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Maine Ocean School to host launch party

By Stephanie Grinnell | Oct 31, 2016
Courtesy of: Maine Ocean School/James Gillway The new logo for Maine Ocean School, which will be on display, along with additional information about the marine-focused magnet school, during a "launch party" Nov. 5 from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at Searsport District High/Middle School.

Searsport — The propelling force behind a planned marine-oriented magnet school has been motoring toward creating a curriculum, mission statement and logo and is ready to publicly launch the results of those efforts.

The Board of Trustees of Maine Ocean School has scheduled a “launch party” from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at Searsport District High/Middle School cafeteria. The launch will present information to the public about what work has been completed and what steps still need to be taken.

Board of Trustees Chairman Capt. Eric Jergenson said the launch party is just the beginning of the presentation of the board's unified vision and a waypoint noting a move from grassroots to a more organized effort.

“We want kids who are thinking about the ocean to be thinking about us,” he said. “ … There are a lot of kids on the Maine coast, and inland Maine, that spend time on the water.”

The Stockton Springs resident, who also teaches at Maine Maritime Academy, said Maine Ocean School aims to prepare students to continue on to secondary education in marine fields. The trustees intend to follow a selective admissions procedure, Jergenson said.

“We all feel really strongly there's more potential in a student than [just] grade point average,” he said.

A four-year curriculum is being designed by trustees, Jergenson said, but a decision has not yet been made as to how the school initially will be established. In the past, trustees have considered establishing a two-year program to start.

“It's not just adding a program to a school, it's a whole school,” he said. “If we want to do it right, we have to take our time.”

While, by law, Maine Ocean School could open its doors as soon as September 2017, Jergenson said a more probable opening date is September 2018. In the meantime, though, summer programs may be offered.

James Gillway, interim chairman of a 501(c)3 foundation established to supplement state funding for the school, said fundraising is the next major step. While the school will be owned and funded by the state, there are areas that will require outside funding, such as extracurricular activities and student housing, Gillway said. The foundation is modeled after that of another magnet school, Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, he said. The foundation's board of directors are not trustees of the school, he noted.

Establishing Maine Ocean School also should reduce the tax burden for Regional School Unit 20, Gillway noted, because the state will lease the space from the high school and utility costs will be shared.

“The plan from the beginning was to put a school within a school,” he said. “We have the space and enrollment is down.”

In addition to educational assets such as access to the harbor, Penobscot Marine Museum, other local waters and nearby marine-focused programs, Gillway noted Searsport has a history of maritime focus when it comes to education. An advertisement published in The Republican Journal in 1853 was unearthed by resident Faith Garrold, Gillway said. The ad touts a school entering its second term.

“From the fact that the majority of young men on the sea coast of Maine especially, look to a sea life as the one with most promise, this school has been arranged especially, but not exclusively, for their benefit,” the ad reads.

“Intuitively, we knew,” Gillway said. “ … It's very exciting to be able to create a school in Waldo County that brings us back to our roots. … We proved in our heart we wanted the school and now we're proving the need is out there.”

He pointed to the Maine state flag, which features a farmer and a fisherman.

“There are excellent [educational] opportunities for farmers but not much in marine,” Gillway said. “ … Somehow over the past 60, 70 years, we've lost that connection.”

On National Maritime Day in May, Gillway said he learned there are just 42 schools in the entire country with a focus on marine-oriented careers.

“The marine industry needs kids; there are huge shortages,” he said.

For now, the school's trustees are focused on completing the curriculum, which must be submitted to the state for review by Feb. 15, 2017. While it is still in draft stages, the curriculum could include variations on required content areas such as marine biology for science and U.S. maritime history as a social studies option. Visual and performing arts classes could include a sea chanteys class or a marine musical, according to a draft curriculum, and world language classes may focus in the second round on ocean and marine terms within the chosen language. A variety of marine-focused credentialing options could be offered as well.

Additional information will be available at the launch party. A new website for the school is being created at and will be unveiled soon; a meeting calendar is available on the site now and all meetings, including committees, are open to the public. Those interested in learning more or volunteering should go to Maine Ocean School's Facebook page, Event information about the launch party also can be found on Facebook:

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