MSSM opens with new director, strict COVID rules

LIMESTONE, Maine — Last week, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics began classes in its 27th school year with both a new director and a detailed COVID-19 safety plan.

Students arrived via a staggered schedule starting Aug. 19. This past week marks the first time since spring 2020 that all students are on campus at the same time. 

At the school’s helm is new interim Executive Director and alumnus Sam Critchlow. After graduating from MSSM in 2001, Critchlow attended Amherst College and the University of New Hampshire. 

He has returned to the state following 14 years as a mathematics teacher and school leader at schools in the Rocky Mountains and northern New England. He served most recently as the founding head of school at Bozeman Field School in Montana, and teaching at Montana State University. 

Critchlow, who grew up on Peaks Island, said of his return, “It’s wonderful being back in Maine, and returning to a school that made an incredible impact on my life. The students, faculty, and staff represent some of the strongest talent in the state, and it’s a pleasure to serve them.” 

The school shares an academic building with Limestone Community School, the first school in the state to open remotely. School officials credit strict standards and high vaccination rates among students and staff — both above 90 percent — for helping MSSM avoid some of the pitfalls affecting some surrounding schools and communities.

The school has adopted an extensive COVID-19 response plan that requires mandatory masking in indoor spaces, a recent negative COVID test prior to student arrival, daily symptom checks before class, weekly pooled testing and limited off-campus activities.

“Parents and students are eager for a safe start to the school year, as well as a science-based approach in how we respond to COVID,” Critchlow said. 

“With cases emerging in the surrounding area this week, we have enacted extra measures to insulate our community,” he said. “We want what all schools want: a smooth year of in-person learning.” 

 The public, residential magnet school, free of tuition for Maine residents, was last ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the number-one high school in Maine and the number-two high school in the nation in 2019.

This year’s student body draws from all 16 counties of Maine, and includes a small number of tuition-paying out-of-state students. 

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