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February 9, 2006

Baxter School seeks permission to rent

From:, ME - Feb 9, 2006


Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

The Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf may lease its spare classroom space to a private elementary school for hearing students this fall if the Legislature approves the plan.

The school would be the first for hearing students on the Baxter campus, a state school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing on Mackworth Island in Falmouth.

One possible tenant is a Friends school, a private school that promotes Quaker beliefs such as community, integrity and non-violence. The school would serve students of all beliefs.

Renting out unused classrooms would bring extra revenue for educational programs for Maine's hearing-impaired students and expose them to mainstream schooling before they leave the island to attend high school, said Jim Gemmell, communications director for the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. That is the state umbrella organization of which Baxter is a part.

About a half-century ago, former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter donated Mackworth Island and money to the state to build a school there for Maine's deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

The school now serves about 67 students from preschool to high school. Since 2003, its high school students have attended Portland High School. They may live in a dormitory on the island and participate in extracurricular activities there.

The Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, based on the island, provides outreach services to about 600 deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters in their hometowns around the state.

The center has a bill in the Legislature seeking permission to let the Baxter school board enter into a lease agreement with an independent accredited elementary school. House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, agreed to sponsor the bill and said a public hearing could be held this month.

Baxter wouldn't lease out the space just for the financial benefit, he said. The school plans to collaborate educationally with the tenant school so that Baxter students can gain experience in a hearing school before they leave the island to attend high school.

American Sign Language is the language of instruction at Baxter, and students learn to read and write English. They can also study spoken English in individual or group sessions, and interacting with hearing students could be a good way to improve their skills.

"Every once in a while, we get a student with extensive oral capabilities who is hard of hearing or has a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted device that aids hearing) and would benefit from an oral program," Gemmell said.

The students at the hearing school could benefit by learning American Sign Language and learning about deaf culture, Gemmell said. "There's a very rich cultural experience we have to offer."

Gemmell said the tenant, the rent and the building space available for use have not been determined.

Larry Taub, superintendent of the center, said in a memo to the school board last month that the Friends Meeting of Portland would like to start a school on the island for students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Gemmell said that plan is not definite. "It's still a possibility for them, but we want to make sure it's a good match for us."

Members of the Friends Meeting, as Quaker congregations are called, acknowledged ongoing talks with Baxter this week but said it's too early to discuss details of the proposal. Katherine Potter, co-clerk of the meeting, said the school would be independent of the meeting but under its spiritual guidance.

There are 81 Friends schools around the country, none of them in Maine, according to the Friends Council on Education, a national organization based in Philadelphia. The schools strive for academic excellence and spiritual depth, according to the council's Web site.