Next school chief: Portland is 'the right place for me to be'

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PORTLAND — Xavier Botana, the city’s next superintendent of schools, wants to come to Maine, in part, to provide “stability and leadership” to the district.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity,” Botana said Friday. “I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Botana, 53, is coming from the Michigan City (Indiana) Area Schools, where he has been associate superintendent since 2010. On May 24, the School Board approved hiring him as the city’s next school chief under a three-year, $148,000-a-year contract. He will start July 1.

“Portland is without a doubt the right place for me to be,” Botana said, adding that it’s a place he likes and considers a great city. He said he and his family have visited Maine during the winter, too.

Speaking from Michigan City, he said what he brings personally and professionally is a good match for what Portland Public Schools officials were seeking. He said he knew Portland wanted someone who was committed to a collaborative approach, who could work with stakeholders to figure out what’s best for the district, and how to implement those plans.

Botana said another key component is his background. His family immigrated to the United States from Cuba, he is fluent in Spanish, and he began his career as a teacher of English as a Second Language and dual language learner teacher.

“I know Portland has a large and growing population of dual language learners,” he said, adding he brings expertise in creating the best environment for children learning English and helping families transition to the American school system.

Finally, Botana said he is committed to Portland for “the long haul.” He said he knows the district was “looking for stability in leadership, someone who is committed to working there for the long haul and working to create a culture within the district of finding other people equally committed to the district,” and tapping those people for leadership roles.

“(The School Board) and I are very much on the same page,” he said.

Botana replaces interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker, who is retiring. Crocker was appointed when former Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk resigned to become school chief in Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky.

Botana was one of two finalists selected by the School Board in early May. The other was Teresa Lance of Colorado Springs.

The board conducted a nationwide search with BWP & Associates, during which 41 people applied. Botana came to Portland on May 2 for a day in the district, where he visited three schools, met with district administrators, community partners, students and others. That night he was part of a community forum at Casco Bay High School.

School Board members all spoke highly of Botana when they approved his hiring. Board member Jenna Vendil, who visited Botana’s district along with Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, praised Botana’s track record in Michigan City and his leadership.

“It feels like a good fit across the board,” she said.

Board member Sarah Thompson said this was the third search for a superintendent during her time on the board, and she felt a sense of excitement. She said Botana seemed serious about wanting to move to Maine and stay in the district.

“I genuinely believe he’s here for the long haul,” Thompson said.

Recent superintendents have not stayed in the district for more than a few years.

In addition to being the associate superintendent of Michigan City Area Schools, which serves more than 5,600 students, Botana has been the chief academic officer for the Portland (Oregon) Public Schools; chief officer of instructional design and assessment for Chicago Public Schools; an assistant principal and department chairman at Morton High School in Cicero, Illinois; and was a bilingual teacher for the Cicero Public Schools and the Palatine Public Schools in Illinois.

Botana will have several high-profile School Department positions to fill, because three top administrators are leaving the district in addition to Crocker.

Becky Foley, the district’s chief academics officer, is becoming superintendent of Regional School Unit 5 in Freeport, and Director of School Management Kim Brant and Chief Financial Officer Ellen Sanborn are also leaving.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Incoming Portland Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.