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Letter from Interim Co-Superintendents - March 3, 2023

Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members, 

It’s March, the month when spring arrives – at least on the calendar! March is also Youth Art Month and National Music in Our Schools Month, so it’s a great time to shine a light on the amazing art and music teaching and learning going on in our schools. During March, you’ll have several opportunities to see and hear the results of that teaching and learning.

For example, a special Youth Art Month exhibition this month at the Portland Museum of Art includes creative works from Portland Public Schools students among the more than 80 pieces of artwork on display from students statewide. Each March, the museum and the Maine Art Education Association collaborate to showcase the artwork of Maine students from kindergarten through grade 12. After several years of being virtual during the pandemic, Youth Art Month has returned to the PMA walls in 2023. You can view the artwork of students from East End, Ocean Avenue, Reiche and Talbot elementary schools and from Portland and Deering high schools as well as from PATHS at the exhibition, located on the lower ground floor of the PMA. The show runs from March 1 through April 2, and also can be viewed digitally on the PMA's website.

As the museum notes, Youth Art Month is not only a chance to present the artwork of students, but also is a way “to highlight the art educators in our schools and the importance of and access to quality art programs. Art educators help to inspire and empower young artists, creating avenues for young artists to express their creativity, find their voice, and cultivate communication skills.”

On its website, the museum features Deering High School art teacher Emily Serway, who explains why art education is so important. “When I’m working with my students,” Serway said, “I find something magical happens. Students become engrossed in their work to the exclusion of all else. The troubles of the day melt away. Their conflicts at home and with other students have the volume turned down. Students from all over the world find a common language. Students with behavioral challenges succeed. Art is the tool that students didn’t know they needed to make positive changes in their lives.”

Another opportunity to view student art will be on March 10 and 11, when East End Community School and the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, who have joined this year in an exciting collaboration, will bring the first annual student art show into the community. Artwork created by EECS students will be on display at the MHNO's Hill House at 92 Congress St.

EECS is one of the district’s most diverse schools. Students and families come from many countries and speak more than 30 different home languages. Art is a language that all EECS students share. The school has a vibrant art program, headed by art teacher Melissa Maher, known for her enthusiasm for art and her dedication to her students.  The art show will feature creations by students in Pre-K through grade 5 in a variety of media, because the goal is to expose the students to art in its many forms. Read on in this newsletter to learn more details about the show.

This month you also will have the opportunity to hear the results of music teaching and learning in our schools at the Portland Public Schools All-City Concert at 4 p.m. March 15 at Deering High School. It will feature music students in band, orchestra, and chorus from all the high schools and middle schools. 

Another way that the arts connect our diverse learners and tap into students' unique passions is exemplified by a new pilot course at Portland High School. Music teacher Jayne Sawtelle and art teacher Heather Gilbert are piloting the course with students who are learning English to help them develop academic language around the arts, while providing high-level art experiences. For instance, Sawtelle explained, the students drum complex patterns and create music with steel pans while reading and repeating words like "pattern, repetition and copy.” After exploring those concepts in music classes, they then go to art classes to learn what those words mean in the visual arts. “So far, kids seem to really enjoy it, and they are definitely building their academic vocabulary,” Sawtelle said. 

This month also provides the opportunity to watch PPS students engaged in the performing arts. The community is invited to the Deering High School Drama Club's one-act show, "The Collective," by Brent Holland, on March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the school. The play explores whether or not humanity has progressed enough as a species for inclusion into “The Collective.” The play is described as very thought-provoking and has a powerful conclusion.

Learn more about these and other inspiring examples of teaching and learning around the arts and music on our website HERE.

March is also a key month in our budget process. We encourage everyone to attend the public forum on the 2023-2024 school budget at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 6, at Casco Bay High School, either in person or virtually. Click HERE for joining information. We’ll be giving the historical context around our school budget development and the fiscal pressures we’re currently facing and will respond to questions from the public. 

Following this forum, we’ll be presenting our proposed FY24 Superintendents' budget to the Portland Board of Public Education at a special meeting on March 14. Another important date on the budget calendar is April 11, when the Board will vote on a budget to recommend to the City Council. The Council will take a vote on the budget on May 15 and send it to Portland voters for final approval at the polls June 13. Your participation and feedback throughout the process is very important.

In the meantime, we are doing a three-part series of budget videos for staff with information helpful in understanding the budget process. We’ve completed two videos and received feedback that the community also might find value in viewing them, so we are including them here for you to access. Click HERE to view the first video and HERE for the second one.

Our community also has an opportunity this month to honor longtime Portland Adult Education educator Arline Saturdayborn, who passed away Feb. 7. Arline was known as a gifted mentor and extraordinary educator who taught passionately for more than 20 years. In memory of Arline’s generous spirit, the PAE team has created a special Student Bus Pass Fund that will help even more students access learning at Portland Adult Education. Click HERE to learn more about the fund. Please consider a donation by April 1 in Arline’s memory. Our hearts go out to Arline’s family and loved ones and to the educators and students who considered her a dear friend, colleague and teacher. Here is an obituary with more information about Arline’s dedication and service to our community.

Even though March means spring is around the corner, the messy, all-day snowstorm on Feb. 28 reminded us that winter is still with us. That snow day is now our third of the 2022-2023 school year – the other two were on Jan. 20 and Jan. 23. Snow days are made up at the end of the year so those three days have pushed the last day of school for students to Tuesday, June 20, and the final day for teachers to Wednesday, June 21. If we need to have more snow days, those dates would be adjusted again.

March 5-11 this year also is National School Social Work Week. The theme for 2023 is “We Rise,” according to the School Social Work Association of America. As the association explains, “Social Workers rise up – supporting their students, families, and school communities.  School Social Workers rise to share hope.  They rise to listen and understand.  They rise to challenge inequities. They rise to support all students.” We all know that our students' mental and behavioral health needs are greater than ever following the pandemic and we are truly grateful to our social workers for their critical role in supporting students and families.

We’ll close by highlighting some exciting accomplishments from our winter sports teams. The Portland High School boys basketball team won the regional championship and now will play for the state championship against South Portland on Monday, March 6, at 7:45 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena. We hope to see a lot of Portland fans show up. Go Bulldogs!  In addition, we have many competitors in swimming, wrestling and nordic skiing competing in their respective championships.  We’re proud of the many strong athletic opportunities our students have in Portland!


Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend, Interim Co-Superintendents