Don’t let it happen

The town I grew up in has changed a lot since I graduated high school in 1999.

Hampden, to me, was a quiet little suburb of Bangor. Closer to things than Newburgh or Winterport, but not that much different in character. It was a phenomenal place to grow up. I consider myself very lucky.

But every time I return home for a visit, I see the character of the town changing.

The affluence of Hampden is much higher than I remember. Major housing developments started popping up everywhere shortly after I went to college at Orono, with large, expensive houses beginning to litter developments along several main roads.

I returned to my old stomping grounds last year, and decided to take my son to the annual Children’s Day festival, which sadly was a shell of its former self.

Nothing has changed more, however, than my old high school, Hampden Academy.

I, of course, matriculated through the old Hampden Academy, a crumbling, crammed mess of a building. Not that I spent that much time in it, as most of my classes were in portable trailers, there to accommodate the overflow of students.

I had the “pleasure” of having my home room in the old bell tower. The day a cockroach fell on my notebook after having fallen from the asbestos filled ceiling, I may have considered getting my GED.

Not today. Now, Hampden sports a mighty cathedral of a high school, a $52 million Taj Mahal of learning, a monument to everything we had wanted when we were in high school.

But beneath the veneer of a nice new building, something troubling is happening.

David King, an educator who has dedicated his professional life to SAD 22 and particularly the Hampden Academy social studies department, as well as coaching track, is being eliminated from his position.

King, a fixture at Hampden Academy long before I roamed its halls, together with his wife Kathryn, made a profound impact on me growing up, and is one of the handful of teachers who I credit with making me into who I am today.

Prior to taking classes with both Kings, but particularly David, I had little real interest in social studies. It was only when I was exposed to his imaginative teaching and enthusiasm for relating the material to his students that history, civics and economics became both real and interesting to me.

Over the course of my four years there, I was constantly challenged and motivated but more importantly inspired to take an active interest in my community and its government.

I credit both Kings with not only sparking my interest in politics and love of American history (which would go on to become my major and minor at the University of Maine, and with it my career), but with changing my rather acerbic attitude about school and helping me turn into something resembling an adult.

Recently, though, King has butted heads with school administration over educational reforms, which he believes have been responsible for declining educational quality at Hampden Academy.

If I remember one thing about him, it was his characteristic bluntness and knack for confronting uncomfortable subjects without sugarcoating anything.

It is this bureaucratic conflict that has precipitated his position being eliminated from the social studies department.

Teachers like King have quite literally changed the lives of thousands of students over their careers, providing them with an enriching experience and love for subjects they never knew they cared about.

People like him are what is good and right with education, and it is a tragedy that he may be a casualty of budgets, and a system that has become increasingly inflexible to the diversity of teaching. Many like him have left teaching altogether, rather than fight against this system.

The Hampden I remember would never have allowed this.  Those of you who are reading this who know how King has impacted you or your children, and who want to make sure he doesn’t get thrown out with the trash, have an opportunity to stop it.

The district budget meeting, at which amendments can be made to the proposed budget, which eliminates his position (as well as some other valuable educators), is scheduled for June 6 at 7 p.m. in the Hampden Academy gym.

Call the administrators, particularly Superintendent Richard Lyons’ office, and tell them you oppose the budget. If you live in Hampden, Winterport or Newburgh, show up and make your voice heard. Help amend the budget. Demand he keep his job.

Do what King taught me and thousands of other kids to do during his time as a teacher:  Stand up, participate, speak your mind and make a difference.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.