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STAFF & COMMUNITY NEWSLETTER
April 2, 2021
 
Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
 
It’s now April and we’re gearing up to bring most of our students back for increased in-person learning. I’m writing with another weekly update on our plans and a link to an FAQ to respond to the questions we’ve heard from you.

As I informed everyone last week, we have decided that our elementary and middle schools will be having students attend school in person four days per week beginning on April 26. At this time, we will maintain the current bell schedules for elementary and middle schools. Our schools have been reaching out to parents this week with specifics for their buildings. Unfortunately,  we do not have the staffing capacity to accommodate transfers into or out of Remote Academy for elementary and middle school students. 

To give our elementary and middle school staff time to prepare for welcoming increased numbers of students, we are making schedule adjustments the week preceding the April break. On Wednesday, April 14,  there will be no remote work for elementary and middle school students. Also, no elementary or middle school student cohorts will attend school in person on Thursday, April 15. Instead, that day will be a remote learning day for ALL students. This will allow teachers and other staff time to set up classrooms and ensure everything is in place for a smooth transition when students return to school the Monday following April break.

Our high schools have already informed students and families in grades 10-12 that they will return in person two days per week, beginning April 5 for Casco Bay High School and April 12 for Deering and Portland high schools. Our ninth-grade students will continue to attend two days each week. With more students in our high school buildings, physical distancing requirements do not allow us to increase the number of in-person days for our freshmen students. 

We have heard from many students and families requesting more in-person instruction. They’ve communicated with us through School Board meetings and email and by commenting in our bi-weekly Possip surveys. We also held focus groups with multilingual families, who supported more in-person learning. We wanted to hear specifically from those families because remote learning has been particularly challenging for our students who are English language learners.

We also have heard from those of you who do not support this move. We realize that increasing in-person instruction  will not satisfy everyone, but it is a data-driven decision. Our data shows that we have a growing problem with chronic absences, course failures and students’ social, emotional and mental health. We need to take proactive steps to intervene, and in-person instruction is the first and most powerful intervention available to address these concerns. A combination of COVID rates lower than during the winter peak and an increase in vaccinations and testing lead us to believe that we can safely make these changes to help our students to achieve.  Our school nurses have already begun working with our community and state partners to make vaccines available to high school students as soon as possible.

Maine’s data continues to show that there is lower transmission of COVID-19 in schools compared to the general population. That continues to be true in our district as well – the vast majority of our positive cases originate from contacts in the community, not the classroom. To keep students in our buildings, students and all  families  must follow our health and safety protocols Those include: 
    •    Wearing masks at all times when you are outside your home or at school. 

    •    Following physical distancing guidelines. 

    •    Continuing to do the daily symptom check. Do not send students to school if they have symptoms or if they have been tested and are awaiting results.  


As we near April break, please see the latest travel guidance. The number of positive cases in Cumberland County has reduced from the winter peak but continues to be significant – and we still see positive cases among students and staff. But with everyone’s help, we can continue to keep our schools safe by following our protocols and quarantining students and unvaccinated staff as needed. We’ll also monitor cases and positivity ratings and adapt our plans in the way we have done all year.

Here is an FAQ responding to questions we have heard from families about health and safety. We hope you find this helpful; we’ll add to this document as more questions arise.  Please send yours to us.

We understand that these changes require yet another significant adjustment for families – in a year when you’ve already had to deal with so much. Thank you for your understanding and support as we take these steps toward more “normalcy.” We believe they will result in more positive learning experiences for students to close out this year and help prepare them for what we hope will be a full return to in-person learning this fall.
 
Sincerely, 
 
Xavier Botana, Superintendent
HEALTH AND SAFETY UPDATES

You will find in this document answers to frequently asked questions regarding our Spring Reopening Plan, related to health and safety concerns.

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 April 2 update.
NEW IMMUNIZATION LAW (COVERING NON-COVID-RELATED IMMUNIZATIONS REQUIRED TO ATTEND SCHOOL)

As of September 2021, a new  state law, LD 798, will go into effect. It states that philosophical or religious immunization exemptions are no longer allowed for school attendance. If you are unsure of your student’s vaccination status, please contact your school nurse. It can take 6 months to catch up on required vaccinations. Details of the new law can be found here: LD798.
SCHOOL BOARD NEWS
FINANCE COMMITTEE VOTED TO MOVE THE PROPOSED FY22 BUDGET TO THE SCHOOL BOARD
The School Board's Finance Committee voted April 1st to recommend the Superintendent's budget to the Portland Board of Public Education. The Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on April 6th. On April 13th, the Board will vote to recommend an FY22 school budget to the Portland City Council. Check out the FY22 budget calendar for meeting schedule. You can also view Budget Development materials at this link. Go to BoardDocs to view agendas and get more information. Zoom links to meetings will also be posted on this platform as well as on our social media.
2021-22 PPS ACADEMIC CALENDAR 

