[Ed. — In April 2021, before we put our New Gloucester home formally up for sale, and moved to the nearby, urban community of Lewiston-Auburn, our realtor, Shawn Boulet of Green Tree Realty, asked me to get him some info on the town of New Gloucester and its school system. This is potentially influential information potential buyers seek before, during and after walk-throughs, he explained. Our home was on the market only 72 hours, a fact only tangentially related to the information I provided Shawn. However, in stumbling upon the essay early in November, it occurred to me that what I wrote ably doubles as a sort of love letter to The NG and the 23 years we resided there.]

Shawn,

I’ve been meaning to get you some info on New Gloucester and the schools — to augment/complement your considerable sales skills, once this place is listed and showing. I’ll try to maintain an air of objectivity but the reality is, we bought this house completely blind and found 1) a really cool community of people here; and 2) a school system that might be the best-kept secret in southern Maine.

So, only in the last 15-20 years has New Gloucester embraced its standing as a rural/RESIDENTIAL suburb of Portland. When we moved here in ’98, that’s already what it was, but the ethos and the town government were still run by a bunch of old families and farmers who didn’t want to become North Yarmouth. That has changed. The Park and Rec scene is a good example: For years there was nothing but Little League. But the town has since realized it needs this sort of infrastructure to attract and keep families. So they upgraded the baseball/softball fields. They redeveloped the NG Fairgrounds to host youth football, soccer and lacrosse programs. The library program is superb, a community fair launched in 2006, and the trail system here is really quite amazing — something we all rediscovered during the pandemic. A big driver of all this was the development of the Pineland complex at the south end of town: There’s a YMCA there, all sorts of childcare, a farm market that sells the univrerse the Pineland produce and products, world-class X-country ski trails, disc golf, doctors and dentists offices. Quite a resource, all backed by the Libra Foundation, and a pretty lucrative tax base NG never enjoyed before.

New Gloucester will never be Gray. And that’s a good thing. Nothing wrong with commercial; it’s where Hannaford built a market 15 years ago. But NG’s aversion to that model (and the example of what Gray has become) is unlikely to change. There’s a plan to redevelop NG’s Upper Village, just north of intersection of 231 and Route 100. But that’s going to be a walking “downtown”, if it ever gets done at all. Most people are happy to have a couple pizza joints/convenience stores, Thompson Orchard, and the rightly famous Hodgman’s Frozen Custard. The only commercial in the Lower Village, the NG Village Store, is a good metaphor for the town. Go check that place out next time you’re here. It’s a quite fancy provisioner with fresh bread, brick-oven pizza, local produce, fancy beer and wine, killer sandwiches, and gourmet items galore. When it opened, we were impressed but figured it would never flourish — it was better suited to, and required a clientele from, a place like Yarmouth, we thought. Well, they can’t keep stuff on the shelves. Been open 11 years and they keep doing more, because the ever more bourgeois population of NG cannot get enough. [Note: The guy who founded it used to get stoned in my house and jump off the roof into our pool… And sadly, the Village Store has recently curbed services in light of staff shortages.]

However, the biggest hidden selling point of New Gloucester is the Gray-New Gloucester school system, MSAD 15. When we moved here, it was a bit of a shambles frankly. Well, the high school was. The two towns had failed to pass a couple school budgets in the mid-1990s, after which all hell broke loose. Teachers fled, the high school reputation suffered, and lots of better students were shuttled off to Hebron, Cheverus and Waynflete. There are still NG residents who pay to send their kids to Yarmouth and Cumberland schools, but that may be the most misguided, wasteful spend of their lives.

The grammar schools in both towns, Gray and NG, have always been very good and so they remain. Lots of local teachers really looking after local kids — as if those boys and girls are their kids. That’s the vibe. In 2004, the town passed a $10 million school refurbishment bond that really set a new tone. NG had never done anything like that before. Soon thereafter, a charter school was formed in Gray, Fiddlehead Center for the Arts & Science, for those who want to college-track their kids from Day 1 (!). We never availed ourselves of that enterprise and still don’t see the need. But it’s just more evidence of the changing nature of the populations in both towns, but esp. NG.

However, the high school is where the big change has occurred. The evolution of the town has naturally attracted more folks whose kids are college-bound, and that’s made a big difference on its own. But implementation of the International Baccalaureate program starting in 2012 has brought enormous change to GNGHS. You can read all about that program here.  Basically, it takes two years just to ramp up (and train-up teachers) so as to apply to be an IB high school. Just three high schools in Maine have been accepted: GNG, Greely, Kennebunk. Once certified, that high school must offer a 2-year diploma program for juniors and seniors. Or kids can take IB level courses a la carte, like they do AP classes. At GNG, IB exists beside the AP program. GNG had never offered this breadth of choice to kids who gave a shit about school. In terms of sheer rigor, what IB offers at GNG today puts Waynflete and Hebron and NYA and Cheverus to shame frankly. We know because 1) we looked seriously at all of them; and 2) I pointedly interrogated college admission folk on the matter, when both my kids went through that meat grinder. IB is the gold standard, and we know many NG families who sent their kids elsewhere and quietly rue that decision today.

The IB curriculum was developed by a consortium of international schools, the private schools around the world that cater to and educate the sons and daughters of diplomats and expat business folks who move around a lot and wanted a secondary program 1) that could be interrupted, then picked up at the new posting without missing a beat; and 2) that would get their kids accepted to the best colleges in the U.S. and U.K. So the program’s outlook is very internationalist, integrated between subject matter, and tough. It really puts kids to the test. When it comes to diploma candidates, however, all the grading is done off-site at IB Headquarters in MD. So, GNG kids are getting the same education, curriculum and credential as kids at Phillips Andover or the British School of Berlin, etc. For a tiny, rural place like NG, that’s a pretty massive thing. Defections to private schools have slowed to a trickle. If I sound like I drank the Kool-Aid, here’s why: I’ve seen the way it has changed GNGHS, where Sharon and I were very involved. The kids pushed each other and it became sorta cool to get onto the IB train. The IB teaching credential is hugely sought after: Teachers are coming to GNG now, just in order to secure it and boost their own resumes. GNG never sent kids to Ivies and NESCAC schools. Now it’s commonplace.

New Gloucester is no paradise. It was always too Republican for my taste, a feeling that has perhaps moved past mere distaste to genuine worry, as the country preps for a headlong collision with fascism. But that’s not an NG problem. It’s a countrywide problem… Like many small New England towns, certain NG families also feel an outsized sense of ownership over the municipal apparatus — and New Gloucester is surely an example of that dynamic. But the trains run on time here (to reprise the fascist theme), taxes are low and the town remains very well administered.

As folks do, Sharon and I met dozens and dozens of families through the public school experience here. We met dozens more in completely ad hoc fashion. It has always amazed us just how many super interesting, cool, talented people live here. I play in two NG-based bands for example. There are at least a half dozen additional bands that operate from this tiny town of just 5,800 souls. Maybe all the small towns in Maine can boast of such things or some equivalent? I don’t know. But New Gloucester always impressed us in this regard, and we’ll miss it. Though it was no accident that we moved only 10 miles north, to Auburn. The NG will always remain at the heart of our community. Best… Hal