As I write this column, the Deering High School Rams are preparing to compete in the Western Maine Class A football finals. The Portland High School boys’ soccer team has just completed an exciting season that brought the Bulldogs all the way to the state championship.
Whether our students play sports, perform on stage or volunteer their time on community projects, their lives are richer for participating in athletics and other extracurricular activities. They learn to cooperate with classmates. They explore interests, take on new responsibilities, tap into their creativity and see how their volunteer efforts can make a difference to others.
A report recently commissioned by the Portland School Committee underscores the importance of our district’s extracurricular programs to students, parents and community members. National research shows that participating in such activities helps students boost their grades, improve their self-esteem and get into college.
But our district faces big challenges paying for the programs in the years ahead, as we grapple with anticipated cuts in state and federal funding.
The report by the Red & Blue Foundation of Massachusetts identifies ways for our district to make these programs (referred to as “co-curricular” activities) as cost effective as possible. The report calls for coordinating activities at the district level, improving record-keeping and oversight and seeking new funding sources.
Some recommendations are bound to ruffle feathers, because they would change the way that booster clubs and other organizations operate.
I hope you will consider the changes with an open mind. We owe it to our students to stretch our limited resources as far as possible so that more young people can participate in co-curricular activities.
The Red & Blue Foundation did its homework on this report. The foundation’s staff interviewed 65 Portland students, parents, coaches, teachers, administrators and city officials as well as representatives of local colleges, universities, businesses and other organizations. The foundation also collected surveys and gathered financial data about the district’s programs.
The full report is posted on the district’s website www.portlandschools.org. Major proposals include:
Establishing a nonprofit foundation to generate support for the district’s co-curricular programs. The foundation would seek grants, corporate sponsorships and partnerships with area colleges and universities.
• Hiring a district co-curricular director, based in Central Office, to work with the high school principals, high school co-curricular directors, the Portland Recreation Department and other city departments.
• Consolidating purchase of sports equipment and uniforms at the district level to save money.
• Raising academic eligibility standards for high school students, including a minimum grade point average and an attendance requirement.
• Developing consistent district procedures for hiring and evaluating coaches.
• Creating a central Web page for the district’s co-curricular activities and updating the information consistently.
• Combining all of the booster clubs into a single club for each high school.
• Adopting a middle school philosophy for athletic participation that encourages participation and avoids cutting students from teams.
• Setting a consistent policy about what happens to gate receipts at athletic events.
• Correlating student participation rates in activities with the funding provided to those activities.
The report will be discussed at a public forum on November 18 at 7 p.m. in the Deering High School cafeteria. If you cannot make it, please send your feedback to Mark Terison, the district’s chief operations officer, at email@example.com or Portland High School Assistant Principal Stephen Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we gather to cheer on our student athletes at another Turkey Day game next week, let’s also work together to ensure stable funding for the Portland Public Schools’ co-curricular activities.
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 email@example.com.