News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 13, 2022
Castine School Board hears plan to address middle school curriculum concerns
GSA Director of Finance and Operations also addresses board

by David Avery

At a school board meeting January 5, School Union 93 Superintendent Reg Ruhlin outlined the five-point plan to address concerns about the middle school curriculum at the Adams School before an audience of about 15 members of the public.

George Stevens Academy Director of Finance and Operations Seth Brown also addressed the board on the subject of financing Castine students who attend GSA.

Improvement plan

The five-point plan to improve the middle school curriculum includes surveying parents; hiring additional help in math and science immediately; having Union 93 curriculum coordinator Dawn McLaughlin and principal Sheila Irvine observe science and math teacher Joshua Snow periodically; providing online instruction as an option for more advanced students; and increasing staffing in grades 5 through 8.

Unfortunately, said Ruhlin, an immediate solution that identified Lynne Ensworth to work as an educational technician in the classroom a few weeks ago fell through when she announced that she is not returning to the Adams School in January.

Longer term middle school staffing needs are to be addressed in the budgeting process for next year and beyond, said Ruhlin.

At least one student has begun the online instruction in math and science, which is individualized under the supervision of a teacher. Currently, students are chosen for the program based on input from teachers and parents.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Lela Agnew asked for a more “intentional” process to identify students who could benefit from the faster paced, more advanced online instruction in math.

She also asked the board to consider using college students to support the middle school curriculum.

Tuition increase

With respect to GSA, Director of Finance and Operations Seth Brown thanked the board and parents for supporting the $1,000 increase in tuition for students attending GSA. He also said that amount would increase to $1,700 next year.

The $1,700 represents the supplemental tuition that private academies like GSA can charge to educate public school students. Currently, the state sets maximum allowable tuition for public schools at $12,000. Private and parochial schools may charge supplemental tuition.

Castine is one of seven towns that uses GSA as a “public” high school option. Castine sends 21 students to GSA; Penobscot sends 24; Brooksville, 35; Blue Hill, 90; Brooklin, 20; Surry, 49; and Sedgwick, 45. The numbers are approximate, according to Brown.

Other towns sending students to GSA may do so by paying private tuition. International boarding students at GSA currently number seven, down from a typical average from a few years ago of 30 to 35, Brown said. They come from Russia, China, Canada, Vietnam and Eritrea.

Brown also described how the Budget Advisory Committee, which is currently being created by the seven communities, will be involved in the GSA budgeting process by representing towns and reporting back to boards and communities.

COVID-19 protocol

In other action, Superintendent Ruhlin also reported to the board on the updated COVID standard operating procedures for students. School Union 93 follows the guidance of the U.S. and Maine CDCs.

The new protocol reduces the quarantine period from 10 to five days for those with a positive test, he said. Upon return, students must wear masks, which is already required at Adams School.

Close contacts of those testing positive, meantime, can continue to attend school wearing masks but should isolate from the community, meaning everyone not at school.

Close contacts are described as those within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more, or those in direct physical contact with a positive case.

Those definitions do not apply to time outside or on the school bus, Ruhlin told the board.

The board also received from Ruhlin a recommended truancy policy, which had been missing from the Adams School.

Under New Business, Ruhlin also recommended that the board adopt a policy about public participation at board meetings.

The board then retired to executive session to discuss personnel matters.