Superintendent's Notebook: Plenty of volunteer opportunities in Portland schools

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Priscilla Krasnow, 86, volunteers nearly every weekday in the fashion marketing class at Portland Arts and Technology High School. The students call her Mama K. If they arrive in a bad mood, she quickly changes that.

“Our students love her,” says Tina Mikkelsen, PATHS’ community coordinator, “and she is as hip as they are.”

A former telemarketer, Krasnow used her persuasive skills to solicit more than 30 donations from local businesses for PATHS’ annual fashion show and silent auction last month. The proceeds went to student scholarships and the Preble Street Teen Center.

The Portland Public Schools is very fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers such as Krasnow. Some make a difference in students’ lives by tutoring, mentoring or simply giving young people some extra attention. Other volunteers help with school fundraising, or they handle behind-the-scenes tasks that make our schools run more smoothly.

April is National Volunteer Month. While I can’t tell you about all of the volunteers in our schools, I will give a few examples that show the range of activities they’re involved in. I hope you’ll be inspired to volunteer.

Kathy MacDowell helps out in Deering High School’s library. She oversees the collection of historical material about Deering. The mother of two Deering graduates, MacDowell has spent the past five years organizing yearbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs and other items dating back to 1883. She’s made it possible for people to easily access materials about Deering’s past.

Theresa LaGrange, parent of a Lincoln Middle School seventh-grader, led the effort to organize a parent-versus-staff basketball game at Lincoln last month. The game raised money for the school while providing an opportunity for students, families and staff to share an evening of good-natured fun and sportsmanship.

Roger Severance is a volunteer extraordinaire for Portland Adult Education. He contributed more than 500 hours during 2012, helping many students prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam.

A retired career civil servant, Severance was the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for Asia before moving to Portland in 2002. He lived in Japan and New Delhi and traveled widely.

His international experience is invaluable at Portland Adult Education, where he works with students from Somalia, the Sudan and other countries. He has a knack for helping students comprehend the citizenship material without becoming overwhelmed. Severance tries to attend all of his students’ citizenship ceremonies. He describes citizenship tutoring as fun and rewarding.

East End Community School just completed another successful Portland Children’s Film Festival. Parents played a key role in developing the idea for the festival and making it happen.

Now in its second year, the festival holds screenings, a children’s film making contest, student film making workshops and other events. Begun partly to raise money for EECS arts programming, the festival has grown into a much-anticipated community event – and it’s all run by volunteers.

We encourage community members to volunteer in the Portland Public Schools, whether or not you have a child in our district. You can find out more by contacting the community coordinators at each school ( For additional information, please contact Chanda Turner, the district’s family and community engagement coordinator, at

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Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at Read his blog at