Superintendent's Notebook: Teachers hit the classroom in summer

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Lots of people envy teachers for having the summer “off.” But many of our teachers in the Portland Public Schools are spending these beautiful, sunny days in class, learning new content and new teaching strategies that will improve their practice.

We know that an effective teacher is the most important, school-related factor influencing student achievement. At the Portland Public Schools, we appreciate the willingness of our teachers to participate in professional development in July and August.

This summer, many of our high school teachers are working on the Pathways to Success initiative aimed at providing more options for Portland’s students. Funded by a $5 million grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the initiative will implement new learning models at Deering and Portland high schools beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

This summer, teachers and other professional staff are learning more about the models under consideration.

Nine Deering teachers and I attended a conference in New York sponsored by the International Studies School Network. The network’s mission is to prepare every student to succeed in college or other post-secondary education and to help students learn how the world works as the foundation for success in a global era as well as how they can take action and make a difference. Deering is considering adoption of the network’s learning model.

Portland High School will send about 10 staff people to a conference sponsored by Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development program. Portland High is considering adoption of that model, which draws on students’ interests and aspirations to prepare them for post-secondary education and/or careers.

The Nellie Mae grant is paying for staff to attend both of those national conferences. The grant also will pay for Casco Bay High School’s summer institute for faculty in August, when teachers will develop and refine learning expeditions for the coming year. Casco Bay High School is a member of Expeditionary Learning’s national network that involves students in rigorous, multidisciplinary projects addressing real-world issues.

Portland school staff also are involved in many other types of professional development this summer, including work focused on supporting English language learners, teaching phonics, spelling and vocabulary, matching books to readers and ensuring a continuum of literacy learning.

Some teachers and educational technicians are pursuing additional training in their chosen content areas. Administrators are adding to their knowledge in topics such as school law. Our students will be the beneficiaries.

Many of you know me as the principal of Deering High School. I have had my own learning opportunities this summer, as I fulfill the responsibility of acting superintendent. That experience has left me thoroughly impressed with the staff’s dedication to making Portland Public Schools a place where all are “learning to succeed.”

Sidebar Elements

Ira Waltz is Portland’s acting superintendent of schools until Aug. 20, when Emmanuel Caulk takes the position on a permanent basis.