How do you keep a year-round island community vibrant? One key ingredient is a flourishing school, a fact that Islesboro realized generations ago. Education has always been important to islanders, from the days when there were half a dozen one-room schoolhouses dotting the winding roads to today, when the halls of Islesboro Central School hum with engaged kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
I visited on a stormy Wednesday and found a warm welcome. My guide for the morning, Linda Gillies, was the perfect person to explain the building’s history, as one of her ancestors once owned the 1928 summer cottage “Rock Ledge” that was donated it to the town as a school in the 1950’s. The gracious stone structure is still the dominant design element, even with an $8 million addition and renovation project that was completed in July 2010 that turned the “cottage” into a modern school.
I met many members of the school’s educational staff: Charles Hamm, Head of School; Jennifer McFarland, 2nd/3rd grade teacher; Melissa Olson, Library Resource Coordinator; and Jess Woods, Guidance, Health, and Career Prep Counselor. A nice surprise was bumping into Jenny Roberts, K-5 Guidance, who is a neighbor of mine in Camden. That meeting, along with seeing the daughter of friends who live on Pearl Street in Camden, reinforced for me the interconnectedness of this island school to our mainland towns. Every morning a group of students and faculty commute over on the ferry to attend ICS, and some students on the island travel over to Belfast or Camden to attend school there.
Islesboro Central School (ICS) boasts an enviable six-to-one student teacher ratio, as well as a 100% graduation rate. Jess Woods described for me the school’s emphasis on “credentialing,” an idea championed by MaineSpark that promotes many pathways to careers in addition to college. While we were talking, several students popped in to set up quick appointments with her, and she fielded their questions and mine seamlessly.
Next we headed to the Islesboro Preschool, where I met Executive Director Alex Wilbur and toured the brand new building, located next door to the town office and fire department. Programs are run for two age groups: infants and toddlers, and children 2 ½ through 5. On the day that I visited, the children sported head-to-toe rain suits so they could splash in puddles during recess. Needless to say, the Preschool serves an incredibly important niche: nurturing the very youngest island residents, helping families that need childcare, and contributing to the island’s desirability as a year-round community.
To see the many photos from my visit to both schools, please go to my Facebook Page. Coming next time -- a few more important island landmarks and places.
Paid for and authorized by Vicki Doudera.