Another school year is about to start.

In the Twin Cities, excellence in education is a priority that’s clear in the variety and depth of initiatives being undertaken by the school departments of Lewiston and Auburn.

Tom Morrill, superintendent of schools in Auburn, said, “We have a serious commitment to leveraging what technology has to offer to learning.” He said the school department is closing in on the one-to-one laptop computer goal at Edward Little High School, and that means the access to computers and the Internet “will certainly enhance and accelerate student learning.”

Morrill also emphasized that nutrition is a priority in Auburn’s schools.

He said the high school did not have a cafeteria kitchen when it was built about four decades ago. Over the years, modifications were made to provide cafeteria space and preparation facilities, and by the first part of 2009 it is hoped that a hot lunch and breakfast program will be in place at the high school.

That means the older students will now have all the nutritional benefits that have been available in grades K-8 for a long time. There will be sliding price options, as well as free breakfast or lunch to students who qualify.

“We continue to be cost conscious,” Morrill said.

He said savings are already being realized through strict attention to getting lowest possible prices in the bidding process. A performance contract involving studies of conversion to natural gas at five schools is in the works. Savings also will be accomplished through replacement of lights with more efficient technology including motion sensors that keep lights off when they are not needed.

Auburn’s bus routes also are being reviewed to identify efficiencies.

The social studies programs in grades K-8 are being expanded this year, and Morrill said it’s an example of the fact that “the world has greater expectations for all of us.” He also pointed out a neighborhood focus on literacy.

Budget savings are taking place because of personnel and hiring practices, Morrill noted. He said there are 16 new teachers entering the Auburn system this year, but that actually represents a 30 percent decrease in new hires.

“We are examining every single vacancy,” he said, making sure that the best options are used to meet the needs brought on by resignations and retirements.

Morrill said the high school’s orientation and mentoring program has been “unbelievably successful.” A large group of seniors have up to seven incoming freshmen whom they coach and assist from first day through the year.

“It sets the stage early” for the new high school students, he said. It also gives the seniors “a sense of purpose and a leadership opportunity.”

Other significant elements of the Auburn school year include an exploration of online courses.

Lewiston also has many new developments. The public schools in Lewiston have many new initiatives, as well as continuation of successful programs.

“We’re really excited about the opening of the new culinary arts building and the popular Green Ladle Restaurant,” said Tom Jarvis, director of human resources for the Lewiston School Department. The culinary arts program is part of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center which serves several hundred students with about two dozen vocational program offerings. The culinary arts program enrolls students from six area high school and is nationally recognized for its school-to-work efforts.

Jarvis noted that construction of the new Raymond Geiger Elementary School, which replaces Pettengill School, will be taking place on College Street with an opening target of fall 2009. That new school will trigger a redistricting study, Jarvis said.

Energy cost savings are high on the list of priorities, he said.

“We’re going to be converting a number of our heating plants to natural gas,” he stated. That includes the heating system at Lewiston High School, and he said the work should be completed by the end of December or in early 2009.

The Lewiston School Department is working with an assessment firm on measurement of academic programs and there are a number of professional development programs in place.

Jarvis noted that there will be “a significant push this year in the area of wellness.” It will be aimed at staff as well as students.

Also, the schools will inaugurate a set of family nights aimed at involving parents. Grades 5 and 6 will be rolling out electronic report cards.

The grades are already online for students in seventh grade and above.

Jarvis explained the budget has been increased for purchases of library books and schools continue to work with L/A Arts on bringing programs and resources to the students.

Public schools in both Lewiston and Auburn generally open on August 27. For details, go to the local websites.

Private schools also play a major role in L-A’s educational opportunities.

St. Dominic High School was located in Lewiston from 1941 until December 2001. In January 2002, St. Dominic Regional High School opened its new and modern campus on 68 acres of land in neighboring Auburn.

L-A’s several Catholic schools at the elementary and middle school levels have merged to become Trinity Catholic School, which has two campuses in Lewiston. Combined enrollment in Trinity Catholic School is close to 600.

Pre-kindergarten through grade four students attend classes at 17 Baird Avenue and grades five through eight go to the campus at 393 Main Street.

For information about registration and tuition, call 783-9323.

The area also is home to Vineyard Christian School and Central Maine Christian Academy, both in Lewiston.

Bates College is L-A’s principal institution of higher education. Founded in 1855, Bates is recognized as one of the nation’s finest colleges of the liberal arts and sciences.

Andover College in Lewiston offers Associate degree and Certificate programs in several fields of study.

Expansion of the Lewiston campus of the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston-Auburn College, is also under way. The school offers several baccalaureate and master’s degree programs.

Central Maine Community College is a modern campus on a rural setting in Auburn. It has a wide variety of academic majors ranging from two-year associate degrees to one-year certificates in the technical, business, allied health or creative fields.

There’s also the Central Maine Medical Center School of Nursing and the Clark F. Miller School of Radiologic Technology and School of Nuclear Medicine Technology at Central Maine Medical Center.

Excellence in education is what you’ll find in this community.

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