PORTLAND, Maine — Only two people from the community attended the Portland school board’s first public hearing Tuesday to solicit feedback on proposed changes to high school graduation requirements. Both of them criticized the policy draft, which would require that students apply to college, a vocational program or the military in order to receive a diploma.
“It’s not realistic. The world doesn’t need everyone in college. Not everyone is interested in college,” said Pandika Pleqi, who has a child graduating from Portland High this year and a child in eighth grade at Lincoln Middle School. “We should not tell them what to do with their diploma. What they do should be their choice.”
The proposed new requirements, which are recommend by the board’s Graduation Policy Task Force, are designed to align district policies with a new state law requiring districts to move toward a proficiency-based system.
The state has outlined areas in which graduating students must be proficient, but how proficiency is measured is left up to the districts, which are also allowed to add additional requirements. Along with submitting an application to another educational program as a requirement, the task force also suggested requiring a capstone project before graduation.
According to some school board members, the issue is the language used in the draft. Right now, this requirement only exists as a single sentence in the policy, which lists submitting an application to a “post-secondary educational institution or training program” as a graduation requirement.
“We’ve had intense discussion about the language used, so it’s good that these questions are coming from parents as well,” said at-large board member Pious Ali, who also stated that there was flexibility in what “training program” could include.
Tim Rozan, who has two elementary school children in the district, criticized the lack of specificity and lack of citation to other programs in the draft.
“I can make lots of recommendations, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to work,” said Rozan, who was also opposed to the application submission requirement.
““In one fell swoop you’ve alienated about 40 percent of the people,” said Rozan. “I think it’s a great goal to get everyone to want to do that [apply to college], but is it feasible? It’s a good idea, but telling someone they can’t be a lobsterman is kind of wrong. Or that they can’t be a farmer.”
Pleqi suggested the application and capstone project be considered extra credit and that students who complete them receive additional honors upon graduation.
“It’s a lot of work, too much work for most,” said Pleqi. “If they [students] are fighting to get into Harvard and this project will help them, go for it, but we should not make this a requirement for everyone.”
“Based on our mission of having every student college and career-ready, we feel we should back that up with an action and show that we are supporting them all the way through,” Marnie Morrione, who chairs the board’s curriculum committee, said of the requirements.
David Galin, chief academic officer for Portland schools, said that a lot of these requirements already have roots in many of Portland’s schools and that a policy would just hammer in the skills already being taught.
“I cannot envision a system where 100 percent of students go to college, but it’s not to us to close the door …,” said Galin. “Deciding not to continue is very different from a student saying, I’m not prepared.”
Another public hearing on the new requirements will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, at Casco Bay High School and the full school board is scheduled to vote on the new graduation policy on June 24.
“There’s a lot of flexibility right now, even though it doesn’t seem so with the language,” said Morrione. “The feedback we’ve received has been valuable and I hope to hear from the community more next week.”