Someone asked me recently why I have involved the community in creating a vision for the future of the Portland Public Schools when times are so bleak.
Our district will lose millions of dollars in state and federal aid next July as a result of the recession. That will mean fewer adults serving the same number of students. How could we afford to talk about the future?
My response was, how can we not talk about the future? Our students need us to overcome the present obstacles to ensure that they have a high-quality education.
Portland Public Schools serves nearly 7,000 students, from entering kindergarteners to graduating seniors, from the newly arrived to native Mainers, from children with special needs to those who are gifted. Each child deserves our full effort and attention. Each needs a pathway to success.
All of us who live in Portland have a stake in creating an excellent school system. That’s why more than 100 community members gathered at Ocean Gateway for two days in December to participate in a Future Search visioning process for our district.
Those attending represented an amazing cross-section of our city. There were politicians, appointed officials, business leaders, teachers, administrators, student representatives, leaders of Portland’s immigrant communities and representatives of the city’s nonprofit and faith organizations.
We began by remembering the past. Thirty years ago, enrollment in the Portland Public Schools was nearly double our current population. Jobs were plentiful, even for those with less than a high school education.
Then, we talked about the present. Demographics have changed dramatically in the past two decades; today, nearly 26 percent of Portland’s students come from around the world. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and almost all of the well-paying jobs require a high school and college education. That makes our dropout rate alarming.
Finally, we began envisioning how we want to transform our district in the next five to 10 years. We recognized the need to work collaboratively with community partners whose missions overlap ours. We will require talented staff members who are multi-faceted and technologically proficient. That means committing our district to provide staff training.
Technology must become integral to our educational mission. The schools of tomorrow will extend beyond our buildings. Students will access courses online, at our local colleges and at home.
We must set high expectations in order to prepare our students for a far different work world than we experienced as high school graduates. That begins by providing preschool citywide, perhaps through a public-private partnership, so that all students are ready to learn by the time they enroll in kindergarten.
We must increase our high school completion rate as well as our college placement rate. We must capitalize on the life experiences of our immigrants and broaden the traditional curriculum to include the study of the communities represented in Portland.
Those who participated in Future Search left enthusiastic and ready to help make our common vision into a reality. The Portland School Committee will discuss the Future Search visioning process in the next month. We will post the Future Search report and a draft vision and mission on the district’s Web site, portlandschools.org.
Please join us in building a path to the future for Portland’s children.