RUMFORD — More than 600 employees of the Western Foothills School District, virtually all wearing green T-shirts with the district’s new logo on them, filled the Puiia Gymnasium at Mountain Valley High School on Monday morning to kick off the school year in the new district.

Under banners of “Becoming One,” and “RSU 10 Family” employees got to know their counterparts according to grade level, content area, or vocations, such as bus drivers and custodians. The district was formed from SADs 43 in Rumford, 21 in Dixfield and 39 in Buckfield, and the town of Hanover.

“Becoming One says it all,” MVHS Assistant Principal Chris Decker said. “It’s a process. We’re off on the right foot.”

Buckfield Junior/Senior High School Assistant Principal Brian Laramee said the chance to sit with and get to know people from across the three regions in similar positions was welcomed by just about everyone.

And Maureen Houle, a 39-year elementary teacher veteran who is teaching literacy this year, was thrilled to meet with her nearly 20 counterparts throughout the morning.

“We can help each other, share ideas,” she said. “We have young people and older people.”

She also gave credit to district Superintendent Tom Ward for being so supportive of everyone.

Building and transportation employees, all from the former SAD 43, agreed that Ward was critical to the new school unit.

“This will work out fine because of our leader. He’s down to earth and treats people like family,” Terry Perry said. “I felt that way with Jim Hodgkin (the last SAD 43 superintendent).

“He pitches right in,” Ken Chase said.

The district’s five nurses started working together last spring and had begun to get to know one another.

“We have different ideas and plans,” said Martha Watson, the Dirigo region nurse.

“We began by comparing and revising policies,” said Mountain Valley region nurse Kim Clement

But now, the five are working to devise collaborative plans that will be the same for all three regions.

“This is exciting and a lot of opportunity,” Buckfield region nurse Lee Berry said.

“The excitement grew as the day went on because people became more and more comfortable, to become one,” Ward said.

Teachers attend a second workshop day Tuesday, then students return to classes Wednesday.

Although the start of a new school year is exciting for many, school boards and administrators will likely be faced with another round of tough decisions as the year progresses.

Superintendent David Murphy in neighboring SAD 44 in Bethel said a meeting last week between Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron and superintendents revealed that another round of curtailments in state aid will likely hit school districts because of the state’s continuing financial shortfall.

How much funding each district may lose won’t be known for a few weeks, he believes.

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The Puiia Gymnasium in Mountain Valley High School was filled Monday morning with 600-plus employees of the Western Foothills School District. The new district combines the former SADs 21 in Dixfield, 39 in Buckfield and 43 in Rumford, plus the town of Hanover.

The five nurses of the Western Foothills School District discuss policies over lunch Monday morning as most of the more than 600 employees left for lunch in the cafeteria of Mountain Valley High School or returned to their home schools during Monday’s opening workshop day. Pictured are: Kim Clement and Tracy Pinkham, Mountain Valley region, Erin Wainwright and Martha Watson, Dirigo region, and Lee Berry, Buckfield region.

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