Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
We hope this finds you warm and well after the beautiful snowy day. We understand that for many, yesterday morning’s wake-up call to inform you that we were having a snow day was welcome news (our own kids were quite thrilled!). But we want to also acknowledge that canceling school places a heavy burden on some families and students, and so we will always make these decisions carefully with as much information as possible. We want to use this opportunity to share transparently about how we make these decisions.
We collaborate with the City of Portland Emergency Management Team, which includes Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Parking, and other essential functions, as well as with other regional school districts to inform our decision. We strive to make these decisions as early as possible, but as we all know, the weather in Maine can be fickle and forecasts don’t turn out as predicted. This often means that we need to observe the conditions on the ground prior to the start of the day. Our team begins this work as early as 4 a.m. in order to make a final decision and communicate it to families and staff before the start of the day. Please see this earlier communication about our Inclement Weather Plan for 2022-2023 for further information.
As we begin the second half of the 2022-2023 school year, there is much to be proud of across all of our schools! We are thrilled to share that after 5+ years of a highly collaborative process with Indigenous advisors, we officially launched the Wabanaki Studies curriculum across all elementary schools over the past two weeks at the Portland Museum of Art with a keynote by Dr. Darren Ranco, the chair of the Native American Studies program at the University of Maine, Orono. Dr. Ranco served as one of many advisors to the large team of educators from across all schools who collaborated to develop this interdisciplinary curriculum. Students will learn about Wabanaki Studies through an experiential approach that weaves together social studies, science, literacy, the arts and the outdoors. In so doing, they will build their understanding of the past and the present and deepen their connection to the place we now call Maine.
We also want to highlight the recent Community Forum on World Language, during which we rolled out our world language vision, which was developed through a collaborative process with educators, parents and administrators. During the forum, we listened to feedback from families about what they like about our current program offerings and what else they’d like to see us evolve towards in order to bring our programming into even greater alignment with this vision. We are grateful to the many families who came out to share their perspectives and ideas and remain committed to listening to our community about how we can keep building on the strengths of our district. A presentation on our world language vision was held at the Jan. 17 Board of Public Education meeting. Click HERE for the slide presentation and HERE to watch and listen to the presentation at the Board meeting.
As we have been doing, we also want to provide an update on how things are progressing with payroll. We have continued to make progress on the core functioning of our payroll systems, which has significantly improved the accuracy of our payments in our recent payroll runs, and we have addressed a number of systemic issues such as with retro payments, stipends, and health benefits. We continue to work on addressing other retirement and voluntary pre-tax deduction program issues, among other employee-specific issues. Additionally, the work with our independent auditor, Spinglass, is on track to provide a report by the end of this month. We look forward to this analysis to ensure we have a comprehensive accounting of all of these issues and that all employees are made whole and that our systems will ensure this remains true moving forward. We deeply regret the hardships and breach of trust that this situation has created. We will continue to work to get reliable systems in place as quickly as possible so that our staff can focus on the core mission of their jobs: serving all PPS students.
Finally, we want to honor the wisdom and inspiration we continue to lean on from Dr. Martin Luther King. We’ve been reflecting on his legacy over the MLK holiday this past week. This has been a hard several months for PPS and so we’ve been thinking a lot about how we can come together as a team and a community around our most unifying shared purpose – creating safe, welcoming and academically enriching schools for all of our children. This quote from Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham Jail in April 1963 rings especially true for us at this moment in time: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
We are committed to staying the course on our Portland Promise goals and finding ways to facilitate connection and compassion throughout our community. We are stronger together – and our students deserve our collective best.
Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend, Interim Co-Superintendents