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Portland schools turn focus to students, curriculum

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Portland schools turn focus to students, curriculum

PORTLAND — Public school students will resume classes on Tuesday, Sept. 7, kicking off a busy year for city schools.

The Ocean Avenue Elementary School is expected to open after Christmas break and several schools will be under the leadership of new principals.

New administrators, meanwhile, will be keeping an eye on the district's fiscal health, while working to unify new curriculum.

High school students will be operating under a new unified schedule, designed to allow better sharing of resources, students and staff.

With one budget season under his belt, Superintendent James Morse Sr., who starts his second year as school chief, said he is looking forward to working on the curriculum with Chief Academic Officer David Galin, who was hired over the summer.

Morse said focusing on classroom needs will be a welcome change, now that the School Department has improved financial controls to avoid problems that led to a $2 million shortfall in 2007.

"That's what excites me about year two: we will be focusing on curriculum and kids," Morse said. "That will be job No. 1 for me."

Elementary school students will be returning to schools with better technology, Morse said. All 10 elementary schools were upgraded with wireless capabilities and will have greater access to laptop computers.

Island schools, meanwhile, will be getting new netbook computers, due to smaller-than-anticipated enrollment at the high schools, Morse said.

Foreign language will also be offered to elementary students this year. Morse said third-graders will have the option of taking Spanish.

"I'm pretty excited by that as well," he said. 

Meanwhile, the Ocean Avenue Elementary School is expected to be finished and ready for students by Christmas break, Morse said. Originally scheduled for a May 2011 completion, the school is expected to open five months ahead of schedule and $3 million under budget, he said.

Students from Nathan Clifford Elementary School will be moved into the new school for the spring semester, while students who would have attended the old Baxter Elementary School, currently split between three schools, will have the option of waiting until next year.

"It should be as easy as moving youngsters and staff," he said. "But we have to be careful about how we move (former Baxter) children and engage parents."

Several new principals were hired over the summer.

Ira Waltz has replaced Ken Kunin as principal of Deering High School. Waltz, who worked for the district in the 1990s, returns to Portland after being the assistant superintendent of the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District since 2002. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Maine at Farmington and a master's degree from Plymouth State College.

Hiram Sibley will be the new assistant principal at King Middle School, where he has worked since 1996. Sibley, who holds a bachelor's degree from Bates College and a master's from the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service, started as an ed tech before becoming a lead teacher and teaching strategist.

Marcia Gendron has left Reiche Elementary School to become the East End Community School's new principal. Gendron served as the assistant principal and principal of Reiche since 2000. She holds special education degrees from the University of Maine and a master's degree from St. Joseph's College.

Paul Yarnevich will take over for Gendron as interim principal at Reiche. Yarnevich has been principal of Lewiston's Trinity Catholic School. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Northern Arizona University.

The new school year also begins with new administrators. Morse said the new team will focus on increasing accountability within the district and unifying curriculum across schools.

"We still aren't finished putting support structures for budgetary matters," Morse said.

Michael Wilson, a lawyer and certified public accountant, is the district's chief financial officer and will oversee the its $89.9 million budget. Wilson has been a financial consultant for the last year, after working for the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland from 1999-2009.

Galin was hired as the district's chief academic officer in June. He holds a bachelor's degree from Colgate University and a master's degree from the University of Southern Maine, as well as a USM certificate in educational leadership. He had been the director of curriculum for School Administrative District 51 (Cumberland and North Yarmouth) since 2004, after five years as the teaching and learning coordinator for Falmouth schools.

The district is still looking for a chief operating officer.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net