Superintendent's Notebook: Portland schools commit to greater staff diversity

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Spring is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate many of our school employees.

In April, we have National School Librarian Day and National Assistant Principals Week. In May, there’s National Teacher Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week, as well as National School Nurses Day, School Nutrition Employee Appreciation Week and School Lunch Hero Day.

Here at the Portland Public Schools, we are deeply grateful to all our staff members for all they do to help our students learn and/or be ready to learn.

This also is a good time to reflect on how critical Portland Public Schools’ staff is to the vision of our school district, which states: “All learners will be fully prepared to participate and succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world.” Without an excellent, diverse staff our students can’t succeed in the way we envision. That is why we have made “People” one of the four goals in our district’s new Comprehensive Plan.

Our People goal states: “The Portland Public Schools attracts, supports and retains talented and diverse people who use their strengths to achieve our shared goals.”

In recent columns, I’ve written about the other goals in our Comprehensive Plan: Achievement, Equity and Whole Student. This month, I’m focusing on People. This fourth goal supports our three other goals and is critical to our achieving them.

We’re fortunate to have many outstanding staff members. Some examples:

• Ann Hanna, assistant principal at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, is Maine’s 2017 Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year.

• Grecia Caraballo, a Spanish immersion teacher at Lyseth Elementary School, was named the Foreign Language Association of Maine’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

• Lauren Cormier, a social studies teacher at Lyman Moore Middle School, recently was selected as Teacher of the Year by both the VFW Deering Memorial Post and District 10. Cormier was honored for her commitment to teaching students about U.S. history and the importance of civic responsibility and service.

We also have many other excellent staff members who may not have received formal recognition for their efforts, but who work tirelessly to help students succeed. We know this because our students and parents tell us about these teachers and other staff that really make a difference in students’ lives.

However, as Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, we also hear concerns from students that our faculty doesn’t reflect the diversity in our classrooms. That’s an issue not just for us, but also for schools across the country. We are now taking steps to try to increase the diversity of our workforce.

For example, we’re kicking off an initiative this summer that focuses on creating a pipeline of diverse educators who more closely reflect the diversity of our students and their families.

The four-week summer program, co-sponsored by the University of Southern Maine, seeks to build interest in the teaching profession while also increasing the diversity of our teachers. The program will provide an opportunity for participants to experience teaching firsthand as interns in a PPS summer learning classroom, and to earn three college credits, tuition-free, by attending an introductory course in education at USM.

We hope to start with 20 participants comprised of current high school students, college students who are not currently majoring in education, and adults from the community who are interested in teaching as a profession. Program attendees will also receive a stipend for participating.

We’re also launching a new staff training program to promote cultural competency and foster a deeper understanding of the role of culture in learning. Our Cultural Competency Training Program will begin with staff from Central Office, school leaders and teaching staff. We will extend this to all staff over the next two years. We are grateful for a grant from the Bangor Savings Bank Foundation to help underwrite some of this work and will continue to seek outside funding for this program.

These initiatives will help us attract new talent, strengthen our organizational culture and assist the district in its mission of ensuring a challenging, relevant and joyful education that empowers every learner to make a difference in the world.

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

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  • Charles Martel

    “we’re kicking off an initiative this summer that focuses on creating a pipeline of diverse educators who more closely reflect the diversity of our students and their families.”

    I served three years in the Peace Corps back in the 70’s. I’m not sure what it is about diversity or multiculturalism that is so appealing to some.

    Does it automatically mean all cultures and religions are morally equivalent? Do all cultures make valuable contributions to our historical melting pot? Is being a Caucasian, particularly a heterosexual male one, a bad thing? Do Western Judeo-Christian values no longer have merit? Are these “Cultural Competency Training” programs also teaching tolerance for those who assimilated here primarily from Europe who built and fought for this country or that they no longer have a place in our society?

    I want all (legal and vetted) immigrants, refugees and asylees to succeed and become pillars of the community. But, I’m not willing to subordinate my values to those who refuse to assimilate, show contempt for our culture, need taxpayer subsidies or insist that WE change to accommodate them.

    I expect the typical racist, bigot, Islamophobe, xenophobe, fear monger and Fascist accusations, but tolerance is a two-way street.