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STAFF & COMMUNITY NEWSLETTER
Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
 
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to our nation.  This year’s celebration takes place in the larger context of the need for a broader focus on social and economic justice for Black Americans inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
 
Like many other institutions in this country, the Portland Public Schools has historically paid lip service to Black History Month while not acknowledging its part in the perpetuation of inequity.  Our data continues to show that our students of color experience large achievement and opportunity gaps as compared to our white students.  We’re a long way from being the institution we aspire to be and that the Equity goal in our Portland Promise commits us to being.
 
I urge all members of the PPS community to take the opportunity afforded by Black History Month to not only recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to our country, but also to set those contributions in the larger struggle for equity and social justice that we are pursuing. 
 
Among steps we’re taking to realize our Equity goal are initiatives outlined in a report we released last week about our comprehensive investigation of student allegations against present and past staff members and the school district about sexual harassment and gender, identity and racial bias and discrimination. We took disciplinary action where appropriate, and the report spells out what we as a district are doing and need to do to create a culture where the behaviors giving rise to these claims simply don’t happen.
 
I also am proud of the steps we’ve taken to create curricula that reflect the experiences of traditionally marginalized communities – such as Wabanaki and Africana studies. I’m grateful to the members of those communities for working closely with our staff to make sure that our efforts are truly moving us forward, helping us to learn from them rather than checking a box while perpetuating harm.
 
Additionally, I  commend the Portland Board of Public Education for passing a resolution on Feb. 2 condemning recent hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ community members.  The Portland Public Schools is flying the Pride flag at all of our school buildings this month and again in June, in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students, staff and families. Learn more.
 
Mark your calendars for Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 6-8 p.m. when we’ll hold a  community dialogue titled “Valuing Safety and Hearing Each Other: A community conversation on school safety.” This session is the continuation of the commitment we made after discontinuing the School Resource Officer program last summer. This online event will allow us to engage as a community in a discussion about what being safe in school means for different members of our community, and to explore the appropriate role of law enforcement in that definition. We’ll explore those questions in small, facilitated groups. You’ll find sign-up information in various languages in this newsletter.
 
You’ll also see information in this newsletter concerning any travel over February break. Staff and students who travel outside of Maine, except to Vermont or New Hampshire, must follow testing and quarantine requirements. We’ve seen increases in COVID cases after school vacations. Whether you travel or not, please wear masks and observe physical distancing and hand hygiene and limit your interactions with people outside of your household. That way we can all enjoy a safe break and ensure everyone’s health is protected when we return to school.
 
Sincerely, 

Xavier Botana, Superintendent
The first week of February marks the beginning of Black History Month and is the Black Lives Matter at School week of action! Incorporation of Black history is essential year round as well as in February, when the United States recognizes and celebrates Black History Month. As we work to improve representation in our curriculum at PPS, our goal is that Black history will not be relegated to one month of the year, but an essential part of our entire curriculum. Black History Month is also an important time to celebrate Black lives, to engage in truth telling and honest reflection, and to make space in our classrooms for the complexity, diversity, and breadth of Black experiences, histories, and voices. The theme of Black history for 2021 is: “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity”. Below are some resources that can be helpful for teachers and families throughout the month in celebrating Black history.  
Increase in In-Person Instruction for Grades 10-12 Planned

At the February 23rd meeting of the Portland Board of Public Education, the district will be discussing the current plans for increasing in-person instruction for students in grades 10-12.  There is no definitive timeline for bringing students back, but the district is committed to making every effort to end the year with all students in person for at least a portion of the week. LEARN MORE.
 
SCHOOL BOARD NEWS
Board Condemns LGBTQ+ Hate Crimes

The Portland Board of Public Education at its Feb. 2 meeting unanimously approved a resolution condemning hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ community members. The resolution was prompted by a spate of recent hate crimes in which Portland and South Portland residents received dangerous and threatening letters in the mail. The Board pledged its solidarity with LGBTQ+ students, staff and families and committed itself to “creating a culture of allyship” by rooting out homophobia in schools and incorporating learning about LGBTQ+ history, culture, and identity in the curriculum.
Board Chair Emily Figdor said the resolution has particular relevance for her because she is gay. “To every LGBTQ+ student in Portland Public Schools, I want to say that, from my seat as a leader and an ally, I commit to protecting and celebrating you and your family,” Figdor said.

After the Board vote, Superintendent Xavier Botana announced that the school district is flying the Pride flag at all of its school buildings in February and again in June, in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students, staff and families. Learn more.
Apply to Join Building Level Advisory Committees for Elementary School Renovations!
As part of rebuilding four elementary schools under the Buildings for our Future Four School Bond approved by Portland voters in November of 2017, the school district has formed school level building committees called BLAC (Building Level Advisory Committee) for each school. At this time, there are vacancies on three of those committees – for the Longfellow, Reiche and Presumpscot renovation projects.
Building Level Advisory Committees help to formulate the vision for what the renovation projects will tackle. BLACs represent the community perspective and include parents, residents and staff from each school. BLACs are co-chaired by a School Board member and a City Councilor. The Committees meet once a month, usually for an hour in the evening on the fourth Thursday of the month. As the projects get underway, there is a great deal for the BLACs to do, but once construction is underway, the meetings may become less frequent. Construction on the projects is scheduled to begin late this Spring/early Summer and continue for the next three years.

