Superintendent's Notebook: Time to recognize all school employees

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I’d like to propose an additional new designation for October: School Employees Appreciation Month.

Officially, October is National Principals Month. National Custodial Workers’ Recognition Day also falls during this month, as does School Bus Driver Appreciation Day. National School Lunch Week also took place this month, a chance for our food service staff to showcase the delicious and nutritious foods they prepare for our students each day.

All these recognitions underscore the wide variety of staff essential to the running of a successful school system. And although our jobs are very different, each of our more than 1,200 Portland Public Schools staff plays a very important role in ensuring all our students have successful learning experiences.

That’s why I want to express my appreciation to all our school employees for their dedication and service.

Let’s start with our principals.

A U.S. Senate resolution designating October 2016 as National Principals Month says, “Principals are educational visionaries, instructional and assessment leaders, disciplinarians, community builders, budget analysts, facilities managers, and administrators of legal and contractual obligations.”

It also says their job involves working “collaboratively with teachers and parents to develop and implement a clear mission, high curriculum standards, and performance goals.”

We have great public schools in Portland – and that’s a clear testament to those leading them. Thank you to our Portland Public Schools school leaders – our principals, assistant principals and teacher-leaders!

Now a few words about the vital role our support staff plays in our schools.

We sometimes take for granted that our school floors and windows are shining, our trash baskets emptied and the building temperature not too hot or too cold. We also expect our buildings to be open after school for sporting events, extracurricular activities and meetings.

But those things only happen because of our dedicated maintenance staff. Many thanks to our custodians and other maintenance personnel for all they do to ensure our students have clean and comfortable facilities in which to learn.

And then there are our school bus drivers.

Before the first day of kindergarten classes this year, I took a practice bus ride with a group of youngsters about to start kindergarten at Lyseth Elementary School and their parents. It was a great opportunity for these new kindergartners to have a chance to become familiar with riding a big yellow school bus before their actual first day of school.

Being a school bus driver involves not only good driving skills but also great people skills, and our Portland Public Schools bus drivers exhibited both that day. The drivers not only calmed the students’ jitters, but also their parents’. I am so grateful for our school bus drivers.

And let’s not forget that a healthy school lunch helps students learn, giving them the energy to power through the day. As of Oct. 1, 55 percent of our nearly 6,800 students qualified for free or reduced-price school meals. We have many students who might go hungry if not for school breakfast or lunch.

Many thanks to our dedicated food service staff for all the meals they serve and for incorporating fresh, local foods such as fruits and vegetables that make them nutritious as well as good tasting.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the space here to also talk about all our great teachers, educational technicians, school nurses, social workers, central office administrators, office assistants and many other staff. But please know that the work you do matters very much to our students – and that we greatly appreciate you.

I’ll close by noting that the Portland Public Schools teaches our students to be good citizens. Part of being a good citizen is doing our civic duty, so I hope you’ll take the time to vote on Nov. 8. And I’ll remind you that the Portland Board of Public Education has endorsed “Stand Up for Students,” the citizens’ initiative on the state ballot that would generate about $157 million more in state education funding.

If Question 2 passes, Portland stands to get approximately $11 million in additional state aid, reducing our reliance on local property owners. That’s something many Portland taxpayers can appreciate.

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