Should Franklin School become part of new Edward Little High School?

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AUBURN — A parent, a teacher and the principal of Auburn’s Franklin Alternative School spoke Wednesday night against making Franklin part of a new Edward Little High School.

Making Franklin part of the big school would mean less success in one of the most successful alternative schools in the country, according to Franklin Principal Russ Barlow.

On Wednesday night, Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin recommended to the Auburn School Committee that Franklin become part of the high school if the new school is approved by Auburn voters in June and opens in 2023.

Grondin said she understands some do not want Franklin to become part of the bigger school. She and committee member Bonnie Hayes said it would be designed so it would continue to offer students a separate, safe, small-school culture.

It could have its own entrance apart from the big school. It could have its own, smaller dining room.

And it would offer students who want greater access to “positive opportunities” more programs that Franklin students would miss out on if they continued to be housed at a different building, Grondin said.

With a June referendum planned, Auburn must move fast to provide the state the square footage and space needs of the new school. If the high school were to include Franklin, “it’s now or never,” Grondin said.

But parent Marion (Lynette) Gagne said that would be a mistake. She graduated from Franklin in 1996 and needed the smaller setting.

She became pregnant when she was 14 years old. If Franklin were not an option, she would have quit rather than to go a big school “with my belly showing,” she said. “I would not have finished school.”

At Franklin, she felt safe and supported. She eventually married and raised two children, now 23 and 26. They went to college and did not have children early in life because of the lessons she learned at Franklin, which she said she shared with her children.

If Franklin becomes part of the big school, some students will not go, she predicted.

“You can’t count the number of students who don’t show up,” Gagne said.

Jennifer Laliberte said she, too, was a student at Franklin. She was raised in poverty and was abused. Franklin was a safe place that provided a good education “for kids like me, for 40 years.”

Laliberte finished school and went on to become a teacher. Today, she is a teacher at Franklin.

Franklin is the longest-running alternative program in the state, she said.

“Auburn should be proud,” Laliberte said.

Franklin has become the program that other communities visit to learn how to build their own, strong programs, she said.

“You can imagine my surprise when we were told yesterday, in no uncertain terms, that we will be moving our program” to the new school, Laliberte said.

She questioned why Franklin teachers were not involved in the decision process, and said teachers should be included.

Barlow, the principal at Barlow, said he realized the idea initially was to mainstream Franklin students, but over time students have become reliant on Franklin’s family atmosphere.

Franklin is among the most-successful alternative programs in the country, he said, adding he does not  think that could be duplicated at a bigger school.

Barlow said the Lewiston alternative program does not work as well because it is at a big school.

Lewiston is discussing creating an alternative high school at the Longley School when it closes and students move to the new Connors Elementary School this fall.

At the request of Auburn School Committee members, Grondin, Barlow and others will visit alternative programs in Sanford and Hampden.

The School Committee will vote Dec. 19 on whether Franklin should stay at a separate building or become part of the big school.

City Councilor Alfreda Fournier, who serves as the mayor’s representative on the School Board, said she agrees Franklin should be at the new school to give students more opportunities.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

Pat Gautier said she was not convinced. Franklin students need a smaller environment, she said, and she would need to be convinced Franklin would have its own space removed from the larger school.

That “is the only way I could support it,” she said.

Committee members were also told Park Elementary School, which has been overcrowded since it opened, needs two more classrooms.

More discussion on whether to build two second-floor classrooms at Park Elementary is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Auburn parent Marion (Lynnette) Gagne speaks against making Franklin Alternative School part of a new Edward Little High School. If Franklin were part of the bigger school when she was a high school student, “I would not have finished school,” Gagne said. The Auburn School Committee is scheduled to vote Dec. 19 on the issue. (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal)

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