CORNVILLE — Seventh-grade students Adelle Belanger and Annie Cooke raised the American flag Wednesday morning, just as they did in October 2012 when Cornville Elementary School became Cornville Regional Charter School.

Students and staff at Maine’s first elementary charter school on Wednesday recited the Pledge of Allegiance then the students lowered the flag, folded it and placed in a case for principal William Crumley, who is retiring.

“It was poignant, because on the first day of school we raised the old Cornville flag, we saluted the flag and then we took it down,” school executive director Justin Belanger said. “Dr. Crumley said a few words about how that was the old Cornville school and we retired that flag, put up a new flag and said this is the new Cornville Regional Charter School — a totally different thing — so, basically, let’s move on.”

That same flag — the new flag — was given to Crumley Wednesday. He said a few words to the students and staff, then was mobbed by hugging children. A new flag will be raised in September, when the charter school begins its third year adding an eighth grade curriculum and a total of 105 students.

“I was overwhelmed by the experience this morning. It was very moving,” Crumley, 71, said later. “It took me by surprise, I had no clue that was going to happen. I’m just so grateful for my two years here. This is the best two years I’ve had in my career.”

Travis Works, of Skowhegan, has been hired as principal for the coming school year. He has taught elementary school in Skowhegan and was elementary principal at schools in Gardiner and Augusta. Belanger said Works looks forward to working for a charter school.

“He’s a person who thinks outside the box, but hasn’t been quite able to work outside the box,” Belanger said. “He’s extremely excited to come here.”

Students and staff on Wednesday also installed a sealed time capsule behind the school’s cornerstone in the same spot the original time capsule was set when the school was built in 1956. The first capsule contained the minutes of the town meetings that established the Cornville Consolidated School from five different rural schoolhouses, along with the plans that were drawn for the new building. That capsule was opened in 1986 when students added photographs and statements on what their favorite movie or song was from that year.

This year more photos were added from the past two years of the charter school’s operation, along with coins minted in 2012 and other items. That capsule is to be opened in 20 years.

Judith Jones, from the Maine Association for Charter Schools, was on hand for Wednesday’s ceremony. Jones said the association, a non-profit charter school support group, is pleased with the academic progress Cornville students have achieved.

“It’s doing extremely well — it’s so exciting,” she said. “It’s a village school that has a curriculum that includes a lot of outdoor and nature work and a lot of physical education and activity. We would call it a place-based village type program.”

Jones said while Cornville was the first, there now is a second charter elementary school in Maine, the Fiddleheads School of Arts and Sciences in Gray. There also are three charter high schools: the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield, the Baxter School for Science and Technology in Portland and Harpswell Coastal Academy for Marine Sciences in Harpswell.

During its first year of operation, in 2012, the charter school enrolled 60 students in kindergarten through grade six. Last year, enrollment increased to 90 students when the school added seventh grade. Next year, eighth grade will be added. Once students graduate from the charter school they go back to their own school districts for high school. There are six school districts represented at the school.

Built as a consolidated school in 1956 and remodeled with a new wing in 1990, the Cornville school was closed by Skowhegan-based Regional School Unit 54 in 2010 to cut costs. Besides Cornville, the district includes Canaan, Mercer, Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Smithfield.

The town took over the school in June of that year, agreeing to raise $25,000 to heat and maintain the building.

There were fundraisers, bake sales and Zumba dancing classes to pay for keeping the old school clean and open. Meanwhile, a group of residents led by Belanger was composing a 650-page application to open a charter school that would teach everyday skills, including cooking, knitting, gardening and woodworking, along with classroom lessons based on Maine’s Common Core of Learning. There also are 17 students enrolled in the school’s special education program, which mainstreams the students in classes throughout the school.

This year the school operated on a budget of $850,000 with a staff of 14.

Belanger said the Cornville charter school has a seven and a half-hour school day with proficiency-based language and math blocks at the same time each morning for every class in the school. Students can move from one proficiency group to another based on their success at doing the work required of them. There is also an agriculture program, in which each student gets 90 minutes per week to work on vegetable gardening or raising chickens for meat and for eggs.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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