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Leadership Changes at DHS, CBHS, King, Talbot

Four Portland Public Schools will have newly appointed school leaders as of July 1. Dr. Jake Giessman will be principal of Deering High School and Alyson Dame will be Deering assistant principal; Priya Natarajan will be assistant principal of Casco Bay High School; Amy Marx will be King Middle School principal; and Terry Young will be principal of Talbot Community School.

“We welcome these five leaders to these key positions,” Interim Co-Superintendents Aaron Townsend and Melea Nalli said in a joint statement. “Most of them already have strong connections to the Portland Public Schools, and all of them have the knowledge, skills, and experiences to ensure that all students at these schools have an optimal learning experience. Their appointments add to our already strong school leadership team for the 2023-2024 school year.”

The appointments of Giessman and Dame tie into a new leadership structure at Deering High School. Dame and Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed had served as co-principals of that school from 2019 until January of this year, when Ahmed stepped into the role of interim assistant superintendent of schools. Giessman, who had been Deering assistant principal since 2021, replaced Ahmed as interim Deering co-principal. Ahmed now is transitioning to a new role as the executive director of secondary schools and Deering will return to a more traditional leadership model, with Giessman as principal. Dame will transition to an assistant principal role to better continue her focus on growing a rigorous academic program for the school. The district is currently recruiting for another assistant principal at Deering.

Natarajan, currently the district’s high school math instructional coach, will fill an assistant principal position at Casco Bay High School, where she previously taught math.

Marx, who joins the Portland Public Schools after serving as principal of Harpswell Coastal Academy, will fill the principal position at King Middle School that has been held by Caitlin LeClair, who is stepping down as of June 30.

Young, a former Longfellow Elementary School principal who has been the district’s executive director of operations for the past year, is returning to school leadership as principal of Talbot Community School. Talbot Principal Ann Hanna is retiring at the end of the month.

More information on the newly appointed administrators is below:

Alyson Dame, Assistant Principal, Deering High School: Alyson grew up in Maine, and was studying at Harvard Divinity School to become a minister when she discovered that she loved teaching.  After seven years teaching English, she became an assistant principal in 2015 at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, NY.  In 2018, she was thrilled to have the opportunity to return to Maine and use her experience to serve Portland's diverse student population as an assistant principal at Deering.  She also served Deering as a co-principal from 2019 to 2023.

Alyson is passionate about supporting strong instruction, and is looking forward to supporting Deering as an assistant principal of teaching and learning.  She is committed to helping one of the most diverse schools north of Boston become a school in which academic opportunities are truly equitable, and where all students succeed at high levels.

Dr. Jake Giessman, Principal, Deering High School: Jake has served as interim co-principal of Deering High School since January and had been assistant principal at that school since 2021. Prior to that, he was interim principal of the PPS Remote Academy during the onset of the COVID pandemic, moving to that position after being assistant principal at Lyman Moore Middle School since 2015. His previous experience includes being director of a gifted and talented program and coordinator of summer school programs at a school district in Columbia, Mo.; head of school at the Academy Hill School in Springfield, Mass.; and a teacher in Connecticut. Jake holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Johns Hopkins University; a specialist degree in educational leadership from the University of Missouri; a master’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana; and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Harvard University.

Amy K. Marx, Principal, King Middle School: Amy’s passion for experiential and project-based learning began over 25 years ago when she began her leadership career as the director of curriculum at an EL Education-inspired K-8 school. Since then, she has been principal of schools in Massachusetts (including the Harbor School, an EL School in Boston) and in Maine, at North Haven Community School and at the Harpswell Coastal Academy. She also has led schools internationally, in India and Thailand.  All these schools’ missions support students to become passionate, life-long learners whose work helps to make our world a better place!

Amy received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University, and then taught far away from home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Returning to the Northeast, she received her masters of education degree from Boston University, and then led schools in the Boston area for 14 years. Amy is thrilled to be joining the leadership team at King Middle School, as this inspiring school continues its work to develop meaningful learning for students that connects to experts, authentic audiences and real purposes beyond the walls of the school!

Amy grew up in coastal Maine, and in the summers will always be found on Monhegan or North Haven islands.  When she is not working with the teachers, parents and students in her schools, you will find her outside near the ocean with her husband and three kids or in another country exploring waterfalls, hiking, and learning! Amy also loves to sing and do theater whenever she can sneak away from her family to perform with others.

Priya Natarajan, Assistant Principal, Casco Bay High School: Priya is rejoining the Casco Bay High School staff after two years serving as the district’s high school math instructional coach, working to advance school success plans and support teachers across the district.   She joined the Portland Public Schools in 2002, first working at Deering High School before becoming a math teacher at Casco Bay High School. She has also served as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern Maine and Eastern Maine Community College. Prior to her work at PPS, Priya was a founding teacher at the Boston Arts Academy in the Boston Public Schools for four years.  She won the 2017 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in the mathematics category and has been active in state and local efforts to recruit and retain teachers and is passionate about celebrating the teaching profession and making it a more sustainable, joyous and rewarding career pathway.   She continues to be active in several district-wide projects, including the High School Redesign Team, ESOL/SLIFE curriculum and assessment, data visualization and analysis and 8th/9th grade transitions.  She is currently serving as the CBHS interim dean of students and looks forward to the opportunity to support the staff and students full-time next year!

Priya holds a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Ohio University. She completed both her ESOL endorsement and the Leadership for Tomorrow’s Schools program at the University of Southern Maine, and is currently a board member of both ILAP (Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project) and Rippleffect. She and her husband are residents of Portland and are parents of a PPS graduate, class of 2022. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. 

Terrence Young, Principal, Talbot Community School: Terry has been working in public schools for 28 years, nine of which have been with the Portland Public Schools. He most recently served as the district’s Executive Director of Operations and before that was the principal of Longfellow Elementary School. Prior to joining the district, Terry was a principal in Saco and an assistant principal in Auburn. He taught elementary and middle school in Massachusetts and Maine for 10 years. In Portland, Terry has been a member of the Teacher Evaluation Steering Committee and the planning team for professional development for school leaders. He has also served as a mentor for administrators who are new to Portland. After a year working in the district office, Terry looks forward to returning to school leadership as the new principal of the Talbot Community School. 

Terry earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a master’s of education degree from Boston University, and his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Maine. Terry’s dissertation focused on the impact of teacher efficacy on reading instruction at the elementary level. Terry has also been involved with the Portland community, serving as a volunteer for Portland Little League. One of his favorite roles was coach of the Challenger Division, an adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges.

Terry is originally from the Boston area and has lived in Portland for more than twenty years with his wife and two sons, former Portland Public Schools students who are now in college. They enjoy all that Maine has to offer, including spending time hiking, camping, and fishing. An avid sports fan, Terry enjoys cheering for his favorite local teams, with the Patriots and Red Sox at the top of that list!

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.