When Waterville Senior High School students arrive at school later this week for the first day of classes, they’ll find one big difference: 700 new seats and other changes in the 53-year-old Trask Auditorium.

Waterville’s new seats and other changes to the stage area are among many new things students across central Maine will find welcoming them to the school year, which for most schools begins Wednesday, from new Mt. Blue, Messalonskee and Benton principals to new programs in Skowhegan and Jackman.

The Waterville high auditorium, named for a former principal, Stanford T. Trask, will have the new seats thanks to a campaign led by six parents to renovate and improve the auditorium.

“They’ve done just an unbelievable job,” said Eric Haley, superintendent of Waterville-based Alternative Organizational Structure 92. “It’s just a spectacular area.”

So far the group has raised a total of $325,000 for the project, which includes new stage curtains, new lighting and sound systems and a stage extension in addition to the seats. The group, all volunteers with day jobs, have been able to cross some of the major upgrades off their list, such as the lighting system, thanks to anonymous donors.

To raise money for new seating, the group started a campaign called “Save-a-Seat” in March. Each seat cost $250, and they were able to sell 470 seats. The group got a better quote from a different vendor, so they need to sell only about 30 more or raise about $7,500, said Scott Jones, a parent on the fundraising committee who has three children at the high school who work on the technical side of performances.

The new curtains have arrived at the school and will be installed before the fall musical.

“Here we are, it’s Aug. 26, and we’ve essentially met our goal,” Jones said on the phone Friday. “It’s really exciting.”

He said that while he’s not sure what the fundraising committee will morph into, he would like to continue helping the school with funding. The committee is appreciative of Waterville and its support, although that aspect of the city has been overlooked since a municipal budget crisis unfolded, he said.

“This is really a very giving community,” he said. “I’m very humbled and very thankful to live in such a giving community.”

The high school also officially will have a new administrative team. Brian Laramee, the former assistant principal who took over on an interim basis when principal Don Reiter was suspended in September, then dismissed in November, was officially appointed principal in the spring. Joe Haney, who had taken over as interim assistant principal in February, was hired June 1 as assistant principal.

In Winslow, also in AOS 92, a conversation about Winslow Junior High School continues as the School Board waits for the building committee to choose an architect to work with on a plan for expanding the town’s two other schools. The School Board voted on Monday to close the 88-year-old building, which some say is inefficient and outdated, within the next three years.

At the town’s elementary school, Keith Martin joins the staff as assistant principal. Martin was formerly a part-time assistant principal at W.G. Mallett School in Farmington for three years. He came to Winslow because he wanted to work in administration full time, he said, because he believes he can affect a larger student population that way.

“Winslow had all of the pieces I was really looking for,” he said on the phone Friday. The school has a responsive classroom approach, he said, as well as a history of fostering relationships between students and the staff.

This year, he is looking forward to getting to know the students.

“I think that is one of the most important ways to impact an education,” Martin said. He’s already started trying to pinpoint children who might need a role model in their lives so he can be there.

“I think it’s going to be a great year,” he said.

Students in grades kindergarten through six, ninth-graders, and all new students in AOS 92 schools will start classes Wednesday. All other students will start Thursday.

RSU 18 WELCOMES NEW STAFF

Regional School Unit 18 welcomes about 12 new staff members this year, and a new staff always brings an extra dose of enthusiasm, said Chief Academic Officer Carl Gartley.

Oakland-based RSU 18 includes Belgrade, Rome, Oakland, Sidney and China. School starts on Wednesday.

This school year will be the first as principal at Messalonskee High School for Paula Callan, who won the assistant principal of the year award last year. She said earlier this month she hopes to foster a community where both students and teachers feel free to think outside the box and take risks. Sam Dunbar, former assistant principal at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington for two years, is taking over Callan’s position as assistant principal at Messalonskee.

Atwood Primary School in Oakland is building its pre-kindergarten program, adding another morning session this year. The school now is taking in 46 children, up from last year’s 32, Principal Jennifer McGee said. The three-hour sessions run four days each week and are free. Parents start applying for spots in April. Students with special needs or those who receive free and reduced-price lunches get first priority.

“I think (pre-kindergarten) is great and it helps children with readiness,” McGee said Thursday. “Kindergarten’s changed. … The expectations have been raised.”

