Portland Public Schools’ Casco Bay High School Wins ‘Schools of Opportunity’ Gold

Submitted by Tess Nacelewicz, Communications Coordinator, Portland Public Schools

The Portland Public Schools’ Casco Bay High School (CBHS) is one of only seven schools from across the country this year to receive recognition as a “School of Opportunity.” The designation honors excellent public high schools that engage in research-based practices that build on students’ strengths and create rich, challenging learning opportunities for all students.

The recognitions are given in “silver” and “gold” categories. CBHS has been awarded the top honor: a 2018-2019 Gold Recognition. CBHS held a school assembly last month to inform the school community and celebrate.

After an extensive application review and culminating site visit, a team from the Schools of Opportunity high school recognition program reported to Casco Bay officials that they were “particularly impressed with the broad and rich learning opportunities that Casco Bay offers all students, and the myriad ways you extend students’ learning options through authentic, community-focused activities, meaningful assessments of students’ understanding, and relevant, inquiry-based professional development for your staff.”

Casco Bay Principal Derek Pierce said, “I am beyond proud to work in a community of teens and adults that’s committed to finding, supporting and growing the greatness in each of us, while also harnessing our collective power and voices to narrow the gap between the world we have and the world we need.”

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said, “Our Portland Promise talks about the importance of reducing the opportunity gaps that some of our students experience, as a way of helping all of our students achieve their potential. Casco Bay High School was conceived on this idea. I am grateful, but not surprised, that Casco Bay has been selected as Maine’s first ever School of Opportunity. Every day, Casco Bay’s staff works to help every student to aspire to and follow the roadmap to their greatest self. Congratulations, Casco Bay High School! All of Portland’s public schools join you in celebrating this accomplishment.”

Casco Bay and the six other 2018-2019 recipients, join 45 other public high schools that are part of the Schools of Opportunity network, an initiative of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The NEPC started the Schools of Opportunity recognition program to honor public high schools in the United States. Test scores are NOT part of the rigorous application process, which includes in-depth narratives, supporting documentation of practices, and site visits.

Instead of test scores, the designation’s criteria draw upon the principles of “Closing the Opportunity Gap,” a 2013 book jointly edited by Prudence Carter, who is the dean of the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, along with NEPC’s director Kevin Welner. The book describes research-based policies and practices with the potential to increase students’ opportunities to learn and thrive in school.

Project manager, Dr. Adam York, reports, “These schools have each demonstrated, with ample evidence, deep care and commitment to their students through equitable learning opportunities and strong positive school cultures.”

In recognizing seven new “Schools of Opportunity,” NEPC is calling attention to the kinds of approaches that can and do increase learning opportunities.

Here’s a summary of the types of opportunities the NEPC found at Casco Bay that benefit learning for all students:

Casco Bay High School’s overall educational philosophy focuses on flexible learning time to support learning expeditions that incorporate field work, culminations, week-long intensives twice a year, outside speakers, “weekly exceeds” reading and math for students to seek structured challenge beyond the core curriculum, crew meeting, and annual transformative learning experiences (Freshmen Quest, Sophomore Solo, Junior Journey, and Senior Quest).

Students have multiple expedition opportunities and a rich interdisciplinary program of project-based learning. Each year culminates in multiple exhibitions, with students sharing their work with each other and the local community. Exhibitions include themes such as Africa Rising, Income Inequality, and the Chemistry of Climate Change that allow students freedom to pursue their interests within a broader framework of social justice.

The curriculum includes ample opportunities for struggling students to catch up or for all students to enrich their experiences. In addition to within-school and after-school supports, students can earn course credits in Frost School (December), Mud School (late March), and Summer School.

The challenging, interdisciplinary curriculum works because of the collaboration and leadership of Casco Bay’s teachers. Professional development is focused on equity and Casco Bay responds to teachers’ and students’ needs. Casco Bay’s staff and administration show an amazing dedication to self-reflection as a vehicle for self-improvement.

Although Casco Bay was already exemplary in many of the Schools of Opportunity criteria, they chose to use the application process as a chance to reflect on how they can improve, which means that we can look forward to even greater things from Casco Bay High School moving forward.

Casco Bay High School is the Portland Public Schools’ newest high school, founded in 2005. The high school is a Mentor school within the EL Education network and is recognized as a national leader in project-based and “deeper” learning. It is intentionally smaller, with less than 100 students per grade level, so staff can get to know each student deeply. The 2018-2019 enrollment is 387 students.

More details are available at the project website, including expanded profiles of each of these remarkable schools, including CBHS at: http://schoolsofopportunity.org/

For an Washington Post article on these Schools of  Opportunity, including CBHS, titled “Here are 7 ‘Schools of Opportunity’ that ‘show us a way forward,’” go to: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/05/20/here-are-schools-opportunity-that-show-us-way-forward/?utm_term=.67bb282babd1