PORTLAND — The city’s new school superintendent wants to form parent advisory councils in the 16 public schools to help determine how money is spent and how the community can bring additional resources.

Emmanuel Caulk spoke about the idea Monday after the Portland Board of Public Education ratified his three-year contract. He said the approach works in Philadelphia, where Caulk has been regional assistant superintendent for the past three years, overseeing a section of the city that serves 16,500 students, more than twice Portland’s enrollment.

“It truly makes a difference when parents are at the table,” he said after the meeting. “They understand the resources that a school has. But they also understand the needs and the resource gaps.”

He said parents are often able to leverage community resources to fill those gaps.

An outgoing person with an easy laugh and a fondness for sports metaphors, Caulk, 40, excels at community engagement, say members of the search committee that recommended him to replace Jim Morse, who took a job in New Hampshire after three years as Portland’s superintendent. They say Caulk’s support for parent advisory councils is indicative of his collaborative leadership style.

In Philadelphia, Caulk is known for getting out of the central office to spend time in schools and the community, said Kate Hersom, a Portland resident who served on the search committee.

One school principal told her that Caulk played basketball with a group of middle school boys every week for two months so he could encourage them to work harder in school.

She said Caulk is so well liked in Philadelphia that she feels a bit guilty that Portland has lured him away.

“I feel like we are ripping him right out of the arms of the people who love him down there,” she said.

Caulk will begin his new job on Aug. 20. He will lead a district that faces some big challenges.

School officials are struggling to meet the needs of the growing number of students who are from poor families and immigrant families. At the same time, they are under pressure from middle-class families to provide the same rigorous education that private schools and suburban schools offer.

While all of the candidates to be Portland’s superintendent talked about closing the achievement gap, Caulk was the only one who said he wanted to raise academic standards for top students, said school board member Marnie Morrione. She said that approach is what many middle-class parents want as they decide whether to send their children to Portland schools

Many immigrant families aren’t engaged in the school system and have no input, said Alfred Jacob, a Sudanese immigrant and community specialist at the school system’s Multilingual and Multicultural Center.

Jacob said he likes Caulk’s idea of creating parent advisory councils, and said that Caulk’s engaging personality will help him reach immigrant families.

“He seems like someone whom I can work with and bring different voices to the table,” Jacob said.

School board Chairwoman Kate Snyder said she is intrigued by Caulk’s idea for parent advisory councils. Now, each school principal determines how to engage with parents; Caulk’s proposal would be a district-wide approach. Snyder said it seems like a good structure for encouraging people to engage with the school system.

Speaking to the board, Caulk said parents should be engaged in partnerships with principals in “shared decision-making.”

“It takes an entire community to assure the success of its public schools,” he said.

Caulk’s three-year contract calls for a $137,500 annual salary plus 5 percent merit pay incentives in the second and third years for meeting certain goals for improving “teaching, learning and student outcomes.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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