PORTLAND, Maine — The next superintendent of Portland schools was described as someone who will be active in the schools, vigilant about student performance data, and focused on raising expectations for students across all achievement levels.

Emmanuel Caulk, an assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia public schools, bested 159 applicants to become the next top administrator in Maine’s largest school district. The Portland school board on Monday night unanimously approved a three-year employment agreement with Caulk during a brief meeting at City Hall, then held a reception for the new superintendent immediately afterward.

“Mr. Caulk was the only candidate who not only talked about closing the achievement gap, but also raising the bar for the highest achieving students,” said Portland Board of Education member Marnie Morrione on Monday night.

Fellow board member Sarah Thompson, who was chairwoman of the district superintendent search committee, said Caulk struck committee members as “results-based” and “data-driven,” but also “personable” and “insightful.”

“He is passionate about education and improving the lives of students and their parents,” she said during the meeting.

Caulk, who was in Portland for the event Monday, said he plans to launch a series of “listening and learning” sessions early in his tenure to identify from teachers, parents, administrators and community members what challenges face the schools and what ideas they might have for solutions.

“I believe it takes an entire community to ensure the success of the schools,” he told board members Monday night after they approved his hiring, adding, “I believe victory is in the classroom. Therefore, we must have talented teachers in every classroom.”

Board member Jaimey Caron was one of several who spoke Monday to note Caulk’s “focus on all students” across the academic spectrum. Former Cumberland County Sheriff and current Democratic state Rep. Mark Dion lauded Caulk for sharing his interest in reaching out to at-risk students, while school board Chairwoman Kate Snyder said she was struck by Caulk’s awareness of the need to push high achievers even higher.

Caulk, a former lawyer, likened building a successful school district to building a successful sports team, as professional football coach Bill Belichick has done over the past 12 years with the New England Patriots. Caulk said finding success in the education world is about putting administrators and faculty members in positions to use their strengths and getting them help when they need it.

“Everybody’s got the same playbook,” he told reporters after the board meeting. “It’s about execution.”

Caulk, who also has served as an administrator for public school districts in Chicago and East Baton Rouge, La., will take over for James Morse on Aug. 20. Morse’s three-year contract as Portland’s top school administrator ended on June 30 and he has accepted a job as the superintendent for the Durham, N.H.-based Oyster River School System.

Deering High School Principal Ira Waltz has been named interim superintendent by the Portland board to bridge the gap between Morse’s departure and Caulk’s official arrival.

Caulk was one of two finalists for the Portland job who agreed to meet with the public in recent months, the other being Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, a deputy superintendent of the Paterson, N.J., public schools.

Search consultants from the Illinois-based firm PROACT during an aggressive spring outreach campaign found that Portlanders from a variety of backgrounds hoped for an administrator with experience in a diverse, urban environment, as opposed to a superintendent from a smaller, rural district.

In Philadelphia, Caulk oversaw 36 schools and 16,500 students — more than twice the student population he’ll see in Portland.

“He impressed me with his comment that Portland is ‘small enough to be agile,’” Snyder said Monday night. “That’s a pretty interesting perspective, because to a lot of folks, Portland is pretty big.”

Caulk will be paid $137,500 in base salary annually during his initial three-year contract, which runs through June 30, 2015. The deal also includes provisions allowing for as much as 5 percent in bonus money in years two and three of the agreement, to be awarded at the discretion of the school board in consideration of the district’s progress toward student achievement, teacher development and parent engagement goals.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.