Sanford schools work toward 2015 vision

School department’s vision and strategic plans guide Sanford’s plans for reform.

SANFORD — The Sanford School Department knows what it wants to look like in 2015, and it’s piloting a mix of new initiatives aimed at realizing a long-term vision.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen visited Sanford on April 11 to get a taste of the efforts in place to create a culture in which students take control of their learning and graduate prepared to continue learning.

  • Sanford High School is in its first year of offering online classes through Virtual High School. A handful of students have taken advantage of the opportunity to challenge themselves and broaden their course catalogue by enrolling in the online courses. Sophomore Emily Hutchins is fulfilling a history requirement with an online class on peace making. “It’s more creative,” she said, “and I’m more of a creative person.”
Article image: Commissioner Bowen speaks with a Sanford Regional Technical Center instructor David Dorr.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, right, chats with David Dorr, an engineering technology instructor at Sanford Regional Technical Center.
  • Many of the high school’s 1,200 students apply the skills they learn in the classroom at Sanford Regional Technical Center, which is located in the same building. The students in David Dorr’s engineering classes, for example, are at work designing wind turbine blades in advance of next month’s Maine Wind Blade Challenge in Orono. Dorr’s students have collaborated with the boat-building experts at the Landing School in Arundel to apply fiberglass to the turbine blades.
  • At Sanford Junior High School, a team of teachers is piloting the standards-based education model, also in use at nearby Massabesic Middle School, in which students progress at their own pace, advancing once they’ve proven mastery of the skills — or standards — they’re expected to master.

“They were all very excited about learning at their own pace,” eighth-grade science teacher Diana Allen said of her students. “They don’t want to be rushed. They don’t want to be held back.”

A grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is helping Sanford implement the standards-based model at all levels. Part of spreading the model will involve implementing a software system called E-ducate, which will track the progress each student is making toward meeting the standards, and allow students and parents to view it.

  • At Sanford’s Willard School, sixth-grade teacher Barbara Noone is in her second year of teaching an all-female class meant to create an atmosphere where girls feel comfortable participating in class. There’s already a waiting list to enroll in next year’s class, Noone said.
  • The Sanford School Department is in its first year of employing a service-learning coordinator who works with classes at all levels to support student learning beyond the classroom walls and establish partnerships with community organizations and local businesses.

The variety of initiatives taking effect in Sanford are not without strategy.

Article image: Commissioner Bowen speaks with Sanford High School student Salinda Dong.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen chats with Sanford High School student Salinda Dong during his visit to the school.

The school department last year brought together staff members, students and community members to articulate a vision to carry Sanford’s schools through 2015. The vision calls for a student-centered system in which “learning is the constant, with the variables being time, place and student groupings.”

The school system is now at work on strategic plans for instruction and technology to implement the vision.

Students who participated in the visioning asked for additional opportunities to enroll in early college classes and more chances to interact with teachers one on one, said Sanford High School senior Salinda Dong, who participated in the process.

“I loved being part of this process,” she said. “If we’re able to change education in the future, I can say I’ve been part of this change.”

Students and staff say the opportunities for Sanford’s students could change for the better through construction of the Great Works Career and Technical School on a campus that unites Sanford High School, Sanford Regional Technical Center, adult education, alternative education and community college classes.

Sanford High School placed second on the Maine Department of Education’s recently released school construction priority list, placing it in a favorable position to make the Great Works school a reality when construction funds become available.

“We envision one day we’ll have a facility that matches our vision,” said Jim Stopa, the technical center’s director.

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