Building project turns focus to instruction

Mount Blue High School and Foster Technology Center have long shared a campus. But the 750-student high school and 300-student technology center have been distinct buildings with distinct identities, divided by a glass walkway.

“That glass corridor represents a lot, just a different way of doing business in both buildings,” Foster Technology Center director Glenn Kapiloff said June 27 at the 2011 Maine School Superintendents’ Conference.

The two schools have taken steps to bridge the gap in recent years. More and more teachers have begun partnering with their counterparts from the other building to, for example, add an automotive technology dimension to an English class or introduce an earth sciences element to a metal fabrication course.

But they’ll take their collaboration to the next level soon as the newly built Mount Blue Learning Campus places the two schools in the same building, sans the glass corridor.

Mount Blue High School and Foster Technology Center are in the midst of a $64 million construction project that staff members have decided to use as a way to transform their instructional practice. The result will be the Mount Blue Learning Campus.

“Right now, we’ve got pockets of collaboration, and eventually it will become that that’s the norm, not the exception,” Kapiloff said.

For the 2011-12 school year, all Mount Blue and Foster Technology teachers are expected to collaborate at least once with a teacher from another subject area on an interdisciplinary unit.

That might involve a unit in which students in an English class work with automotive technology students to author technical manuals. Or it might involve a U.S. history class partnering with a chemistry class to research all aspects of the atomic bomb.

“That’s the goal: collaboration,” said Sam Dunbar, a Mount Blue social studies teacher.

Soon, the Mount Blue Learning Campus – expected to open in two years – will provide the structure to support it.

The new building will feature a single main entrance, so all students – whether they’re enrolled at Mount Blue or in a program at Foster Technology Center – will walk through the same door.

Inside, industrial shop space will be located down the same hallways as traditional classrooms, rather than at opposite ends of the building.

No teacher will have a classroom of his or her own. Instead, teachers will share the rooms and spend planning periods in four faculty rooms located throughout the building. They’ll spend their time there with teachers from a range of disciplines.

“When you think about traditional classrooms, you don’t talk to each other,” said Mount Blue Principal Monique Poulin.

The committee members charged with planning the new building haven’t yet worked out all operational details – like whether technology center classes will be held to the same bell schedule as high school classes.

“We still have a lot of questions on how to do this,” said Charlie Fontaine, a commercial arts instructor at Foster Technology Center.

They’re working through design issues and details with the help of the Portland-based Great Schools Partnership. Those issues include discussions about blending the distinct cultures of the technology center and the high school, and deciding how to allow students to earn more of their traditional academic credits through technology center experiences.

“We absolutely want kids to be engaged in their learning and be prepared to go out into the world and be successful in whatever fashion,” Poulin said.

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