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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 3, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, November 3, 2022
Expanded coverage on GSA’s Oct. 25 public trustee meeting
Head of school outlines ‘A Vision for Our Future’

As previously reported, on October 25, George Stevens Academy held a public trustee meeting in the school’s library. Board chair Sally Mills acted as moderator, inviting audience feedback at regular intervals. Shortly after bringing the meeting to order at 5 p.m., Mills turned things over to GSA Head of School Tim Seeley, whereupon he presented the six vision statements outlined in “GSA: A Vision for Our Future” (see page 5 or visit georgestevensacademy.org to view the document in its entirety).

The Vision was initially approved by the board in 2019; it was revisited and reapproved in September 2022. According to Seeley, “The overarching idea is for GSA to fulfill the promise of the town academy model.”

This is unique, said Seeley, in that it fits neither traditional public nor traditional independent school models.

Vision Statement 1

GSA Vision Statement 1 pertains to the student body. Of GSA being one of several choices for Peninsula families, Seeley said, “No one has to come. So we have to earn it every day.”

To realize the school’s goal of having 85 to 90 percent of Peninsula students attend GSA, the school has to be the “best choice.” Data as to current percentages are not yet available. Last year’s percentages were identified as being between 72 and 74 percent.

On the boarding side, the goal is to be self-sustaining and to generate additional revenue. While Seeley said that they “don’t know what that looks like yet,” the intent is to house 30 boarders, to continue to be a place for refugee students (GSA currently has two boarding students from Ukraine and one from Afghanistan) and to have “one or two beds for local students who, for whatever reason, really can’t be living at home,” said Seeley.

Vision Statement 2

GSA Vision Statement 2 relates to academics, including special programming such as music, arts and technology/trade offerings. While Seeley said that the academic program is really good, they need to look at it from “top to bottom.” The school wants to add to the “great academic support in place” with improved tutoring and other special services, growing the music, arts and wood shop programs and offering additional programming for students for whom a traditional academic program is not ideal.

Vision Statement 3

GSA Vision Statement 3 addresses student life programs, student leadership and student conduct. “You cannot be effective as educators if students are not happy,” said Seeley.

He stressed the ever-increasing challenges faced by students today due to pressure, technology and other factors. “Anyone who said that the best years of life are high school has not worked in one,” he said.

Identified needs include enhanced mental and emotional health support; increased emphasis on athletics—participation, not performance; better student conduct protocols; ensuring students “feel they can be involved in a substantive way, not just through student council”; offering “the best academic programing possible with our resources.”

Vision Statement 4

GSA Vision Statement 4 pertains to school-community partnerships. A curriculum focused on the Maine coast is a priority. Teaching books by Maine authors was one example given. Seeley lauded the community as being the most creative place he’s ever lived and said that a dynamic relationship with the community was a priority for him personally. “There are lots of ways to have where we are [geographically] unify what we do,” he said.

Vision Statement 5

GSA Vision Statement 5 relates to the school’s physical plant. “We want and intend to completely revitalize the campus,” said Seeley, who acknowledged that this would take time. Revamping campus safety, increasing the cafeteria size and having an improved performance arts space are some goals.

Earlier in the meeting, Seeley expressed gratitude for the supplemental tuition which went primarily towards “greatly needed facilities work.” Some supplemental tuition money also went to GSA salaries and to provide consistent transportation for students to and from Hancock County Technical Center. Seeley specified roof work on the Butler and Academy buildings and the replacement of a sewage pump.

Pending projects include roof work on the McIntyre building and improvements to the gym facilities.

Vision Statement 6

GSA Vision Statement 6 addresses financial sustainability. “We know we need to have a financial plan to ensure viability and sustainability for the long haul,” said Seeley. This segued into a budget review, whereby it was shown that GSA’s budget for fiscal year 2023 is in the black.

From vision to reality

As for follow-up, Penobscot School Board member Jim Goodman asked when a document would be made available with goals and milestones attached to each of the vision items.

To this, Seeley said, “That’s what happens next.”

Mills said that GSA board representatives will attend school board meetings in sending towns and that they are aiming to hold three additional public trustee meetings. “We’ll keep you informed.”