Only Portland residents will be considered for appointment to the committees. Application must be received by midnight on February 26, 2021 to be considered. Click here to access the application form.
Application Process Open for Student Position on Maine State
Board of Education

Student voice is critically important to the Maine State Board of Education, and they are seeking applications for the newest student member to join the Board. Applications are being accepted February 1, 2021 – March 1, 2021. Learn more.
HEALTH AND SAFETY

A Letter to Families from the PPS Health Team
International Travel
 
We have been advised by Maine DOE to follow updated federal CDC guidance for international travel. The current risk assessment for COVID-19 is at level 4, or VERY HIGH, for nearly every country. Upon return to the United States, staff and students must quarantine. International travelers can return to school after they either:
  1. Get tested 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for 7 days after travel OR
  2. Do not get tested and stay home for 10 days after travel.
Any staff or students who have traveled internationally must stay home for a minimum of 7 days upon return to the United States. International travelers should avoid being around anyone who is at high risk for complications from COVID-19 for at least 14 days. 

Note: Any staff or students who travel within the United States, except to Vermont or New Hampshire, must observe the testing and quarantine requirements described above in the PPS Health Team’s letter to families.

WEEKLY COVID ADVISORY
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 Feb. 12 update.
PPS NEWS
PPS Music Students Accepted to Allstate

Five Portland Public Schools students have been accepted to the 2021 All State Music Festival. The jazz festival portion occurred at the end of January and the beginning of February, with finished recordings to be released in May. The band/orchestra/choral festival will be held in May.
Selected were:
Allstate Honors Chorus – Deering High School junior Emily Cheung
Allstate Orchestra – Portland High School sophomore Cassandra Lerch (violin)
Allstate Jazz Ensembles – Portland High School juniors Graham Ganter (violin) and Christopher (Topher) Kavookjian (guitar) and sophomore Benjamin DiYenno (guitar)

“Being accepted to the Allstate Honors Ensembles is the highest level of achievement in performing groups in our state,” said Julianne Eberl, the district’s music director and conductor of the high school and middle school orchestras. READ MORE.
PPS Students Score at Math Meets!

At recent math meets, Portland Public Schools middle and elementary school students had great results!
At the virtual Southern Maine Elementary Math League event:
  • The "Portland Middle Schools" sixth-grade team (students from King, Lincoln, Moore and the Remote Academy) placed 2nd overall
  • The Lyseth Elementary School team placed 4th overall
At the virtual Southern Maine Math League event:
  • Lincoln Middle School eighth-grader Asa Tussing placed 1st in the individual round
  • The "Portland Middle Schools" seventh-grade team (students from King, Lincoln, Moore and the Remote Academy) placed 3rd overall
  • The "Portland Middle Schools" 8th grade team (students from King, Lincoln, Moore and the Remote Academy) placed 4th overall
LIBRARY NEWS FROM REMOTE ACADEMY
Look at all of these books ready to be delivered to homes! A huge thank you to our community donors and to PRINT: A Bookstore for putting together bundles through Remote Academy's Portland Readers Program. We've sent home bundles to 23 students with a total of 111 books!

If you have any questions about this program or would like to find out how you can get more involved, please contact Print's children's manager, Stephanie, at kids@printbookstore.com or PPS Librarian Eva Platt, at platte@portlandschools.org. Donations of any denomination are accepted and appreciated!
Read Across America
Focusing On Reading, Not Dr. Seuss

As of August 2019, the NEA no longer has a licensing agreement with Dr. Seuss Enterprises. All logos and associations should be updated to reflect their new mission. Schools in Portland should not be celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday or having Seuss-themed weeks as part of Read Across America Week (the first week in March). This shift is due to emerging information about Theodor Geisel and his work before writing children's books as well as awareness of harmful stereotypes in some of the children's books. This is important for us to reflect on as a district and to be really clear that the Read Across America celebration should not focus on the author. Educators should not use images from Dr. Seuss books or costumes. We still will celebrate reading in March and there are lots of ways to do that. READ MORE.
COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
PPS is hosting an online community engagement event on Wednesday, February 24, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. to hold a community dialogue on what being safe in school means for different members of our community, and to explore the appropriate role of law enforcement in that definition. This dialogue will inform the work of the Policy Committee as the committee develops revisions to the policies that refer to law enforcement over the next few months. In order to foster meaningful dialogue, registration will be limited, although we expect to be able to support upwards of 100 participants. Please see a flyer in different languages with information on how to sign up: English, Acholi, Arabic, French, KhmerPortuguese, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese.
ANNOUNCEMENTS
Pre-K Lottery Application
Children who will be turning 4 years old by October 15, 2021 and are Portland residents are eligible for the Portland Public Schools' PreK program. The PreK lottery application for the 2021-2022 school year went live on February 8th and will close on February 26th. Applications after that time will be put on the waiting list. Parents are encouraged to apply for PPS' free, high-quality PreK program.

