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January 2021 Staff & Community Newsletter

Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
 
In this new year, I want to express my gratitude to everyone in our Portland Public Schools community for your efforts to make the 2020-2021 school year possible during the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not been easy educating our students while ensuring everyone’s health and safety, but our staff, families and students have given their all to make that happen. 
 
January now brings us a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, with the promise and hope of a vaccine. I am pleased to announce that, through our partnership with Northern Light Health, our nurses, medical technicians and members of our therapy staff are being vaccinated this week and next. While we don’t know the timeline yet for vaccinating our teachers and other staff, the vaccination of our key school health providers is a positive first step.
 
However, please remember that we have not reached the end of the tunnel. Coronavirus cases are increasing nationwide, in Maine and in our own community. We are receiving reports of positive cases in our schools almost daily, which cause disruptions as staff and students need to quarantine. The vast majority of PPS cases to date have originated from contacts outside of schools. Everyone should be vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing in school and the community. Families, please make sure you do daily symptom checks with your children and don’t send them to school if they show any  symptoms. Staff, if you witness any student or staff with symptoms in school, refer them to our amazing school nurses, who will help them.
 
On another hopeful note as we begin the new year, Congress has passed the $900 billion COVID relief package, and the Portland Public Schools expects to get a substantial amount of funding to use to mitigate the learning loss many students have experienced during the pandemic. Also, as a result of the new funding, I also plan to recommend to the Portland Board of Public Education at its Jan. 19 meeting that we continue to fund community partner programming that provides full- and partial-day care for children when they’re not in school. I know how vital this service is to our working families and I’m delighted we now will have the financial resources to continue it.
 
Also, we are pleased that our school budget outlook appears brighter with Gov. Janet Mills’ state budget proposal. We are gratified that she has once again prioritized education in Maine by adding an additional $45 million in her proposed budget to get the state closer to the 55 percent of state education funding that voters approved years ago. There’s still a long way to go before the Legislature finalizes the state budget but at a time when we feared we’d need to make drastic cuts to craft our FY22 budget proposal, the governor’s commitment to public education makes me hopeful.
 
We will observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this coming Monday, Jan. 18. That day to celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy comes this year at a time when our country and community are still reeling from last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol. As I noted in my letter to the Portland Public Schools community about that event, we are grateful that our institutions held, but we cannot take our democracy for granted. These appalling events – which included racist images such as the Confederate flag flown inside a building that is a symbol for all Americans – remind us that Dr. King’s work is not done and we have far to go to realize the values and ideals on which our nation was founded. Let us use this upcoming MLK Day as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to doing our part – through community service or in whatever way we can – to work to create the more fair and just society that Dr. King envisioned.

Sincerely, 

 

Xavier Botana, Superintendent
SCHOOL BOARD NEWS
Recent School Board Actions
At its Dec. 22 meeting, the Portland Board of Education voted to extend for another month the community based programming providing families with full- or partial- day child care and enrichment programs when children are not in school. The extension keep this service in place as the district proposes ways to continue to fund it. The Board also voted to approve hazard pay for PPS employees earning less than $18 per hour and authorized going ahead with finalizing the design plans for the Longfellow, Reiche and Presumpscot elementary school renovation projects and sending them out to bid. Read the summary of Board Actions here. Watch the Board’s Dec. 22 meeting on YouTube
Board of Education Honors Cindy Soule, 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year
Margarida CelestinoOn Jan. 5, the Portland Board of Public Education honored Cindy Soule, 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year and a fourth-grade teacher at the Gerald E. Talbot Community School. Well deserved! Watch here!
PPS NEWS
CBHS Students March to Affirm Higher Education Goals
 
The Casco Bay High School Class of 2021 reinvented the March to the Post Office on Friday, Jan. 8, with the support of the whole community. The CBHS annual event celebrates every senior completing at least one college application – and promotes the Portland Public Schools’ goal of graduating every student college ready. The tradition was scaled back this year to make sure everyone stayed safe during the pandemic.
Learn more here.
Transitions in Leadership
The Remote Academy has a new principal: Jake Giessman. Jake is temporarily moving from his position as assistant principal at Lyman Moore Middle School to lead RA. He started in his new role on Jan. 4. Pamela Otunnu, a math and ELL teacher at Deering High School, is stepping into the role of acting assistant principal at Moore. Learn more here. 
Little Free Library
BOOKSThe Riverton Park public housing community now has a Little Free Library, built by Harrison Fream, an Eagle Scout from Scarborough, and other volunteers of Troop 39 for a community service project. Harrison is the son of Karen Fream, East End Community School literacy coach, who has heard PPS students are making use of the Little Free Library. Fream said she has been told that “there is a student who visits the little library each day and asks for chapter books! Love that our students are so excited about reading.” In the summer, her son spearheaded the construction and installation of a Little Free Library at the Kennedy Park housing community, the completion of an Eagle project for a badge with the Boy Scouts. The city’s housing community services coordinator also reports that another Little Free Library in on tap for the Sagamore Village housing community.
Lyseth Students Win Painting
for Purpose Grant
Painting for a Purpose has awarded a $500 grant to students at Lyseth Elementary School to purchase outdoor mitts so they can continue doing artwork outdoors. Students in teacher Sheila Hayward’s class and art teacher Katie West's class collaborated to write this grant. The students love the outdoor learning opportunities that have expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. They recognize that proper equipment will make the experience a better and safer one for all art students. Read more here!
Tattoo Studio Posters
 
