St. John Valley

Valley Unified Board votes to integrate grades 7-8 into proposed regional school

MADAWASKA, Maine —  The Valley Unified Education Service Center Board of Directors voted unanimously that a proposed regional school in the St. John Valley should include middle school students in grades seven and eight. 

The public meeting was held Tuesday, July 30, in Madawaska.

The new school will be considered a grades seven-16 school because it will provide opportunities for high school-aged students to earn college credits by the time they graduate.

 Valley Unified Board members representing administrative units SAD 33 and SAD 27 and Madawaska School Department all noted that they had discussed whether to include middle school students at the new regional school with members of their individual school boards. 

All three individual school boards were in favor of integrating seventh- and eighth-graders into the new regional school.

The initiative to include those two grades at the new school also received the support of the majority of students and community members who completed a survey regarding Valley Unified school options, which Valley Unified Executive Director Ben Sirois presented to members of the public this spring. 

The survey asked respondents what grade levels should be included if voters approve the new Valley Unified Educational Facility.

The survey garnered 868 collective responses from individuals in the following categories: current nine-12 students attending a Valley Unified School, current grades six-eight students attending a Valley Unified School, parents of one or more students attending a Valley Unified School, parents whose children are not yet attending school, pre-K through grade six educators (teacher, ed-tech or administrator) working at a Valley Unified School, grades seven-12 educators (teacher, ed-tech or administrator) working at a Valley Unified School, business owners in a Valley Unified community, and community members at large in the Valley Unified region. 

More than half of the respondents in each individual category indicated a preference that the new regional school include some combination of middle school students, either grades six-eight or grades seven and eight, with 66.1 percent of respondents overall supporting some form of a middle school/high school combination. 

The majority of respondents in each category cited access to career and technical education and greater access and opportunity for extra and co-curricular programs as some of the advantages to including middle school students at the new regional school.

 “If this board so chooses to listen to what the surveys are saying, we can speak to the engineering firm now about our wishes to have a middle school within the same facility, but definitely keeping our middle school separate from our high school unlike our current facilities where they’re kind of blended,” Sirois said at the July 30 meeting.

Sirois added that for some of the parents, it is a concern to integrate middle school students with high school students. 

“They don’t want what they consider their little ones to be with these big stinky high school kids,” Sirois said. “I feel like it’s even worse to have the stinky eighth-graders with your pre-K and kindergarten kids at the elementary school, so you have to look at the pros and cons on both ends of it.” 

Should voters approve the new regional school, SAD 33, SAD 27 and the Madawaska School District will retain individual elementary schools.

A complete video recording of the July 30 meeting of the Valley Unified Board of Directors was recorded by WOWL Channel 16 and can be viewed online.

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