DURHAM In 2018, Oyster River Cooperative School District Superintendent Dr. James Morse was named the best in the state. Now, he has a new accolade under his belt. The school he founded 25 years ago in Limestone, Maine was recently named No. 2 in the nation.
What today has a 140-student population in the small northern Maine town just miles from the Canadian border, the Maine School of Science andMathematics recently received the prestigious recognition from U.S. News and World Report’s rankings in the Best U.S. High Schools category.
Morse started his administrative career in Unity, Maine, as an elementary principal. He was hired by Limestone Public Schools as the middle/high school principal and was later appointed as superintendent of Limestone schools. He served as superintendent for RSU 18 in Oakland, Maine, for 12 years before becoming superintendent in Portland, Maine. He then joined the Oyster River Cooperative School District, where he has been superintendent since 2012.
Morse said the Maine School of Science andMathematics was founded “on the crisis of the closure of the Loring Air Force Base,” which he called the economic engine of Aroostook County, supplying two-thirds of the schools’ population.
“The community was concerned they were going to lose their public school system,” Morse said. The middle/high school building already had all necessary resources, so residents voted through Town Meeting to have Morse work on possible solutions.
Morse eventually centered on the idea of a residential public school with a focus on math and science, a rare model nationwide. The charter school would have to draw from the entire state of Maine.
“We felt like we had hit the right theme on math and science because we thought those kids really into math and science were isolated from peer groups, the outliers in any given school,” he said.
The governor, federal delegation and state Legislature agreed. It was formed by the Legislature as Maine’s “first public magnet school.”
“It really was a model for undeserved youth throughout the state of Maine, and we also blended best practice at the time between a high school model and collegiate model,” Morse said. “We put all of those pieces together and it worked.”
According to Maine Public Radio, to attend the school, students must apply, take tests and interview to show that they can handle a rigorous course load. Their families have to pay $9,000 per year for room and board, though the school offers financial aid.
Morse left Limestone in 1996, but the lessons he took from founding the Maine School of Science andMathematics stays with him.
“We should never reject any potential solution,” he said. “You can’t be limited to the box you’ve lived. I distinctly remember an executive director of the Maine Superintendents Association say, ‘Were not worried because its never going to pass.’ All options are on the table, all of the time.”
Morse said the school’s recent designation is “phenomenal” and he looks back on his experience there with “enormous pride.”
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