AUBURN — Mayor Jonathan LaBonte wants to create a program at Edward Little High School in which students could earn associate degrees.

With the construction of a new Edward Little High School on hold, waiting for state funding, LaBonte said Thursday that the city has “time to really think big.”

A task force will be assembled to look into creating a six-year program at the high school, with input from the Auburn School Department, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

LaBonte said he’d like the city to have a high school that provides students with what they need for their futures. “I’d like to see Auburn at the forefront of education, Auburn leading the state in post-secondary education,” he said.

Such a high school could mean more affordable college tuition for students. It could “put Auburn on the map,” attracting families and businesses to the city, building a stronger tax base, he said.

Six-year programs at high schools exist in other parts of the country, LaBonte said.

Portland and Bangor have the advantage of having University of Maine campuses in their backyards that attract thousands of college students, LaBonte said. “We’re not going to get a university campus, but if we can be creative using technology, we could build that in a virtual way at a new Edward Little,” he said. “Why don’t we try to break the mold?”

Edward Little students have access to “Early College,” a program that allows some to take college courses and get college credit. “But that’s not enough,” LaBonte said, adding that early college is not systemic.

His vision would mean EL’s curriculum would be streamlined to automatically move students from high school to college. That would blend well with the mass customized learning transition, in which students get individualized lessons and move ahead when they’ve mastered the material. Some students will graduate from high school earlier than others.

LaBonte was quick to say many of the logistics would have to be worked out. He doesn’t envision that Edward Little would award college degrees but would collaborate with an existing college and/or university, the University of Southern Maine and/or Central Maine Community College.

He will be talking with those leaders, he said. “My goal is to bring together a group of thinkers.” They could identify problems a six-year school would have to overcome, LaBonte said.

If, for example, state law doesn’t allow associate degrees to be offered at high school buildings, “we’ll change the regulation,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of questions that need to be answered that are well above my pay grade.”

Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison said LaBonte’s idea has merit.

“One of our goals is we have more people with college degrees,” Morrison said. “This would do that, if you can make it happen. Edward Little has a fairly strong record of kids going to post-secondary schools, but this could push them further ahead, faster.”

Grondin would like the vision not to limit Edward Little to offering grades 9-16 but to include expanding partnerships with businesses.

The school allows some students to earn early college credit by taking courses at Bates College, CMCC or the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College. Also, some Auburn students who attend the Lewiston Regional Technical Center are getting college credit.

“Any opportunity to help our students, we would definitely support that kind of conversation,” Grondon said.

In order to represent his vision, LaBonte might appoint himself to be the next mayor’s representative on the Auburn School Committee. He’ll decide before the Dec. 9 inauguration for new city officials whether he or a city councilor will be appointed to the committee, he said.


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