Here is the flyer in different languages: English, Acholi, Arabic, French, Khmer, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese.
Kindergarten Registration

The Kindergarten enrollment window is from February 8-March 5. Registration is online. Here is the Kindergarten Registration flyer in different languages: English, Acholi, Arabic, French, Khmer, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese. It has the link to the registration portal opened on Feb. 8 and it includes the list of items that will be needed by the school to complete the enrollment. Please note that the second page of the flyer is the State of Maine's Language Use Survey that all new families need to complete and send to the school for inclusion in the student’s cumulative file. 
Welcome To New CFO Kathie Winchenbach
We are excited to welcome incoming Executive Director of Budget & Finance/Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kathie Winchenbach to the Portland Public Schools team. Kathie is a certified public accountant (CPA) with many years of professional experience. This is actually a welcome back for Kathie – some of you may remember her from her time previously serving as PPS business manager. Kathie officially started in her new position on Jan. 25. Learn more about Kathie.
PPS Has a New Chief Information Officer (CIO): Gavin Goodall
The Portland Public Schools welcomes Gavin Goodall as the district’s new Executive Director of Data and Technology/Chief Information Officer (CIO). His varied background includes extensive experience in assessment and data. Gavin comes to us from the Denver Public Schools, where he has held a variety of roles that include senior manager of school redesign, program manager of strategic investments and analytics and time as a math teacher. We are excited to have Gavin join PPS. His skills will assist the district in using data to understand and solve challenges. Read more
PPS in the NEWS
Talbot School Teacher Loves Teaching
Talbot Community School fifth-grade teacher Jes Ellis wrote eloquently about her remote learning teaching experience in an “I #LoveTeaching” op-ed in the Portland Press Herald. Read what she had to say.
Teacher Helps Teacher
through Organ Donation
Alison and Gary Hinkley met while teaching at Lyman Moore Middle School and married in 2017. They now both work for the PPS Remote Academy. Gary had serious health issues and needed a kidney donation. Biddeford teacher Deborah Newman, a Portland resident whose children attended PPS schools, selflessly stepped up to help a fellow teacher and friend by donating a kidney. Alison and Gary are now the proud parents of twins and are looking forward to a healthier future. They are sharing their story to encourage others to consider organ donation. Read about Gary, Alison and Deb in the February edition of the Maine Education Association’s Maine Educator magazine. Read more.  
Reiche Teachers “Jump for Courage”
on Jan. 31
Ten Reiche Community School teachers took a “Jump for Courage!” polar plunge on Jan. 31 at East End Beach. They ran into frigid Casco Bay to demonstrate to students that you can do difficult things even when you are afraid. Check out this Bangor Daily News story (and great photos.)
Scholarship Program Highlighted
Tim Cronin, program coordinator for PPS’ “Make It Happen!” program, and a former PPS student are featured in this Portland Press Herald story: "USM grows scholarship program for disadvantaged and first-generation students." READ MORE.  


AccuWeather Features Outdoor
Learning at PPS

The Portland Public Schools’ outdoor learning program is among those highlighted in this AccuWeather report: “Outdoor learning carries on through winter months”. READ MORE.  
Spotlight on Outdoor Learning

PPS Outdoor Learning Coordinator Brooke Teller was recently featured in a Beetles’ blog titled: “Outdoor In-Person Learning: Partnerships in the Pandemic Spotlight Series”. Beetles is a blog on Science and Teaching for Field Instructors. READ MORE.
PARENT UNIVERSITY
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 the Atlantic Black Box Project for a two-part exploration into New England’s role in the slave trade and how this history can help us understand our present. Below is the Zoom link to join the webinar:
https://zoom.us/j/98827401569
Or iPhone one-tap: US: +13126266799,,98827401569#  or +16465588656,,98827401569# Webinar ID: 988 2740 1569
REMEMBRANCE
Talbot Community School has lost a dedicated longtime volunteer: Joyce Varney, who passed away on Feb. 5. Joyce was a volunteer for more than 20 years, putting in 1,000 to 1,500 hours annually. “Joyce did our copying, laminating and book binding,” said Talbot Community Coordinator Kathy Cole. “She worked over the summers as well. She was the point of contact for the copier representatives and was the only one allowed to laminate to cut down on waste of supplies. The staff is mourning the loss of such a key part of our community.”

The Portland Public Schools is very grateful to Joyce for her years of service and extends our deepest condolences to her family. Read Joyce’s obituary here.
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