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School Board Chair Gives State of the Schools Address

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School Board Chair Gives State of the Schools Address
Posted on 03/16/2015
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Sarah Thompson, chair of the Portland Board of Public Education, gave the annual State of the Schools report to the Portland City Council on Monday, March 16.

Thompson told the council that the quality of the Portland Public Schools affects everyone in the city, not just students and their parents.

Quality schools also matter “to taxpayers, who are investing in our schools and who want to see our city grow and attract new families and businesses that will keep Portland vibrant and an affordable place to live. They matter to the businesses that are located in our city, whose success increasingly depends on having a readily available pool of well-educated, skilled workers,” Thompson said. “We are all in this together, and whether we have children in Portland schools or not, we all have a stake in the quality of our schools.”

She continued, “That is why I am pleased to report that Portland schools are in good shape and getting better all the time.”

She said the School Board and superintendent continue to work well together, “maintaining stability and continuity in the running of the Portland Public Schools and sharing a commitment to be the best small urban school district in the country by 2017.”

Thompson cited examples of the district’s accountability and transparency, such as the annual District Scorecard, which uses data from multiple sources to show where students are making progress and where they’re not doing as well as the district would like – areas where the  district plans to make investments to help students improve. She also noted that the district did a parent/student survey last year, with very positive results, and is conducting another one this year.

She also spoke about a variety of initiatives underway in the Portland Public Schools, including the Principal for a Day Program, which pairs business leaders with a local principal so the business leader can gain real insights into the challenges facing school leaders. The program has fostered strong relationships and ongoing partnerships with area businesses. Thompson also cited Let’s Talk Portland, the district’s online, 24/7 tool for ongoing, productive conversations between citizens and the Portland Public Schools.

She also cited the district’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives, including the Portland Public Schools’ first STEM Expo at Ocean Gateway last November. The event, held in partnership with EnviroLogix, drew nearly 1,000 students and other visitors who came to see the special exhibits students from the Portland Public Schools had created.

Thompson also spoke about the “Super Science Makeover" that added new technology such as Smart boards and digital teaching microscopes to classrooms at Lyman Moore Middle School. The makeover came about thanks to $18,000 and 300 hours of volunteer time donated by IDEXX Laboratories.

“We are creating more and more opportunities for students to explore science, technology, engineering and math and develop the skills that are so important in the 21st century,” Thompson said. “Even with competition from charter schools, our schools offer the best opportunity for robust learning in science and math.”

Thompson also highlighted staff awards and recognitions. Examples she gave included Casco Bay High School Principal Derek Pierce winning the Nellie Mae Foundation’s Third Annual Larry O’Toole Award last fall, which is given to a school leader who exhibits innovation in moving forward student-centered learning approaches. Pierce won $100,000 that will go toward benefiting students at the school.

Thompson also noted that King Middle School language arts teacher Karen MacDonald was honored by President Obama as Maine’s 2014 Teacher of the Year at a White House ceremony this past May.

In addition, Thompson talked about the district’s Building for Our Future initiative, which affirms the community’s commitment to equity across its schools and continues to address significant needs at its older elementary schools.

Thompson also talked about strategies to increase learning. They include adding 20 more minutes of instruction time per day to each school day starting this fall, investing in early education, continuing to extend the school year for students in primary grades who are reaching towards proficiency, and increasing high school graduation rates.

She also spoke about the FY16 school budget that Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk recommended to the board March 10.

“I know I don’t need to tell you how challenging it is to prepare a budget these days with so many cuts and so much uncertainty coming from the state,” Thompson told the council. “But I do want to echo what Superintendent Caulk said in presenting the budget to the school board: This budget is austere and modest. It builds on the investments made in FY2014 and FY2015, with your support.”

The proposed budget, Thompson said, “ensures that all students have a pathway to success.”

Click here to see a video of the 2015 State of the Schools address to the City Council.