Thursday, December 5, 2002

Cape looks out of state for other “world class” schools

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth has joined forces with two school districts, one in Missouri and one in Pennsylvania, and is looking for as many as four more “like-minded” districts to form a national consortium of schools seeking to be “world-class.”

At a two-day meeting in Portland in November, Superintendent Tom Forcella, curriculum coordinator Sarah Simmonds and School Board Chairman Marie Prager met with superintendents and assistant superintendents from Clayton, Mo., and the Palisades School District, north of Philadelphia, Pa.

“We did a lot of sharing about our districts,” Forcella said. And while the districts knew they were similar in some ways, they discovered other ways that surprised them. Beyond being districts that are well known in their own states for being strong educationally, all three districts are now teaching physics first in their high school science curriculum, something that is becoming more common but is still the exception, rather than the rule, for U.S. high schools.

Several school districts have contacted the American Associa- tion of School Administrators, seeking to join the Cape-Clayton-Palisades group, and the group’s next meeting in March will include a discussion of which schools to include.

Districts they are looking at will include those who “really have a commitment to being world-class,” Forcella said. Like Cape, he said, those districts would look not only at standardized test scores, but also at the quality of citizens and students in the district.

The school districts will be working on developing “professional learning communities,” Forcella said, and focus on quality instruction and student achievement.

Forcella said there is real value in talking to districts outside the state that are working toward similar goals. Instead of talking about state-mandated programs, Forcella said, school officials talk about actual educational issues they are facing.

“The conversations are different,” Forcella said, than those he has with superintendents from other Maine school districts.

He said the schools have real opportunities to learn from each other. The Missouri and Pennsylvania officials expressed interest in observing the lesson-study project at Pond Cove School, but they didn’t know about it before last week’s meeting, meaning they will have to wait until a future visit.

Forcella and the Missouri officials will observe a “walkthrough” program at the Pennsylvania schools in March. There, a team of people, including someone from the local university and teachers and administrators from other district schools, will visit a school and spend an entire day talking to students about their experiences and issues. At the end of the day, the visitors meet with the faculty to discuss what they have learned.

Forcella said that is a good way to get a sense of how things are going in a school without taking a lot of time to do so. He expects future consortium meetings to include people from the districts who have similar jobs, such as all the principals.

“We think alike,” Forcella said of the school officials in the group.