The Portland Board of Public Education voted unanimously at its June 6 meeting to appoint Dr. Ryan Scallon as the new superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. Scallon, an assistant superintendent in the School District of Philadelphia, holds a doctorate degree in education.
“I am truly humbled and honored to be provided this opportunity,” Scallon, who attended the meeting remotely, told the Board. “I plan to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”
Scallon said he believes in schools where students not only feel safe but are excited to be in school and are engaged by such offerings as music, art and extracurriculars, and where they also are pushed to achieve academically at high levels. He said his goal is to make sure all PPS students graduate prepared and empowered.
However, Scallon said, “I don’t think the work can be done alone.” He said he looks forward to partnering in the work with the whole Portland Public Schools community – staff, students, families, community members and partners – and will be sharing more about developing a joint path forward.
Board Chair Sarah Lentz said, “From the first time we met Dr. Scallon, we knew he embodied the skills needed to move our district forward. Over the course of the interview process, the Board and Search Committee spent hours with Ryan understanding his commitment to equity, his demonstrated success in building sustainable systems and operations and his deep and sustained investment in the staff and educators around him.”
Lentz continued, “Ryan is a deep listener, collaborative in nature, humble, and the bulk of his career has been in schools where the majority of students have been historically excluded. In addition to having experience as a teacher, principal, and an administrator, Ryan is also a parent and brings all of these perspectives to the role.”
Scallon is married to a former teacher who is now director of a pre-service residency program for teachers and has three children. Scallon said his children would be providing valuable feedback about his performance leading the Portland Public Schools. “My toughest critics will be around the dinner table each night,” he said.
The official start date of Scallon’s four-year contract is July 1. His annual salary will be $200,000.
Lentz said that Scallon would next be in Portland from June 23 to June 27. She said the Board is hoping to create at least one community event while he is here “so more members of the community can meet him and start to know his strengths.”
Scallon holds a business degree from the Wharton School business school, but was drawn to teaching after an experience teaching world economics to a class of sixth-graders in West Philadelphia during his first year in college. He saw firsthand that not all students have the same opportunities or school-based experiences he had growing up in Wisconsin, and has devoted his career working to reduce such opportunity gaps.
Scallon went on to earn a master’s degree in education in school administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in education from Temple University in May 2020. He has experience as a teacher, school principal and district administrator, working in diverse urban schools in Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
After graduating with his business degree, Scallon was a middle school math teacher while earning his teaching credentials at night. He taught middle and high school math in Philadelphia and then Milwaukee. After completing the principal certification program at the University of Pennsylvania, Scallon was selected by New Leaders, a nationally recognized program for principal development, as one of 101 Resident Principals nationwide for a year-long residency designed to develop outstanding principals to lead high-achieving, urban schools. Over the next two years, he worked as a resident principal and then assistant principal at one of the highest performing, non-special-admit high schools in New York City.
Recognizing his organizational and academic leadership, the NYC Department of Education selected Scallon to lead a struggling expeditionary learning high school in the South Bronx. Over the next three school years, Scallon led a school that was approximately one-third multilingual learners and one-third students receiving specialized services. Working with the students, families, and staff, Scallon strategically implemented a bilingual program, new academic expectations and aligned supports for teachers. As a result, academic achievement, as measured by the rigorous New York State Regents’ exams, improved by double digits in all tested subjects.
For the last thirteen years, Scallon has served in a number of leadership roles in schools and central offices in Philadelphia and Boston. These roles include deputy chief of new schools, chief academic officer, and assistant superintendent. During that time, Scallon was fortunate to lead a number of teams that were each able to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for students. Now, as the assistant superintendent for innovation and opportunity, Scallon partners with families, external partners, school leaders, central office departments, and school staff to offer a range of innovative and progressive schools for students from competency based to work based.
The Board created a Superintendent Search Committee last fall after Superintendent Xavier Botana announced that he planned to retire this June after seven years on the job. Botana resigned early, in December, and was replaced by then assistant superintendents Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend. They have led the district as interim co-superintendents since January and Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, who had been co-principal of Deering High School, has served as interim assistant superintendent.
Neither Nalli nor Townsend applied for the superintendency. Nalli announced in May that she plans to depart from the district at the end of June after seven years of service. Townsend, who was hired as assistant superintendent for school management in 2019, will continue with the district as deputy superintendent in a restructuring of district leadership that will begin in July under Scallon. Dr. Ahmed will also transition to a new role as the executive director of secondary schools, and the district is recruiting for an executive director of elementary schools.
“Welcome, Dr. Scallon,” Townsend said at the June 6 Board meeting. “We’re confident he brings the skills, knowledge and mindset to help us deliver on the Portland Promise.”
The Search Committee, made up of eight community members from a variety of stakeholder groups and four Board members, vetted candidates and made recommendations to the Board at every stage of the process. The committee was aided in the superintendent search by Alma Advisory Group, a professional search firm whose work aligns with the central equity goal of the Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan.
Since January, Alma helped lead a transparent search process guided by equitable input from the Portland community that included community surveys, community gatherings, and interviews and focus groups with teachers, students, principals, staff, union leaders and community partners. That input helped inform the job profile and competencies required of a new superintendent.
During the six-month search, a pool of 47 candidates was narrowed down to two finalists in the middle of May – Scallon and Eric Moore, a senior advisor to the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. Interviews with the finalists were made public. Staff, students, families and other community members had the opportunity to provide feedback on the candidates to the Board, which helped inform the final decision.
The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 49.8 percent of the district’s students are white and 50.2 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.