Portland schools notebook: Commissioner Bowen visits, Children’s World Peace Game

Gov. Paul LePage and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan have been at odds, to say the least, about the future of education in Portland lately. The mayor has been vocally opposed to the introduction of a charter school to the market, arguing that it would consume some of the limited resources that are already spread thin among the facilities in the Portland Public Schools district. The governor has lashed back in defense of charter schools.

But not all interaction between the current administration and city schools have been acrimonious.

Stephen Bowen (BDN file photo by Mario Moretto)

On Friday, state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen reportedly visited two Portland schools to highlight big turnarounds in test scores there.

The visits represented stops on Bowen’s Promising Practices Tour, and took place at Riverton Community and East End Elementary schools. The schools had been identified as underperforming according to standardized test scores in recent years, but used state and federal grants to implement steps to turn those trends around — and did.

A year ago, a senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the same two schools to hear about the same remarkable turnarounds.

Here’s a clip from my story at the time about that visit explaining some such measures the schools used to help boost scores:

Using federal school improvement grant money that becomes available to schools that fail over three years to make “adequate yearly progress” on standardized tests — as defined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act — the Riverton and East End schools have assembled teams of teaching coaches and subject matter specialists to cycle through classrooms. The coaches and specialists work with both teachers and students to model the latest educational strategies, Kathleen Casasa, president of the teachers union, the Portland Education Association, told reporters Tuesday at Riverton.

Back to the current day, here’s a graph from Bowen’s office about things he found in his visit Friday that he found promising:

“I’m really impressed by the innovative practices I saw today,” Bowen said. At East End, staff lowered student absence and tardiness rates by creating an extended learning program, called Rise and Shine, that makes students excited to come in on time. “From making their own garden beds to playing the ukulele — you name it, these kids are engaged in it,” Bowen continued. “And the good news is that this program is completely replicable across the state. East End launched Rise and Shine without any additional funding.”

 Children’s World Peace Game

In just a few days, a film about the Children’s World Peace Game will be shown as part of the Children’s Film Festival in this city. The Virginia teacher behind the game, John Hunter, will be on hand for the screening alongside filmmaker Chris Farina.

The film will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursday at University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall. The overall film festival, which begins on Wednesday and goes through Sunday, is organized by the East End Community School and is a fundraiser for the school.

Tickets to “World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements” are free, but attendees are requested to reserve seats online here because of limited space.

Want to know more about the film and Hunter’s work? Check out the extended trailer here.

Riverton wins environmental award

So far, this post has been all East End and Riverton. We’re back at Riverton now, where the school’s CHEERS — that’s Cultures Helping Everyone’s Environment-Riverton School — club took home the city of Portland’s 2013 eco-Excellence Award last month.

Under teacher Olga “Teddy” Valencia, the club has grown to 125 students in four grades in recent years. Environmental initiatives undertaken by the club, according to a district news release, include:

  • Producing a video that shows students and staff how to recycle and compost waste from the school cafeteria.
  • Developing an environmentally friendly cleaning spray that can be used in classrooms to stop the spread of germs.
  • Starting worm composting bins and assisting other classrooms with maintaining them.
  • Conserving paper by using fabric as background on bulletin boards.
  • Planting and harvesting vegetables from a school garden.
  • Sponsoring a sustainability conference where students from across the district shared their ideas on additional ways to help the environment.

Last school improvement design forum tonight

Presumpscot Elementary School (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

The final of five neighborhood forums held to inform the public about ambitious improvement projects at local schools is scheduled to be held tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Presumpscot Elementary School.

The 90-minute session will feature concept designs for the local school and chances to ask questions of the architectural firm in charge of the district-wide projects.

Portland Public Schools remain hopeful that local voters will be supportive of a $46 million bond to help pay for a massive, citywide school facility upgrade effort, which I detailed better in this story.

Previous neighborhood forums were to be held in March at Lyseth, Reiche, Longfellow and Hall elementary schools.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.