Superintendent's Notebook: Welcoming students, families back to school

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August is a time to savor the last weeks of summer. It’s also a time for students – with help from their parents – to start getting ready for the new school year.

Those two statements aren’t contradictory. There are a few simple things that students and parents can do to help make the transition to school easier, while still allowing time for summertime fun. They range from making sure students are registered before the first day of school, to gradually switching to school sleep routines a week before school starts.

In Portland, the first day of school for students in grades 1-12 is Wednesday, Aug. 30. There is no school on Friday, Sept. 1, so everyone can enjoy a long Labor Day weekend. Then school resumes on Tuesday, Sept. 5, for all students, including pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

To view the Portland Public Schools’ 2017-2018 calendar, go to our website, and click on “News & Calendars.”

If your child is new to the district and not yet registered for the new school year, please make an appointment at your neighborhood school to enroll your child. For more information, go to “School Enrollment” under the blue “Parents” box on our website.

Please don’t wait for the first day of school to register your child. It’s difficult for our schools to plan if they don’t know how many students they’ll have in the fall.

Also, many of our schools hold back-to-school barbecues, ice cream socials and other welcoming orientation events before the first day of school – you don’t want your child to miss out on those. Familiarizing students with their school and teachers beforehand helps quell first-day-of-school anxiety. Also, families are our valued partners when it comes to educating our students, so we look forward to meeting students’ families.

To find out about the events at your child’s school, go to that school’s website. You can link to school websites from the district website under the “Schools” tab.

I’d also like to remind parents of a new addition this year to the immunizations that Maine state law requires for students. Effective for the 2017-2018 school year, all Maine students entering seventh grade will need to receive one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine before attendance is allowed. Pertussis (whooping cough) is a very contagious and potentially serious disease, so this new requirement will protect your child and others.

Also, families should be aware that this year’s ninth-graders will be the first to comply with a new state’s new proficiency-based high school graduation requirements. The Class of 2021 must demonstrate proficiency in language arts, math, science, and social studies.

This year, all high schools in Portland will align to common baseline expectations related to moving in the direction of a proficiency-based system. To facilitate that transition, we have decided that course grades and report cards won’t change. Instead, ninth-grade teachers will keep track of students’ mastery of graduation performance indicators in a system that parallels the traditional grade reporting.

I’ll be explaining this transition in more detail in an upcoming letter to parents. I want to stress here that we see great value in a proficiency-based learning model – which ultimately is about being clear about what our students need to know and be able to do in order to graduate from high school.

Finally, as the new school year begins, I want to remind parents how important it is that students attend school, starting from the first day. The start of school is a critical time when students and teachers get to know one another, build relationships and establish important classroom routines.

Students also need to continue attending throughout the rest of the year. According to Count ME In, the Maine affiliate of the national organization Attendance Works, “students who miss school frequently are less likely to read proficiently by third grade, more likely to fail in middle school and eventually drop out of high school. Missing school, even in kindergarten, has consequences.”

Schools, students, families and the Portland community: Let’s all work together to have a great start to the new school year.

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

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  • Charles Martel

    Another year of Left-wing political correctness and indoctrination as well as the dumbing down of our “yoots” begins.