Merger News

Posted on Wednesday July 20, 2011

Wayfinder Schools: A Merger to Help More Maine Youth
Two Maine organizations, over 150 years of experience, one goal: to provide Maine youth with an opportunity for growth and to achieve their full potential.

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine – The new chair of the board, Fredric W. Williams, announced today that Wayfinder Schools of Camden has merged with Opportunity Farm to create “Wayfinder Schools.”

The merger has been carefully planned for over two years. Both organizations have shared the same goal of encouraging life-long learning and providing students with the skills and experiences necessary to connect with their families, practice personal responsibility, and contribute to their communities. Dr. Dorothy Foote has been named the new Head of School. The transaction represents a $1.6 million combined budget. “On behalf of the entire board of trustees, I am very pleased to celebrate this day,” said Williams. “We have gone through an extremely thorough process to prepare for this merger, and I am confident that we will be able to serve more Maine youth in a more effective manner.”

“We have created a program at Wayfinder Schools with a proven track record of success in educating teenagers by meeting them where they are, rather than expecting them to fit into the mold of a traditional classroom. Our model has also been cost-effective on a per pupil basis, and through this merger we are expanding our program to serve more Maine youth,” Foote said.

In 2009, Opportunity Farm’s board of trustees realized that a new way of working with youth would revitalize the entire organization, while at the same time improving results and decreasing the cost per student. Through a ‘request for proposals’ process, Opportunity Farm’s board contracted with Carole Martin and Common Good Ventures (CGV) to begin a discussion about changing its residential programs. Opportunity Farm and CGV looked at different program models designed to best support underserved adolescents in Maine. They researched what the trends around these youth were, what they needed to be successful, which parts of the state needed assistance, current graduation rates, and other data in order to identify how to make the biggest impact. Through an extensive process, Opportunity Farm realized that what kids needed in the 21st century is a high school diploma that focuses on the whole individual.

In the summer of 2010, Opportunity Farm and CGV sought potential partners and interviewed seven organizations in their desire to find the best match. Because of its strong track record in keeping kids in school, its ability to cost-effectively deliver high quality services, and its visionary leadership, the board decided that Wayfinder Schools was the best possible partner for the future, and in ensuring the best possible outcomes for the broadest number of Maine youth.
“It is my belief that the two organizations are bringing highly complementary strengths together and they have all the essential elements for success,” stated Carole Martin, a respected organizational consultant from Rockland who represented CGV in the merger process. “They have done an enormous amount of hard work to ensure a smooth transition. The future is bright.”

Wayfinder Schools, Maine’s first alternative high school, was founded in 1973 by Maine educators Dora Lievow and Emanuel Pariser and provides two core programs: a nine-month Residential Program, and a home-based Passages program for teen parents, both of which culminate in a state of Maine approved high school diploma. “Our use of restorative justice practices, strengths based work and Positive Youth Development provides some of the greatest support of adolescent success today,” Foote said.

Both Wayfinder Schools and Opportunity Farm agree that the best way to support at risk youth is to provide high quality access to education. Both organizations have also placed heavy emphasis on community service and community engagement. This entails everything from volunteering with the local fire department to serving as after school mentors, to engaging with the natural world and learning how to become more environmentally conscious. As one Wayfinder Schools graduate stated, “Students graduating know how to hook into a community and become civically engaged. They learn to invest not only in themselves but in their world.”

The merger honors Opportunity Farm’s 100 year history of serving Maine youth, while bringing Wayfinder Schools’s successful program model to a second campus and allowing the combined entity to serve many more adolescents in Maine.
The majority of the school’s funding comes from grants and fundraisers. Wayfinder Schools never turns a student away due to an inability to pay, and tuition assistance and scholarships are available. The newly formed Wayfinder Schools  will provide opportunities for more than 60 students during the first year of operation.

Wayfinder Schools brings an experienced and pioneering team of educators led by Dr. Foote, as well as a strong track record of success in working with Maine youth in innovative ways. Dr. Foote has years of research experience in adolescent psychology and the development of social justice programs, and serves as an adjunct professor of adolescent psychology at The University of Maine.

Wayfinder Schools will give many at-risk adolescents in Maine the tools they need to reach their potential and become confident, actively involved members of their communities. Not only will this merger prove to be an asset to the students, but it will also enhance the local communities and the state of Maine.