As the new school year begins, the staff of the Portland Public Schools is focusing on how we can best meet our students’ needs. We are launching many exciting initiatives this year that will serve that purpose.

Lyseth Elementary School will begin Maine’s first full-immersion Spanish program in a public school. The program will provide instruction in Spanish almost the entire day. It will begin in one kindergarten class and expand to include more students and more grades. Those who master a world language have a huge advantage when they enter the workforce. Experts say immersion is the best way to learn and that early elementary school is the ideal time to begin.

Students at all grade levels will have more opportunities to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math activities. Those in grades seven through 12 will be able to create, explore and make STEM projects in class and after school through the Portland Makers program. The district’s STEM activities will be showcased at a symposium in November.

The Portland Public Schools will launch a virtual instruction program in September. We expect the program to attract primarily home-schooled students. They will have access to courses offered by Pearson’s Connections Learning, the same company that provides courses for Maine’s virtual charter school. By offering this program within the Portland School Department, we hope to keep local tax dollars in the city.

Portland High School ninth-graders will participate in the Freshman Success Academy, to help them make a successful transition from middle school to high school. Portland High upperclassmen will choose from career-themed pathways in the arts, health and natural sciences, law and public service and engineering, architecture and trades. Each pathway will cover core academic subjects while giving students the opportunity to explore careers that interest them.

Deering High School students will spend the entire year learning about poverty and hunger and how they can make a difference addressing those issues. That topic, selected with student input, will be woven throughout the curriculum. Deering has adopted a global focus and it is the first school in New England to join the International Studies Schools Network.

Casco Bay High School is expanding this fall to about 370 students, as it takes over space previously used by Central Office. The school’s Expeditionary Learning model will involve students in interdisciplinary projects that address timely social justice issues from climate change to conflicts in the Middle East.

Reiche Community School’s kindergarten classes will continue to partner with the Portland Symphony Orchestra on programs that help students develop social and academic skills as they learn about music.

You can find out more about all of these initiatives on our district’s website,

Our website also features profiles of two graduates who followed their own pathways to success by pursuing strong interests:

• Kimara Nzamubona, a Congolese immigrant, enrolled in Portland High School in the fall of his junior year speaking almost no English. Six years later, he has a chemistry degree from Colby College and he is pursuing a career in environmental engineering. See a video of him on YouTube.

• Julie Anderson heard the viola for the first time as a student at Longfellow Elementary School, and she fell in love with the instrument. The district’s music teachers guided and encouraged her. A Deering graduate, Anderson now works as a musician and music teacher, appearing with groups ranging from the Bangor Symphony Orchestra to Ray LaMontagne. See her profile on YouTube, too.

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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