Superintendent's Notebook: Updating the Portland Public Schools' Comprehensive Plan

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In 2011, the Portland Public Schools completed its Comprehensive Plan, a road map to align our district’s work with our mission and vision. That plan has served us well, but it’s a dynamic document.

It was deliberately designed to last only five years – until 2016 – so it could be updated to meet the evolving needs of our students. The School Board has asked me to lead an effort to update the Comprehensive Plan framework for Maine’s largest and most diverse school district.

We’re not starting from scratch. It took a two-year, community-wide effort to develop our Comprehensive Plan, and we’ll be building on its solid foundation. For example, the district’s vision and mission will remain unchanged.

Our vision is: “All learners will be fully prepared to participate and succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world.”

Our mission states: “The Portland Public Schools are responsible for ensuring a challenging, relevant, and joyful education that empowers every learner to make a difference in the world. We build relationships among families, educators and the community to promote the healthy development and academic achievement of every learner.”

What we’ll be updating are the goals that represent that vision and mission realized; and, more importantly, how we organize to meet those goals and how we measure and report our progress toward them. The plan will serve as the basis for my accountability to the board.

Because it’s critical that the plan reflect the work of our schools, we’re actively seeking input from our educators – teachers and administrators.

We’re holding workshops in our schools this fall to get staff input. Then we’ll be reaching out to the community for feedback. We’re hoping to have a final draft by the end of this year.

We currently have four proposed goals: Achievement; Equity; Whole Student; and People. I’ll briefly explain each and give examples of possible ways we may measure progress on these goals.

Achievement focuses on having all students graduate from high school but also on what level of knowledge they should attain. To measure achievement, we could track everything from kindergartner academic readiness to high school graduation rates and enrollment in college or pursuit of a productive career path, such as in the trades.

We are proposing adding a goal around achieving equitable results: our Equity goal. I have been struck by the value the Portland community places on our diversity. As such, we aspire to be a system that holds a high bar for everyone and meets every student’s needs.

As a district, we would be committing to devoting resources, time and energy to help more students meet our ambitious goals. We would be looking to measure progress toward representative participation in our special education, gifted and talented programs and in Advanced Placement courses.

As educators, we don’t only teach academics. We also help students achieve the skills and habits they need to succeed and be productive community members. Students’ self-monitoring, their persistence when things get tough, and their ability to work with others are as influential in their future success as their subject matter knowledge. To gauge progress on our “Whole Student” goal, we might track the percentage of students that have a connection to a caring adult or their ability to self-assess their learning.

We know we can only realize our mission and vision if staff members have the tools and resources needed to do their jobs. Our “People” goal recognizes that education is human resource intensive and that our success depends on our ability to attract, retain and support a talented and diverse workforce using their strengths to achieve our goals. We might expect to see improved staff retention rates and a higher degree of employee satisfaction.

We’ll be finding out over the next few months if these goals resonate with staff and the community. Everyone’s feedback is important to ensure we have the right goals and are measuring and reporting on what our district and community value the most.

I’ll close by inviting you all to join me at an Oct. 8 community meeting of the School Board’s Public Affairs Committee, which focuses on enhancing community engagement. The 10-11:30 a.m. meeting is at the Woodfords Club, 179 Woodford St.

Xavier Botana is superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

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