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South Portland schools seek vision

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Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 11:02 am | Updated: 4:58 pm, Thu Oct 11, 2012.

SOUTH PORTLAND – The vision and mission statement that guides all policymaking for the South Portland School Department has remained untouched since 1992, save for one exception. A few years ago, said Superintendent Suzanne Godin, it was decided to amend a section promising to “prepare all students for the challenged and opportunities of the 20th century.”

“We changed that to 21st century,” she said.

But last spring, the school began the process of crafting a more comprehensive review. In April, a 14-member steering committee began meeting monthly to create a new visioning process. On the second day of school this year, teachers, students and staffers were asked to weigh in with three things they “value and want to preserve” about the school department and three things that need to change to ensure “greater student engagement and achievement,” as well as a list if things students should need to know “to be successful in tomorrow’s world.”

Finally, in a special “summit” held Oct. 3 at the South Portland Community Center, the public got to have its say. That meeting drew 31 participants, primarily school board members, city councilors and school staffers, along with a few parents. Even the allure of free pizza did not draw out more than one or two rank-and-file taxpayers, or parents not already active volunteers, but the school department is not giving up.

Becky Brown, a former principal at Dyer Elementary School who this summer was hired to fill a long-vacant role in South Portland as director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the same survey given at the summit meeting will be made available online by mid-October.

“I’m not so sure people are fully engaged in the process yet, which is why we’re doing the community forum, to engage parents in the discussion,” she said.

The need for community input, said Godin, stems from the fact that every decision made by the school board or her staff is measured against the vision of “enriching lives through quality learning for all.” That, she said, makes the mission statement something that’s mission critical and not just a list of common-sense catchphrases – like “teaching is an active, changing process,” or “schools are community centers for life-long learning” – that some might feel should go without saying.

“As a school department we use that document to drive our comprehensive education plan, which looks at our recourses, facilities, people, and programming and asks, what is it we need to be doing to reach these goals and what data are we going to collect to see if we are meeting those goals.

“This really is the cornerstone of out school department,” said Godin. “It really does lead us.”

Godin said that based on the feedback collected from students, staff and the public, a draft of a new Mission, Vision and Beliefs document will be read for school board review by December.

After that, she said, new members will be added to the steering committee in hopes of spinning that into a new strategic plan.

“That plan will identify the major goals that we want to address of the next five years,” said Godin. “All of this has come from the board wanting to make sure that we continue to meet the needs of out students as well as of the community.”

In addition to an increasing emphasis on project-based, hands-on learning, Godin said, she expects any new strategic plan will have to address the trend toward “proficiency-based learning,” that will necessarily change how the school department measures and reports on student progress. A new state law says Maine schools must transition to so-called “proficiency-based diplomas” by 2017.

“What does that mean? What does it look like? How do we do it?” Godin said. “We don’t know that yet, but we do know it applies to next year’s freshmen, so there is some real urgency to all of this.”

Brown said she expects at least one more community forum, if not two, will be scheduled in the coming months.

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