PORTLAND — A free, public education is essential to our system of government, School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said in remarks prepared for her State of the Schools address Monday.
The annual report to the City Council is required by the City Charter and designed to provide an overview of the accomplishments of the Portland Public Schools.
In paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, Trevorrow said, “Educating the public was the only sure way to guarantee the preservation of our liberty.”
“Public education remains a path for our students to achieve their dreams, no matter how humble their beginnings,” she said. “Without a free public education, there would be an even greater divide between the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor, the strong and weak.”
Overall, Trevorrow said, “public education helps students become better global citizens, ensuring our country’s global competitiveness. This is especially true in Portland, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district.”
Trevorrow also thanked Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana and his staff, her fellow School Board members, and everyone who works for the School Department.
“I know I speak for (them all) when I say that we do the work that we do because we believe in the importance of public education,” Trevorrow said.
Statistically, she said, the Portland schools serve more than 6,700 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. More than half of students qualify for free or reduced school lunch and one-third of students speak languages other than English.
A total of 61 languages are spoken district-wide, according to Trevorrow, and nearly 44 percent of students are students of color. There are also 120 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten, which shows a steady increase since the program started in 2011.
Through its adult education program the Portland schools serve more than 4,000 students, including academic and English Language Learner classes, as well as enrichment and job skills classes.
“These numbers show that the Portland Public Schools are having a direct impact on the lives of approximately one in six Portlanders,” Trevorrow said.
Among its success, she said, is a new district-wide social-emotional learning strategy, which is being supported by Portland ConnectEd and a $100,000 seed grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation.
In addition, Trevorrow said, the new Portland Promise effort is designed to ensure that the school district reaches its strategic goals within the next five years.
And, the schools “already attract some of the best and brightest educators in Maine,” she said.
Among them are Ann Hanna, the Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year for 2017; Brooke Teller, Cumberland County’s 2017 Teacher of the Year; Priya Natarajan, a finalist for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and Talya Edlund, Maine’s 2016 Teacher of the Year.
The School Department’s comprehensive plan has a four-part focus, Trevorrow said: achievement, the whole student, equity and people.
In terms of the achievement goal, she said, “We’re continuing with our work to prepare our students to receive proficiency-based diplomas,” which means that “students must demonstrate proficiency in language arts, math, science, and social studies in order to graduate.”
To further its equity goal, Trevorrow said the department is launching a program called Equity Audits, which is designed to help “our staff develop the cultural competency that will empower them to help our students.”
The idea is to “ensure that our curricular resources are culturally responsive,” she said.
The schools are also planning to expand learning opportunities that give students even more access to higher-level, Advanced Placement and gifted-and-talented programs.
Trevorrow said other steps include new policies that condemn hate speech and affirm a commitment to making the schools a safe haven for students and their families.
In addition, the School Board is in the process of approving a transgender student policy, which Trevorrow said is “another important next step for inclusion and equity.”
As far as the whole student goal, Trevorrow said the schools will offer the new PPS Parent University, which is slated to begin in January.
“Research shows that parents can increase their child’s academic success by being involved in their children’s school and community,” she said. “Parent U seeks to build relationships among families, educators and the community.”
In closing, Trevorrow said, “A great city needs great schools. We’re very grateful to the council for supporting the … budget for fiscal year 2018 … and the public for supporting the renovation of four of the city’s elementary schools on Nov. 7.
She said it takes a community to commit to preparing students to succeed in college and careers.
“We are deeply grateful to Portland for being that generous and supportive community,” Trevorrow said. “… We strive every day to give this community – its residents, taxpayers, voters and elected officials alike – a grand sense of pride in its public education system.”
Anna Trevorrow, chairwoman of the Portland School Board, presented the annual State of the Schools address to the City Council Monday.