PATHS Students Create Tattoo Ads

Students in teacher Diane Manzi’s Commercial & Advertising Art class at the Portland Arts & Technology High School (PATHS) recently created some mock flyers for a tattoo business, using a computer to be creative with layout and design. See more here! 
A Student Perspective on Online Instruction
Margarida CelestinoCasco Bay High School senior Margarida Celestino, an outstanding student and winner of a full, four-year QuestBridge Match Scholarship to Colgate University, recently authored this opinion piece in The 74, a nonprofit, non-partisan, education-focused news site: “Dear Adult Leaders: Don’t Just Try to Copy-and-Paste In-Person Instruction to Online Learning.”
Generous EnviroLogix Grant to Help Students and Teachers
A $16,000 donation from EnviroLogix to the Foundation for Portland Public Schools will aid in STEM learning for Portland Public Schools students and help to enable teacher innovation. The Portland Public Schools is very grateful to EnviroLogix! Learn more here. 
NOTICES
PPS Weekly COVID Update
The Portland Public Schools’ weekly COVID advisory was on hiatus during the winter break. The Jan. 8 advisory covers the time period from Dec. 19 through Friday, Jan. 8. It includes the number of positive cases associated with our schools during this period and any outbreak declarations or building closures as a result. Staff, families and staff at impacted schools are immediately notified of positive cases and closings, but the advisory is an effort to keep the broader PPS community informed. The advisory is posted at the end of the day on Fridays in the District Spotlight section of the district's homepage. Here’s the link.

Also, the district made a decision on Sunday, Jan. 10, to switch East End Community School to full remote learning Jan. 11-15 due to five positive cases from three households, resulting in 80 staff & students quarantining. Learn more.

School Year 2020-2021 School Closure Plans

The district's new Inclement Weather guidance document outlines when we will implement a "remote learning day" as opposed to a "school closure day." We will begin utilizing remote learning days, when possible, in the immediate future.
School Closure Plans in different languages: Arabic, English, French, Khmer, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish,  Vietnamese 
Waiver Reminder
Applications are now open for the 2021-2022 school year for families requesting either a Superintendent Waiver or an Out of Neighborhood Waiver. Last year, in an effort to increase transparency and insure equitable decision making, specific criteria for granting Out of Neighborhood Requests were defined, and placed on the School Enrollment page on our district website at this link.

If you are looking to request an Out of Neighborhood Waiver, please read the criteria carefully before applying . If you have a student already attending a school Out of Neighborhood, but within the Portland Public Schools district, you do NOT have to reapply each year! As a reminder, parents applying for Superintendent Waivers DO need to reapply each year.
PPS IN THE NEWS
Associated Press Highlights PPS Outdoor Learning at Talbot School
This story on outdoor learning features 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year Cindy Soule teaching a lesson about snow: “Raise your mittens: Outdoor learning continues into the winter.” Click here to read! 
PPS Staff, Students Featured
in Photo of Year
The Portland Press Herald 2020 Photos of Year include images of East End Community School Principal Boyd Marley, a Lyseth Elementary School student attending a remote class, and a scene from the August 2020 Portland High School outdoor graduation ceremony.
https://www.pressherald.com/2020/12/27/press-herald-2020-photos-of-the-year/
Scholarly Work of PHS Students Featured

This story in the Portland Phoenix features Portland High School seniors who "study, write, and make history."

Place Ignorance in Education

An article in The International Educator, Confronting Place Ignorance in Education, is authored by Portland Public Schools social studies teacher leader and Wabanaki Studies coordinator Fiona Hopper.
 
Profile of School Board Chair

The new Chair of the Portland Board of Public Education, Emily Figdor, is featured in a Portland Phoenix story, She 'does her homework': Portland School Board puts its faith in Emily Figdor. 
PHS Art Teacher’s Artwork Featured in Google End of Year Video

This Google end-of-year video includes an image of Portland High School art teacher Barbara Loring's portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, which was displayed in City of Portland, Maine's Monument Square this fall. (Loring's work appears about 2:24 minutes in on the video). Learn more about Loring's creation of this artwork here. 
Martin Luther King Celebration

This year, the NAACP in Maine and the MLK Holiday Observance Steering Committee invite you to a virtual Teach-In and a Call to Action. Here's
the link for more information about the event and how to to get tickets. 

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