SOUTH PORTLAND — Students at South Portland High School this year may not notice anything new right away.
The quickest route from one end of the school to the other is still outside.
The senior lockers are still taller than everyone else’s.
News articles about student achievement will still be posted near the main entrance.
But there has been a big change at SPHS, right at the top. His name is James Holland. That’s Principal Holland, to students.
Holland was hired by the School Board in early August to replace Jeanne Crocker, who retired after 13 years as principal to take a position with the Maine Principals’ Association.
Prior to accepting the position at SPHS, Holland was principal at Livermore Falls for a year. Before that, he was assistant principal at Cony High School in Augusta for six years, where in 2009 he was nominated for Assistant Principal of the Year by the MPA. He taught science at Cony for 18 years before going into administration.
Now, just four weeks into his new job, Holland is ready for the school year to begin.
“The school is ready for kids, so bring ’em on,” he said Wednesday.
Holland hesitated to draw comparisons between himself and Crocker, saying only that he could tell she had left an indelible impression on the school. Instead, he focused on his goal: to make sure every student at SPHS is ready for life after high school.
“I don’t think education should be hypothetical,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”
In this case, that involves a lot of professional development, Assistant Principal Laurie Wood said. She said SPHS and the rest of the school district are making a strong push toward “institutional practices for the 21st century.”
The district has enlisted the help of an expert, Ray McNulty, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education. McNulty will address all the district’s teachers at a keynote next week, and return several times in the year to discuss how the schools are pursuing their goals.
Wood, a former English teacher, said the push for those three R’s is less about what material is used in teaching and more about how deeply it’s taught. Students may read fewer books, she said, but the books they read will be presented in context of the place and history in which it they were written, rather than in a vacuum.
Both Wood and Holland said it is a paradigm change from teaching facts, which are now easily available to anyone with an Internet connection, to teaching students to be adaptive, integrated thinkers.
Holland said the administrative soul-searching is necessary because preparing kids in high school today is much different than it was even five years ago. What used to be high school requirements are now middle school requirements, he said, and kids need to be involved in “active classrooms,” where they can work in groups, be be engaged and curious.
For example, some students will learn from the high school renovations approved last year by voters. Earth science students will learn from architects about the processes involved with the new school, Wood said.
Other students will be involved with the “One-Classroom” project, where they’ll learn a lot about science through the application of weatherizing homes. This also overlaps with work being done to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the new high school.
Holland said it programming like this attracted him to South Portland. He said he liked the culture and the values of the school and the administration, especially a “teaming” model, which allows teachers to lesson plan together for a cohesive, holistic curriculum.
“The culture of the South Portland school district is one that wants to be adaptive,” Holland said. “It’s a good fit for me.”
South Portland High School Principal James Holland.
Classes begin for all South Portland students on Wednesday, Aug. 31, except kindergartners, who will start on Thursday, Sept. 8.