School district leaders 'very happy' with Botana so far

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PORTLAND — Six months into the job, Superintendent Xavier Botana is providing the steady, committed leadership the School Board was looking for after several tumultuous years of turnover in the school department’s top post.

“We’re very happy with him,” School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said this week.

“He’s doing a great job. He came in with an entry plan that’s been fully executed and he’s also created a comprehensive plan for the district, which has gotten a lot of buy-in from the various constituent groups,” Trevorrow said.

“We’re really impressed with that.”

Botana was initially hired in May under a three-year, $148,000 annual contract and began working in the school district in July.

Trevorrow, who co-chaired the superintendent search committee that recommended hiring Botana, added that he’s been a “good fit” so far, and he definitely “stood out as the top choice” this past spring when he and one other finalist for the superintendent’s job both visited the district.

“He has a lot of depth and experience with the issues that urban school districts face and with (meeting the demands) of education today,” she added.

And, Trevorrow said, Botana seems to be committed to staying in the district, which the School Board said was a key component in hiring him. “During the search and interview process, we made it crystal clear we were looking for someone who would stay.”

She said it’s been Botana’s “stated intent to be here for the long term” and it was something he reiterated during a recent performance review.

Sitting in his office Dec. 29, after spending the morning shoveling snow, Botana said he was not deterred by his first big Maine snow storm and, so far, everything has gone as he hoped when he took the position of superintendent.

After a long career spent in public education, Botana, 53, said he hopes to spend the remainder of his working years as the leader of the largest school district in the state. He and his wife are now looking for a house to buy in Portland after finally selling their home in Indiana.

Botana replaced Emmanuel Caulk, who left in June 2015 after only three years on the job. Caulk’s departure followed a short, three-year stint by James Morse, who became the superintendent after Mary Jo O’Connor resigned in 2007 after a well-publicized budget crisis.

Last week Botana said there are many reasons why the most recent school leaders didn’t stay long in Portland. However, some of the biggest challenges, including budgeting and educating the large number of immigrant students now enrolled in the city’s schools, are things he actually sees as pluses.

As an immigrant himself – Botana learned English after arriving in the U.S. from Cuba – Botana

feels uniquely qualified to understand and support students who are in a new country, learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.

He said one of the joys of working with such students and their families is their commitment to education and their belief that a good education is key to their long-term success.

This not only applies to the youngsters, but to their parents as well; the older immigrants are enrolling in adult education programs in large numbers, making the Portland program one of the largest that Botana has ever overseen.

When it comes to budgeting, which will take up much of his time over the next few months, Botana sees it as his best opportunity to have a positive impact on teaching and learning in the city’s schools.

In addition to familiarizing himself with the school buildings and school and city leaders in the past few months, Botana is also making an effort to get to know his fellow superintendents and the city’s legislative delegation, who will help decide how much state funding school districts across Maine receive in the next biennial budget.

What’s struck Botana the most so far, though, is how small Maine is; his wife even connected with a fellow superintendent’s spouse while standing in line at the Portland International Jetport.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

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