Schools can no longer work in a vacuum. As society’s expectations of the schools grow beyond just educating children, our schools need to be integrated into the very fabric of our communities.
Our school system must make meaningful connections to city government, nonprofit groups, businesses and parents. We must build civic pride through service learning. We need to work as an integrated school system, not a collection of isolated buildings. We must break through the barriers of “what was” and create a collaborative future of “what can be.”
I suggest six bridges to achieve those goals.
Bridge 1: See the city of Portland as a partner. Portland is a child-friendly city, as evidenced by young people serving on the School Committee and the City Council’s Student Advisory Council. The Portland Parks and Recreation Division offers many programs for children early in the morning and late into the evening. Students who attend the schools during the day become participants in the city’s recreation centers by night, also in our schools. Sharing space makes sense and saves money. Sally Deluca, the city’s recreation center director, understands the advantages of the schools working with the recreation department to provide comprehensive programming for the city’s children. Together, the city and the schools can offer more for children than we can alone. It’s a relationship that needs to expand.
Bridge 2: Forge meaningful partnerships with nonprofit groups, colleges and other organizations with similar missions. Our city has many organizations that support children. They include the Boys and Girls Club, Learning Works, United Way, YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boys to Men, Portland Housing Authority, Southern Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine. It makes sense for the school system to collaborate with agencies engaged in similar work with children and young adults.
Bridge 3: Encourage service learning. Taxpayers are investing millions of dollars in our schools. It is only right for the schools to invest time and energy back into the community in ways that also support our educational mission. We can foster civic responsibility and altruism in our children by engaging in activities that support greater community needs while providing meaningful learning experiences outside the classroom.
Bridge 4: Partner with our parents. Research shows clearly that when parents are involved in their child’s education, student performance increases. Sadly, we live in a fast-paced society with incredible demands on parents. In today’s economic environment, parents often cannot access teachers due to work requirements. We have to find ways to communicate meaningfully with parents so that we can work together for the benefit of our young learners.
Bridge 5: Work with our business community. Employers want the graduates of our schools to have good academic skills. They also want workers who are dependable, team players and good problem-solvers. We need to meet their high expectations. Portland Arts and Technology High School and Portland Adult Education already collaborate with local businesses to train students for careers in several fields. We can build on this success and partner more closely with the companies that ultimately will receive our graduates.
Bridge 6: Foster more cooperation between the schools in our district. We must create a system that is integrated from kindergarten through grade 12. It’s fine for our schools to compete with each other in athletics, but they need to work together to enhance students’ opportunities and teachers’ growth. Our schools will always have their individual personalities, but they must share common curricula and high expectations.
The school system has to serve all children well. We do that by building bridges with those who share our goals for our children.