SKOWHEGAN — Two educators with decades of combined experience will be joining the administrative staff within Maine School Administrative District 54 this fall.

Robert Rodrigue Contributed photo

The district’s Board of Directors decided this week to hire Christy Johnson as the principal for North Elementary and Margaret Chase Smith schools in Skowhegan, and Robert Rodrigue as principal at Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock.

Rodrigue joins the district after 18 years spent in Oakland-based Regional Unit 18, most recently serving the last three years as a physical education teacher. Prior to this role, Rodrigue worked in the special education department for 14 years in the district.

After interviewing candidates, the district’s personnel committee selected Rodrigue and Johnson and a representative from the committee said that the board approve the recommendation on a two-year contract.

Christy Johnson Contributed photo

Johnson, who also has served on the school district’s board of directors since October 2018, joins MSAD 54 from Kennebec Valley Community College, where she is director of learning commons. Johnson has held a range of teaching positions in various states and systems, beginning in 2000. A 1990 graduate from Skowhegan Area High School, Johnson said that her experience on the board is what solidified her decision to return to K-12 education.

Prior to beginning her new position at North Elementary and Margaret Chase Smith schools on July 1, Johnson must resign from her position on the board.

Johnson’s position is split between two Skowhegan elementary schools and Superintendent Jon Moody said that the hope is that the district can hire a teacher-leader position at North Elementary School.

“Our hope is that by offering a teacher-leader position at North Elementary school that we can provide additional supports when the principal is dealing with someone in the other building,” Moody said.

MSAD 54 serves the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

NEW SCHOOL

At a straw poll vote last month, the community was unanimous in its support of the Margaret Chase Smith School site being the location for a new school to replace North Elementary.

North Elementary School, at 33 Jewett St., qualified for the state’s Major Capital School Construction Programs, ranking No. 2 out of 74 schools. Completed in 1954, the school originally served students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It now serves about 165 students in prekindergarten and kindergarten.

Previously, a recommendation has been made from the MSAD 54 Building Committee to pursue a consolidated elementary school “that will address the needs of the district for many years to come.” Consolidating would add an additional 400 students to the building, bringing the total to about 660.

While the current North Elementary School site is not suitable for a new school due to the size of the property, the bus garage on Heselton Street would be relocated there, Moody has previously said.

Next, Moody said the group will meet with the state’s Construction Committee later this month and hopes to bring the site forward for approval with the state’s Department of Education on July 14. Additionally, meetings with staff began last month to gather input to develop “educational specifications,” which help with the concept design phase of the project.

“Ed specs will continue through the early fall and will include feedback not only from staff, but also from parents and students,” Moody said. “Concept design will begin at the end of the summer and will continue through early winter.”

Moody hopes the project will break ground by the end of 2023, take a year and a half to construct, and be open for students for the fall of 2025. A timeline of the project can be found on the district’s website.

RETURNING TO SCHOOL

Following the state’s recent guidance, students in Skowhegan schools will return in the fall at full capacity, with masks only being recommended to students who have not been vaccinated. It is unclear what the guidance for staff is as district’s around the state wait for new guidance to be issued throughout the summer months.

The announcement comes after Gov. Janet Mills announced the decision to lift the state’s coronavirus pandemic state of emergency at the end of the month. Effective July 1, the Maine Department of Education’s health and safety standards will shift from requirement to recommendation, allowing for district’s to adopt their own policies on masking and distancing requirements.

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