Superintendent's Notebook: It’s time to invest in Portland students’ success

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During my year and a half of living in Portland, I’ve learned that residents highly value education. Nearly 46 percent of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 29 percent of all Americans.

So it is fitting that the Portland Public Schools has set the ambitious goal of becoming the best small urban school district in the country by 2017. We want Portland’s students to graduate prepared for college, careers and future leadership roles in our city.

In order to be the best, we must invest in our schools. I recently presented the Board of Public Education with a proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 that focuses on four areas to help us achieve that goal.

First, we will strengthen the core academic program.

My proposed budget maintains class sizes that would be the envy of many other urban districts across the country. We will invest in our employees by providing them with the professional development needed to implement new program materials and the transition to Common Core State Standards. We will invest in systems to use data in new ways to make learning more student-centered.

We will continue to support visual and performing arts education, and to provide a World Languages program that includes American Sign Language, Arabic and Mandarin. High school students will have opportunities to take dual enrollment courses that earn college credit. My budget provides funding to maintain seventh grade sports and to expand high school sports opportunities for girls.

Second, we will stimulate progress for all learners.

My budget calls for continuing the district’s pre-kindergarten classes to ensure that all students enter school ready to learn. We will also continue the extended learning summer program for students in kindergarten through second grade. That will help all students reach the crucial benchmark of reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

We will provide summer learning programs for rising sixth- and ninth-graders who need extra academic preparation. We also will strengthen the district’s special education program, and we will provide individualized learning plans for gifted students. An audit is underway of the district’s program for English language learners. We will begin implementing the recommendations in FY 2015.

Third, we will drive innovation.

The Portland Public Schools already has many innovative programs, including two nationally acclaimed Expeditionary Learning schools (King Middle School and Casco Bay High School), Maine’s only teacher-led school (Reiche Community School), the Many Rivers program at Hall Elementary School, and the International Baccalaureate program at Ocean Avenue Elementary School. Deering High School has affiliated with the International Studies Schools Network and Portland High School is developing career academies in partnership with Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development Secondary.

My proposed budget will expand on innovation, with funding to implement a foreign language immersion program beginning in kindergarten. In the coming year, we also will continue to expand science, technology, engineering and math offerings, and we will explore the feasibility of starting a cyber school. David Galin, the district’s chief academic officer, will lead a group that will consider how we can provide more rigorous educational experiences beyond the school walls.

Finally, we will invest in the district’s infrastructure.

We will move Central Office, the Multilingual and Multicultural Center and the West Program to 353 Cumberland Ave. and expand Casco Bay High School. We will bring stability to Portland Adult Education by allowing it to remain at the former Cathedral Grammar School. The district plans to address capital needs at mainland elementary schools in fiscal year 2016.

Now is the time to invest in our schools and our students to ensure a prosperous future for Portland.

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