Superintendent's Notebook: A plan for Portland's future

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Many of us have been involved in strategic planning initiatives. Private industry, state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and schools across the country work tirelessly on such plans.

The attitudes of those asked to write the plans range from enthusiasm to dread. As you might expect, the quality of the plans ranges from exemplary to poor.

The best plans reflect the core values of the organization and employees implement them with care. Plans written “because we have to” or as a requirement of an oversight group often end up on shelves collecting dust. The world is cluttered with thousands of plans that have never been implemented.

The Portland Board of Education is considering a comprehensive plan that is novel in approach and guaranteed to engage all stakeholders: students, staff, parents, taxpayers and community members.

Work on the plan began in December 2009, when more than 100 Portland residents helped develop a new vision for the school system. We spent two days talking about the past, present and, most importantly, the future of the Portland Public Schools. The work of those two days evolved into a new vision and mission statement for the district, adopted last November, and it laid the groundwork for a new comprehensive plan.

A committee headed by former School Board Chairman Peter Eglinton has been working on the plan since January. The committee includes educators, parents and community members working in many professional fields. We were fortunate to tap into their vast expertise.

The draft comprehensive plan will go before the Board of Education next month for consideration and adoption. It is an exciting document that will guide our district for years to come. I predict that it will never sit on a shelf collecting dust because it requires annual engagement of the staff and it incorporates accountability measures.

The heart of the plan focuses on three overarching goals:

1 – All of our students will graduate from high school.

2 – All of our graduates will be prepared for college.

3 – All students will participate in activities that demonstrate service to our community, individual creativity and physical wellness.

Our comprehensive plan will focus on the needs of students in the Portland Public Schools, not adults. Every elementary school, middle school and high school will develop plans to achieve the three goals.

The plan clearly defines annual outcomes and it requires accountability reports. When adopted by the Board of Education, it will establish expectations for our entire system and create the strong foundation upon which future work will be defined.

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During the past month, our district’s 2011 graduates have begun their studies at more than 100 colleges and universities across the country, including Harvard University, Columbia University, Williams College, the University of Maine and many other fine schools. You can find a complete list of colleges attended by our 2011 graduates at

On our website, you also will find profiles of three outstanding graduates of the Portland Public Schools, now in their 20s and early 30s, who already are making their marks in the fields of finance, AIDS research and film making:

• Elizabeth Russell (Deering High School Class of 1997) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health researching the transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) from mother to child.

• Tommy Pelletier (Portland High School Class of 2001) is a currency trader and father of two.

• Hamid Karimian (Deering/PATHS Class of 2007) is a film maker and singer-songwriter.

Sidebar Elements

James C. Morse Sr. is Portland’s superintendent of schools. His column runs monthly in The Forecaster and on He can be reached at