FARMINGTON — In his report to the Regional School Unit 9 board of directors, Superintendent Christian Elkington reported the resignation of a special education teacher at Mt. Blue Middle School as well as the rise in homeschooling parents, leading to a discussion on both staff and student retention.

In his report, Elkington shared the rising number in homeschooling parents who have completed and filed their paperwork with the Maine Department of Education. For the 2023-2024 school year, 270 parents or guardians applied to homeschool their child or children. By contrast, the number of families that applied in 2019-2020 was 123.

The following year, 2020-2021, saw the sharpest increase due to COVID-19 and other factors, with the number of families applying to homeschool jumping to 278, an increase of 126%. The years that followed saw a marginal decrease, with the number of families choosing to homeschool in the 2021-2022 school year decreasing by 10% and holding steady at 250 families for the year after in 2022-2023.

Now, the numbers for the 2023-2024 school year are closing in on their 2020-2021 numbers. Likewise, the number of parents that filed paperwork for private and/or equivalent institutes has dropped 60%, with only 32 families pursuing private education in the 2023-2024 school year.

“Looking at the homeschool numbers,” director J. Jeffrey Barnum of New Vineyard stated, “it seems to me that they would have dropped back to the pre-COVID numbers, and they’re staying at around 270 now. Any idea why that’s the case?”

Elkington attributed the issue to a number of factors, including concerns over mandatory vaccines.


“The law in the state of Maine changed over the last three years,” Elkington stated. “Now, you have to be vaccinated. There used to be a religious exemption, but that is no longer in the law.”

Elkington added that the high number of homeschooling parents is a nationwide issue and not exclusive to Maine. He also stated that he believes that a number of homeschooling parents doubt the abilities of the public education system and wish to take matters into their own hands.

“I do think that part of this is the politics that has occurred during COVID and some of the information that we shared during that time,” he stated. “The vaccine issue, I think, is a big piece of this.”

Barnum asked about the significant drop in private and/or equivalent institutes, to which Elkington stated that the drop is attributed to the closing of a local private school. Elkington did not name the school at the meeting, but sources close to The Franklin Journal have confirmed the school to be Smart Fun Learning Adventures, originally located at 454 Fairbanks Road in Farmington.

Elkington stated that the closing of the school helped increase the number of homeschooled students, with the remaining students reentering the public school system.

Barnum switched gears and asked about the recent resignation that Elkington included in his report, as well as resignations from pervious reports.


“It seems that the last couple of Superintendent’s report we received,” Barnum said, “there is – not more than one – a resignation. Are those simply for personal reasons, or are we doing something wrong that people are leaving?”

Elkington attributed the departures to a number of factors, with his primary reason being a much more competitive labor market.

“Well, I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong, per se,” he stated. “What I will say is that it’s a much more competitive market for staff.”

Elkington went on to elaborate that many schools and districts are restructuring some of their positions, with new responsibilities and new titles, and some of those have included grant funding that staff may find appealing.

“We’ve lost a couple of educators this year, who have moved to positions that are not the same position that they had in this district and have left for more money,” Elkington stated. He went on to say that staff moving from position to position during the school year was not common in the past, but it is occurring more often now.

In late September, Elkington presented an updated list of open positions with three open positions for special education, with the recent resignation bringing that number to four. He added that those positions are currently being filled by long-term substitutes.


“What would you like to see happen,” director Janice David of Farmington asked, “so that we can retain good people and attract good people? You, personally. What would you like to see changed about how we do things?”

Elkington stated that he hoped to see a greater focus put on staff wellness. “We can’t keep raising salaries,” he stated. “We have to do a better job with wellness, with how we transition people in, and how we give them opportunities to learn in the future so that they can be successful.”

Elkington added that he and his administrators are working with the University of Maine at Farmington to bring in teacher coaches for new staff members that are teaching in a field they were not specifically trained for when they transitioned into working for RSU 9, but he assured the board that the onboarding staff are adapting and demonstrating the “right spirit and the right mentality.”

Ultimately, however, Elkington feels a teacher’s mental health is the biggest priority that he wants to focus on. “I do think that the big piece for us is really looking at the social/emotional part,” he said.

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