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St. George Municipal School Unit (MSU) is a community school district and the heart and strength of our district is the community of St. George. We have a clear mission – to do whatever it takes to ensure that every single student thrives and, as a school-community, to give back and contribute to the Town of St. George. We focus on students’ academic growth, character development, and health/wellness. We recognize that health/wellness – which we define as students’ physical & mental health, social-emotional well-being, and food security – is a prerequisite for academic growth and character development. Finally, we believe that for a student to thrive – to demonstrate mastery and find meaning in education – they must share their learning in ways that positively impact their community.

“Growing up in rural Maine, I was fortunate enough to have attended the St. George Elementary School. I was blessed with loving teachers who became my second family. All the way from kindergarten through eighth grade, I was provided an in-depth and well-rounded education. Some of my greatest memories from my childhood stem from my time at St. George. I credit a lot of my success to St. George teachers. This school is truly an excellent facility and continues to shape young lives, in turn securing the future of the state of Maine.”

Afton Hupper is a St. George School alumna and graduate student at the University of Maine. She will earn an M.S. in Natural Resource Economics and Policy in May.

About 200 students attend kindergarten through 8 th grade at St. George School and approximately 90 St. George students in grades 9th – 12th enjoy high school choice and can attend any state approved high school. St. George is a rural community with about 3000 year-round residents and summertime population that can increase to an estimated 7000. The town has a rich history rooted in its connection to natural resources and marine heritage; the fishing industry remains one of the largest employment sectors in St. George.

St. George MSU is thriving. The community approach we have taken to public education is working. Over the past several years, our school has received a variety of awards and recognition:

  • 2019: Several of our teachers (Alison England, Paul Meinersmann, and Amy Palmer) were nominated for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Kevin McCarthy Innovation Award.
  • 2018: St. George School received the Maine Environmental Education Association’s (MEEA) School of the Year Award for a community-centered approach to education that provides an exemplar of what impactful and lasting environmental education can look like.
  • 2017: Superintendent Mike Felton received the Maine Department of Education Commissioner’s Award for outstanding service on behalf of Maine students and citizens.
  • 2016: The Middle Level Team (Ashby Bartke, Alison England, Josh McPhail, and Sonja Schmanska) received the 2016 Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAMLE) Exemplary Practice Award.

In terms of academic growth, last school year, 60% of students in grades K-8 met their growth goals in math and reading on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), a standardized assessment. NWEA MAP provides national norms for expected student growth at each grade and performance level. These norms are based on anonymous data from 10.2 million students attending 23,000 schools in 49 states. The number of St. George School students meeting their growth goals has increased each year since we became a separate school district in 2015:

Math: % K-8 Students Meeting NWEA Growth Goals Reading: % K-8 Students Meeting NWEA Growth Goals

Our students continue to engage in work that stretches the imagination as to what’s possible in public education.

  • As part of the Alewife Project, St. George middle level students, for the 5th consecutive year, will work with the Town Conservation Commission to study and restore the historic alewife run to the marsh. When the project began in 2015/16, students discovered that some alewives had in fact returned! However, more research needs to be done to determine why the fish have not returned in greater numbers. Students learn alongside community members and scientists and share their work in blogs and student scientific journals, through reports and videos.
The Middle Level Marsh Project
The Middle Level Marsh Project
  • Leaps of Imagination is a nonprofit that brings local Maine mentor artists together with elementary school students and teachers. Mentor artists interweave art making experiences with environmental education and literature themes. Students present their work to families and the community at an art opening at Jackson Memorial Library.
4th Grade Leaps of Imagination Art Opening at Jackson Memorial Library
4th Grade Leaps of Imagination Art Opening at Jackson Memorial Library

  • The Makerspace Initiative brings together the traditions of entrepreneurship and apprenticeship with new technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and robotics, enabling teachers and students to design, build, and innovate.

“The Makerspace and 3D printers have been game-changers for the 4th grade over the past two years. Working closely with Paul Meinersmann and STEAM Educator Amy Palmer, I have been able to integrate 3D printing and laser cutting into our everyday curriculum. Students are learning strong perseverance and collaboration skills because the Tinkercad software program forces them to stretch their thinking and challenge themselves. I have many experts in the classroom who are able to help out if somebody is struggling. I am not the go-to person for design ideas and advice; their fellow classmates are. The 4th grade also visits the Makerspace once a week for a STEAM class with Ms. Palmer. They have the opportunity to design and engineer a variety of projects, use the Sphero robots, and build stop-motion videos. My 4th graders are truly becoming leaders of their own learning.”

Jaime MacCaffray teaches 4th grade at St. George School and is the 3rd–5th Grade Team Leader.

Our school community recognizes the importance of meeting students’ health/wellness needs; when these needs are met, children have the foundation they need to be learn, strive, and thrive. Approximately half of our K-8 students qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Meal Program and 1 in 10 St. George families live below the federal poverty level. The opioid epidemic has had a substantial impact on our community, disrupting families and exposing students to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Compared to other states, Maine has a significantly higher percentage of children who have experienced one or more ACEs, which include abuse, neglect, and household challenges (e.g., parental divorce, incarcerated household member, household substance abuse, etc.).

The school works to meet students’ health/wellness needs by providing access to two school social workers, a full-time school nurse, curriculum that prioritizes social emotional learning and character development, and – above all – a school where teachers, families, community members, local organizations, and businesses work together to ensure every child is cared for and challenged to be their very best. For example, to address food insecurity and provide students and families with food on weekends and during school breaks, St. George School partners with the Area Interfaith Outreach Backpack Program and the St. George Community Development Corporation Food Pantry.

Our journey as an independent, municipal school district committed to students and community has only begun. We still have a lot of work to do and many challenges ahead. Special education costs continue to rise. The scope and intensity of students’ health/wellness needs (i.e., physical and mental health, social-emotional well-being, and food security) are growing. We need to meet students’ health/wellness needs while providing rigorous academic programs that intellectually challenge and engage all of our students. In terms of facilities, we are running out of space to deliver the programming that our students need. This year, we will have 203 students attending St. George School, which is the highest enrollment since the 2010/11 school year. While larger class sizes are one factor impacting facility needs, the biggest stressor has been the number and variety of student programs – and the space each program requires. For example, we need space for World Language, Art, Music, Band, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work services, athletics, sports and recreation activities, multiple special education programs, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) programs, and a Makerspace Initiative

These challenges provide us with our greatest opportunities. The growing needs of students forced us to innovate, collaborate more with outside groups and organizations, and rethink many of our programs and practices. To address our facility needs, we are working with Oak Point Associates, an architectural firm, and thinking about creating space for a K-8 Makerspace/Vocational Technology program, starting a public Pre-K program, and reimagining how the schools’ facilities and programs can contribute to the vitality and resilience of the Town of St. George. We will meet these challenges and embrace these opportunities as a community and, in the process, we will demonstrate the power of rural schools to serve as hubs of innovation, civic engagement, and economic and community development.

Sincerely,

Mike Felton
St. George MSU Superintendent