Tell Our Story
In the beginning…
The Grade-Level Reading work in Portland, Maine grew out of a cradle-to-career partnership convened by Portland Mayor Michael F. Brennan in January 2013. The Steering Committee of this partnership, known as Portland ConnectED, comprises CEO-level leaders from political, educational, business, philanthropic, educational, and civic sectors citywide. The founding partners settled on four critical areas in which to focus the work of improving educational outcomes in Portland: school readiness, third grade reading proficiency, high school graduation, and college completion. Throughout the work, they committed to grounding decisions and accountability measures in the best available data, to reporting regularly to the community, and to reaching out to local, regional, and national partners as appropriate. Among the very first potential national partners identified was the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Strong positive local response to a March panel presentation by Ron Fairchild and a couple regional coalition heads quickly led Portland to submit a letter of intent in May and then a Community Solutions Action Plan in September 2013.
Summer of Action
Even while developing this plan and seeking more robust data, the Portland coalition did not want to let a whole summer slip by without beginning to address “the summer slide” with the help of promising practices and research from the Campaign.
The main vehicle for this effort was the 'Portland Pledge for Summer Success' media campaign, launched with the help of some excited four-year-olds on June 21st, National Summer Learning Day. By bringing together the Mayor, Superintendent, local authors and celebrities—including various beloved mascots and the fire brigade—in a series of special summer events, the coalition was able to attract local media and get the summer learning message out to families citywide. Participating children pledged to follow ‘Seven Steps for Summer Success,’ which included staying active, eating healthy meals, reading, and exploring local educational environments (including trails, museums, and municipal art installations) and to compile a summer scrapbook of these activities. Those who took the pledge were entered in a drawing, and five winners and their parents had a chance to “Brown Bag and Book Browse” with the mayor and district superintendent: lunching, playing games, and book shopping together. One parent, a New Mainer enrolled in ESL classes at Portland Adult Education, introduced herself to school officials by noting, "I'm your student too!"
Portland also expanded the capacity of existing summer programs, adding a new Bookmobile and doubling its capacity to ensure that its route regularly included the expanded array of summer food service sites, where the Bookmobile crew provided not just books for borrowing, but storytelling, arts & crafts activities, book giveaways, and other enrichment. Thanks to heightened awareness and this sort of enrichment, participation in the Portland Public Schools’ summer lunch sites doubled this summer.
The Portland Public Library’s new Bookmobile brings, books, newspapers, internet, guest readers, and summer learning to every corner of the community.
To capture this momentum and facilitate further data development and programming improvements, Portland has already begun the process of planning for Summer 2014 by holding the first sessions of a three-stage Summer Summit. The first stage brought everyone involved in summer programming together to begin sharing information and building relationships. The second stage, with the help of a local summer learning expert, will feature more formal self-assessments, a review of best practices nationwide, and preliminary recommendations for Summer 2014. In early March, the group will begin the organization and implementation of these recommendations to prepare for even more summer success.
Meanwhile, with its CSAP submitted, Portland has begun a two-pronged review process: one through the Campaign’s peer review protocol, and the other through ever-expanding circles of community conversations. Both parallel processes will include further development of chronic absence and school readiness strategies. Hedy Chang of AttendanceWorks will be coming to Portland in January to help inform and catalyze efforts around our locally developed “Count ME In” framework to address chronic absence and tardiness. A multi-sector group has already convened to discern school readiness definitions and strategies, including at least one indicator rooted in early developmental health outcomes. And another team will soon work on articulating a separate strategy dedicated to effective literacy instruction. By testing assumptions and filling gaps in the initial proposals, while simultaneously honing these proposals with a results-based accountability analysis, the coalition seeks to achieve full community investment in clear, effective, actionable strategies.
Expanding the Circle of Learning
In the meantime, even as the local coalition continues to meet and plan for full implementation of the CSAP, Portland also just hosted a first-ever New England Regional GLR Summit. Members of the Portland coalition had called right from the outset for a continuation of the sort of learning circle that had taken place in March; having spent a good deal of time focused on developing internal understandings and approaches, they saw the fall CSAP submission as a good milestone at which to reach back out to regional peers in order to learn more from one another. Delegations from five New England states wended their way to the seaside meeting on October 30th and stayed through the whole day--despite the fact that that very evening the Boston Red Sox would be winning the World Series at Fenway—and breaking the “Curse of the Bambino” once and for all! Based on resoundingly positive feedback from the roughly 50 participants, Mike Dixon, Portland ConnectED’s Director and LOI Lead, looks forward to working with other team leaders to building this regionwide learning community so that GLR communities throughout New England can continue to connect, to build relationships, to update each other on progress and lessons learned, and, as one participant observed, to "steal shamelessly from one another." “At the end of the day,” said Dixon, “the more we can learn from kindred spirits in neighboring communities as we undertake this work, the more we can ensure improved outcomes and brighter prospects for all our children.”