Superintendent’s Notebook: Great leaders make great schools

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Each year, Congress passes a resolution declaring October as National Principals Month. It’s appropriate our nation sets aside time to recognize those educators because they have some of the greatest impact on student achievement.

In order to have great schools, you must have great leaders. In fact, research shows that leadership is second only to instruction in its effect on student learning.

Of course, all staff members play key roles in making a school great. However, it’s difficult to have a great school without a great principal.

Teachers obviously are responsible for a vital role: the leadership of the classroom.

But if the principal doesn’t lead the work at the school level, involving the entire staff in determining what steps the entire school needs to take to be in a mode of constant improvement, that likely isn’t going to happen.

Also, principals are the primary conduit between the school and parents. Great principals cultivate parents as partners and work together with them in the best interest of the students.

In Portland, we’re very proud of all our staff. But during National Principals Month, I want to especially honor our top school leaders.

I myself was a principal at every level – elementary, middle school and high school – so I know firsthand the challenges and rewards of the job they do.

All principals throughout Maine and around the country deserve recognition. But some of the best principals are right here in Portland, working every day to increase student learning, engage parents and get community members, such as businesses, involved in supporting public education.

There are many instances in the Portland Public Schools of how great leadership in our schools has led to great things. I’ll highlight just a few by way of example.

Under Principal Jeanne Malia’s watch at Riverton Elementary School, that school each year presents the Riverton Parent Academy. That series of workshops helps parents learn about the curriculum and how they can help their kids at home. Riverton’s first Parent Academy this year is slated to start at the end of this month.

And at Lyman Moore Middle School, Principal Stephen Rogers has been spearheading a school partnership with IDEXX Laboratories, through which IDEXX has outfitted two science classrooms with new equipment and technology, giving students enhanced learning opportunities.

Also, East End Community School has instituted a Rise and Shine extended learning program under Principal Marcia Gendron’s leadership. The program takes place before school and includes fun exercise activities, extra math and reading, arts projects and community service. It has helped lower student absences and tardiness.

We also have some new principal talent in the Portland Public Schools this school year: Lincoln Middle School Principal Suellyn Santiago and Longfellow Elementary School Principal Terrence Young.

We also welcome some assistant principals: Bethany Connolly at Lincoln Middle School; John Dickerson at Hall Elementary School; Patricia Crowley Rockwell at King Middle School; and Holly Johnson at Longfellow Elementary School.

I’ll end by recognizing another exemplary Portland Public Schools’ leader: Casco Bay High School Principal Derek Pierce.

On Sept. 30, Pierce won the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s Larry O’Toole Award, earning a $100,000 grant to further student learning at his school. This is the third time the New England school leadership award has been given out, but the first time a Maine principal has won.

Come meet Pierce at the fall meeting of the Superintendent’s Book Club. The free event will be held Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. at Longfellow Books in Monument Square in Portland.

Pierce and I will lead the discussion of “Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century,” by Monica R. Martinez and Dennis McGrath. Casco Bay High School and King Middle School in Portland are two of eight schools the book profiles.

I hope to see you there.

And in the meantime, I encourage that anytime you see a principal at a community event or even in the grocery store, tell that person what a wonderful job he or she is doing serving our children and families.

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