PARIS — Vice Chairman Jared Cash of Norway will lead the next meeting of the Maine School Administrative District 17 board of directors because no one stepped up Tuesday night to replace Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris.

“I will continue as vice chair, serving in the capacity until the board determines their chair,” Cash said. “I will fill in, but not for long.”

Andrews stepped down as chairwoman Tuesday night but will finish her term as a director, which expires in March. She announced last month that her job as Bethel town manager required too much time and that she will not seek reelection to the board.

When Andrews called for nominations none of the other 21 directors volunteered to be nominated. A few who were nominated by colleagues refused to accept, including Cash.

Maine School Administrative District 17 Directors Natalie Andrews of West Paris and Jared Cash of Norway attend a board meeting Jan. 26, 2022, in Paris. Andrews stepped down as chairwoman Tuesday night, leaving Cash, the vice chairman, to preside over the next meeting. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat file photo

With the stalemate, Andrews said Cash would preside over the next meeting when directors would again attempt to elect a chairman.

Eight directors have served less than a year and four of those attended their first meeting Tuesday.


Director Christie Wessels was appointed by Paris selectmen hours before the meeting and her presence prompted dissenting opinions among directors before she was permitted to cast votes.

Wessels replaced Sarah Otterson, who was recalled by voters at a special election last week for her support of the first reading of the board’s proposed student gender identity policy.

It is not clear whether the town’s ordinance on recalling officials from office includes those elected in a non-municipal capacity, according to previous statements by Paris’ town attorney, Philip Saucier, of Bernstein Shur and MSAD 17 attorney Tom Tremholm of Drummond Woodsum.

Directors voted Tuesday to accept Andrews’ decision to seat Wessels even as many stated their preference to have a court decision confirm it. Others said any legal challenges to Wessels’ appointment needed to be made by Otterson, not the board, which represents eight towns.

In other business, Curriculum Director Jill Bartash gave a presentation on student attendance and standardized testing assessments, two areas adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bartash said absenteeism in Maine is defined by students who miss at least 18 school days during a calendar year, which equals one month of class time. In 2017-2018, 18% of Oxford Hills students missed 18 or more days; during the pandemic it was 43%.

In 2017-18 chronic absenteeism in SAD 17 closely matched the state average of 16.5% of students. However, during the 2020-21 school year, 32% of students were chronically absent compared to 21% statewide.


Student assessment scores also dropped during the pandemic. Northwest Evaluation Association average scores in 2020-2021 school year showed 80.1% of students were at or above expectations in reading and 74.1% were at or above expectations for math. The averages statewide were 85% for reading and 81.3% for math.

For the 2021-2022 school year, 67.1% of students were at or above expectations in reading and 64.8% were at or above expectations in math.

Test results in fall of 2022 showed improvement somewhat, with 72.3% of students at or above expectations in reading and 69.5% at or above expectations in math.

Bartash pointed out one bright spot from assessments: The high school graduation rate during the 2017-18 academic year was 78.2% for the Oxford Hills School District, compared to the statewide average of 86.7%, but for 2020-21, the district’s rate matched the state average of 81.1%.

Bartash said key takeaways are: Attendance is important to test performance; it will take more time for students to recover from loss of learning during the pandemic; and improved learning requires a commitment to professional development and coaching of staff, and intervention and supplemental instructions for students when needed.

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