Superintendent's Notebook: Our promise to the Portland community

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Earlier this month, the Portland Public Schools launched “The Portland Public Schools Promise” – our pledge to the community that our graduates will be prepared and empowered to succeed.

The Portland Promise is our assurance to our students, their families and our stakeholders about what they can expect from their schools.

Our district is the largest and most diverse in Maine. More than one third of our students come from homes where a primary language other than English is spoken. That means that in our classrooms, students learn side by side with students who have different world views and experiences. Together, they build new knowledge by challenging each other to think beyond their specific experiences and conditions.

Portland residents support their city’s public schools because they recognize that the vitality of their community is inextricably linked to quality schools.

Portland residents also recognize that our diversity is one of the greatest attributes of our school system.

Another reason Portland residents support their public schools is because they believe – as our Founding Fathers such as James Madison did – that education and the preservation of our democracy are intertwined.

The Portland Promise is the result of the work of the Board of Public Education, Portland Public Schools faculty, staff and students, and parents and partners all working together to determine how to best fulfill our school district’s unique potential.

Through this initiative, we promise to prepare and empower our students for their future by working to realize the four goals established in our updated Comprehensive Plan: Achievement, Whole Student, Equity, and People.

I’ve discussed these goals here previously, but here’s a brief summary and our five-year targets for these goals.

Achievement: Every student will have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed at the next level and be empowered with a plan for what to do with that knowledge. Five-year target: 92 percent of our students will graduate college and career ready.

Whole Student: We do more than teach academics. We are responsible for exposing students to a well-rounded education that connects them to their diverse talents and helps them develop the skills, habits and mindset for success in life. Our five-year target: 95 percent of our students will feel valued and connected to a caring adult at our school.

Equity: Our data shows that our financially advantaged students compete favorably with students from other school districts. Research suggests that, in fact, they’re better off because they learn in the diverse environment that is the Portland Public Schools. However, our data also shows that our financially disadvantaged students do not have the same outcomes.

We are not alone in this challenge. A recent report by the ACLU of Maine found that Maine students who are immigrants and members of minority groups experience harassment and discrimination in schools throughout the state. While Portland is a leader in providing safe and inclusive learning environments, there still is significant work to be done. As a district – as a community – we cannot allow factors such as zip codes, family income or education level, race or native language to define our outcomes. Our five-year target: a 50 percent reduction in academic achievement and opportunity gaps.

People: Without the most talented and diverse staff working as one to achieve the other three goals, we won’t be able to achieve them. We are committing to providing a work environment where our staff members have the skills and support that they need to realize expectations. Our five-year target: 95 percent of staff members are satisfied and engaged in the work that they do.

Our Portland Promise campaign is now underway. We’ll be communicating its message to the community through such means as posters on buses, banners on city streets, and announcements on the district’s website and in the community.

The campaign will showcase a number of our successful graduates who are doing amazing things in our community. Their experiences make it clear that the Portland Public Schools is a great choice for families and deserving of community support.

You can read about our graduates and learn more about the Portland Promise on our new webpage: http://www.portlandschoolspromise.org.

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

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