several Maine school districts and a member of both the foundation and school boards, noted the recently closed Stockton Springs Elementary School is a location the magnet school is considering.

"That appeals to us," he said, cautioning facilities issues "haven't resolved yet." He later said there are a number of smaller spaces being looked at, as well.

"We're working on the money," Marx said. "We're making progress."

To get prospective students interested in the school — which will begin offering classes to 10th- and 11th-graders (about 20 students total) the first year — a summer introductory bus tour program is in the works. Maine Ocean School is a residential school but board members are still considering whether day students will be allowed.

With a residential program, classes can take place outside traditional school hours, which allows more flexibility for students and staff, Maine Ocean School Board of Trustees Chairman Capt. Eric Jergensen said.

Marx said of the school plans, "It's vibrant, (but) it's still in its early days."

Other board members agreed.

"We're in high research mode," Brazier said.

Staffing questions remain unanswered as well. Jegensen said Maine Ocean School hopes to work with some teachers in Regional School Unit 20, under a separate contract. Gillway noted that is a possibility but cautioned formal agreements must be in place.

"We can't just co-mingle because we're not a charter school," he said.

Partnerships, too, still are in the early stages. Gillway said Timberwind schooner Capt. Lance Meadows has expressed interest in working with Maine Ocean School students. Meadows also suggested contacting local hotels to house students during the school year, which is typically the "off season" for many overnight accommodations.

Extra curricular activities such as athletics will be offered to magnet school students through RSU 20, Jergensen said. He noted those graduating from the magnet school will have the chance to emerge with some credentials that could qualify them for immediate employment, depending on a student's chosen track.

Volunteers are still needed for committees and subcommittees, to help the Board of Directors research funding to establish the school and residential facilities and determine day-to-day requirements. Interested volunteers are urged to reach out via the school website contact forms, available at maineoceanschool.org.

A foundation meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 5 at Blacksmith Restaurant. An executive committee meeting — which does not require the full board to make decisions — will take place before June. All meetings are open to the public and an updated calendar is posted on the school website.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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