Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My Monthly Column — August 2019


Proud to be part of caring, committed community
By Xavier Botana

Welcome to the new school year! The 2019-2020 school year – which begins Sept. 3 for students in grades 1-12 and Sept. 5 for kindergarten and pre-K students – will be my fourth as superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. I am so grateful to be part of this great community that believes in the importance and value of public education for all. 

We witnessed a prime example of the community’s caring and commitment this summer when so many of our neighbors came together to support the influx of asylum-seeking families temporarily housed at the Portland Expo.

Among the families were more than 80 school-age children. Portland Public Schools staff stepped up to help, led by Grace Valenzuela, our Executive Director for Communications and Community Partnerships. We determined the first step was completing their intake. Our Multilingual & Multicultural Center’s intake process is a thorough evaluation of a student’s academic, social-emotional and medical history and an assessment of current academic levels and English proficiency. We knew intake would be necessary whether these students remained in Portland and attended our schools or moved to other communities.

Because they arrived at the end of the school year, during the intake center’s break, our intake staff had to change their break plans to help out. I extend my deepest thanks to our Multilingual Center staff for demonstrating their commitment to the well being of our families and students. 

Our district also provided summer school to nearly all of the youngsters at the Expo, thanks to our summer school team. The students were able to improve their English and get an introduction to American schools, which we know will serve them well this coming school year.

Another example of the Portland community’s support is the school budget Portland voters approved in June. The budget is an investment in our Portland Promise and will help it come to life. 

Adopted in the fall of 2017, the Portland Promise is our district’s strategic plan. It commits the district to prepare and empower Portland students to succeed in college and career by working to realize four goals – Achievement, Whole Student, Equity, and People. We’ve set five-year targets to measure progress toward those goals and strategies to achieve them.

Starting this fall, I’ll be writing this monthly column about each of four new initiatives in the 2019-2020 budget that embody our Portland Promise goals. 

I’ll detail how the expansion of our pre-kindergarten program will help address our Equity goal by reducing opportunity and academic achievement gaps for our economically disadvantaged students. Research shows access to high-quality early childhood education helps reduce such gaps. Students perform better academically and attend college at a greater rate.

In the next column, I’ll talk about how we’re creating a robust behavioral health continuum to help realize our Whole Student goal. We’re adding teachers, social workers and behavioral health professionals, and students from our former Bayside Learning Community are in our other schools as part of our new Breathe program. 

Another column will focus on how we’re progressing toward our Achievement goal by strengthening core instruction through strong teacher leadership and sustained professional learning. Research shows effective supports, quality curriculum, and collective teacher efficacy improve student achievement.

I’ll complete the series by writing about how we’re working on realizing our People goal by attracting, supporting and retaining talented and diverse staff.

I’ll say it again: I am so proud and grateful to be a part of this welcoming and caring school district and community.