Proposal to combine Portland high schools raises interest and questions

A proposal for a consolidated high school in Portland that would also include vocational and technical components, and possibly adult education, at one facility sparked interest and questions from school board members and students on Wednesday.

The concept is still in its early stages and lacks details, but the school district has asked the state for a timeline waiver so that it can be considered for funding school construction projects that integrate high schools into the classroom. vocational and technical education. The Maine State Board of Education’s building committee will review the application later this month and decide whether or not to advance it to the full board.

The district is asking the state to consider Portland High School and Portland Arts & Technology High School, or PATHS, for the project, as these two schools are already on the list of top capital construction priorities for the State. But the project could lead to wider consolidation, with Deering High School and Portland Adult Education also included in a state-funded institution.

“I am very supportive of seeking public funding to build a state-of-the-art high school in Portland that includes vocational, technical and adult education,” School Board President Emily Figdor said in a statement. E-mail.

“However, the state has never funded a project like this before and has only renovated or rebuilt a handful of schools in the past decade. But I certainly hope the state will grant our waiver and allow us to start this conversation. “

If successful, the proposal could bring big changes to Portland public schools. The district currently has three high schools, Portland, Deering, and Casco Bay, in addition to PATHS, which is a vocational and technical school that attracts students from across the region. The district declined to speak to high school principals and the principal of PATHS on Wednesday, saying Superintendent Xavier Botana was the district spokesperson on the proposal.

Several students outside of high schools said they had not heard of the proposal and none expressed strong feelings for or against a consolidated school. The district announced the news of the proposal in a newsletter last week and it was raised by the superintendent at the school board meeting last week.

“It’s quite a good idea, I guess, for all the kids to be together,” said Devin Walker, a freshman at Portland High. “In college, there’s a bunch of friends and then they leave (for high school) and don’t see each other. So I think that might be an interesting idea.

Devin Walker, a freshman at Portland High School, said there are pros and cons to a proposal to consolidate high schools in the city. For one thing, college friends would have a better chance of maintaining friendships at the same high school. On the flip side, there is enormous pride in individual schools, Walker said. Ben McCanna / Team Photographer

At the same time, Walker said many students also have strong allegiances to their schools. “I think people might be upset, actually,” he said. “I know there is a lot of school spirit.

Octavia Mimande, a freshman at Deering, said there are rivalries and even dislike between some students from different high schools, which could be problematic in any consolidation proposal. At the same time, a nurturing could be a good way for students who have friends in other schools to get together. “I think it would probably be a good idea as there are personnel there who could prevent the fighting from happening,” Mimande said.

“I think it could be useful because we have friendships at other different schools around here,” she added.

School board member Adam Burk said in an email on Wednesday that there were many questions about the proposal and the decision to support it would depend on details as yet unclear if the proposal ended up going from the bottom up. before at the state level.

“I am grateful that the Superintendent, Councilor (Pious) Ali and others have sought out creative opportunities to meet the educational needs of our time,” said Burk.

Burk said some parents were asking questions about things like the proposed location for the new school, what would happen to the Portland and Deering buildings, and how the district would ensure that a larger school did not create a more transactional and less personal experience. for students.

“From there, my questions continue,” Burk said. “What are the equity considerations in this context? How could a new integrated and consolidated school enable us to create opportunities that we will never have within our current structure? “

In 2017, the Maine Department of Education launched a call for applications for innovative school construction projects that would integrate high schools with vocational and technical education, include collaboration with higher education, and extend the programming. However, the ministry has yet to build such a school and two of the three projects on its approved construction list have either withdrawn or are no longer eligible.

Most of the proposals come from rural areas, and Botana said this week that the District of Portland was not aware of the funding opportunity when it was announced by the state. He said it has become increasingly clear that Portland High or PATHS, which are ranked 15th and 25th respectively on the state’s top capital construction priority list, is unlikely to get a individual public funding soon.

By offering a consolidated high school that integrates vocational and technical education, Botana said the district could have access to another source of state funding and have a better chance of being approved. “I would like to bring this to a public conversation that here is an opportunity for us to consider having a state-of-the-art high school in Portland that is not paid for by Portland taxpayers but allows us to create a 21st century.” secondary and post-secondary for all of our students, ”he said.

It all depends on whether the state will approve Portland’s request. In a worst-case scenario, Botana said the discussion could help the district prepare for the next round of state-funded school construction. Or he said the state might ask for more details, in which case it could be months before a formal proposal is ready.

“I can see a scenario where the State Council says, ‘This is interesting. Why not take three or six months and come back with a more detailed proposal, ”he said. “If we were at this location I would be extremely happy as it would give us the opportunity to come back with a proposal on what it would look like.”

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