Transition team ready to assist Portland's new school chief

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PORTLAND — The Board of Education named a transition team July 17 to assist recently appointed Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk.

Chairwoman Kate Snyder announced the selection of Jaimey Caron, an at-large board member, to lead the team. It also includes five members selected from volunteers throughout the community.

The other members are:

• Maxwell Chikuta, a Congolese immigrant and father of four Portland students, who earned a high-school diploma through the School Department’s adult education program.

• Catherine King, an interior designer, school volunteer and parent of two Portland elementary students.

• Brian Petrovek, the managing owner and chief executive officer of the Portland Pirates hockey team.

• Claire Ruthenberg, a retired educator and parent of a Portland Public Schools graduate.

•And Ethan Strimling, a former state senator and the chief executive officer of community advocacy organization LearningWorks.

A seventh team member, representing the post-secondary education sector, will be added at a future date.

According to the board resolution in June that called for the team, it will work under Caulk’s direction “to assist the superintendent in understanding the needs, concerns and priorities of the community.”

The resolution also charges the team with identifying all community-based groups that work in support of the Portland Public Schools, and making recommendations to improve public participation and communication with the district. The team must submit a report of its findings and suggested next steps to the board by Dec. 31.

This is the first time the board has appointed a team to assist a newly hired superintendent, Snyder said.

“The transition team creates an exciting new opportunity to involve a group of external stakeholders, a group of connectors, who are vested in making the Portland public schools the best they can be,” she said.

The participation of members from outside school administration is “vital,” Caron said.

“Our goal will be to get a better handle on how (the School Department) is engaging the community, and how we can better leverage the expertise in the community,” he said.

“There’s a great desire of the public to be engaged, and we want to do that in a more purposeful way that also manages expectations.”

The goal of increasing public participation in district initiatives is one that Caulk enthusiastically supports, and which the board discussed extensively with him during the recruitment process, Caron said.

Caulk, a former assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia public school system, begins his job Aug. 20.

As the transition team and he get to work this fall, they will face a host of challenging priorities for the School Department.

They include modernization of elementary schools and technology infrastructure, revamping the district’s organization, and “Pathways to Success,” an initiative to improve high-school student performance with the help of a $5 million grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

The start of the school year comes after the release last week of a Harvard University study that examined international and U.S. trends in student performance. The study found that improvement in Maine’s student test scores between 1992 and 2011 ranked second-worst of any state in the nation.

“We want to raise achievement for all students,” Caron said. “And one of the things we’ve discussed with (Caulk) is how to do that, how to measure that, and how to make sure staff are prepared to make it happen.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.