The story of keeping Eustis strong.
Diverse and robust education has always been a significant part of life in Eustis, Maine. The first schools were established in the mid-1800’s by the farmers and woodsmen of Eustis Ridge, even before a village or town was organized.
The first school house was built on the Porter Farm on Eustis Ridge in 1840 for the Durrell, White, Procter, Ricker, Dodge and Porter families who lived on the Ridge. The first Eustis Village school was built around 1870 where the Forestry Service building now stands. Shortly thereafter two small school houses were erected at the corner of what is now the Perry Road and Rt 27. In the 1880’s two one- room schoolhouses were built in Stratton Village on Main Street near Stratton Brook. As Stratton Village grew the older one-room schoolhouses became inadequate, so in 1924 a large multi-level school building was built on the site of the current Stratton Elementary School (SES), on School Street. Although the 1924 building burned to the ground in 1933, a better school emerged on the foundation of the old school and was used continuously until 1998 when the present school was erected on the same site. By 1935 the Stratton School was serving all grades from 1st though high school, with each of the grades in a dedicated classroom. The mid-1900’s was a period of prosperity in the region with 200-300 students enrolled in the Stratton School each year.
By the 1960’s all the schools in Franklin county were bursting at the seams, and the Maine Department of Education was encouraging consolidation of town schools into districts to provide a broader academic base for the children and to gain some administrative advantages. Maine School Administrative District #58 (MSAD58) was organized in 1968 between the towns of Kingfield, Phillips, Strong, Avon and Eustis; and 9th through 12th grade students started attending a brand new high school, Mt. Abram, in 1969. Many improvements to education were accomplished by MSAD through the last third of the 20th century, and new school buildings sprung up in each of the member towns. As standardized testing was implemented across the state most of the MSAD58 schools were earning better-than-average marks for academic achievements; Stratton essentially earned a score of 10, on a scale of 10. But one of the issues the district, and the town of Eustis, faced between 2000 and 2010 was declining enrollment at a time of increasing costs.
In April 2010 Superintendent Quentin Clark suggested “some options” for the District that included reducing SES to a K-5 school, with district-wide grades 6-8 centralized, and possibly closing the high school. Concerned Eustis citizens and SES teachers started attending more MSAD58 Board meetings and established a local support group they called SOS (for Support our Schools). During budget hearings in early 2011 many more cuts had to be made to teaching, administrative and support positions, and declining enrollment led to multi-grade classrooms in Stratton. By the summer of 2011 SOS group changed their name to the “SAVE our School” group and began studying the State-mandated process for withdrawal of a town from a School district. The mailing list of members for the group exceeded 40 names of concerned citizens! Several of these members met with our State Representative, Tom Saviello (now a Senator) and with Maine Department of Education officials to learn about the process.
Since the Stratton Elementary School was the smallest and most isolated of the district schools it was proposed by the District administration, in January 2012, that SES be closed. At a very heated discussion of this proposal at a District School Board meeting in January of 2012, Eustis residents turned out in large numbers to passionately support the delivery of quality education in their town. The emotional pleas of that evening could be summed up as a declaration that “if you really don’t want us in MSAD58, then we will go it alone”. When we said this, we truly did not know what we would be facing, or what we could accomplish by working strongly together, but the rest of 2012 turned out to be a whirlwind of solidarity.
By July 2012 the SOS had petitioned the Eustis Board of Selectmen to initiate the process of withdrawal. After a public hearing in September, a November referendum vote resulted in an 88% approval to proceed. The town hired a well-known educational consultant, Dr. Mark Eastman, to assist a four- member Withdrawal Committee that was appointed by the Selectmen. The SOS group organized into specialty areas to assist with the year-long process to write, gain approval for, and execute a Withdrawal Agreement that had to meet strict State requirements and be approved by the MSAD58 Board. The basic premise adopted by the Withdrawal Committee called for quality education for our students, insuring that our elementary school remained open and that the vitality of the town be preserved. Four months of intense and amicable investigation by all parties (with good cooperation from the MSAD58 Superintendent’s staff) resulted in the approval of a Withdrawal Agreement by the MSAD58 Board and the State Department of Education in March 2013. After several public informational meetings the town voters resoundingly approved the Withdrawal Agreement by a 97% positive vote in mid-May 2013.
A new three-member School Board was elected in late May. Their first action was to present a School Budget, which the Withdrawal and SOS groups had been working on for months, and town voters approved it in June. Dr. Mark Eastman was appointed as the Interim Superintendent to work out details such as selecting a new district name, transferring title of assets, implementing continuing contracts for teachers and staff, establishing an administrative structure for education at the Town office, and beginning the hiring process for a new principal. In July 2013 the Board hired principal, Vicki Collins, to continue the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and begin work with the existing staff to prepare for a new school year as the Flagstaff Regional School Unit. (
There is a lot of hard work still to be done in carrying out our promise to the young citizens of Eustis and it’s surrounding towns; Coplin, Wyman and Carabassett Valley have joined us in making the new Flagstaff RSU a success. With a 150 year history of dedication to the education of our children we will remain committed to improving educational opportunities with every passing year.
by Jean Gutmann, Sep 13, 2013