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Superintendent's Portland Forecaster Column

Superintendent’s budget is a starting point

I presented my proposed $161 million budget for the 2024-2025 school year to the Board of Public Education two weeks ago – and have already heard quite a lot about what people like about the budget and also what they’d like to change. I welcome this feedback because I consider the superintendent’s recommended budget a starting point for all the discussions that the Board and the entire Portland Public Schools community now need to engage in. That’s the only way we can successfully address the unique fiscal challenges we face in FY25 and arrive at a final school budget that truly lives up to its theme of “Centering Students.”

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Black history should not be limited to one month

We are going to take a break from updates on the strategic plan and budget in this month’s column, as I want to use this article to recognize the leading work of the Portland Public Schools, specifically on Black history.

February is Black History Month, a time to recognize all the contributions and the legacy of African Americans to our history and society. The month has been officially recognized since 1976, our nation's bicentennial, when President Gerald Ford called upon the nation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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Five-year goals in the works amid a busy month

While I want to jump right into an update on our strategic planning process, my head and heart are still processing the devastation of the shootings in Lewiston. I hope everyone in our community has had the opportunity to check-in on their loved ones, hug their kids, and take a breath.

The Portland Public Schools lost a community member in the tragedy. I would like to express my deep sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Joshua Seal, a member of Maine's Deaf community,  a former educational technician at East End Community School and also a PPS parent. Joshua, who died in the Oct. 25 shootings, was a much loved member of the PPS family.

This month, we launched our strategic planning process with a Strategic Plan Steering Committee – a diverse, citywide group of stakeholders that includes a student, alumnus, a religious leader, parents, nonprofit leaders, educators, school and district leaders, and members of our Board of Public Education. Over the next four months, this group will come together to identify five year-goals and identify priorities and initiatives that the district will deliver on to achieve the goals.

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Building on our strengths at the Portland Public Schools

When I first transitioned into the district in July, I committed to spending the first three months listening and learning in the community. In that time, I’ve met with more than 500 students, parents, staff, business leaders and community partners face-to-face, and we’ve gathered additional information through a survey that over 925 people completed. We also partnered with a national expert in school district strategic planning to visit classrooms, review student assessment and conduct a thorough organizational diagnostic of the Portland Public Schools.

On Oct. 3, I shared the trends and themes from that listen-and-learn process with the Board and public. I identified 10 themes highlighting that we have both amazing strengths as a school system to build on and opportunities to improve outcomes and experiences for students and support for staff. Like many organizations, we have made progress and we still have areas for continued improvement.

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