Members of the staff also are piloting a new wellness program that they hope will lead to savings for the district and fewer sick days for teachers. The program will encourage meet-up groups among staff members for active activities such as hiking, raise awareness about opportunities that faculty members have through their jobs such as Sugarloaf skiing discounts, and present wellness information at professional development days to help staff members improve their lives in all areas.

“Working with the mind, working with the body, that is going to improve the culture (of the district),” said Kris Croteau, a counselor at Messalonskee Middle School.

Some of the programs may help reduce stress or give advice on financial planning to ensure staff members feel healthy in all aspects of their lives.

“If people have those pieces in place, they tend to have less anxieties,” said the middle school’s principal, Mark Hatch. “They’re going to be able to be more focused and more productive in their lives.”

This will hopefully result in fewer sick days and decreased costs for substitute teachers and insurance. Administrators also hope it will have a trickle-down effect and reach students, Croteau said.

School starts for kindergarten through sixth grade and ninth grade on Aug. 31, except in China, where kindergarten through fifth grade start that day. All students are in session on Sept. 1, and the pre-kindergarten program begins Sept. 6.

BUDGET FORCES RSU 9 CHANGES

The school year will begin at the Mt. Blue campus in Regional School Unit 9 with a new interim administration model, after this summer’s tumultuous budget season forced directors to look at how they could be more efficient with administration while better meeting students needs, Superintendent Tom Ward said.

Classes in RSU 9 will begin for kindergarten through ninth grade on Wednesday, with 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders beginning classes on Thursday.

“We were forced to really take a look at the administration structure at Mt. Blue campus because it’s a large campus with all these moving parts. (The budget process) really forced us to look at how we use our people,” Ward said. “We feel this will make us much more efficient.”

Voters in the 10 towns that make up RSU 9 narrowly passed a $32.75 million budget for the 2016-2017 school year after an initial $32.97 million was shot down by voters in June.

Previously, the Mt. Blue campus had two assistant principals, with one also serving the function as the high school’s athletic director. With the administrative restructuring, the assistant principal/athletic director position was split to create two positions.

Joel Smith, former Mt. Blue Middle School assistant principal, was hired as the interim Mt. Blue High School assistant principal for grades nine and 10. Former Mt. Blue High School social studies teacher Chad Brackett was hired as the interim full-time athletic director for the Mt. Blue Campus. Following the departure of Dunbar to Messalonskee High School, Todd Demmons was hired as the interim assistant principal for 11th and 12th grades.

The Mt. Blue campus is on Seamons Road in Farmington and includes Mt. Blue High School, the Foster Technology Center, and Franklin County Adult Basic Education.

The restructuring eliminated a support services position at the Foster Technology Center. The position served as a guidance counselor to Foster Tech students, but with three guidance counselors on the Mt. Blue Campus, Ward said students’ needs still will be met.

Melissa Williams, who held the support services position, was hired as director of the Foster Technology Center after former director Glenn Kapiloff was hired to lead the Franklin County Adult Basic Education program.

At Mt. Blue Middle School, former Skowhegan Area Middle School teacher Jason Bellerose has taken over the reins as principal after longtime Principal Gary Oswald retired in June.

Bellerose took over as principal July 1. Since then, he has been meeting with faculty and staff members to work toward his first-year goal of “seek first to understand.”

“There are things that they do really well here, and really, what I want to do is just come in, get the lay of the land and see how everything works and how I can enhance their efforts that have already yielded good quality,” Bellerose said.

With Smith leaving the middle school to be an interim assistant principal at the high school, the district is looking for an interim middle school assistant principal.

School also is beginning next week for School Administrative District 58, with kindergarten through ninth-graders starting Wednesday, and 10th- through 12th-graders starting Thursday. SAD 58 serves the towns of Kingfield, Strong, Phillips and Avon.

NEW PROGRAM IN SKOWHEGAN

When 205 high school freshmen begin classes Wednesday in Skowhegan, they will be greeted with a new program that will split them into two groups, each with four teachers monitoring their successes, failures and their needs in what is thought to be the most important academic year of their young lives — ninth grade.

Skowhegan Area High School Assistant Principal Grey Henderson said the program, which begins this year, is called Building Assets, Reducing Risks, a plan designed for ninth-graders as they make the transition from middle school to high school, which can be a scary jump.

“We’re always looking for ways to better support ninth-graders because it’s a big year,” he said. “Ninth-grade students that pass our classes are much, much more likely to earn their high school diploma. It’s a really critical year. I would say that ninth grade is probably the most important year because it really sets how the rest of your high school career is going to go.”

