2016-02-05 / Community

Lauded Sea Road School a closing candidate

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Sea Road Elementary School has been nominated by the Maine Department of Education for the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School Award. The irony: RSU 21 is thinking about shutting the school.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools program recognizes public and private schools that are either high-performing or have improved student achievement year-to-year by significant levels.

The award measures overall performance, as well as progress on closing achievement gaps of targeted subgroups, such as special education students and those deemed to come from low-income homes.

“We are honored by the nomination for the National Blue Ribbon Schools program,” said Sea Road Principal Stephen Marquis during a presentation at the Feb. 1 school board meeting.

Marquis noted that of 597 eligible schools in Maine, just four met all 12 nominating criteria this year.

“That alone is quite an accomplishment,” he said.

The other three schools to win nomination to the National Blue Ribbon Award for 2016 are Falmouth Middle School, Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden, and the Village Elementary School in Gorham.

Three of the four nominees will be forwarded for national recognition, and Marquis and his staff are finalizing the school’s application, due to the state by March 18. Although the school completes the application, it has not been able to self-nominate since 2003. The award itself dates to 1982.

In the 18 years since the requirement for an initial third-party nomination, just 16 schools in Maine have gone on to win national recognition. Kennebunkport Consolidated School got the honor in 2010 and if Sea Road follows suit, RSU 21 will be the first school district in Maine since 2004 to have two schools named as National Blue Ribbon Award winners.

Marquis said he and his staff won’t know until this fall if Sea Road has made the cut as one of Maine’s three nominees. However, even then a national award is not a given. Apart from a vigorous review, the school must continue to perform.

“It’s a two-stage vetting process,” he said. “Ultimately, once we clear all those [review] hurdles, we actually have to perform extremely well once again on our state tests, once again this spring. And even then you had to have three really high years [of test scores] before that. So, you can’t be a one-hit wonder.”

“This truly is a tribute to the dedication of our staff as they work to help every student achieve their highest potential, to the commitment of our students to their own learning, and to the partnership we have with our parents here at Sea Road,” Marquis said. “But it also is a direct result of what I believe is a commitment to quality education throughout the district. I firmly believe any of our schools within the district are qualified for this award, we just so happened to get nominated this time around.”

At Monday’s school board meeting, Kennebunk director Matthew Fadiman took that ball and ran with it, turning it into an NFL analogy.

“All of our schools are elite playoff teams,” he said. “But this year, it’s Sea Road that’s going to the Super Bowl.”

“This is a big deal,” agreed school board chairman Maureen King.

If Sea Road does win the national award, a delegation will be sent to a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to receive the award from the U.S. secretary of education.

By then, the writing may be on the wall for Sea Road School. When RSU 21 was formed in 2009, part of the consolidation agreement among Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport was that the district would always maintain an elementary school in each town. That’s partly why the $56.5 million building renovation bond targeted repairs at Kennebunkport Consolidated and the Mildred L. Day Elementary School, in Arundel. Sea Road is in better condition than either of the elementary schools to be rebuilt, but Kennebunk Elementary School is newer, putting Sea Road on the surplus chopping block in the face of stagnant enrollment growth.

According to Superintendent Katie Hawes, a Master Facilities Planning Committee met last week and reviewed projections for the district.

Based on RSU 21 policy, which recommends an average class size of 16-20 pupils in Grades K-1, between 18-22 in Grades 2-3, and 18-24 in Grades 4-5, RSU 21 currently needs between 53 and 60 regular classrooms. Adding in the smaller size requirements for special education classes boots the need to between 77 and 84 classrooms. However, a September 2015 projection by Portland-based consulting group Planning Decisions predicts the need will fall by 2019 to between 47 and 53 regular classrooms, or when adding in special education needs, between 71 and 77.

Currently, there are 64 classrooms in the district’s three elementary schools, not counting Sea Road. Still, there has been a drive to close the school, and Hawes has said at previous school board meetings that KES and KCS can absorb most, if not all of the Sea Road population.

“We as a school don’t have control over if Sea Road stays a school or closes,” Marquis said, “but what we do have control over is doing the best job we can with kids, and if we do that well, everything else takes care of itself, and I think this nomination underscores that.”

Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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