PORTLAND, Maine — Emmanuel Caulk told an audience of Portland teachers, parents and administrators Tuesday night he would bring a “democratic” style of leadership, consulting frequently with them in search of solutions to problems if chosen as the city’s next superintendent of schools. Those who work in the schools, not a central office administrator, are more apt to have fresh ideas, he said.
Caulk, an assistant superintendent with the Philadelphia school system, on Tuesday became the second of three finalists for Portland’s top school administrator position to meet with the public. Marguerite Vanden Wygaard, a deputy superintendent with the Paterson, N.J., school district answered questions at a public event two weeks ago.
The third finalist for the job, being vacated in June by James Morse after three years at the helm, has yet to schedule a meeting with the public or be publicly named by the district.
Caulk held three open discussions Tuesday in Portland, at East End Community School, Lyman Moore Middle School and Casco Bay High School.
In the final forum, held in the evening at the high school, Caulk described his background and his philosophies on education, then asked the teachers, parents and administrators in attendance to describe the opportunities and challenges they see in the district. Caulk took notes on their answers.
He told attendees, set up in a circle of chairs, that he would seek feedback, ideas and solutions to problems from them and others if hired for Portland’s superintendent job.
Caulk said he has helped organize advisory groups for each of the Philadelphia schools he oversees, with the idea that parents and community members focused on each school community may be able to more quickly identify problems and provide fresh ideas than he can from the central office. He said he also would hold regular roundtables with teachers, parents and principals in Portland to harvest best practices and forge a team atmosphere surrounding education in the city.
“I believe in coaching and a democratic process as a leadership style,” Caulk told attendees at Casco Bay High School. “My vision for the system is to create a world-class education in the schools, not just a world-class central office.”
When asked about his impression of Portland’s Reiche School, reportedly the first school in the nation to change its administration structure from being a principal-led school to a teacher-led school, Caulk responded, “All the schools I’ve been at have been teacher-led.”
“I tell my teachers, ‘I’m only as good as they are,’” he said.
Caulk said he has worked as an administrator in the Chicago and Baton Rouge, La., public schools and is writing his doctoral dissertation on how the deployment of academic and nonacademic resources best affect student achievement.
He talked about addressing “the opportunity gap” between different groups of students as well as gaps in academic proficiency, by embracing high aspirations and providing equal access to educational resources regardless of neighborhood or wealth. Caulk also advocated for creating a network of community partners — from area nonprofits to businesses to faith-based organizations — to help fill the district’s needs when budget constraints become too tight.
“You have to be entrepreneurial,” he said. “If [members of the community] don’t know how they can help, and you don’t know what your needs are, you can’t fill those needs.”
The superintendent search has been led by a three-person school board subcommittee chaired by Sarah Thompson.
Search consultants from the Illinois-based firm PROACT launched an aggressive campaign to seek comments from stakeholder groups throughout Portland on what qualities community members want in the district’s next top administrator, distributing an online survey to accompany a series of targeted public forums and workshops.
After the outreach efforts, PROACT officials reported that Portlanders who weighed in sought an administrator from an urban district and experience with a culturally diverse student body speaking a wide range of languages. Approximately 60 different languages are reportedly spoken by students in Portland schools.
Out of the 159 people who applied for the post, PROACT planned to interview approximately 50, with 10 forwarded to the local search committee for an additional round of reviews before the pool was whittled down to the finalists.
The winning candidate will replace Morse, who is leaving Portland in mid-June to take the top administrator job at the Oyster River School District in Durham, N.H.