Skowhegan had to apply for the program and was selected to receive training and all of the materials necessary to implement the program, Henderson said.

The BARR program at Skowhegan puts students into small groups — 25 each from the two sets of about 100 — with a single set of teachers for English, mathematics, social studies and science. Each group of ninth-graders has the same four teachers for the four core subjects.

“They do not travel as a pod. They are not locked into this group of 25. They all have their own schedules,” Henderson said. “The only commonality that they have is that they have the same teacher for each class.”

The four teachers will meet once a week and discuss progress and set a course for specific intervention where necessary. In addition, each of the four teachers is assigned to chart the progress of 25 students chosen at random and reports to the teacher group every week.

Henderson said a handful of schools in Maine participate in the program, including Lawrence High School in Fairfield and Gardiner Area High School.

The Skowhegan high school is attended by students from Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

The BARR Model, as it is called, grew from a single high school in Minnesota in 1998 to 45 urban, suburban, and rural schools, representing more than 17,000 students and more than 800 teachers in California, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, according to the program’s website. Maine is the only New England state that uses the program

Classes in all schools in School Administrative District 54, which includes Skowhegan, Canaan, Cornville and Norridgewock, begin Wednesday.

ROLES CHANGE IN SAD 49

Changes are afoot this year when school begins in Fairfield-based School Administrative District 49. Brian Wedge, the former assistant principal at Lawrence Junior High School, has been appointed principal at Benton Elementary School. Pamela Blais has been hired as Wedge’s assistant principal at the school, which has 630 students in grades one to six.

Taking Wedge’s place at the junior high school is Sean Boynton, who held the position before Wedge, left for a few years and decided to come back.

Bill MacManus, the longtime athletic director for grades seven to 12 at Lawrence High School and the junior high school, has retired and is being replaced by David Packard, who previously was assistant principal at the Benton school, according to Jeanine Brown, administrative assistant to SAD 49 Superintendent Dean Baker.

The district’s new director of adult education is Patricia Hughes. SAD 49 serves the towns of Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, and classes begin Wednesday.

‘NEW BLOOD’ IN SAD 13

In Bingham-based School Administrative District 13, Superintendent Virginia Rebar said the district is excited about getting eight new staff members when school starts next week. “It will be exciting to welcome some new blood to the district,” she said.

School in SAD 13, which includes Bingham and Moscow, starts Wednesday for students, while teachers and staff members will report on Monday and Tuesday.

This school year also will be the last for districtwide Principal Julie Richard, who announced in April that she will retire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year after coming out of her first retirement in 2012 to take over as principal.

“We haven’t done any renovations, but there have been some major upgrades, such as some painting at Quimby (Middle School), resurfacing of the gymnasium floors, and the buildings look crisp and ready to roll,” Rebar said.

The district also is excited about the launch of a new program that will start at Moscow Elementary School in the special education department to assist students who have gone through trauma or have behavioral problems that interfere with their learning.

“We’re looking forward to implementing that program,” Rebar said. “That’s our major new program.”

PROFICIENCY GOAL IN SAD 12

In Jackman-based School Administrative District 12, Assistant Superintendent and Principal Denise Plante said last week that the district is continuing to work toward having the class of 2018 be the first to graduate with proficiency-based diplomas.

The district also is welcoming a new high school science teacher, Kjerstin Winn, who has been a veterinarian for 20 years in Skowhegan, Plante said.

“She has a lot of relevant and hands-on type experience that we’re looking forward to her bringing to her teaching,” Plante said.

SAD 12, which includes the communities of Jackman and Moose River, also will start the year with a newly approved 2016-2017 budget after residents last week approved a $2,253,503 spending package after a second referendum. “It took four referendums last year, so we’re happy it passed. It’s great,” Plante said.

The first day of school in Anson-based School Administrative District 74 is Sept. 1 for pre-kindergarten through grade nine and Sept. 2 for grades 10 through 12. The district also includes Embden, New Portland and Solon.

“I’m excited for a new position,” said Interim Superintendent Lyford Beverage, who took over the job from Ken Coville earlier this month. “The people are enthusiastic and I hope that translates to enthusiasm on the part of the students.”

Staff reporters Madeline St. Amour, Lauren Abbate, Doug Harlow and Rachel Ohm contributed to this story.

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