Initiative aims to increase Portland’s high school graduation rate, prepare students for careers

Posted Feb. 25, 2013, at 6:59 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — An initiative announced in Portland on Monday morning seeks to better prepare the city’s students, from kindergarten to high school, for future careers.

The initiative, called Portland ConnectED, is a concerted effort by several community organizations — including the city and the Portland Regional Chamber — to enhance educational opportunities for students of all ages and to improve high school graduation rates, according to Mayor Michael Brennan.

“This is the most significant educational partnership in the history of the city of Portland,” Brennan told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re focused on marshaling community support and working with our educational institutions to make sure we extend every educational opportunity to people from the cradle until the career.”

Besides the city, its School Department and the Chamber of Commerce, the groups involved are Creative Portland, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, the John T. Gorman Foundation, Opportunity Alliance, Portland Public Library, Southern Maine Community College, the United Way of Greater Portland and the University of Southern Maine.

During the last several months, representatives from the groups have developed benchmark goals for the initiative.

The goals are to increase the availability of early childhood educational opportunities; for every third-grader to be able to read at a third-grade level; for Portland’s three high schools to have at least a 90 percent graduation rate by 2016; and to make sure every student who graduates from high school in Portland has the opportunity to pursue higher education, Brennan said.

In regard to the last goal, Brennan said an effort will begin to raise between $2 million and $5 million to create a endowment to provide tuitions and financial support to any Portland student who wants to continue schooling beyond high school.

“We don’t want any parent or student feeling they can’t go on to higher education because of financial constraints,” he said.

As for improving the graduation rate, the city’s three high schools have a good way to go to reach 90 percent. Deering High School has graduation rate of about 82 percent, while Casco Bay High School and Portland High School are both in the high 70 percents, according to Brennan.

Chris Hall, acting CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber, said the initiative is noteworthy because it spans the entire educational spectrum, from early childhood education to postsecondary education.

Initiatives often focus on K-12 education or higher education, Hall said.

“This time we have everybody in education on board,” Hall said. “That’s important.”

Now that the goals have been established, working groups will determine how best to meet those goals.

“How are you going to do it? That’s the next set of questions,” Hall said. “Today was fun, but now we have to do the hard work.”

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