2012-10-05 / People

Schools officials look ahead

Mission statement looked at after 20 years
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — For the last two decades, the South Portland School Department has operated according to a mission and vision statement that has stood up to an annual staff review year after year.

That document, written in 1992, outlined a vision for South Portland staff, teachers and students in the 21st century. South Portland Superintendent Suzanne Godin said the vision and beliefs have surprisingly not become dated over the years, but even if the previous version has worked, there is still a need to consider the future.

“Every year we’d say, ‘Wow, this is really good for being 20 years old, but we have a need to make sure we’re still looking forward.”

So this year, the South Portland Board of Education charged the school department with the task of revisiting the mission and beliefs document. A steering committee of teachers and staff has been working to collect input from students and staff, and now they have turned their attention to the community.

A community forum was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 3, after the Sentry’s deadline, at the South Portland Community Center to hear from parents and community members about what they want to see as a long-term focus in the city’s schools.

Steering committee member Becky Brown said the process to update the mission is underway “not necessarily because it needs changing, but to make sure it is still relevant and timely.”

Brown previously worked as principal of Dyer Elementary School before she took a position this year as the school department’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

“Our world is changing and it is vital that the educational programming we provide reflects these important changes,” Godin’s office wrote in a release.

Godin said the committee will ask guests at the community forum for answers to three main questions that they also asked teachers, staff and students: what are three things about the school system that you value and would want to preserve?; what are three things about the education system you feel should be different and will result in greater student engagement?; and what do you believe South Portland students need to know in the future?

Brown said she hopes the community forum brings more attention to the process, which has mostly flown under the radar so far.

“I’m not so sure people are fully engaged in the process yet, which is why we’re doing the community forum, to engage parents in the discussion,” Brown said.

Now that she’s no longer in a classroom building every day, Brown said she’s not sure what long-term issues the community will focus on. Godin, meanwhile, said she wants to finish collecting feedback before making a judgment about what direction the new strategic plan for the schools will take. But there are a few areas that parents tend to bring up more often than others, she said.

One of those issues is what to do with the city’s two middle schools, Mahoney and Memorial. Previously, the city’s school facilities committee focused on the high school. With that project well underway, Godin said attention will turn to how to update the aging middle school facilities, and how to do so in a financially conscious manner.

For the remainder of fall, the steering committee, made up of administrators, teachers and students, will continue to collect feedback. Godin said she anticipates at least one more community forum, if not two, and hopes more community members get involved in the process. From there, a new committee will be formed to draft language based on feedback from the public, a process that may stretch into spring.

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