Riverton 'turn-around' replaces half the Portland school's teachers

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PORTLAND — By the end of this school year, nearly half the teachers at Riverton Elementary School will be have been replaced in the last two years.

Some of the 14 exiting teachers have been transferred to other schools in the district, while others are retiring. Riverton is a small, kindergarten-through-fifth grade school on outer Forest Avenue with 28 teachers.

The teacher-replacement plan is part of an effort to improve the school’s progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Riverton was designated a Continuous Improvement Priority School based on test scores from the 2008-2009 school year, and has remained on that list.

“We’re trying to change the culture and climate at Riverton to be more proactive,” Superintendent of Schools James Morse Sr. said.

The school is participating in the “turn-around” model of school improvement, created by the federal Department of Education to help failing schools. Riverton received a $3.4 million federal school improvement grant to fund the changes.

The model requires the district to replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff, and grant the principal sufficient flexibility in staffing, calendars and budgeting to create an environment that improves student outcomes.

“Riverton has as many talented teachers as schools not on CIPS status,” Morse said.

He said a high level of poverty and the large number of immigrant students who attend Riverton presents greater challenges than those at many of the other schools in the city.

All the transferred teachers requested to leave the school, Morse said. There were no involuntary transfers. Five teachers left last year, and nine will leave at the end of this year. The current principal, Nancy Kopack, will also leave the district at the end of this year.

The School Board will consider candidates to replace Kopack at its meeting on June 7.

Riverton may also begin a free pre-school program next fall for 4-year-old children. The plan is contingent upon the district leasing space from Woodfords Congregational Church so students in the West School can be moved there, the adult education program at Riverton moved to the West School and space freed up at Riverton for the pre-school program.

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