The Portland Board Of Public Education has approved the 2021-22 School Calendar. Details of start and end times are still in development.
NOTICE
EMERGENCY BROADBAND BENEFIT PROGRAM
FOR ELIGIBLE HOUSEHOLDS 

A new $3.2 billion federal initiative, called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, can help lower the cost of high-speed internet for eligible households during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
Eligible households can get benefits that include up to $50/month discount for broadband services and a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider.  Households that are eligible include the following, if one member of the household:
  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, or did so in the 2019- 2020 school year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and
  • The household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
Click HERE for more information on other household eligibility categories and benefits.
Change in Portland High School Meal Site Schedule

Starting April 12th, the Portland High School meal site pick up will ONLY be in operation Wednesdays from 1-2pm, while the other three sites, Casco Bay High SchoolDeering High School, and Gerald E. Talbot Community School, will continue to remain open Monday-Friday from 1-2pm. We appreciate all your flexibility!
 
GOODWILL WORKFORCE SOLUTIONS SUPPORT SERVICES
Goodwill Workforce Solutions has started a new grant to help individuals impacted by COVID-19 by supporting their access to resources and services to obtain stability in their lives. Those who are enrolled into the program will be matched with a Peer Navigator to help navigate these different services and programs to ensure clients get connected to the appropriate supports. Those enrolled must be over 18.

If you have students or know families who you think may be interested in being paired with a Peer Navigator, please feel free to share the flyer, refer them to Innes Herdan via call or email, or have them contact Innes Herdan directly at: (207) 653-0291 or email Innes.Herdan@goodwillnne.org
RECOGNITION

The Portland Public Schools, with its Make It Happen! program, is the Grand Prize winner in the National School Boards Association (NSBA) 2021 Magna Awards program. The annual Magna Awards honor school districts across the country for programs that advance equity and break down barriers for underserved students. Huge shout out to Make It Happen! Director Tim Cronin and site coordinators Leah Dixon (DHS), Sahra Hassan (CBHS), and Danielle Wong (PHS), Nanette Dyer-Blake (MLC), volunteer academic coaches, and community partners who provide support to multilingual students participating in the program. Congratulations to all! READ MORE.
IT’S NOT DEBATABLE: DEERING STUDENTS ARE #1!

Deering High School juniors Emily Cheung and Balqies Mohamed competed earlier this month in the National Qualifying Speech and Debate Tournament for the National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) – and placed FIRST overall in Public Forum! Learn more.
PATHS STUDENTS’ ART QUITE REVEALING
Artwork above by Domna Tsiganis, CBHS student

Diane Manzi, who teaches the Commercial Art class at PATHS (Portland Arts & Technology High School), asked her students to each create a piece of art where the theme was "True Self in Quarantine." Check out students’ artistic interpretations of the assignment. Read more.
CBHS Math Cup Fundraiser Equals Success!

For a lot of schools, holding community fundraising events during a global pandemic just doesn't add up. But Casco Bay High School (CBHS) figured out how to hold its anticipated annual Math Cup competition between students and business leaders – virtually.

On March 31, student teams from CBHS went head-to-head via Zoom with “mathletes” from various Portland businesses in a night of friendly math competition, solving everything from linear to quadratic equations. Learn more here.

PHS SENIOR WINS LOCAL ‘YOUTH OF THE YEAR’ TITLE


Portland High School senior Mireille Tona has been selected as the 2021 Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Clubs Portland Clubhouse. The recognition celebrates Mireille’s exceptional achievements as a Club member and also puts her in the running to be Maine State Youth of the year – and potentially compete for the regional and national titles! Congratulations Mireille! Learn more here.
PPS IN THE NEWS
PAE NEW MAINER TELLER TRAINING PROGRAM
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
A great public-private partnership at Portland Adult Education is featured in this Portland Press Herald story: "Portland Adult Education expands job training for new Mainers." Read more.
A TALE OF OUTDOOR LEARNING IN TWO PORTLANDS

This March 14 CBS Sunday Morning news story is about outdoor learning at the Portland Public Schools & a private school in the other Portland (Oregon): "Schools without walls: Lessons in outdoor education". Watch it here. 
ED TECHS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Superintendent Xavier Botana’s March column in The Forecaster, titled "Ed techs punch above their weight," features Roberto Keith, ed tech at East End Community School and King Middle School. Read more.  
VOTE EVERY DAY FOR DONNA COLELLO
FOR CUSTDODIAN OF THE YEAR


Ocean Avenue Elementary School custodian Donna Colello has been nominated nationally for the Cintas 2021 Custodian of the Year contest, and she is now one of the top 10 finalists. Here is the link to vote through April 16 to help her and her school win recognition and prizes. Each person can vote once a day. Donna is the only custodian from the Northeast, and only one of two women!  
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS WORKSHOP

College Admissions During Covid; What Families Should Know 

Hear from a panel of admissions experts from the University of Southern Maine, Bates College, Southern Maine Community College, Clark University, and University of Vermont. 

April 8, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. 
Please fill out this form to register for the event. 

Flyer: English, Acholi, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese
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