Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Monthly Column – May 2018

Time to Recognize School Staff – and Volunteers

By Xavier Botana

Another name for May could be “Appreciation Month” because it’s an opportunity to recognize and thank many of our school employees. During May, we celebrate National Teacher Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week, as well as National School Nurses Day, School Nutrition Employee Appreciation Week and School Lunch Hero Day. Here at the Portland Public Schools, we are deeply grateful to all these employees for the crucial roles they play in our students’ success.

This year, May also is an opportunity to express our appreciation to the hundreds of other people who make a vital difference in the lives of our students: our school volunteers.

On May 10 at East End Community School, we held a Volunteer Appreciation event for the approximately 700 parents and other community members who donate about 90,000 hours per year in services to our schools. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to these volunteers for all the time, caring and expertise they give to our students.

Our volunteers come from all backgrounds and – in our very diverse school system – from various countries. They include parents, some of whom begin volunteering when their children are in school but end up continuing to volunteer after their own children move on. Some volunteers aren’t parents themselves but value education and want to help our community’s children. Our volunteers range in age from retirees and grandparents sharing a lifetime of knowledge with our students to young professionals sharing their cutting edge expertise.

Volunteers do myriad things in our schools. For example, our classroom volunteers do everything from assisting students with reading and math to helping teachers organize classrooms and prepare materials. Volunteers in our Make It Happen! program, a college-readiness and academic success program for language minority students in grades 9-12, assist students with the college application process and help them engage in leadership, community service and professional development opportunities.

Outside the classroom, volunteers do such things as accompanying students to school in our Walking School Bus program, serving in PTOs, planning and organizing fundraisers, teaching students new skills before or after school, serving as an accompanist for student/parent chorus, assisting with drama clubs or as volunteer coaches, working as Sports Boosters and manning the ticket office and concessions at sporting events. They also chaperone events that include field trips, school dances and Project Graduation.

One of our core strategies is to ensure that every student has a meaningful connection to a caring adult. That person can be a teacher or other school employee but also a volunteer. Volunteers create bonds with students and serve as role models.

We always need more volunteers, so if you’d like to join this group of amazing individuals, please contact the community coordinator at your local school.

May 9 was National School Nurse Day, when we recognize our school nurses for all their contributions to student health and learning. One particular Portland Public Schools nurse truly stood out in that regard, and now our new school that will open this fall to replace Hall Elementary School will be named after her. The Portland Board of Public Education voted unanimously April 24 to name the new school the Amanda C. Rowe Elementary School.

Amanda was a beloved and dedicated longtime school nurse who died in 2013. In almost three decades with the Portland Public Schools, she tirelessly and courageously served as a health teacher, school nurse, and district school nurse coordinator. She worked at the local and state levels to increase students’ health and safety and combat injustice.

You can learn more about Amanda Rowe and the naming process on our website at:

Last but not least, the City Council votes May 14 on our proposed $112 million FY19 school budget to send to Portland voters June 12.  This year’s budget process has been a very challenging one, with a $3.4 million decrease in state education aid coupled with rising fixed costs. The budget we have crafted maintains quality education in Portland while being cognizant of the tax burden the state aid shortfall shifts to local homeowners. I hope you’ll make your support of this budget known to the council and at the polls.