Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris. Sun Journal file photo

PARIS — The 2022-23 school year in Oxford Hills has commenced, with staff reporting to their posts on Monday. Elementary, middle school and high school freshmen returned to their classrooms yesterday and school starts for upperclassmen today.

District employees began their year Monday with a morning workshop to welcome them back. Instead of a traditional keynote address, six staff were invited to speak on why they choose to work with students and in education in Oxford Hills Paul Bickford, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s new principal; OHCHS social studies teacher Travis Palmer; Oxford Hills Middle School Spanish teacher Hayly Holman; Agnes Gray Elementary School teacher Jen Chafin; OHCHS food service employee Suzette Keniston; and bus driver Linda Berry.

“We had a fantastic session,” Interim Superintendent Heather Manchester reported to the Advertiser Democrat Tuesday morning. “Our speakers were phenomenal. We had the idea to have educators and staff as speakers a few years ago and we just weren’t able to until this years and it was great.”

During the workshop OHCHS Brewster Burns showed a video project he has been working on for several years that follows a group of students from Hebron through every grade.

“It was a very positive morning,” Manchester said. “I’ve gotten feedback from staff that they felt welcomed and are excited to start the school year.”

In many ways the first day of school for staff was more normal than in the past two years but she said it is not the same as it used to be.


“We are changed,” she said. “We have lots of new staff. It’s more like 2019 in that we’re not wearing masks or those types of things, we’re in person. But I think we are changed. We (now) look at education as how do we sustain ourselves, how do we work through teacher shortages, how do we support our students to move them forward. I think there is a different sense of urgency than there was in 2019.

“Our kids need us. And we need to take care of our staffs’ wellness and make sure they can sustain the work that they are doing.”

Another area that is different than last year is the transportation department. A year ago Maine School Administrative District 17 lost its self-inspection certification when the district bus garage failed a state inspection. But the garage just passed its annual inspection and even with a continued driver shortage the department is in good order.

“Ideally, we need about 10 more bus drivers,” Manchester said. “Our transportation director is working to make sure all the routes are covered.”

She added that administrators are working on hiring substitute drivers and strategies to shore up its regular driving staff.

Improvements are ongoing at several elementary schools. Preparation continues for a portable classroom unit to be installed at Otisfield Community School in October. Agnes Gray’s outdoor education yurt has been delivered and should be erected by the end of this month.


At Waterford Memorial School the gymnasium floor was recently damaged by a plumbing leak and had to be torn out. As school starts the gym can be used for the cafeteria but phys ed cannot be held in it until new flooring is installed. Manchester said as soon as materials arrive the floor will be replaced.

Oxford Hills is up against teacher shortages that are being felt across the country. Upper level math and science educators are in particularly short supply, as are education technicians. As of this week the district still had seven ed tech positions open, although Manchester said that several were close to being filled.

With almost all building and senior administration posts filled, Manchester says SAD 17 is ready to go.

“It feels like we are on the cusp of a really great year,” Manchester said in summary. “We had a really positive opening. People had a lovely summer break and we are ready to be back and do really great work with our kids.”

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