Discussion about establishing a "school-within-a-school" at Mount View High School ended with Regional School Unit (RSU) 3 board members asking for further research into cheaper options.

Board members listened to a presentation from Superintendent Heather Perry regarding the implementation of one possible alternative-learning program — Big Picture Learning — to essentially create a “school-within-a-school,” Perry said.

Big Picture Learning was established in 1995 by two former educators with the goal of changing the United States’ educational system, according to the program’s website. Instead of evaluating student achievement based on standardized tests, Big Picture Learning uses community-based projects to educate and evaluate the students.

Perry said if the district were to pursue a partnership with Big Picture Learning, the first year of the program would be a planning and professional development period. A team from the Big Picture Learning program would be sent to the high school to complete a needs assessment and inventory.

Perry estimated that the planning and professional development phase would cost the district about $60,000. However, she did not provide cost estimates for running the program once it is established.

Jackson board member Lisa Cooley said the cost of the Big Picture Learning Program would be “comparable to a regular school.”

RSU 3 spends about $12,000 per pupil, which is slightly higher than the state average per-pupil education costs, Perry explained.

If implemented, the program would be open to 15 students and be supervised by one adviser, Perry explained. Depending on demand, she said, the intent would be to continue expanding the program over the years.

Big Picture Learning suggests not exceeding 120 students in the program, Perry noted.

Cooley noted that Big Picture Learning might be a good fit as the district’s dropout prevention program.

Thorndike board member Jesse Hargrove asked how students would be selected to participate in the program. Perry said part of the needs assessment conducted by Big Picture Learning would address questions like that.

As discussion continued, Mount View High School Principal Cheri Towles raised a concern about trying to implement a new program at the same time teachers are working to move toward proficiency-based learning.

Towles said she was concerned a new program might send the wrong message to staff; she also noted the district’s graduation rate increased from 83 percent to 91 percent.

Hargrove responded to Towles’ concerns by saying he wasn’t worried so much about faculty, but he did want to know if gifted students would be included in the Big Picture Learning program.

Cooley and Troy board member Rachel Katz expressed their desire to see the program brought to Mount View. However, Montville board member Christine Legore and Brooks board member Linda Lord were hesitant to move forward on the project. Lord cited her town's concerns with the possibility of the state's eliminating municipal revenue-sharing and the burden to taxpayers of adding another program.

Legore said she felt the Big Picture Learning Program would be a replacement for a program that already exists, and said she didn’t feel she could make a decision without having more information.

A motion was made to authorize Perry to expend the necessary funds to start a Big Picture Learning Program in the high school. Liberty board member Katherine Eickenberg, who asked that Perry explore alternatives that might be more financially feasible, amended the motion to require Perry to look at all possible options.

The amendment was approved by a vote of five in favor to two against, with two abstentions. Board members approved the amended motion by a vote of seven in favor to three against.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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