The Portland Public Schools has launched Pathways to Success, a remodeling of our entire educational system to prepare students for an increasingly global and fast-changing world. This year’s eighth-graders will be among the first to benefit from our efforts to customize each student’s learning experience.

These eighth-graders and their families have an opportunity unmatched in the state of Maine to choose a high school that best suits their needs, interests and learning styles. Students have access to three city high schools, each with its own personality and special offerings, plus 20 programs at Portland Arts and Technology High School.

We are using new teaching strategies and tools designed to help each student meet rigorous standards, develop his or her interests and prepare for college, work and life. The Nellie Mae Education Foundation awarded our district a highly competitive $5 million grant to jump-start Pathways to Success, beginning with our high schools.

Our three high schools – Deering, Portland and Casco Bay – have much in common. All offer a student-centered approach to learning that allows young people to make choices while giving them the guidance needed to succeed. Students have access to a full range of courses in mathematics, language arts, science, social studies, world languages and fine arts, including Advanced Placement courses. Qualified students also can take courses at local colleges and universities.

The great staff at our high schools forge strong relationships with students and support their emotional and social growth. Students can choose from a wide array of co-curricular activities such as athletics, drama, service clubs and musical groups. They can explore career possibilities by arranging internships and job shadowing at local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

So, what makes each of our high schools unique?

Located on the peninsula, Portland High School claims the city as its campus. The school has forged a partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Beginning next year, teams of teachers will share a common set of freshmen students. In subsequent years, students in grades 10 through 12 will be able to choose from career-themed academies. They will learn skills such as creative problem-solving and teamwork that are needed in the modern workplace. With help from staff, they will create college and career plans.

Deering High School has a proud history of academic achievement and more than 50 co-curricular activities. Deering is adding a global focus to all subject areas next year through its partnership with the International Studies Schools Network. Students will investigate the world through interdisciplinary projects, develop proficiency in a second language and take action in their community. Deering is joining a network of about 30 ISSN schools throughout the country; it will be the first in New England.

Casco Bay High School, the district’s newest and smallest high school, aims for every student to “Get Smart to Do Good.” Recognized nationally as a leader in Expeditionary Learning, CBHS involves students in long-term explorations of social justice questions. For each learning expedition, students conduct field work and create authentic projects, products or performances that demonstrate their mastery of core academic standards. Twice a year, CBHS offers week-long electives in topics ranging from songwriting to winter camping.

For eighth-graders who have difficulty deciding what to wear in the morning, choosing a high school can seem daunting. The good news is that Portland offers three excellent choices. We have developed a set of offerings across these schools that honor what we know from the research: that each learner has a unique pathway to success.

We have planned a series of open houses and step-up days for families to learn about our high schools. You can find out more at

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Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at [email protected]. Read his blog at