My Tenure More than Payroll Issues
By Xavier Botana
After nearly seven years of writing here, this is my last column. When I became superintendent of the Portland Public Schools in 2016, I considered the role the capstone of my career. Now I have stepped down, with my last day in the office Jan. 13.
I am very proud to have had this opportunity to serve Portland’s students, staff and families. I am also very grateful to the broader Portland community for consistently showing how much they value public education. While my tenure ends with significant challenges associated with our payroll, we as a community have achieved much during the course of my tenure. Here are some key examples:
I started my leadership by working with the Board of Public Education and many members of our staff and community to revise our comprehensive plan to create the Portland Promise. The four goals of the Promise – Achievement, Whole Student, People and the central goal of Equity – have guided our work since then, particularly our policy and budget work. One measure of a successful strategic plan is the degree to which its principles and ideas become the language of the district. By that measure, the Promise has been a resounding success as it has become synonymous with, and shorthand for, our work as a district.
In our budgets, we have secured unprecedented funding for services for students experiencing opportunity gaps: English language learners, students with disabilities, and students who are economically disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized. We have invested in recruiting, supporting and retaining educators of color, so that our staff can be more reflective of our student body, the most diverse in Maine. We have diversified our curriculum and helped students see themselves in our classrooms and in our content. And we now have equity-focused leadership across the system.
On the policy level, we have created a more just and equitable framework for governing the district. We gave voice and place to traditionally underrepresented members of our communities in policy development. Whether in developing our policy against harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination, our gender expansive policy, our discipline policies or carefully threading the role of law enforcement in our schools, we have centered and lifted those voices.
We have brought to culmination a 20+ year process to renovate our elementary schools. City voters in 2017 overwhelmingly approved the four-school Building for our Future bond. Lyseth Elementary was renovated in 2020 and now a second school – Presumpscot– will be done in a matter of weeks. The remaining two schools – Reiche and Longfellow – are less than a year from completion.
Working as a community, we navigated two-and-a-half years of pandemic instruction, making the best decisions we could with the information we had to keep students and staff safe. We leveraged unprecedented federal funding to create a financial cushion to weather challenging times down the road.
I am proud to have brought stability to the superintendent role, which previously experienced frequent turnover. Now, new leadership will bring closure to our payroll challenges and work on rebuilding trust with our staff and community and passing the 2023-2024 school budget. I am confident that new interim co-superintendents Aaron Townsend and Melea Nalli – formerly our assistant superintendents – will ably lead that work until the Board selects a permanent new superintendent by June.
I wish nothing but the best for the Portland Public Schools and its people. I believe that the district can and will overcome its current challenge and return to stability and effectiveness – and be stronger for having done so.