Portland and Sanford Communities Receive $9m in Grants

The following was released today by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Nellie Mae Education Foundation supports student-centered learning initiatives

QUINCY, MA – Two Maine communities received three-year grants from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF), the largest charitable organization in New England focused exclusively on education, totaling more than $9 million to support “student-centered” approaches to learning. Over the three-year period, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) will receive $5.1 million to support a project in conjunction with Portland Public Schools, and the Sanford School Department will receive $3.7 million. Grants of $130,000 each were also awarded to the City of Portland’s Refugee Services Program and the Safe and Healthy Sanford Coalition.

“The combined challenges of more learners needing to succeed and succeed at a higher level, led us to these partners,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO of NMEF. “We believe that these grantees are most aligned with our theory of change. They each had a three-year plan that was developed collaboratively by the district and its key stakeholders, and have displayed strong collaborations with community partners.  We look forward to seeing their successes.”

Grants are being made under NMEF’s District-Level Systems Change initiative that NMEF is using to promote the implementation of student-centered approaches. The grants are aimed at replacing the current system’s “one-size-fits-all” methodology, and built around the fact that different students learn in different ways. Strategies that will be employed include flexibility with respect to how time is used, as well as the expansion of learning opportunities beyond school walls and outside of the traditional school calendar. Other approaches include harnessing the broader community to support and deepen learning experiences; using curriculum, instruction and assessment that promotes the skills and knowledge needed for success in college, work and life; and basing advancement on demonstration of proficiency in skills and knowledge.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said the goals of the grants align closely with the Maine Department of Education’s strategic plan and vision for the future of education in Maine.

“It’s exciting to see these school districts in Maine embracing the goal of a learner-centered education system,” said Bowen. “Nellie Mae has continued to show its support for Maine and the growing number of Maine schools and educators who are committing to innovations aimed at improving teaching and learning.”


JMG will use the grant to support a partnership between the Portland Public Schools and several community-based organizations to design student-centered pathway systems that will better meet the needs of all students in Portland’s public high schools. JMG’s mission is to identify students who face barriers to education and to guide each one on to a successful path toward continued education, a meaningful career, and productive adulthood. As the lead support organization for this initiative, JMG’s role is to link and serve as a bridge between the high schools, employers, and key strategic partners such as LearningWorks Inc. and the City of Portland’s Refugee Services Program.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our high schools to create personalized learning models that can benefit all students in the Portland Public Schools,” said Portland Superintendent James C. Morse, Sr. “The investment in professional development for our teachers and the formal collaboration with JMG, LearningWorks, and the City of Portland supports the District’s Comprehensive Plan and our mission to build relationships among families, educators, and the community to promote the healthy development and academic achievement of every learner.”

Extensive community engagement will be conducted on behalf of this partnership, and the City of Portland’s Social Services Division for Refugee Services is collaborating with several entities such as the Portland Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United Way of Greater Portland.

“This partnership provides an incredible opportunity to diminish educational disparities by strengthening the community’s trust, understanding and access to educational equity,” says Regina Phillips, program coordinator for Refugee Services for the City of Portland.


The grant will help the Sanford School Department remodel its education system using innovative approaches that have been shown to engage young people more fully in their learning–toward a more prosperous future for everyone in the community.

“Sanford School Department’s vision is perfectly aligned with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s call for an educational system that will help more learners prosper at high levels of achievement,” said David Theoharides, Sanford’s Superintendent of Schools. “We are steadfast in our commitment to help every student obtain the skills, knowledge and support needed to become civically engaged and economically self sufficient lifelong learners. We are proud to have Nellie Mae’s support and see them as a full partner in our work.”

Joining the Sanford Schools in this effort is the Safe and Healthy Sanford Coalition, a highly energized effort in Sanford to bring together all elements of the community working toward a common goal of giving all youth in Sanford the opportunity to thrive. Since its founding in 2009, membership in the coalition has grown to over 100, including representatives from non-profits, the police department, school department, juvenile justice, Department of Health and Human Services, York County Community Action, Goodall Hospital, early childhood providers, local businesses, the Sanford News, faith-based organizations, parents and students. The Coalition will engage key stakeholders to become active participants in the implementation of this significant school change effort.

“The Coalition stands as a ready community partner to the Sanford School Department in this significant remodeling of our educational system,” said Rachel Phipps, Executive Director of the Safe and Healthy Sanford Coalition. “Our goal is to engage the entire Sanford community and to create ways for the community voice to be fully integrated into the implementation process.”

About the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest charitable organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education. The Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the middle and high school levels across New England. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a three-part strategy that focuses on: developing and enhancing models of practice; reshaping education policies; and increasing public understanding and demand for high quality educational experiences. The Foundation’s initiative areas are: District Level Systems Change; State Level Systems Change; Research and Development; and Public Understanding. Since 1998, the Foundation has distributed over $123 million in grants. For more information, visit www.nmefoundation.org.


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