JAY – The school system’s former alternative education teacher told the School Committee on Thursday that communication between the superintendent’s office and the staff is broken and in dire need of repair.

John Schoen, who built the program that serves students in grades six through 12 for 13 years, questioned the superintendent’s decision to not hire another alternative education teacher to replace him and instead have no lead teacher and two education technicians who don’t even have the power to grade work. There is money for the job in the budget, he said.

Alternative education serves the needs of a range of students, including those who are not eligible for special education.

Middle School Principal Scott Albert said during his report that he was concerned about the direction of alternative education this year and the chance that it would be a gap year for students who have been helped by the program.

Losing both Schoen and high school guidance counselor Ben Milster were blows to the system, Albert said.

For the first time in his seven years there, Albert said, he was not sure he was looking forward to going back to school.

“I love it here. I love my staff. I want to be here for a while,” Albert said, but things need to change and the board and superintendent need to look closely at what is going on in the schools.

Superintendent Robert Wall said he and a consortium of school leaders in SAD 36, Winthrop and SAD 52 and other education experts have discussed setting up a regional alternative education program to provide options for students. He also said the schools in Jay have had declining enrollment for years.

Board member Mary Redmond-Luce said the Jay program is excellent, but wondered whether that excellence will continue into the future. The school system has expert teachers who will help students as the program evolves, she concluded.

Wall’s recommendation not to fill Milster’s guidance counselor position also came under fire as opponents said they were concerned about the remaining counselor being able to handle students in crisis, scheduling, and helping students get into college.

Schoen and Milster have taken jobs with SAD 9 in Farmington.

Wall said they are looking at restructuring the guidance program, which would include a triage person to help students get the assistance they need.

School Committee members set a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, at the middle school to find out what the guidance program does for about 278 students at the high school before they decide to accept Wall’s recommendation.

Schoen said the decision to restructure alternative education was abrupt. His wife, Patty, an education technician in the alternative education program, only learned Wednesday that she needed to move her stuff to another classroom and that the furniture students bought through their business in the alternative education program was being thrown out.

Schoen said besides bolstering students’ self-esteem and leadership skills, he was involved in three suicide interventions and visited students in psychiatric wards, jail and the hospital and worked with pregnant and parenting teens – three of four have or will graduate – and helped resolve conflicts in times of family crisis.

Schoen said the numbers in alternative education are not falling and there has been a successful graduation rate during the past decade.

Schoen read a list of things he believed should be changed in the system, including the zero-tolerance policy, which “should equally apply to staff, and that bullying, screaming at, harassing, verbally or physically abusing students should not be tolerated.”


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