Superintendent's Notebook: Portland schools launch initiatives to stimulate progress

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I love the start of the school year: yellow buses tooling through our neighborhoods, children waiting excitedly at street corners, freshly polished halls filled with young voices.

This year, the Portland Public Schools is launching several exciting initiatives that will enhance learning opportunities for children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The innovations are aimed at stimulating progress and ensuring that every student has a pathway to success.

We are preparing high school students for college and careers by offering more Advanced Placement and “dual enrollment” courses that give them both high school and college credit. Students benefit from the rigor of taking courses such as AP Calculus or Latin Poetry. And they save money by earning college credits for free.

Beginning this year, our high school freshmen will be able to earn an endorsement in science, technology, engineering and math by taking extra courses. That will give them a leg up in a rapidly growing field.

Deering High School and Portland High School have created teams of teachers to work exclusively with freshmen. They’ll share instructional strategies and monitor progress to help students excel.

Our students need proficiency in at least two languages in order to lead in a global society. That’s why we expanded our World Languages program. Deering is offering what is believed to be the state’s first public high school class in Arabic. Two of our high schools have partnered with the University of Southern Maine to host Mandarin classes. Deering has joined the International Studies School Network, and Deering teachers are weaving an international focus throughout the entire curriculum.

Careers experiences help students see the connection between their education and future opportunities. Through our partnership with Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, we are giving students opportunities for job shadowing, internships and the like. Portland High is developing academies focused on growing fields. This year, the school will have a new engineering course and another course that helps students become certified as firefighters.

We made a major upgrade in technology this fall. All of our middle and high school students and teachers are receiving new computers, and for the first time, all will use Apple devices. The computers were paid for by the Maine Learning Technology Initiative and a portion of last year’s $2 million city bond for school technology improvements.

Co-curricular activities are an important part of school life; they help keep students engaged. We take pride in offering a wide variety of sports and clubs. I commend our middle school athletic directors for finding creative ways to preserve three sports programs that were in danger of disappearing this year due to budget cuts.

At the elementary level, we’ve aligned our math program with the Common Core state standards. We are raising the bar for what students should know and be able to do as mathematicians.

Students throughout the district will enjoy local foods in their cafeterias every Thursday as part of a new district initiative. The menu items will feature fruits and vegetables from Maine farms as well as local fish and beef.

Thanks to a generous donor, the Portland Public Schools has a Culture Club that provides all students four cultural experiences every year, free of charge. They visit the Portland Museum of Art and attend performances by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Portland Stage and Portland Ovations.

Our school year began with the fabulous news that King Middle School teacher Karen MacDonald has been selected as the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year.

Finally, I want to remind you about the first Superintendent’s Book Club meeting at Longfellow Books on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. Read more about it on our website.

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