Making the grade

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 26, 2011

Among those challenges is Portland's high percentage of non-native English speakers — about one-third of Portland students are English-language learners, says David Galin, the school system's chief academic officer. This requires a unique approach when it comes to teaching reading and writing. Efforts will be made across the school system to train classroom teachers in more specialized literacy instruction for "EL students." (This element is so important that many pages of PCG's final report contain a special section labeled "Especially for English Learners.")

"We're trying to move away from the model of pulling students out of the regular classroom and trying to fix them," Galin says. Both the Riverton and Reiche schools are currently experimenting with this type of professional development, he adds.

Other initiatives include integrating literacy training in every content area (from history and English to science and technology) and strengthening pre-school opportunities to better prepare young learners. To better reach adolescent boys, "strategies . . . include reading more nonfiction early on, incorporating active discussion strategies, reading and writing for authentic reasons . . . [and] connecting older and younger boys as reading buddies," Meltzer says.

These plans, which Morse estimates will be put in place over the next several years, will take money.

"In the current budget climate, we know that working on any new initiative is primarily a reallocation of existing resources," Galin says, adding that the schools would look to more effectively use federal funds meant for low-income students and possibly consolidate on the district-wide level money that was previously spent individually by schools.

Morse agrees that an increasingly system-wide approach is on the horizon, one that factors literacy into every subject area.

"The literacy piece has got to be the center of our universe for years to come," he says, "because this is the way we improve everything."

Level Playing Field

Title IX, a 1972 federal law, prohibits gender discrimination in any educational programs or activities that receive federal money — whether in or out of the classroom. Boys and girls must have both equal opportunities and equal treatment in athletic programs. Sports participation opportunities should be proportionate to student enrollment; everything from equipment to playing facilities to game scheduling to coaching must be equivalent. These factors don't have to be exactly the same, but there must be parity between both genders.

Last year, the school district commissioned local law firm Drummond Woodsum to conduct a review of its Title IX compliance. The results of that investigation, based on information provided by the school system and athletic directors from Portland and Deering high schools (Casco Bay High School athletes participate in programs at the other two schools), showed that the number of male and female athletes at both schools are roughly proportionate to the overall numbers of boys and girls enrolled.

One discrepancy was in playing facilities for boys' baseball and girls' softball: the boys play at Hadlock Field; the softball field is at Payson Park.

"These two facilities are not equal in quality, size, amenities, or proximity to the school," the Drummond Woodsum report reads. "However, because of the practical differences between the two sports, it does not appear practical or possible for girls softball to play at Hadlock Field. This does not, however, mean that Payson Park is an equal facility. One area where Payson Park falls noticeably short is with respect to locker room and shower facilities; it has none."

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