Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past year has been full of change and adjustment, and has taken an enormous toll on all of us – students, families and staff. But March also is a month of spring and renewed hope. The decrease in COVID cases in our community, our continued success with our health and safety protocols, and plans for additional testing capacity and educator vaccinations all lead us to believe that we can successfully close the school year with an enhanced hybrid learning experience at all levels. 
District data shows that most of our students are having a harder time this year. The ones struggling the most are our historically underserved populations, including students of color, English language learners, and students with special needs. For example, the district’s overall chronic absence rates have risen by almost 9% since this time last year, with the largest increases happening for these subgroups of students. 
We believe that if we provide more in-person learning opportunities, additional support, and re-establish more of a sense of 'normalcy,' then we will see reduced chronic absence, improved achievement, and improved mental health in the remainder of the school year.  We are working to have students in person as much as we can while staying diligent about our health and safety protocols. 
At our March 3rd Board Meeting, Assistant Superintendent Melea Nalli articulated the three different strategies we are pursuing:
  1. Adding in-person learning time.
  2. Increasing synchronous learning opportunities for students on remote days.
  3. Ensuring universal technology access and providing continued support for teachers with remote learning.
We are working with our educators at each grade span to determine the most effective path forward. 
We understand that a significant group of students will remain remote.  We also understand that In order to maximize our ability to make these changes we will need to sacrifice some of the consistencies we have sought across schools. Our goal is to have these improvements in place by no later than the return from April Break.  
Below are summaries of the current state of our planning: 
Elementary and Middle Schools
School leaders have been engaging their school staff and leadership teams around the three strategies. From these conversations, they developed initial proposals about how to add in-person learning opportunities by extending the day and/or bringing students in on Wednesdays and improving remote day experiences. Schools are piloting some of these ideas and we are looking to learn lessons from these efforts to inform changes across schools. We will look at the implications as a district in order to make and communicate decisions about our plans.
High Schools
Our high school work has focused on how to most effectively increase the amount of in-person instruction for the 10th to 12th graders. Following February break, we engaged each school’s leadership teams and heard directly from students in focus groups sessions held at each of the three high schools. We also met with the Joint Health and Safety Committee that included the PEA building reps from each school to understand their concerns from a health and safety or working conditions perspective. 
A number of consistent concerns were raised in these conversations, including a lack of clarity about the purpose and structure for the additional in-person time and challenges associated with accessing it. As a result, we determined that many students would not participate in the proposed in-person learning plan. Consequently, we have developed alternatives with school leadership teams and the Health and Safety Committee to establish a new recommendation for increasing in-person instruction. Once we have a new set of proposals, we will gather information from all students to understand who will be staying remote as we plan for space usage in our high schools.

Looking Ahead
While we are focused on closing out this most trying school year, we also are looking ahead to the 2021-2022 school year. A crucial part of that planning is having our FY22 school budget approved by the City Council and Portland voters. The process began with our March 8 public budget forum, where I detailed the “Advancing Equity” priorities of this budget and the rationale behind them. Read more about the forum in this newsletter.
I will present my budget proposal to the Portland Board of Public Education on Tuesday, March 16. The virtual meeting begins at 6 p.m. I encourage you to attend and to stay involved and engaged throughout the budget process. The budget is based on an assumption that we’ll be able to return to full in-person learning this fall and prioritizes critical support structures needed to accelerate learning recovery for all students. The support of our community for our budget priorities will be crucial to making that happen.
Xavier Botana, Superintendent
FY22 Public Forum on the FY22 Budget
Here's the recording of the Public Forum on priorities in the proposed FY22 budget held last Tuesday. Superintendent Xavier Botana will present his budget proposal at next Tuesday's (March 16) School Board meeting. Here's the zoom link to the meeting:
Passcode: 497744

The Portland Public Schools puts out a weekly COVID advisory each Friday. It includes the number of positive cases associated with our schools during the past week 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 weekly 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 to the March 12th update.

A year ago, we partnered with a research team consisting of two of our own educators of color, Julia Hazel and Alberto Morales, and Bowdoin College Professor Doris Santoro to research the experience of our educators of color. This report details the results and conclusions of that research.

The district has made progress in adding more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color) educators, but this report shows that they do not have the same opportunities as White colleagues to succeed and advance in their jobs and that they  experience racial bias and inequity in their daily, lived experience in the Portland Public Schools.

The district’s upcoming FY 22 budget will propose  investments in career pathways to help our existing staff of color advance their careers, compensate them for identity-based work and increase opportunities for  young people to pursue a teaching career.

We hope you will read this report and support our work to ensure that we are a district that truly embraces our diversity and enables all our educators to pursue meaningful and satisfying work in our schools.

The full report can be read here. The summary is linked here

King Middle School Principal Caitlin LeClair shared an inspirational video created by students on the Sebago 7th Grade Team at King, in which they illustrated a line from the Amanda Gorman poem "The Hill We Climb." Six students also served as narrators reading the poem. LeClair said, “The video is ABSOLUTELY worth watching and a great reminder that what we are doing with kids right now is so important even though difficult.”
Foster Grandparent Fun!
A Reiche Kindergarten class and their Foster Grammy, "Bestie," have been writing letters throughout the school-year. In January, Bestie gifted each student a knit hat embroidered with their first initial after the students read Jan Brett's story, The Hat, in class. 

