Education co-op gets briefings on programs

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JAY – The fledgling Western Maine Education Cooperative took several major steps toward making academic and skills achievement more broadly, effectively and efficiently available to regional students here Tuesday evening.

Spurred by Winthrop and SAD 36 Superintendent Terry Despres, 17 school units in the region were invited to join the cooperative 20 months ago. Twelve have accepted; only Auburn has said no, and four are still undecided.

During a busy four-hour session Tuesday, the group heard presentations on four areas in which school systems might benefit financially, and their students academically and in skills development, from regional cooperation: Reading, alternative education, technology and technical training.

Darlene Bassett, an educational consultant with Best Practices International of Winthrop, outlined a program for improving student performance in reading that schools could jointly put in place as has been done elsewhere.

A video presentation from the Association of Builders and Contractors illustrated the need for skilled, young workers in all areas of construction. It emphasized the importance of persons entering the trades or crafts to have hands-on experience in applying the skills learned in the classroom.

Working regionally with willing employers, school units will find students have broader work and work/study opportunities through the program. Despres said that he will be meeting soon with General Electric and Gates Fibre to discuss those types of opportunities.

Superintendent Thomas Hanson of SAD 52 told of his board’s recent decision to halt its alternative education program for a year because it was no longer fulfilling its mission. But he said the board is committed, as he is, to making an exemplary program available starting in 2007.

He said that he and other members of the group are working with researchers from the University of Maine at Orono to develop a program and make participation in it available to all schools in the alliance. He said such a program is ideal in working with industries and businesses in the trades and crafts.

Representatives of Corporate Computer Services Inc. of Massachusetts illustrated in a video presentation how it can save education cooperatives money in purchasing and maintaining computers.

All of the programs are or have been in place successfully in at least one of the participating schools in the cooperative. Assurances were given that in every case they could be available on a regional basis to the benefit of the students and the taxpayers.In other business, the group elected its first slate of officers and committee leaders, and appointed its first executive director. President for the first official year of operation will be Terry Despres; Vice President, Michael Cormier of SAD 9; Secretary, Philip Richardson of Rangeley, Union 37; and Treasurer, Thomas Hanson.

Chairing committees of the organization will be Robert Wall of Jay, emerging programs committee; David Murphy of Bethel, SAD 44, legislative liaison; Quenten Clark of Kingfield, SAD 58, grants and liaison with the state Department of Education; and Susan Pratt, assistant superintendent in SAD 9, was appointed to lead the professional development committee.

Mona Baker of Winthrop, who is a consultant to school districts after retiring from the state Department of Education, and has been assisting in the formation of the Western Maine Education Cooperative, was appointed its first executive director.

Those attending on Wednesday agreed to a meeting schedule of Aug. 17, Oct. 19, Jan. 18, March 15 and May 17, all to be held in Jay, from 4 to 8 p.m.

Despres emphasized that school units are still welcome to join the cooperative. He reminded members that participation in any particular activity of the group is optional; “it’s still all about local control,” he said. Dues for each unit will be $2 for each student enrolled in the schools.

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