Panel seeks review, comments on comprehensive plan for Portland schools

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PORTLAND — The newest draft of the School Department’s comprehensive plan for the next five years is headed to the staff and School Board for review, but it’s still missing some vital information.

The way success will be measured, district-wide, for a variety of subjects, is still up for debate, as are the long-term goals.

Peter Eglinton, chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, said it’s up to staff, board members and the public to decide what success will look like.

“Early on, it’s important to get feedback to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Eglinton said. “It’s also a chance for everyone to get excited about where we’re going as a district.”

Once it is completed and approved, the plan will shape the way city schools evolve over the next five years, impacting budget and curriculum decisions.

It will outline the district’s goals, what it does well, areas in need of improvement, and priorities for the future.

“It should make a difference in terms of developing budgets going forward,” Eglinton said.

While the plan won’t specifically list programs or services that should be funded, it will likely influence the School Board’s decisions.

“If a particular initiative or cost is not evident in the plan, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Eglinton said. “But it forces a discussion.”

Currently, the plan lists student test scores and the high school graduation rate as areas of concern. The city is below the state average for students graduating in four years, and fewer than half of graduates receive either a two- or four-year college degree within eight years of graduation.

The draft calls for a coordinated curriculum and system for student support, a teacher evaluation system with accountability and support for staff, and effective business strategies.

The document suggests the department lacks “systems to support student learning when students struggle,” and points to a gap between students who do not need support and those receiving special education.

“We lack systemic supports for students who need a little more than extra help but not so much as the supports delivered through special education,” the document states.

It also pushes for a multi-year budget plan, something the department has already started to implement.

Portland resident Bill Wilson, whose three children graduated from city schools, said he has concerns about the committee’s work, and the document as it currently stands.

He pointed to a resolution passed by the School Board in November 2010 that outlined what the comprehensive plan should include.

“If you were to grade those right now, they’d probably get a 50 out of 100,” he said. “It’s a failing grade by their own metrics, not mine.”

Wilson said he’s worried some aspects of the comprehensive plan get ahead of themselves, such as a plan to embed the curriculum across all disciplines. For instance, teaching math in science classes, and science in math classes.

“It’s a massive undertaking, and nobody has said, ‘that’s great, but what are we going to change with the resources we have?,'” Wilson said.

The draft currently outlines three major goals for the district: All students will graduate from high school; all graduates will demonstrate college readiness; and all students will participate in activities the demonstrate service to the community, individual creativity and physical wellness.

“This thinking helps crystallize where we’re going as a district, and will help get more (grant) revenue,” Eglinton said.

A public forum and information session on the document and comprehensive plan process will be held Wednesday, Oct. 12, from 6:30-8 p.m. at King Middle School, 92 Deering Ave.

The document will go to the School Board for a workshop on Nov. 1 and to a vote Nov. 15.

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

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