PORTLAND – A 40-year-old administrator from Philadelphia’s school system has been chosen to be Portland’s new superintendent.

Emmanuel Caulk, who grew up in public housing in Wilmington, Del., and now oversees a division of schools in the nation’s eighth-largest school district, signed a three-year contract Friday to lead Maine’s largest district.

The Portland Board of Public Education will vote July 9 to ratify the contract. Caulk would begin his new job Aug. 20, with an annual salary of $137,500.

Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder said she is impressed with Caulk’s enthusiasm and his desire to raise the academic expectations of all students, from low achievers to the top students.

She said she likes the fact that Caulk relies heavily on research and data to determine what strategies are working.

Sarah Thompson, the school board member who chaired the superintendent search committee, said Caulk excels at engaging parents, teachers and other community members.

In an interview Friday, Caulk said neither poverty nor a child’s environment should be seen as a barrier or an excuse for not learning.

He said he grew up in a household headed by a single mother and didn’t try to get good grades until sixth grade, when his teacher Robert Glines made learning relevant and exciting to him.

He said “Mr. Glines” had high expectations for all of his students and made an effort to know the students’ families. He often called parents at home to tell them how their sons and daughters were doing in school.

Caulk said the sixth-grade teacher changed his life.

“I believe teachers are in the life-saving business, and they don’t know it,” Caulk said.

Caulk has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Delaware and a law degree from the Widener University School of Law in Delaware. He is completing his dissertation to earn his doctorate from Chicago-based National Louis University.

In Philadelphia, he is an assistant superintendent in charge of a division with 36 schools and 16,500 students, more than twice Portland’s enrollment.

Of the 156,000 students in Philadelphia schools, 56 percent are African-American and 18 percent are of Hispanic origin. Portland has 7,000 students, 62 percent of whom are white.

The Philadelphia school district has a long history of financial troubles and student performance problems, although it has made strides since the state took over in 2001 and launched reforms.

According to a report prepared by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, the school district raised its high school graduation rate 23 percentage points, from 39 percent in 1995 to 62 percent in 2005. The gain was the biggest for any major urban school district in the nation.

Schools in Caulk’s division have shown improvement in reading and math, as measured by students’ performance on the state assessment, according to the Portland school board.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he had lunch with Caulk and was impressed.

“He’s bringing a lot of energy to the position and certainly has the values we were looking for, and I look forward to working with him,” he said.

The vote July 9 will be followed by a reception in the State of Maine Room at City Hall. 

Caulk would replace Jim Morse, whose contract as superintendent ends today. After three years as Portland’s superintendent, he is taking a job in New Hampshire. His salary in the last year was $131,500.

Deering High School Principal Ira Waltz will serve as acting superintendent until Caulk arrives.

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

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