Portland's new school chief promises to hear parents

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PORTLAND — The School Board on Monday evening unanimously approved a contract with the new superintendent of schools, after hearing nothing but praise for the man selected to lead the district.  

The vote was largely a formality – Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk signed the contract he was offered on June 29.

Caulk, who will go to work on Aug. 20, said he initially will participate in a series of meetings with parents and community members.

He also expressed hope that parents and other members of the community will take active roles in public education, and serve on advisory and school improvement panels, a practice that he said has been successful in Philadelphia, where since 2009 he has been a regional assistant superintendent overseeing 36 schools.

“School is the entity of change,” Caulk said after the meeting. “And those who are closest to the school have the ideas” and should be included in work to improve schools.

School Board member and search committee Chairwoman Sarah Thompson on Monday described Caulk as “personable,” “knowledgeable,” insightful,” and “enthusiastic.” Caulk is “passionate about education and improving the lives of students and their parents,” she said.

State Reps. Anne Haskell and Mark Dion and state Sen. Justin Alfond, all Portland Democrats, welcomed Caulk during the public comment section of the meeting.

Dion said Caulk’s attention to the welfare of not only struggling students, but to the best students, too, set him apart from the other 158 applicants.

“Mr. Caulk really was the only candidate who spoke about closing the achievement gap, but also raising the bar” for the most gifted pupils, School Board member Marnie Morrione agreed.

Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder expanded on the points she said allowed Caulk to rise to the top of the long list of candidates: his willingness to search for solutions to problems, and to make frequent appearances at the schools under his supervision; his reliance on research and data-driven school management practices, and his treatment of school staff, parents, and community members as teammates. 

“That term partner,” which Snyder said Caulk uses often, “is actually real and extends to his work,” she said.

When it was his turn to speak, Caulk thanked the board for selecting him, and then turned the conversation away from himself.

He recounted a conversation with two Portland teachers who had welcomed him, but reminded him of the large responsibility he was being given. As superintendent, he said he told them, he will be charged with maintaining the school community’s shared vision.

“I also reminded these two talented teachers that they matter more,” he said. “Our students matter most.”

Caulk will replace former Superintendent James C. Morse Sr., who announced his retirement last December and left the district at the end of June to take the top position in the Oyster River School District in New Hampshire.

Prior to working in Philadelphia, Caulk was assistant superintendent in East Baton Rouge Parish, La., and worked at all age levels as a teacher and administrator in Chicago and rural Penn Manor in Lancaster County, Pa.

He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Delaware and a law degree from Widener University School of Law. Caulk is currently working on a dissertation for his doctorate from National-Louis University.

Caulk’s contract includes an annual base salary of $137,500, and a 5 percent, merit-based pay increase during the second and third years that will depend on teaching, learning, and student improvement.

A transition team of community members to help Caulk ease into his role and identify issues that need attention is expected to be selected this month.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.

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Emmanuel Caulk is Portland’s next superintendent of schools.

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