Portland principal wins $100K for school projects

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PORTLAND — After a month of online voting, a city high school principal has won $100,000 for his school.

Derek Pierce, of Casco Bay High School, won the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s third annual Larry O’Toole Award, which gives a grant to a New England educational organization to advance student-centered learning.

For the first time, this year’s winner was decided by online popular voting, which lasted over the month of September. Voting was open to any member of the public.

Pierce received more than 6,000 votes when voting closed at the end of September. This was about twice as many as the person with the second highest number of votes received. Voting lasted from Sept. 9 and concluded on Sept. 30 at noon.

Half of the award will go towards scholarships for students to be able to participate in the annual expeditionary learning trips; $25,000 will go towards the school’s STEM program; $15,000 will go towards micro-grants to students for projects that address local needs, and the remaining $10,000 will go toward hosting visitors to see and learn about the school.

Pierce said he felt very “fortunate” to win, and that he had tremendous support during the voting period not only from students and faculty, but from parents, alumni and others. He said the commitment to the community was “a testament to how strongly our parents and students feel about this place.”

“They not only did it themselves but were able to convince their friends and neighbors and cousins and coworkers to do the same,” Pierce said. “That was really humbling.”

Pierce was on a kayaking expedition with senior students when the voting ended. He said it was great to be out with the students when the word came he had officially won.

He said it reaffirmed why they do what they do, and “how important it is to have resources so all kids can have these kinds of experiences, which really can have lasting, deep impacts on how they view themselves, and how they view education, and how they view their classmates.”

He said when he returned the school had a “clap off” for him, where the whole school lined up to applaud his achievement.

“The whole school was there to make me walk through … a hallway of clapping, which was super, super generous,” Pierce said.

Pierce also said he received support from Portland Public Schools, the Maine Department of Education, and the Maine Principal’s Association.

“All those organizations really rallied in support of Maine schools, so that we were able to represent the state in a way that we can all be proud of,” he said.

The O’Toole award is given annually by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. This is the first time in its three-year history that a representative from Maine has taken home the prize. Each New England state was represented.

Pierce has been the principal at CBHS since it opened in 2005.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.