February 22, 2013

Portland mayor to unveil new education initiatives

Part of his plan will include a multimillion-dollar endowment to help Portland public-school students afford post-secondary educations.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Mayor Michael Brennan on Monday will announce a new education partnership with nine community organizations that's intended to provide "cradle-to-career" support for children, students and workers.

click image to enlarge

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

That partnership will lead to a multimillion-dollar endowment to help Portland students afford post-secondary education, Brennan said Friday.

Brennan said in a prepared statement that the partnership will connect the education, business, nonprofit, civic and philanthropic sectors. It will focus on strategies that he said are proven to work: early childhood education, kindergarten through 12th-grade literacy, and post-secondary training.

"Portland ConnectED will connect the dots between these stages and will put all Portland children on a pathway to a satisfying and promising career," said Brennan, who has made education a linchpin of his term in office.

Joining in the effort are Creative Portland, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, the John T. Gorham Foundation, the Opportunity Alliance, the Portland Public Library, Portland Public Schools, the Portland Regional Chamber, Southern Maine Community College and the United Way of Greater Portland.

Specifics of the partnership will be explained at a news conference Monday morning at Portland High School.

A news release issued by the city Friday laid out the group's general goals:

• Increasing kindergarten readiness.

• Having students reach grade-level reading proficiency by third grade.

• Exceeding the state goal of 90 percent high school graduation.

• Creating an endowment dedicated to supporting post-secondary enrollment, persistence and completion.

Early childhood education -- for children up to age 8 -- has been an increasing focus of the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, said Executive Director Nancy Brain.

Brain said the group first focused on college graduation rates and concluded that students dropped out because they weren't prepared in high school.

She later found that students struggled in high school because they had fallen behind much earlier in school.

Research shows that a child's brain is mostly developed by the age of 3. Children who are nurtured and educated during that time do better in school and life, Brain said.

"If you start behind the eight ball, you're almost dead in the water," she said.

Brain said the foundation will initially share its knowledge and connections in the fields of early childhood education.

"(Brennan) is pulling people together to work together so there aren't all of these parallel efforts," she said.

Brennan said in an interview Friday that he will work with the Portland Regional Chamber to establish an endowment program to help Portland students attend at least two years at a community college.

"We're probably talking about somewhere between $2 million to $5 million," Brennan said.

The group also is looking for ways to help students attend the University of Southern Maine.

Chris Hall, acting chief executive officer for the Portland Regional Chamber, said he is optimistic that the group will be able to fund the endowment, given the large number of employers that are looking for skilled workers. "It's an unprecedented priority, at least in my time," Hall said. "I think, over time, ($2 million to $5 million) is very doable."

It's unclear what requirements students would have to meet to receive the funding, which could be used for tuition, living expenses and textbooks.

"Those are the details were still working on," Brennan said.

 

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

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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