Superintendent's Notebook: You're invited to tour Portland's newest school

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Portland City Councilor Cheryl Leeman and I will host an open house Feb. 16 from 6-8 p.m. at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, 150 Ocean Ave., Portland. The open house will give community members the opportunity to see the school before its official opening, to meet with school officials and to see what this state-of-the-art facility has to offer our youth and families.

Only two new schools have opened in Portland in the last 35 years: East End Community School in 2006 and Ocean Avenue Elementary School in 2011. So, this is an event worth celebrating.

Throughout February, boxes have been packed at Nathan Clifford Elementary School and students have been taking field trips to the new school. After February vacation, Clifford students and staff will move in. Students from the neighborhood formerly served by Baxter Elementary School will follow next fall.

Located on the Baxter site, Ocean Avenue Elementary School has an inviting, “Dr. Seuss”-like entrance that generates a sense of fun. The cantilevered roof, trimmed in bright colors and matched by mobile sculptures, lets the world know that this is an elementary school. Inside, the school has skylights and four themes for different wings of the building – agriculture, oceans, mountains and forests. The building can accommodate 441 students in 21 general purpose classrooms.

This modern schoolhouse is designed to meet 21st century needs, with more than $1 million of technology and furnishings. Every classroom has a “Smart Board” – an electronic blackboard supported by computer software and the Internet. Desktop computers and laptops, document readers and associated technology are spread throughout the school.

The new school has specialized classrooms for art, music, and special education, plus a stunning library. Each wing has space for small-group learning and projects. The cafeteria is separate from the gymnasium, allowing the physical education program to be scheduled throughout the day. This is a major change from Baxter, where the lunch room also served as the gym.

Ocean Avenue Elementary School was designed with the safety of children in mind. Anyone entering the building will be observed by office staff. Parents have their own drop-off point separate from the drop-off for the children arriving on buses. Students walking to the building will not have to cross traffic lanes.

Like East End Community School, the new school has many energy-efficient features, such as a 12,000-square-foot “green” roof and solar hot water panels. Bio-retention beds will help manage storm water runoff. We designed Ocean Avenue Elementary to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

So many wonderful features were designed into the new Ocean Avenue School, minus one critical feature: the students. As marvelous as this building is, it is an empty hulk until students and staff are fully utilizing this incredible facility.

The new schools at East End and Ocean Avenue set a 21st century standard against which we must measure our remaining elementary buildings. Equitable opportunity for all Portland students must be the standard we use. To that end, new school applications have been sent to the state for Lyseth, Longfellow, Presumpscot, Hall and Reiche. Let’s hope that the state supports another new elementary school for Portland.

I hope you will join me to see the beautiful new building that will serve our students.

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

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