From Kindergarten teacher Amy Wu: "It is in these ways, and countless other ways in the 16+ years Bestie has worked in my classroom, that she continues to be tireless in her efforts to make a difference in the lives of children at Reiche Elementary School.  I continue to be so inspired by her, her talents, and her tremendously huge heart and spirit." 
East End Community School Plans
Floral Salute to Spring
East End Community School is partnering with local residents in a community art installation called “East End in Bloom.” Nina Naylor, an EECS parent and artist, is organizing volunteers in the community to make 450 fabric flowers. The flowers will be delivered to EECS on March 17. Teachers are being asked to sign up for a time on March 18 or 19 to go out to the fence on North Street and assist students as each one has the opportunity to place a bloom. The goal is to have the fence completed and “in bloom” for the start of spring on March 20. “This is a nice community-school partnership,” said EECS Principal Boyd Marley.
Naylor led a similar project for Valentine's day, called “Hearts on the Hill.” She told Marley that the aim of the spring project is to create “a visually beautiful display for the whole community to enjoy.” Read more.
President Obama Visits Telling Room Students 
On January 26th, former President Barack Obama visited with 26 students from Portland's Telling Room's Young Writers & Leaders program. President Obama shared writing tips and talked about his own experience writing his new memoir. Read more here and view an edited video of the zoom conversation below!
Portland Empowered, FPPS, PPS Partner

Portland Empowered, the Portland Public Schools (PPS), and the Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) have a new partnership designed to strengthen community engagement in Portland’s public schools. The new partnership means that Portland Empowered staff have moved their offices to the PPS Central Office. The Foundation for Portland Public Schools will serve as their fiscal sponsor.  Though Portland Empowered will have a new home within FPPS, they will still serve as an independent voice and advocate for parents, students, and partners. Learn more.

PHS Students Explore Careers, Near and Far

During COVID, virtual connections have allowed Portland High School students to do career exploration far beyond the typical reach of school! Learn more
PPS Students Win Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards
PHOTO: Pictured is "The Stranger," an award-winning painting
by Lyman Moore Middle School student Lucas Perez.
Four Portland High School students and a Lyman Moore Middle School student have won recognition for their artwork in the Scholastics Art Award Regional Competition. Sponsored by the Maine College of Art (MECA), the Scholastics Art Awards is a prestigious recognition program for creative students.  To learn more about the artists and see the artwork, click here. 

PHS Junior Wins Top Writing Recognition

Portland High School junior Eden Swails recently won a Gold Key from The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Alliance for Young Artists and Writers  for her poem,  "Arachnophobia."  Eden, a student in Jane Wellehan's English class, wrote the poem in response to Langston Hughes'  "Theme for English B."  This is the highest level from Scholastic for a regional award. LEARN MORE.

PPS Student Artwork in Digital YAM!

Youth Art Month (YAM) has gone digital in 2012. Creative works from Portland Public Schools students and other art students from around Maine are on online display at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) in celebration of Youth Art Month. Learn more about these talented students and view their work. LEARN MORE.
PPS Food Service Reminder 
School Social Work Week
March is Women's History Month

Check out some fantastic resources to celebrate Women's History Month!

Toolkit for Women's History Month from the National Museum of Women's History

Women's history curriculum from the NY Historical Society - Women and the American Story. 

Worldwide online streaming event in celebration of Women’s History Month this Film festival features films made by Indigneous women about Indigenous women in leadership roles. 

Wednesday, March 24 at 7:00pm ET Online: 54-minute broadcast edition of Dawnland and Dear Georgina. In celebration of International Women’s Day and International Right to Truth Day join panelists and Upstander Project for a Q&A after the film, moderated by Akomawt Educational Initiative's endawnis Spears (Diné, Ojibwe, Chickasaw, Choctaw). Register here.

PPS in the NEWS
Superintendent Shines Spotlight
on PPS Staff Members

In his monthly column in The Forecaster, Superintendent Xavier Botana is showcasing members of our outstanding Portland Public Schools staff this year.

His January column, “Custodians among front-line heroes of pandemic,” focused on East End Community School head custodian James Benner. READ MORE.

The superintendent’s February column, “Parent community specialists are lifelines between families and schools,” featured Monique Mutumwinka, a parent community specialist at our Multilingual & Multicultural Center.

Cliff Island Prioritizes Public Health

Cliff Island School, and its use of outdoor learning, is featured in this Bangor Daily News story about Cliff Island: “This small Maine island community rallied together to keep the coronavirus at bay.” READ MORE
Save the Date!
The Atlantic Black Box: Researching and Reckoning with New England's Past

Two-Part Session:
Thursday, March 18, 2021   
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
5:30-7:00 p.m.
Join members of the Atlantic Black Box Project for a two-part exploration of slavery in the North and New England’s complicity in the global economy of enslavement. Why have our history books and regional narratives left out this critical aspect of our past, along with the stories of local Black and Indigenous populations? What is the impact of these omissions on our students? Participate in this timely discussion about how unearthing local and regional history can help us to better navigate our present and our future as a community.

Meadow Dibble • Kate McMahon • Dustin Ward • Linda Ashe-Ford • Seth Goldstein
Have a look / have a listen:
For zoom link and more information click here.
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