March 1, 2011

43755d77ebf91957-cummings“Hinckley wants to move away from social services and back to where they were originally— as much more of an educational institution,” said Glenn Cummings. photo by Ramona du Houx
Good Will-Hinckley could become the first high school in Maine focused on teaching students agriculture, sustainability, forestry, and independent living skills.

“Hinckley wants to move away from social services and back to where they were originally— as much more of an educational institution,” said Glenn Cummings, the new president of Good Will-Hinckley, who started last fall. “I was honored to step forward. For me it was a great way to come back to Maine to spend more time with my family.”

Cummings returned to Maine from Washington, DC where he was the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education where he helped manage a $1.9 billion annual budget that focused on improving access to adult education and literacy training, career and technical education, and community colleges.

“On a professional level it’s given me a chance to try and create a real dynamic school and have an opportunity to turn something around that many people believe in and care deeply about,” he said.

His bold, ingenious, and visionary plan incorporates the strengths of the community and agricultural region that surrounds the campus, while updating the mission of Hinckley to match the times in which we live.

“We want to create a magnet school here that’s focused on agricultural and environmental education that will give our students real solid skills based on agriculture, sustainable food systems, local foods, growing crops, and dairy farming,” he said energetically. “We are looking for kids from any background — all across the state — who aren’t satisfied with the traditional curriculum and want to be in an educational environment where they can use their minds and their hands to learn.”

Since Cummings came onboard, the school has started a partnership with Fairfield’s Kennebec Valley Community College. The Maine Community College System plans to purchase land for its KVCC satellite campus at Hinckley. The deal is expected to be finalized within the next two months.

“KVCC will build a campus on one side of the property and our residential students will continue to receive the support they need on the other side. And our 25 residential kids and KVCC students will be able to take some classes together,” said Cummings. “We’re also working with local businesses like Backyard Farms. They have visited a number of times expressing interest in the possibility of buying land to do research or to grow crops. They are interested in a partnership. Johnny’s Seeds and the Farmland Trust want to take part in the project as well.”

At the end of summer the students would learn business practices first hand, as they sell the local produce at Hinckley’s farmstead.

“The food grown here could also be used in local schools for lunch. We have 125 acres to grow crops on,” said Cummings.

The school owns 2,400 acres of farming and forestlands, and historic buildings. Being located in central Maine is an advantage for the new school.

“We’re situated an hour and a half of 70 percent of Maine’s population. If the kids want to be here from Monday to Friday and return home on the weekends, our location makes that possible for most students,” said Cummings who commutes to Fairfield from his home in Portland three days a week. On the other days he meets with state officials, judges, legislators, and department heads about Hinckley’s mission.

The new magnet school fits with the governors goals for education, including focusing on vocational training and helping students who struggle in traditional classrooms. LePage announced that his budget includes, “a new collaboration to expand opportunities for kids who need a stable, alternative learning environment.”

“To be included in Gov. LePage’s budget is a really big step forward. Unfortunately there is no money in the budget proposal to get the kids through the summer months, which for an agricultural school is important,” said Cummings. “We will have to do separate fund raising to be able to give the students room and board for the summer.”

Cummings stressed the uniqueness of a high school with hands-on learning in vocations that are directly applicable to Maine’s rural communities.

“We would be one of the first sustainability high schools in the country that would teach career-based skills,” he said.

Understanding and implementing sustainability school systems is a passion of Cummings. His doctoral thesis was Sustainability in Higher Education — Four Colleges in America That Have Become Leaders in the Sustainability Movement. His carrier has focused on improving education systems at all levels. As the dean of advancement at Southern Maine Community College, he established the Entrepreneurial Center, in a successful effort to provide Maine students with the training and confidence they need to bring their business ideas to the marketplace. During his four terms as a state representative, starting in 2000, he was the chair of the Education Committee and the speaker of the House. When Gov. John Baldacci wanted to covert the state’s technical colleges into today’s Maine Community College System, Cummings sponsored the bill. In Washington D.C. he was part of that team that designed President Obama’s plan to boost America’s graduation rate by 2020. Cummings also chaired the Department’s Green Initiative, which focused on increasing the teaching and learning of sustainability principles in American education.

It’s easy to understand how, out of about 80 candidates, Cummings was chosen to turn Hinckley around. Building upon his experiences, he has designed a program that will start with high-school freshmen and focuses on getting students to go to college.

“We’re excited to think about the possibilities next year. It will be a great environmental, educational program that gets students through high school, while they earn credits for college. Then they can successfully transition into a community college,” said the educator. “It’s a logical step for a student to complete high school here and then earn an associate’s degree with college credits from KVCC. Then they could transfer those credits to the University of Maine in Orono for their agricultural education and suitability programs, and earn a bachelor’s degree.”

If the charter school legislation passes, the money allocated for them in their different school administration districts would be transferred to Hinckley.

The funds in the budget proposal won’t cover all of the school’s needs. Cummings will continue to do fund raising and is already working on programs that will help.

“One way to help out finances is in alternative energy. We also have a strong interest in teaching skills to students in this growing sector,” said Cummings. “We are working with KVCC to bring professionals here. For example students could live in the cottages and take courses here for a three- to five-day LEED certification. Energy courses will be a part of those offerings. We’d like to integrate those concepts and ideas into our high school. KVCC has a strong energy curriculum.”

Cummings’s overall plan should dramatically transform the school, working with the community. For 34 years Hinckley was a long-term, therapeutic, residential care facility for boys and girls in need. It was their home, and staff became like family for many of the residents, but it became unsustainable due to lack of state and federal funding.

“Two years ago the Department of Health and Human Services moved more into kinship-care foster care, with warp-around services. They said long-term residential was too expensive and not showing good outcomes. That really hurt Hinckley. They had over 100 employees three years ago; now we are down to 30.

“I have been exceptionally blessed to be here; the people that work on staff, the board members love the school and community. Alumni have told me, ‘Try and remain loyal to becoming a home for kids that need a home, and try and keep the agricultural theme alive. If you can remain loyal to those two themes, it means a lot to us.’ That’s what I intend to do,” said Cummings.

“Hinckley started the school right after the Civil War, helping young boys and girls to have a home to learn skills. We are returning to those core values, and it feels really good. There is a sense of hope around here.”

Program Principles:

• Standards-based curriculum, translatable into credits
• Meeting core expectations of Maine Learning Results
• Student voice, choice, and responsibility
• Experiential learning with an emphasis on agricultural sustainability, small business entrepreneurship
• Real-world problem solving and service to community
• Authentic, formative, and summative assessment
• Development of a positive learning community
• Inclusion of family and community members wherever and whenever possible
• Year-round learning, occurring anywhere and at any time
• Co-enrollment in courses at Kennebec Valley Community College

Each student’s experience at the school will include:

• Following a personal learning plan
• Completing academic requirements in a self-paced, technology-enhanced manner
• Participating in a field placement, such as a job, apprenticeship, internship, etc.