2013-07-01 / Front Page

Harpswell academy attracts plenty of teachers

Charter school reveals new faculty members
BY DARCIE MOORE Times Record Staff


Without advertising, Harpswell Coastal Academy attracted more than 100 unsolicited resumes from teachers for its first school year.

The school announced last week that five new individuals have joined the staff — “a talented mix of individuals who bring experience, energy and diverse offerings to the table,” the school said.

Four of the five new faculty are Maine residents who are familiar with Maine Learning Results standards, Head of School John D’Anieri said.

D’Anieri said the salaries range from $36,500 to $41,800; teachers start at the same level a teacher with the same experience would within School Administrative District 75. The school will develop a professional growth plan over the next year that D’Anieri said is unlikely to work like a traditional step system.

D’Anieri, who will also co-teach language arts and humanities, said resumes started coming in before the school’s charter application was approved in February.

The contract between the charter school and state was signed in May. The school is slated to open its doors to 60 students at the former West Harpswell School on Sept. 3.

One of the newly hired teachers is Carrie McColgan-Branson, who will be assistant head of school and also co-teach language arts and humanities.

A native of western Massachusetts, McColgan-Branson worked for expeditionary learning schools and at the Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Mass. She is a graduate of Wesleyan College and completed her master’s degree at Antioch University New England in Keene, N.H.

Most recently, McColgan-Branson was executive assistant to the head of school and sustainability coordinator at Waynflete School in Portland.

In her new job, she will teach read- ing and writing, serve as assistant head of school, take care of the school’s business office, coordinate the school’s community partnerships and oversee special education services.

She had worked with D’Anieri in the past, and conversations she had with him about Harpswell Coastal Academy captured her interest.

“I think for me, it was an opportunity to be on the ground floor of the school as the school was getting started,” McColgan-Branson said. “I think it’s an interesting process to be involved in and allows for us to kind of, build a culture, and what it takes to do that, that’s something that’s really interested me.”

Harpswell Coastal Academy appealed to her because she said it is “looking for ways to really support children who are looking for different ways to learn and maybe just want something different than a traditional classroom setting.”

From the people she’s met and conversations she’s had, “The school is really coming from the community, and the group responsible for getting it founded are Harpswell residents and really connected to the community.”

Angelina Simmons will be the media studies teacher and a one-on-one special educator.

A Boothbay native, Simmons lives on Great Island with her husband and daughter, and has lived in Harpswell for 16 years.

She comes from Woodside Elementary School in School Administrative District 75, where she worked as a special education technician providing one-on-one support to students.

Simmons said she had been watching the progress of the school and its charter application because she was interested in sending her daughter to Harpswell Coastal Academy.

Her daughter will be attending the school, as will one of the students she supports as a special ed tech, “so I’m sort of happily following him. And I’m also really excited to have the opportunity to work with older children” of middle school and high school age, she said.

Simmons recently received a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Southern Maine.

“I think it’s important for students to learn, for example, what makes good news; how to find reliable resources, when they watch a television show, what message is that show sending to them and how is it reflecting their culture. I want them to think about what they watch and see,” Simmons said.

“The kids are really going to be working in the community with community partners and getting to go out and do things and I think there’s a certain level of pride that comes with that, along with the unique skills that can come from learning about the world around them in a very real context; not just sitting in a classroom behind a computer.”

Joining as math teacher is Byron Malcom, who taught math for the last five years at Mt. Ararat High School.

A native of the Greater Boston area, he graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., where he earned a master’s degree in education. A certified Cross- Fit instructor and nutrition coach, he will also serve as the wellness coordinator. He lives in Bowdoin with his wife and daughter.

Malcom said his five years teaching at Mt. Ararat have been a great experience, but said the education in public school works great for some and not for others. The current education system has been in place for many years and is an outdated system, he said, so this will be taking a “different approach to education, revamping it, doing what’s best for the kids and personalizing it for the kids.”

The teachers will have students all through grades six to 12 so “We’ll know them quite well, their learning style, what works and what doesn’t, so I think we’ll be able to do things in a way that we can’t in a public school.”

A board member of Harpswell Coastal Academy passed his name on to D’Anieri, who called him and through their initial conversations, Malcom said he liked the idea of taking a different approach to education, and felt that D’Anieri had a great vision and good ideas backing that vision.

Teachers work very hard the first two or three years in a new position, which he’d done and set himself up nicely at Mt. Ararat and yes, to jump into this new startup venture that will initially be short staffed and the staff working very hard, is daunting, he said, “but I think exciting to be part of something new. It’s going to outweigh all those other factors.”

Malcom added that when he was in high school, “I would have done better at a school like this,” Malcom said. The students and teachers will be outside as much as possible, in the woods, on the flats, which appeals to an “outdoorsy person.”

Micah Depper has been appointed as the science teacher. He recently completed a master’s degree in environmental studies and earned his teacher certification at Antioch University New England. Depper taught the last two years as an intern at Four Rivers Public Charter School in Greenfield, Mass., an expeditionary learning school of similar size and structure to the new Harpswell school.

A native of Bend, Ore., he attended Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., then worked as a research scientist. He and his partner will reside in Harpswell.

Trevor Slater, a one-on-one special educator, worked in the alternative and therapeutic education at schools in Camden, Portland and Mt. Ararat High School.

He grew up in Massachusetts, graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and worked in outdoor education for several years.

Slater will lead the design and adaptation of HCA’s project and place-based curriculum for special needs students. He lives in Brunswick with his wife and two children.

McColgan-Branson said, “I’m excited to have flexibility and have freedom to pull this together in a way that will really work for our kids. Our charter lays out a very clear plan for what we will be doing,” and the school and staff will work closely with the Department of Education through that process.

“It is nice to know that we can design things following our charter in a way that is not following the traditional school model,” she said.

Harpswell Coastal Academy will have the same school calendar as SAD 75, and is still in negotiations with the town of Harpswell to lease the former West Harpswell School.

D’Anieri said the school’s conversations with SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith “have been just excellent from day one, and it is really gratifying to have colleagues who are so focused on doing the right thing for kids.”

The school will offer Maine state system retirement benefits and teachers currently in the Maine teaching system have portability of their pension plan. While not available this year, teachers will have the option of unionizing in the future.

Of the school’s recruitment of teachers, D’Anieri said, “We wanted to make sure that teaching in a public charter school was competitive and financially attractive to the best teachers in Maine, and we could not make that happen if we do what many charter schools do and pay lower wages than traditional schools.”

“One of the really gratifying things about this is the extraordinary, not just in numbers but in quality, teachers that threw their hats in the ring for this,” D’Anieri said.

¦ THE CONTRACT between Harpswell Coastal Academy and state was signed in May. The school is slated to open its doors to 60 students at the former West Harpswell School on Sept. 3.

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