Principals of Portland’s’ three middle schools stressed the importance of how their schools are structured Tuesday night as the district takes a second look at potential cost savings associated with a grade-level reorganization.

A facilities and enrollment study conducted last year generated several proposals for re-configuring the district’s grade levels. No action was taken after the community opposed a suggestion to consolidate two of the three high schools in the district and form a single grade 7-9 junior high school.

“This fall as we’ve been preparing for the upcoming budget year, as part of that work we’ve had multiple conversations between staff and board members to review multiple options for potential cost savings,” Superintendent Xavier Botana told the Portland Board of Public Education Tuesday night. “As a result we have re-visited the facilities and enrollment study recommendations.”

Botana said the goal of Tuesday’s discussion was to stress the importance of the current middle school model, which includes a team structure of teachers and students who stick together for core classes, smaller advisory groups to provide social and emotional support, and time for elective classes.

“It’s very important context for the board and community to understand why we organize the middle grades the way we do,” Botana said. “Our goal for tonight is to establish that this form of organization is not random or force of habit. It’s founded in sound research in how to best meet the needs of what researchers call early adolescence.”

The district currently enrolls 1,464 middle school students in three schools: King Middle School, Lincoln Middle School and Lyman Moore Middle School.


Principals at all three schools Tuesday stressed the importance of the current model, compared to a junior high model structured more like a traditional high school, where students have different teachers and students in each class.

“The team structure is really unique,” said Suellyn Santiago, principal at Lincoln Middle School, adding that the structure benefits students and also allows teachers to have collaborative time together. “You don’t see that at the elementary or middle schools.”

Caitlin LeClair, principal at King, talked about the benefits of having advisory groups of about 15 students that meet with a teacher for 60 to 135 minutes each week.

“It’s more than a structure,” LeClair said. “It’s part of a culture that compels all students and teachers to really work together and make the school community a great place.”

The discussion comes almost a year after a commission tasked with studying facilities, enrollment and potential cost savings came up with potential models for re-organizing grade levels, but held back on recommending any particular one.

In February, community members pushed back on a recommendation to combine Portland and Deering high schools into one 10-12 school and create a single junior high for grades 7-9.


The proposal would have resulted in a one-time cost savings of $2.8 million, but the commission ended up rejecting any proposal to re-organize schools.

Instead it sent the findings of an outside consultant to the school board and recommended that the board look at filling excess space in schools with programs currently housed elsewhere, and that any future consideration to re-configure schools “not be done hastily.”

Currently, the middle schools have the lowest space utilization, at about 50 percent capacity. The cost per student per year is $8,892 compared to $7,217 at the elementary schools and $7,102 at the high schools.



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