Superintendent's Notebook: Inviting all Portland parents to Parent U

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As an educator and father, I know firsthand that being a parent is both a joy and a challenge. It’s wonderful to see our children grow, learn and realize their full potential. But it’s challenging at times to know how best to guide them in that process.

That’s especially true today, in the age of the smartphone, when many of our youth are hyper-connected, but may struggle with personal contact skills and are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety.

To aid parents in helping their children succeed both academically and in life, the Portland Public Schools is starting off 2018 by launching Parent University. Parent U is intended to bring together parents and caregivers to learn from experts and each other. Through free classes and events that are fun, interactive, and informative, we’ll focus on trending topics that are important to families.

For example, at Parent U’s kickoff event on Saturday, Jan. 27, from 1-4 p.m. at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, Columbia University Professor Amy Stuart Wells will speak about how to create truly integrated public schools that prepare our children for life in today’s global society. Portland schools are uniquely positioned to achieve this as the most diverse district in Maine. I encourage you to come and discuss this with Wells and your friends and neighbors.

Future sessions will focus on such topics as how parents can model a positive, “growth mindset” to help their children persevere when school becomes challenging. Other classes will explore how to use art to discuss sensitive topics with our children and discuss how to raise healthy and resilient girls – and also healthy and resilient boys.

I plan to lead a lunchtime book discussion group in March about raising “iGen” children, based on Jean Twenge’s book by that name. As we parents and educators know, social media and texting often take up a major portion of their lives, and they typically have less personal contact with friends and family. Twenge suggests that this impacts this generation in ways that the rest of us should understand. That is the goal of this discussion group, and I look forward to learning together with my fellow Portlanders.

Check our Parent U website – http://parentu.portlandschools.org/ – concerning dates and other specifics on this session and others that we’re offering.

There will be no grades or tests at Parent U, and parents and caregivers can attend as many, or as few, sessions as they like. Child care and refreshments will be provided, and interpretation services are available upon request.

We are deeply grateful to generous donors for helping to fund Parent U. The Maine Community Foundation, People of Color Fund has provided a $7,500 grant; and the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust has awarded us $3,000 for this project.

We’ll also be looking to our community partners and our parents to provide their expertise and knowledge on specific topics.

Parent U is part of one of our key strategies for fulfilling the Portland Promise, our Comprehensive Plan.

Parents are our partners in helping students succeed. Research shows that parents can increase their child’s academic success by being involved in their children’s school and community. We want to provide all our families with learning opportunities and learn together how to help all of our children succeed.

Parent U ties into our “Equity” goal strategy of increasing parent engagement in our schools. As part of that goal, we strive to reduce gaps in academic achievement and opportunity between our financially advantaged students and students who don’t have the same advantages – due to such factors as family income or education level, race or native language.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. It’s an opportune time to remember his life and legacy, and to recognize that the struggle to achieve equity in American society remains ongoing today, in such areas as social justice and education. Through Parent U and other initiatives, the Portland Public Schools is striving to come closer to achieving equity in our schools.

Xavier Botana is superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

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