Officially on the job since July 1, St. George school superintendent Mike Felton has hit the ground running to get the town’s new municipal school unit not only operational, but also on a trajectory aimed at realizing what up until now has only been an exciting vision of the kind of school St. George wants and needs.
“The two big pieces of our identity are that we are a small school truly based in this community and tied to this community and that we are an expeditionary learning school—a place where you know why you’re doing what you’re doing because it has real-life implications,” Felton says. “These two work together to ensure our students are fully engaged in their learning and to also engage parents, family and the larger community in their learning—to base this school in the history, traditions and values of this community and to give back to this community.”
While the school’s principal is its instructional leader, as superintendent it is Felton’s job to take leadership not only in shaping the school as an educational institution, but also in managing the business side of its operation and in responding to legal and policy issues.
“There are a lot of demands on schools from a lot of different groups—ranging from what goes on in the classroom, to our food and nutrition program, to our health program and so on. But those demands aren’t coordinated,” he explains. “Our philosophy is to be aware of all the demands, but to be flexible enough as an organization to take what comes at us and make it work for us.”
Felton says this is where being a small school is an advantage. His office is at the school in easy proximity to its business manager, food service director, personnel manager, principal, teachers and other staff. “We can meet frequently and talk about how we are doing, what we are looking to do and how we can collaborate. Then we can move forward in a coordinated way rather than having people going in opposite directions.”
Especially beneficial about being an independent school, Felton says, is the ability to control the budget. “For what we were paying RSU 13, we have increased our program offerings and staffing. We are now more directly responsible to the town. And we are developing more partnerships.”
In this regard, Felton references the Port Clyde Fisheries Trail map, a recent collaborative project between the school’s 7th graders and Herring Gut Learning Center (to find the map go to herringgut.org). “In creating this map students learned technology skills, science skills, language skills and history skills. We want to make students’ learning as authentic and rigorous as possible. We are in a rural setting, but our kids are getting a rich education. Being our own district we’re able to focus and be creative.”
A graduate of Bowdoin College, Felton’s professional background includes work as an Island Institute Teaching Fellow and educational outreach officer for island schools. He was principal of the Vinalhaven school for five years, during which tenure he also taught history.—JW
PHOTOS: Julie Wortman