Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Monthly Column – May 2017

Graduation a Celebration for Students and Staff
By Xavier Botana

It’s graduation season. Our seniors are excited and their teachers are too. Graduation from high school is our goal for students from their first day of  pre-school, so seeing them achieve that is as gratifying to us as it is to them.

I’m looking forward to congratulating the Class of 2017 this June. It’s thrilling every year to see our students transformed from the youngsters they once were to accomplished young adults, eager to grasp their diplomas and take on the new challenges of college and career.

The Portland Public Schools will have five graduation events.

Four will be for our high schools – Portland, Deering, Casco Bay and the Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS), our regional high school. I look forward to congratulating graduates at each one and recognizing the educators that helped them achieve this milestone.

Deering High School’s ceremony will be June 7 at the Cross Insurance Arena. Both Portland and Casco Bay high schools will hold their ceremonies June 8 at Merrill Auditorium – PHS in the morning and CBHS in the evening.  

On May 19, PATHS students will receive certificates of completion in the arts or technical education fields they chose to pursue. Some students also will receive national certifications they’ve earned.

The Portland Adult Education (PAE) ceremony on June 15 at Merrill will close our graduation season. PAE graduates, who typically range in age from their late teens to late adulthood, will be honored for receiving their high school diplomas or passing a high school equivalency test.

These graduates stand out because they haven’t taken the usual route to complete high school. They represent the spirit of perseverance and commitment to improvement that we strive to teach all of our students. Many were unable to previously finish high school for reasons that include illness, family responsibilities, moving to new country where they didn’t speak the language, homelessness and other life circumstances.   

Next year’s entering freshman class, the Class of 2021, will be the first class required by the state to earn a “proficiency-based high school diploma.” In proficiency-based education systems, students earn units of proficiency rather than accumulating credits through seat time. Students will be expected to demonstrate that they understand and are able to do work in required content areas.  Experiences in their classes and in other settings in and out of school will be used to determine students’ proficiency.

Two of our schools already use this approach to learning. Casco Bay High School and King Middle School have been implementing proficiency-based learning and grading practices for years now. The experience of these high-performing schools shows us that this model works.   

Schools all across Maine and elsewhere in the country already use this model and are proponents of it because it increases transparency in student expectations and provides students with multiple avenues to demonstrate their competency. It also increases student responsibility for their learning.

We understand that this will be an adjustment for many families.  Communication and careful listening are never more important than when making significant changes such as these. We recently held a series of information sessions for parents of our current eighth-graders and we will continue to keep families informed. You can find more information at this link:  http://www.portlandschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=1094237&pageId=8936816http://www.portlandschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=1094237&pageId=8936816  or by going to the “Parents” section of our website, www.portlandschools.org and clicking on the “Proficiency-based Learning at PPS” button.

I’ll close with information on the FY2018 school budget. The City Council voted to approve the budget on May 15 and it now goes to Portland voters June 13.

Our proposed budget of $105 million represents a modest increase of 1.4 percent over the FY2017 approved budget. It requires a tax rate increase of 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or 2.75 percent – adding $67.20 to the annual tax bill of a home worth $240,000. Because of a projected decrease in state revenue of approximately $1 million and given increased personnel costs, we had to make significant cuts. However, we have preserved small class sizes and successful programs and services.  

I ask that you please support the budget at the polls and continue to pressure elected officials in Augusta to properly fund our schools!