Portland School Board reviews parent involvement policy, capital expenses

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PORTLAND — An ad hoc committee created by the School Board has developed a parent engagement policy that asks staff to encourage face-to-face communication, work directly with families to improve student success and devote resources to community outreach.

The board was scheduled to hold a workshop on the proposed new policy Tuesday, Jan. 17. Prior to the meeting, board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow called the document “a very good piece of work.”

At the regular board meeting following Tuesday’s workshop, Trevorrow also expected members to pass a proposed capital improvement budget of nearly $5.1 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The proposal will ultimately require City Council approval.

Trevorrow said the engagement policy is modeled after similar policies at school districts in other parts of the country. If ultimately adopted, she said the policy would represent “words to live by.”

Trevorrow said the workshop, being held just prior to a regular School Board meeting, will be a chance for board members to provide their first response to the policy and to determine where it goes from here.

Trevorrow said depending on what the board decides, the policy could move forward for a full board vote sometime this winter, or, if more work needs to be done, the parent engagement document could be sent to a subcommittee for further review.

What the School Board has to do, she said, is determine “how this (policy) would look in practice. Our intent is to make sure that families, especially those who are new to the community or are on the margins, can become effective advocates for their children.”

The new parent engagement policy will direct staff at schools across the district to put into regular use a set of values for working with families.

Those values include creating safe spaces “where everyone is welcome and valued as an expert in their role,” and “enables a range of voices to be heard by decision-makers.”

The draft policy also calls for the creation of a new Family Partnership Advisory Committee, which would include parents, a School Board member, multilingual and multicultural representatives, school and district staff, a variety of community partners and students and alumni.

The introductory paragraph of the new policy states that, “The Portland Board of Public Education honors the diversity of families and recognizes the important role parents, guardians and families play in the education of their children.”

The policy adds, “The board encourages partnerships between the district administration, schools and families in order to share the responsibility of educating our students. The board believes that our students will thrive if we welcome, inform, engage and empower families to support their children in school and build strong school communities.”

The overall goal of the new policy is to “encourage broad family involvement that is representative of our community and (that’s) culturally responsive,” the document states. It also calls on schools in the city to “support a culture of partnership by creating a welcoming environment for all families” and requires the schools to establish a regular forum for parents to discuss their experiences.

The new policy also calls for creation of a family partnership handbook that would be provided to the families of all new students.

Among the items in the proposed capital improvement budget to be considered at the meeting following the workshop are $132,000 to replace two school buses; just over $200,000 to remove the ramp on the Brackett Street side of Reiche School; and $225,000 for a new district-wide phone system.

Other, more expensive, items include $750,000 for drainage improvements at the Lyman Moore school; $500,000 for repaving projects at various schools; nearly $1.6 million for a new entrance to Casco Bay High School; and another $1.2 million to replace the sprinkler system at Deering High School.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.