PORTLAND — Two southern Maine school systems will be receiving millions of dollars in privately funded grant money to help better prepare high school students for college and careers.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, based in Quincy, Mass., announced that Portland public schools will receive $5.1 million and Sanford schools $3.7 million.

The grant money must be spent over the next three and half years on “student centered learning initiatives,” according to a news release issued Tuesday by the charitable organization, which has distributed $123 million in grants since 1998.

Nicholas C. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the foundation, said the grants aim to replace the education system’s “one size fits all” approach.

Donohue said the grants recognize that students learn in different ways. The funds could be used to expand learning opportunities outside class or on programs that may not coincide with the regular school calendar.

“Parents may ultimately stop seeing report cards with A, B or C grades on it and instead start seeing what it is that their student can do (in terms of skills),” said Sanford School Superintendent Dave Theoharides.

Theoharides and Portland Superintendent James Morse said the grants represent some of the largest privately funded, competitive grants the two districts have ever received.

The Portland grant will help fund a partnership between Portland schools and Jobs for Maine Graduates, a nonprofit that helps at-risk young people stay in school. Jobs for Maine will identify at-risk Portland students and help them continue their education after high school or find a career.

Jobs for Maine Graduates will also act as a bridge linking Portland High School, Deering High School and Casco Bay High School to potential employers. The arrangement will include a collaboration with LearningWorks Inc., which provides learning opportunities across southern Maine for at-risk youths, immigrants and low-income families, and the city of Portland’s Refugee Services Program.

“It’s going to a very specific purpose, to increase our graduation rates and to make sure our students are prepared for college or a career,” Morse said.

According to Morse, 20 percent of Portland students do not graduate from high school. About 70 percent of the city’s high school graduates are accepted into colleges.There are 7,000 students in Portland schools.

“Twenty percent is high, but not when you look around the country,” Morse explained. In metropolitan areas such as Chicago or Los Angeles, only 50 percent of students graduate from high school, he said. “We can improve on both of those (categories) with this money.”

Theoharides said Sanford is already working with a community group – the Safe and Healthy Sanford Coalition – to ensure that Sanford young people have an opportunities after high school.

The grant money will only help with those efforts, which already include having students spend time at businesses they might be interested in. Theoharides said student-centered learning is a departure from how most schools operate.

“It’s not just sitting at a desk anymore,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]