FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 is well into the process of forming its strategic plan for the next five to 10 years. The Mt. Blue school district is currently focused on community outreach and input.

The district has released a survey, which can be completed online or with a physical copy that can be acquired at the town offices, that asks a series of questions about what parents, students, teachers and community stakeholders envision for the future of RSU 9.

By the strategic planning team’s Dec. 2, meeting, the district had received 576 responses to the survey, according to strategic planning facilitator Mary Jane McCalmon. By Dec. 6, that number increased to 650 respondents for only the online survey, according to Superintendent Chris Elkington.

During the Nov. 9 board meeting, Elkington said they are hoping for 2,000-4,000 respondents of what he estimates are 12,000-15,000 stakeholders.

The district and planning team is also holding community engagement meetings at the 10 town offices, with local institutions such as Franklin Community Health Network, with student groups and via zoom for all of the community. This is to field questions about the process and have in-depth conversations on what they’d like to see in RSU 9’s future.

There are eight questions on the survey:

• What is a word or phrase that best describes the current RSU 9 schools?

• What is a word or phrase that best describes the RSU 9 schools you would like to see in the future?

• What do you think are the top three strengths/weaknesses of the current RSU 9 schools?

• What are some of your greatest hopes for what our schools will be like in the future? Top 3, please.

• What student outcomes should our schools focus on to prepare our students to live and work in the 21st century and beyond?

• What changes would you make in our schools to improve our ability to meet the needs of all students?

• What ideas do you have that can make our school(s) the very best they could be in Maine and beyond?

Elkington spoke about this stage in the process with Lisa Laflin, who is the New Sharon representative for the RSU 9 Board of Directors and chairperson of the strategic planning team. They spoke on a new Mt. Blue TV series called “Community Connections.”

During the conversation, Elkington said that so much of the survey is based on envisioning the future because “the world has really changed” and technology has such an increased importance, prevalence than the last time a strategic plan was set.

The district wants to find a plan to prepare students for a future where technology makes life “easier” and subsequently “easier to do more things (and be) busier now than ever,” Elkington said.

“We’re looking over the horizon (and) ahead. We’re looking to chart the course and the future of RSU 9,” Laflin said.

Laflin said that in order to understand how to approach the future, the district is looking for input from all different kinds of community members — not just parents, students and teachers.

These groups include employees at local businesses and institutions (such as students and employees from the University of Maine at Farmington) and members of local organizations such as a local snowmobile club or quilting group.

Laflin and Elkington talked through some of the questions on the survey and what they are looking for from respondents. Laflin encouraged those interested in completing the survey to “do the best that you can” even without “direct experience with students.”

“You might not have direct understanding. But you can say what you think would be great … what kind of experience should (students) have?” Elkington said. “Or remember, what were the most important experiences when you went to school 20, 30, 40 years ago.

“If those were really positive, and you think they’re valuable today, we want to hear it in this survey,” he added.

Elkington said that there are 38 groups in RSU 9’s purview that they are hoping to reach out to.

“[McCalmon] shared with us … that this may be the largest number of different groups to make outreach to,” Elkington said. “We do want to make it clear that we want to hear everyone’s thoughts.”

He added that, “we’re doing everything we can to give every [group] an opportunity.

“If there’s a group we miss, or there’s a group that thinks we haven’t approached them — please look on the website or contact the superintendent’s office. We’ll try to connect someone with your group,” he said.

Most importantly, the district is looking for input with students. Elkington has met with student groups from the middle school and high school to formulate a plan to reach out to the entire student population. They are hoping all students grades three to 12 will complete the survey (with varying levels of simplicity).

“[Student input] is a key piece of trying to see what people’s hopes are, their wishes, what might be some concerns they have and some things that they have needs for,” Elkington said.

Ultimately, Elkington is hoping to leave the community-input process with an idea of “what does the public think the mission should be?” “what should be the vision?” and “what is going to guide our work?”

“Then we’ll develop the goals,” Elkington said. “The big piece right now … is getting people’s thoughts in a more qualitative way.”

Following the Dec. 20 deadline, “veteran facilitator” McCalmon and the strategic planning team will compile the data and share it with the public. They are hoping to have a plan in place by the end of June.

The district and the strategic planning team will be meeting at the town offices of Chesterville, Industry, Temple, Farmington, New Sharon and Wilton within the next week. Additionally, the district will be holding general community engagement meetings and check-ins via zoom through Friday, Dec. 17.

More information on the process and these meetings can be found at https://www.mtbluersd.org/ and https://www.mtbluersd.org/calendar.


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