Portland Superintendent’s Notebook: A Strong Foundation Supports Student Success

In my last three columns, I wrote about the four teaching and learning priorities for Portland Public Schools for this school year. All priorities are aligned with our work to achieve our success goals of the Portland Promise, the Whole Student, People and Fairness.

Xavier Botana is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be contacted at [email protected]

I have already detailed three of these priorities: strengthening basic education to ensure that students master learning at the school level, creating safe and equitable school environments, and fostering a district-wide culture where members of the staff feel supported to develop professionally so as to better serve students and families.

The last priority – making schools run efficiently – is the subject of this column.

This fourth priority is designed to elevate and position everyone’s work in the system towards the other three priorities. It’s about allowing our teaching and learning staff to focus on this work while minimizing distractions. By creating safe, clean and functional learning environments and effective and responsive support systems, the time spent by teachers on operational issues is reduced so that they can do what they do best.

Everyone in our organization – no matter what their job – has a role to play in enabling effective school operations, as this will advance other priorities.

For example, we all have a responsibility to follow our health and safety protocols that keep our schools functioning in the midst of COVID-19.

Mitigation measures in place this year – including masking, pooled testing and vaccines – have meant fewer students have had to quarantine and lose instruction. Staff at all levels of the organization – including guards, bus drivers and nurses – ensure that these measures are followed. In doing so, they play a vital role in ensuring that the majority of our students remain capable of learning.

Our social workers, community partnership team, and food service staff work together to provide school meals for students who need to be quarantined or isolated. Working with community organizations such as the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, they assembled a group of 35 volunteers to drive meals to the homes of the quarantined students. This ensures that our students are not hungry because they cannot be in school.

School bus transportation continues to challenge our district, due to a severe shortage of bus drivers. We had to cancel buses when we didn’t have drivers. I am grateful that our community has been able to largely meet the transportation needs by a variety of means. I am also very grateful to all of our staff who found ways around the cancellations by organizing walking school buses and driving the students to school. We continue to explore contractual relationships and are working on purchasing smaller vehicles that do not require a business license to drive. We are also recruiting volunteers to help with our walking school buses when we cancel buses. Anyone interested in volunteering should complete an application at portlandschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=1094237&pageId=7032492.

We have three schools undergoing major renovations as part of the Buildings for Our Future program and over $ 9 million in additional construction and renovation efforts. Ensuring that we keep our facilities in good working order without disrupting the learning of our students is the challenge facing our facilities and our maintenance staff and we are monitoring carefully.

To sum up, the phrase “it takes a village” applies to the four priorities I have written about over the past few months. Each of us in Portland Public Schools doing our part will enable us to strengthen basic education, ensure our school environments are safe and fair, and deepen our culture of professional learning.

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