Superintendent's Notebook: Community service makes a great gift

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Holiday-season advertisements focus on all the stuff we can give or receive as gifts. However, you won’t see mention of service to others.

Yet community service is a very valuable gift and it’s one that many local businesses, organizations, and individuals bestow on the Portland Public Schools each year. They contribute generously to aid our students in furthering their learning opportunities. So, at this time of year, I’d like to recognize all those community partners with special thanks.

As I have stated before, the Portland Public Schools has set a goal of becoming the best small urban school district in the country by 2017.

But we can’t do that alone. It takes an entire community to ensure the success of our public schools.

There are many examples of how businesses, organizations and other community members have joined us in working towards our goal. To give you an idea of the scope of such giving, I’ll mention just a few.

One important way that local businesses give is through job shadowing and internships. Our students benefit greatly from this type of Expanded Learning Opportunities, or ELOs.

Maine Medical Center, Unum and the Portland Fire Department are just three of our partners that have provided students with “real-world learning experiences” through such ELOs.

I recently interviewed two of our high school students – Mohamed Nur and Moses Small – about how job shadowing and internships helped them. I talked to these impressive young men as part of my “Let’s Talk Portland” video series, in which I interview guests about a wide variety of school initiatives. “Let’s Talk Portland” is on our website.

Mohamed, a senior at Deering High School, may go into politics. He recently completed an internship with U.S. Sen. Angus King’s field office in Scarborough. He also had a job shadow at Maine Medical Center, following a doctor for a day.

“A job shadow or internship really complements what you’re learning in the classroom,” Mohamed told me.

Moses, a junior at Portland High School, wants to be a broadcast journalist. He did a job shadow at WCSH, and has an internship at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. He said his experiences taught him about the skills he’ll need to reach his career goal.

To help coordinate job shadowing and internship opportunities are Jobs for Maine’s Graduates Pathways Coordinators at our high schools. Their work is funded by a three-year $5 million Nellie Mae Education Foundation grant the Portland Public Schools, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and LearningWorks received in 2012. Thanks to all those organizations for partnering with us in providing ELOs to students.

In another kind of ELO, the Bernstein Shur law firm for three years has given generously of its time and expertise to help a diverse group of Casco Bay High School students learn about legal career opportunities through the national NALP/Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program. That program partners law firms with diverse groups of students to teach them about the law and legal careers.

Through the program, Bernstein Shur lawyers and students from the University of Maine School of Law have helped CBHS students learn about the law and realize they too can become lawyers.

Speaking as someone who has a law degree, I believe the study of the law is a foundation for any discipline. Thanks to these organizations for helping Portland Public Schools’ students prepare for future careers.

Also, thank you to all the individual volunteers in our schools, whose activities range from being foster grandparents to leading students in our Walking School Bus program.

And we welcome help from any other individuals, businesses and organizations that want to ensure the success of our schools. Remember, this community effort can’t succeed without you, our community members! Please contact Chanda Turner, coordinator of Family & Community Engagement, at for more information.

Also, just a reminder to please join me at the Superintendent’s Book Club on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at 7 p.m. at Longfellow Books in Monument Square in Portland. I’ll lead the discussion of “21 Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and Into the Future” by Gary Marx.

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Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at Read his blog at