PORTLAND — Since I arrived in Portland last August, I’ve been talking to people at every opportunity to learn about our school district’s strengths and how best to prepare our city and our young people for a strong and prosperous future. I’ve struck up conversations at the drugstore, in grocery store checkout lines and while walking around Back Cove.

During the fall, I hosted 11 Listening & Learning sessions all over the city to hear from parents, students, community members and district staff.

Our district also held nine focus groups, and we surveyed our staff. All told, we collected feedback from more than 1,000 people.

I’ve learned that our community really values public education. Students and parents share a high regard for the Portland Public Schools’ dedicated, caring staff. Portland residents appreciate the range of services offered by our district, from pre-kindergarten to adult education classes.

But we cannot afford to rest on past accomplishments. Since its establishment in 1821, the Portland Public Schools always has adapted to the times. Today, our rapidly changing, global society demands that we adapt once again. It’s time to remodel our schools for 21st-century success.

Because the world that our young people will inherit will be complex and uncertain, and because all of the jobs of tomorrow will require high skill levels, we must ensure that all students have the multitude of opportunities that will enable them to achieve at the highest levels. We must ensure that every student graduates ready for college, career and citizenship.

The pathway to success starts with the skills that children develop when they are 3 and 4 years old. That’s why our district has set a goal of providing universal access to pre-kindergarten classes.

By third grade, all of our students should be reading at or above grade level. That’s the single most important skill for success, both in school and in life.

While setting rigorous standards, we are implementing cutting-edge approaches to teaching that put greater emphasis on students collaborating, using technology, tapping into their creativity and applying learning to real-life situations.

In this student-centered approach, our teachers serve as coaches and mentors. They monitor students’ growth, tailor instruction to their learning styles and provide support or accelerated learning opportunities as needed.

We are providing more learning opportunities outside of the school walls and the traditional hours of the school day.

Our goal is to have all students participate in career experiences such as job shadows and internships by the time they graduate from high school. The career focus helps motivate students by connecting their academic work to future goals.

We need to prepare our students for the global marketplace. By the time they graduate from high school, they should be able to converse in a second language.

We also want students to stretch themselves by taking the most rigorous courses possible in high school, whether that is honors-level courses, Advanced Placement classes or dual-enrollment classes that earn them college credit.

Students need to learn the importance of giving back to the community that supported their education. That’s why I will be proposing a requirement that all students perform community service before graduation.

I wake up every morning excited about the opportunity to create a world-class school system in Portland.

I encourage every Portland resident to become part of this effort: Become a mentor. Offer an internship or job shadow to a high school student. Provide donations or in-kind services to your local school. Our community’s considerable assets surely can be harnessed on behalf of Portland’s children.

All of our lives are richer when we shape our collective future together.

Emmanuel Caulk is Portland Public Schools superintendent.

– Special to the Press Herald