November 3, 2013

Athens school beginning year of transition since leaving Madison-based district

Athens now owns its own school, land, buses and teacher contracts after leaving Madison-based School Administrative District 59 this summer

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

ATHENS — There are new teachers, a new principal, a new superintendent and a new name — Athens Community School.

click image to enlarge

The new Athens Community School Principal Cynthia Streznewski speaks with head teacher Edward Ellis as children play during recess recently.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Since withdrawing from Madison-based School Administrative District 59 this summer, the town now owns the school, the land, the buses and all the teacher contracts.

Athens is now part of Dexter-based Alternative Organizational Structure 94, with the towns of Ripley, Garland, Exeter and Harmony.

The new principal, Cynthia Streznewski, of Belgrade, also shares her time as principal of the Harmony school.

“It’s going to be a rough year in transition, but everyone is so committed to making it work that I think it will work and Athens will be better for it,” Streznewski said. “I like entering it at the beginning of this journey with them. It’s a good point to enter because we are making it our own school, our own vision.

“We’re all on the same page and that’s exciting and we’re building it with the community and doing what’s best for the kids. Getting away from the SAD wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t as committed as they were.”

Streznewski started when school opened at the end of August. There are 120 students at the Athens school and 88 at the Harmony school, both of which are pre-kindergarten through grade eight.

Streznewski studied music at the Boston Conservatory of Music and started her career as a music teacher. She later earned a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Maine.

This year is her first year as a certified school principal. She is in Athens Tuesday afternoon and Thursday mornings every week.

Edward Ellis, a 29-year veteran of the school, is considered the lead teacher, or assistant principal.

“I think it can continue with a combined principal and I think it will work because Harmony and Athens are so close together — only seven miles apart,” Streznewski said.

She said some school policies will have to be rewritten because everything from bus rules to handbooks have to be changed from being a member of the SAD to being an independent school.

“All of that was officially owned and operated by the SAD, now as Athens Community School, it’s like we’re a new entity,” she said. “If people want changes, this is the year they can make their changes and make it work to fit where their beliefs really are and I think that’s the power in it for the community, the teachers and the school board. It’s a huge task to overcome.”

Athens even has its own junior high football team on a new full-size football field for the first time. Equipment for work on the field was all donated by Linkletter & Sons, with much of the organization and physical work done by head coach Cory Buzzell and his wife Jean.

The idea of withdrawing from the Madison-based district began in 2010 when the SAD 59 school board switched to a weighted voting system. In that system, board members carried a percentage of the vote based on the population of the town they represented. Under that system, Madison carried 75 percent of the vote and easily could override the wishes of the other, smaller towns.

The SAD 59 board voted informally in 2012 to move seventh- and eighth-graders from the Athens school to Madison Junior High School as a way to save money. The Athens Withdrawal Committee was then formed with the goal of preserving the pre-kindergarten through grade 8 school and securing town control of the school budget and how and what the children were taught.

The prospect of moving Athens junior high school students to Madison and the possibility of losing the school all together some day are gone, said Nancy Martin Athens parent and school administrative assistant.

(Continued on page 2)

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