Changes ahead as Portland schools work on comprehensive plan

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PORTLAND — Before the School Department’s comprehensive plan draft has even been written, changes that would align with the new plan are already being reviewed.

The School Board on Tuesday night is expected to vote on a resolution that would provide transparency in the board’s actions and goals.

“The comprehensive plan is important work, deciding how we want to focus on education, and looking for opportunities to take advantage of, and the resolution works with the comprehensive plan,” board member Jaimey Caron said. “But what’s lacking in the district is a structure to take advantage of these things.”

Caron’s transparency resolution would require Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. to report on how the district is working toward goals outlined in the comprehensive plan.

“The work plans are really getting at our agenda. Every week we scramble to put together an agenda,” Caron said. “A lot of people think it’s very clunky.”

The work plans would include proposed changes to the sports boosters program, teacher and administrator evaluations, and the multi-year budget.

However, some, including Morse, have expressed concern that the resolution would micro-manage the day-to-day operations of the central office.

“The transparency resolution was far more detailed and directive than I was comfortable with,” Morse said.

However, he said a proposed modified version is something he would be able to support.

“There’s still opportunity for there to be dialog,” School Board member Ed Bryan said Monday. “We could find a place where the superintendent would be in favor of it. I wanted to get us to a place where we weren’t telling him how to work, but being more organized about how we work.”

Bryan, who worked with Caron on the wording of the transparency resolution, said now the School Board will approve resolutions, then lose track of the status of the work those resolutions called for, and that he would like to see creation of real measurements to make sure that no longer happens.

“But I want to do it in a way that doesn’t bury people in paperwork,” he said.

The comprehensive plan, which is being developed by district staff and a steering committee of community members with backgrounds in education, would set the terms of how goals would be met, and how work toward those goals would be measured.

“The district has seen gains in some areas, shortfalls in others,” said Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton. “There really hasn’t been an effective way of communicating where we are and what our goals are.”

In a meeting in April, the committee and department staff presented strategic actions that would be part of the plan, including the creation of school report cards to highlight each school’s achievements and shortfalls.

“The comprehensive plan really addresses academic achievements,” Chief Academic Officer David Galin said. “We hope we’ll be able to provide guidance for the staff and the community. We’re focusing our energy to dramatically improve student learning.”

Galin said the comprehensive plan will create benchmarks and each school would determine how best to meet them.

“They’ll be setting measurable targets for student learning, “Galin said. “We want to be very transparent with our progress.”

He said the district would be requiring schools to increase literacy and math achievement 3 percent to 4 percent each year.

“We haven’t had a coordinated effort in the city on literacy in a long time,” Morse said. “Last year, we had a somewhat coordinated effort, and showed a bump of 12 percent (on student test results).”

Morse said schools across the district would be using the same phonics program for younger students and writing rubrics for older students.

The proposal also suggested the district develop a teacher and administrator evaluation system that is based on evidence of student learning, an arrangement that has been a matter of contention between districts and teacher unions across the country.

Eglinton stopped short of endorsing tying teacher evaluations to student achievement, suggesting instead that incentives for teachers whose students see improvement might be something the district could consider.

Morse said the comprehensive plan was coming together and that the broad goals of the plan would be achievable.

“It wouldn’t be a strategic plan if it wasn’t a bit complex,” he said. “But I think it’s achievable. We’ve presented it to staff and I think people really get it, they understand it.”

The School Board will meet with Eglinton’s committee on June 29 to hear from a superintendent from Maryland whose district created a comprehensive plan and saw almost immediate improvements in student achievement.

Eglinton said he expects a public meeting to be held this summer to get feedback on a draft of the comprehensive plan, which will likely be presented to the School Board in August.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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