Portland’s public school system is “in good shape and getting better all the time,” and it’s still committed to becoming the best small urban school district in the country by 2017, the head of the school board said in her State of the Schools address Monday night.

Sarah Thompson, who chairs the Portland Board of Public Education, told the City Council that the district continues to plan for facilities upgrades that have been studied over the years. The biggest challenge is rebuilding Hall Elementary School, which is lined up for state funding after being damaged by fire in 2012.

Thompson also said the district is planning curriculum changes as the state moves toward adoption of the Common Core standards. “We are also increasing learning time,” she said.

She said the school budget proposed for 2015-16 is “austere and modest,” especially in light of uncertainty surrounding the state budget process.

Thompson said the District Scorecard developed by Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk is one example of how the school district is accountable and transparent.

While the District Scorecard highlights positive results for fifth-grade reading and writing and 11th-grade math and an increase in SAT scores, she said, third-graders who are black or economically disadvantaged trailed other groups.

“That’s important to know because third-grade reading ability is a key indicator of future academic success,” she said.

She noted that more than 26 percent of parents responded to a survey that was offered in English and seven other languages. More than 90 percent of those parents indicated that they felt the schools were safe and they felt respected.

Also, 50 percent of high schoolers participated in the survey, she said, and 91 percent found their courses challenging and 95 percent planned to graduate from high school.

Thompson also highlighted awards and certifications earned by the staff, and other initiatives, including the principal-for-a-day program, which puts business leaders in public schools, and an expansion of science and math education.

“Even with competition from charter schools, our schools offer the best opportunity for robust learning in science and math,” she said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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