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Portland schools seek feedback on academic plan

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Portland schools seek feedback on academic plan

PORTLAND — The School Department is looking for feedback on a draft academic.

David Galin, who became the department's chief academic officer in June, released the plan last week. It sets a broad outline for more detailed plans to be released later this month. 

Comments will be accepted through Nov. 19.

"We're really, truly asking members of the community for feedback," Galin said. "This is a time we're sharing who we are and we want to know from the broad community if we're on the right track."

The plan establishes four general goals:

• To continue to develop the district's leadership team.

• To demonstrate improvement in student learning.

• To communicate effectively with the schools, the School Committee and the community.

• And to develop partnerships with community organizations.

After feedback is received about the draft plan, Galin said, staff will develop more detailed work plans that move the district towards those goals. It's a document he said he hopes to have ready for budget discussions that begin in December.

That way, he said, "if we add or cut (staff or programs), it makes sense because of the goals we outline."

School Committee member Sarah Thompson, who leads the curriculum and educational planning subcommittee, said the plan is expected to compliment the district's multi-year budgeting efforts and its attempt to establish a comprehensive plan.

Thompson said the draft is "a good start" and she looks forward to the more detailed work plans that will establish one-year, three-year and five-year goals. 

"We can talk all we want, but the plan is where the rubber meets the road," she said.

The draft is the latest step toward changing management of the district. Officials are trying to establish a more systematic approach, rather than the traditional site-based management, where each school is given leeway to create its own programs. 

While site-based management has its benefits, Thompson said it has led to inequities between schools.

"We're all over the board (and) we wanted more uniformity," Thompson said. "Not that everyone has to be on the same page everyday, but that one student going from one elementary school in the district to another wouldn't be like going to a foreign country, which is where we are now."

Thompson said the committee held a series of teacher topic nights to lay the groundwork for the academic plan. 

Galin said he used that feedback as well as information he received from meetings with teachers, principals, administrators and others.

The plan also includes demographic and student achievement data, both at the district level and for each school.

There are about 7,200 students enrolled in the school system. Last year, 51 percent of all students received free or reduced lunch, 23 percent were English Language Learners and 17 percent had an identified disability.

Galin said that nearly everyone agreed Portland's diversity is its greatest strength. But while diversity is a source of pride, Galin said it is also seen as a challenge. Teachers and principals are concerned that teachers were not getting enough training to deal with the district's evolving challenges, he said.

While the current teacher's contract encourages professional development and offers raises for completed training, Galin said staff believes there should be clearer guidelines and a more focused approach to the types of development offered to teachers.

"There are parameters, but they're broad," Galin said. "Teachers have had a lot of autonomy. ... We need to be able to focus professional development and have it available for all our staff."

Galin said student achievement may be better tracked through more detailed analysis over three-year periods.

"We should be able to see trends in student learning," he said.

Galin and Thompson said they would like to receive feedback on the draft plan not only from parents, but from business owners, higher-education officials, nonprofit groups and residents without children.

That feedback, Galin said, will be used to tweak the goals and inform the more detailed work plans.

"Everyone is involved in the school system," Galin said, noting he had only received two e-mails as of Monday. "Portland only works if we have a healthy, vibrant and knowledgeable community."

A draft of the plan may be found on the School Department website, www2.portlandschools.org. Comments may be sent to hardys@portlandschools.org.

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