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Portland Undertakes New Effort to Boost Graduation Rates
02/25/2013   Reported By: Samantha Fields

Improving Maine's high school graduation rate was a subject of discussion in Portland this morning. Mayor Michael Brennan, along with local education, business and non-profit leaders, unveiled a new initiative designed to improve education and support for children and families in the city, from birth through higher education.  Samantha Fields has more.

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Portland Undertakes New Effort to Boost Graduation
Originally Aired: 2/25/2013 5:30 PM

There are two fundamental ideas behind this new initiative, called "Portland ConnectED." One, essentially, is that old adage that "it takes a village to raise a child." The other is an idea that seems to be gaining traction nationwide: that in order for kids to succeed in high school and college, early childhood education is key.

Together, those form the basis for what Portland Mayor Michael Brennan describes as "one of the most significant and far-reaching educational partnerships in the history of the city of Portland."

Among the initiative's primary goals are achieving "kindergarten readiness," making sure all students are proficient in reading by the time they finish third grade, meeting or exceeding the state goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate, and creating a fund to help low-income students afford college.

To achieve those goals, the city is partnering with schools, businesses, non-profits and philanthropic organizations in the hopes of raising money and coming up with creative solutions. Tony Cipillone is president of the John T. Gorman Foundation, which is backing the new initiative with a grant of $75,000.

"If more young adults are going to succeed in college and the workforce, we've got to commit to improving our graduation rates," he says. "But doing so means that we've got to be equally committed to improving our third grade reading proficiency rates, which means we've got to be as committed to ensuring that kids get the developmental experiences that they need from birth to five."

The $75,000 will get the initiative off the ground. Over the next year, Portland ConnectED aims to raise another $2 million to $5 million to start a fund to help low-income high school students pay for college.

Partners will also work towards new approaches to achieving the initiative's other big goals, such as access to early childhood education for all students, and upping the city's graduation rate - issues that Chris Hall, of the Portland Chamber of Commerce, says should not fall on the shoulders of educators alone.

"That may require some non-traditional funding," he says. "That may require some solutions that typically you wouldn't think the business community might be involved in:  helping with day care; helping with transportation. Do businesses do that to help education outcomes? No, not yet."

But Hall says that improving educational outcomes is something businesses should start investing in more directly, because it has a direct impact on the local economy.

Right now, the initiative is still in the early stages. The goals are concrete, but the details of exactly how to get there are still being sketched out. But Mayor Michael Brennan says that's the purpose of the partnership: to create a roadmap.



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