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City unveils sweeping educational initiative

A new educational initiative aimed at improving pre-childhood education programs, reading proficiency, graduation rates and access to higher education was launched Monday in Portland.
"This is one of the most significant, far-reaching educational partnerships in the history of the city of Portland," said Mayor Michael Brennan.2-26-ConnectED-2
Brennan announced the logistics of the newly-created ConnectED program that focuses on the success of students from before they enter the school system to when they graduate. The initiative was founded by the city, school system, Creative Portland, Sam L. Cohen Foundation, John T. Gorman Foundation, the Opportunity Alliance, the Portland Public Library, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Southern Maine Community College, the University of Southern Maine and the United Way of Greater Portland.
The primary goals of the program are to focus on kindergarten readiness; grade-level reading proficiency by third grade; graduation rates; and higher education enrollment and completion. The secondary goals of ConnectEd are to exceed the state's 90 percent graduation rate by 2016 and create an endowment fund to help Portland graduates attend colleges in the area.
Brennan said he anticipates $2 million to $5 million will be raised and put into an endowment fund to help Portland students attend USM and SMCC.
The launch of the program is being paid for with a grant from the John T. Gorman foundation, according to Brennan, and at no additional cost to the taxpayers.
Tony Cipollone, president and CEO of the John T. Gorham Foundation, said the organization has been a longtime supporter of early childhood education programs and that ConnectED establishes a clear path to help Portland students succeed.
Two-thirds of Portland's students reach reading proficiency by the end of the third grade, said Cipollone, but there's a disparity that remains between the schools' students. He said only 48 percent of the lowest-achieving students meet the proficiency benchmark while 81 percent of the higher achieving meet the reading goal.
"We've got to work to do more on this front," he said.
Cipollone said if Portland wants to see more young people succeed, it's clear that focusing on early childhood education, reading proficiency and graduation rates are ways to meet that goal.
"It all connects," he said.
Brennan said a recent article in The New York Times discussed the fact that a college degree is the new standard for entry-level positions and people with only a high school diploma are finding it difficult to compete in the job markets. He said on opinion piece in the Portland Press Herald cited statistics that 60 percent of children 3-5 years old don't have the basic skills to enter kindergarten.
Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said the program satisfies the belief that it takes the whole community to educate students. He said through community collaborations, students can find learning opportunities outside the classroom.
As a part of the program's development, the school system will look for community partners like businesses and nonprofits to develop programming for students.
Chris Hall, acting president of the Portland Regional Chamber, said the business community has adopted an attitude of sitting back and waiting for the schools to bring them the workforce, but that can no longer work. He said through the ConnectED program, the chamber will work with businesses to provide the schools with resources necessary to help students success.
It's the business community and not just the schools that should take some responsibility for the success of Portland's students, said Hall.
Brennan said the program defines where Portland needs and wants to go as a community through its education system.

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