Tuesday, June 18, 2019

My Monthly Column – June 2019

Teachers are the catalyst of graduates’ success

By Xavier Botana

This month, more than 500 Portland Public Schools students graduated from our three high schools. We’ll hold another ceremony June 27 for approximately 100 Portland Adult Education students receiving their high school diplomas or passing a high school equivalency test.

I am so proud of our more than 600 graduates. I am also extremely proud of our Portland Public Schools teachers, who do such a great job of educating our students.

Our job as a school district is to prepare and empower students for college and career. Knowing what I know about members of the Class of 2019, I’m confident we have met this goal. However, without our dedicated and passionate teachers, we wouldn’t be able to realize this goal, class after class.

We are fortunate to have many outstanding teachers on our staff. Outside organizations agree, granting our teachers numerous accolades. I don’t have the space here to name all our fantastic teachers, but I’ll highlight just a few of the many honored with awards this school year.

Mallory Haar, an English language learner (ELL) teacher at Casco Bay High School, is truly award winning. She garnered three awards for outstanding teaching: a Lawrence W. O’Toole Teacher Leadership Award from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which included a $15,000 grant; an Education for the Common Good Award from Bowdoin College; and a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms grant. Casco Bay Principal Derek Pierce describes Mallory as “one of this planet’s finest educators.”

At Portland High School, Olivia Bean, a new science teacher, has won a five-year Knowles Teaching Fellowship for early-career math and science teachers, worth approximately $150,000. Bean is in her first teaching job at PHS.

The Knowles Teacher Initiative is  a national program of support for exceptional new teachers, who receive professional development, mentoring, and financial support over a five-year period.

Olivia said one reason she loves teaching in Portland is our district’s diversity. She plans to use some of the fellowship funding to learn new strategies for teaching science to ELL students.

Deering High School English teacher Shana Genre is not only a model teacher but also an  exceptional poet.

Shana’s poems were published in “Balancing Act 2: An Anthology of Poems by Fifty Maine Women.” In December, the Portland Press Herald published her poem “The Seed,” which was awarded a prize by the anthology’s editors.

Shana not only teaches English and creative writing but also is co-advisor of Breccia, Deering’s student-published literary magazine that dates back to 1879. Under Shana’s tutelage, Breccia has won awards and inspired young writers.

It’s thanks to these teachers and others that our graduates are able to succeed.

June is also the month when we honor staff who have contributed years of effort to making the Portland Public Schools a great place to learn: our retirees.

Teacher Sue Olafsen is one example. For 21 years, Sue has been a social studies teacher, a coach, a district leader helping to develop and operationalize our Professional Learning Based Salary Structure, lead negotiator for the Portland Education Association and its president since 2014. She has dedicated herself to elevating the status of the profession in the service of students.

She has also helped further enhance my respect for all our teachers and the work they do.

I’ll close with a shout out to Portland voters for approving our FY20 school budget on June 11. Our teachers couldn’t teach and our students couldn’t learn and graduate without the generous commitment to education on the part of the citizens of this great City. Thank you.