Superintendent's Notebook: Portland Adult Education is a gem

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Portland Adult Education’s graduation ceremony is one of the most inspiring evenings of my year. I feel awed seeing teenagers, senior citizens and lots of other graduates march into Merrill Auditorium wearing the black caps and gowns that they worked so hard to earn.

Many students spent years taking classes as they juggled work, family commitments and their pursuit of a high school degree. Some overcame reading disabilities, math phobias and other challenges, with the help of our trained and caring teachers. By their example, they showed their own children and the entire community how important it is to earn an education.

Nearly a quarter of the 200 people who earned high school credentials this year were attaining their second diploma. They had completed high school and, in some cases, college in another country and another language. All 176 GED graduates passed a test that one-third of U.S. high school graduates fail.

Portland Adult Education leads the way in Maine by offering a wide range of programs for adult learners. Residents of Portland and surrounding communities can take dozens of courses in everything from zumba to urban gardening, American Sign Language and retirement planning. There’s even a first-time home-buyer seminar. The affordable fees for these community life courses cover the costs, so there is no impact on local taxpayers.

PAE’s job skills courses in computer programs, health fields, office skills and vocational trades are an incredible bargain. Courses in Photoshop, Web programming and other topics cost only a fraction of the price of similar courses at local colleges. That’s a huge benefit to people training for a new career.

In recent years, PAE has begun contracting with local employers to provide courses at the place of employment that are specifically tailored to their workforces. Unum, Idexx, Barber Foods, Bank of America and Maine Medical Center are among the growing number of companies that have taken advantage of this convenient way to train their employees.

During the past year, 5,665 people enrolled in courses at PAE. This program benefits the majority of Portland residents who do not have children in the district’s schools. It aids Portland’s economy by providing the job skills classes needed by local employers. And it fulfills our district’s mission of providing lifelong learning.

If you haven’t taken a PAE course lately, I encourage you to browse the offerings online ( If you live in Portland, you’ll find the fall course catalog in your mailbox next month.

I hope you’ll join me next June at PAE’s graduation ceremony. I promise that it is an evening you won’t forget. Just be sure you pack tissues, because you will not leave with dry eyes.

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