New principal finds strong sense of community at Portland High School

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PORTLAND — Portland High School’s new principal loves the beach.

“It’s the constant change,” Deborah Mignault said. “Change is always there and it’s powerful.”

Mignault stepped into the job as PHS principal this summer, taking over for Michael Johnson, who was reassigned to Portland Arts and Technology High School.

Before coming to Portland, Mignault was the principal at Dover High School in New Hampshire for three years. Before that, she was the assistant principal and a social studies teacher at Nashua (N.H.) High School. Both schools had significantly more students than PHS.

“I pride myself on getting to know students’ names,” she said. “It’s more important for me to be visible and see what’s going on in classrooms.”

As a former teacher, Mignault said, she’s in tune with what goes on in the classroom, and the dynamic between teachers and students is part of her focus.

She said she’s been impressed by the community at PHS, particularly the teachers, who overwhelmingly reported to her in a survey that the students were the school’s greatest asset.

“I believe a high school should be the hub of a community. Everyone I’ve met here has been very focused on the community,” she said, adding that the diversity at PHS contributes to that feeling.

Mignault lives in York, where she lived when she was working in Dover. She said she’s just getting to know Portland, and has already been lost a few times. She recently discovered the Eastern Promenade.

“It’s like a completely different Portland up there,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

One of the biggest challenges for PHS is finances and keeping up with technology, something Mignault said is a struggle for every school. But PHS also has work to do in improving student test scores.

“Our scores are not good,” she said. “We’re looking at how we change that.”

She said she plans to survey the students and their parents to find out what they love about PHS and what they’d like to see changed.

She believes that public education is the great equalizer for society, and said her responsibility in providing that education weighs on her mind every day.

“We have to keep it simple,” Mignault said. “Let’s do what we do best. Keep the students engaged and activated. At the end, it’s the student who has to do the learning.”

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

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Portland High School Principal Deborah Mignault comes to the school after three years as the high school principal in Dover, N.H.

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