2013-08-30 / Front Page

School daze

South Portlanders head back to school
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Construction equipment, mounds of dirt and unfinished buildings have been a reality for South Portland since work began last year on the high school renovation and rebuilding project. When students return from winter break Monday, Jan. 6, they will, for the first time, move into some classrooms in a wing of the new building. (Jack Flagler photo) Construction equipment, mounds of dirt and unfinished buildings have been a reality for South Portland since work began last year on the high school renovation and rebuilding project. When students return from winter break Monday, Jan. 6, they will, for the first time, move into some classrooms in a wing of the new building. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – When South Portland High School students return for the first day of classes Tuesday, Sept. 3 the construction equipment in front of Beal Gymnasium, mounds of dirt near the main entrance doors and the unfinished structure increasingly recognizable as a new high school behind the main building will remind them of major changes on the horizon.

However, while students will not see the benefits of those projects until later this year, there will be plenty of changes on the first day back from the day they left in June.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin said the ongoing high school renovation project actually will not present much of a change to students’ dayto day schedules, at least in the early months of the school year. However, when students return from winter break Jan. 6, they will, for the first time, take classes in a wing of the new building. Meanwhile, the annex of the current building is scheduled to come down.


South Portland High School girls’ volleyball coach Autumn Hawkes tosses a ball into the air during a hitting drill at a preseason practice Monday. The upcoming season will be the volleyball team’s first as a varsity program. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland High School girls’ volleyball coach Autumn Hawkes tosses a ball into the air during a hitting drill at a preseason practice Monday. The upcoming season will be the volleyball team’s first as a varsity program. (Jack Flagler photo) The entire renovation and rebuilding project is scheduled to finish in spring 2015. Construction began in April 2012 after city voters approved a $41.5 million bond measure in November 2010.

At the helm of the building project – and all other matters related to the high school – is new principal Ryan Caron, who comes to South Portland from Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram. Caron took over July 1 for Jim Holland, who was principal since 2011 before announcing his resignation in February without providing an explanation.

Caron has met with staff, teachers, parents and some students who took time out of their summer vacation to come into his office and introduce themselves. Caron said although students have yet to return to the high school hallways, he has already noticed a culture with a “tremendous amount of pride” in its schools during his first two months on the job.

“There’s an energy and a tradition in South Portland that people have talked about in my 14 or 15 years in southern Maine and it has proven true. I’ve had a great couple months and I’m ready for kids to come next week,” Caron said.

Godin said she is impressed with the direction Caron has set in the early days at his new position.

“I think he’s got some good plans for the high school and he will be a good listener, clear thinker and can set forth putting those plans in motion,” she said.

High school students in South Portland, along with middle schoolers in grades six to eight, will notice a major technology change for the upcoming year as well. Instead of receiving laptops when the school year begins, the South Portland School Department will issue 1,700 iPads to students and teachers for use in the classroom.

The switch to iPads was approved by the South Portland Board of Education this summer, but initially voted down by the South Portland City Council in a split 3-3 vote June 3. After dozens of parents, students and teachers spoke out in favor of the iPads at a workshop the following week, the council held a vote to reconsider, which passed 6-0 June 17 to approve the $785,000 proposal.

High school students will also notice a large fence surrounding a torn-up Beal Gymnasium, which has been closed since spring as construction crews work to replace the roof and improve facilities inside.

Godin said frequent rainstorms and structural issues slowed the project this summer, but new locker rooms and exercise rooms will be ready for students in early October. The gym is expected reopen in late October or early November.

That presents a challenge to Autumn Hawkes, the new head coach of the South Portland girls’ volleyball team in the squad’s first varsity season.

Hawkes was hired on to coach the team late in the summer, about a week before preseason practices began. The roster will feature a core of several players with volleyball experience as a club team – players who approached Athletic Director Todd Livingston last year about bumping the team up to the varsity level. However, a large number of team members have only played volleyball in gym class, and some are starting completely from scratch with no experience at all.

Hawkes, who has worked as an assistant coach for both the Maine Junior Olympic Volleyball Club and St. Joseph’s College in Standish, said she is looking forward to the challenge of coaching players with varying levels of experience.

“I like the satisfaction of seeing the improvement at this age. It’s great to see the players grow as a person, not just as a player,” Hawkes said.

The South Portland girls’ volleyball team plays its final match at home Monday, Oct. 21 against Cape Elizabeth, meaning it will play all home contests in the South Portland Community Center this season.

For teachers, staff and administrators, the changes likely will mean making adjustments and settling into the day-to-day routine of the school day. For many students, the first bell restarts the countdown to summer. Barring snow days, the final day of the academic year is Monday, June 16.

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