Portland Adult Education (PAE) will have a new executive director as of this summer: Abbie Yamamoto, who is currently executive director of the Maine Association for New Americans.
Dr. Yamamoto will step into the role held by current PAE Executive Director Anita St. Onge, who is retiring after leading PAE since 2016. Dr. Yamamoto will formally start her position on Aug. 1, but will begin transitioning before that date.
Superintendent Xavier Botana introduced Dr. Yamamoto to the Portland Board of Public Education at its April 12 meeting.
“I am excited by all that Abbie brings to our work at PAE and the Portland Public Schools,” Botana said. “Working together with our committed team of educators at PAE, our students, and our valuable community partners, I believe that she will keep Portland Adult Education as the integral community institution that it is. I also believe that Abbie will help us to realize PAE's potential to continue to grow and evolve.”
Dr. Yamamoto said she was thankful for the warm welcome to the district. “I’m really honored to have been selected to lead Portland Adult Ed and to be joining this team of distinguished educators and administrators,” she said. “I really look forward to working with all of you.”
Dr. Yamamoto, who holds a doctorate in Japanese and Korean language and culture from the University of California at Berkeley, is a committed leader with international experience in nonprofit and for-profit sectors and academia. She also has experience as a writer, presenter, and speaker on the topics of trauma, multilingualism, multiculturalism, and practices of diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Yamamoto’s most recent leadership experience has been with the Maine Association for New Americans, where she served as Board chair and more recently as executive director. In this role, she has grown a small volunteer-led nonprofit into a vital and growing part of the fabric of immigrant-serving organizations in the state.
Prior to that, Dr. Yamamoto ran her own consulting firm, One TransLiteracy, focused on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She also taught Japanese language, culture, and literature at the university level. She has held faculty positions at Centre College; the University of California, Berkeley; Hamilton College; and Sarah Lawrence College. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College.
Dr. Yamamoto was born and raised in Japan. “As an immigrant and woman of color, she has many shared experiences with our students and community members,” Botana said. “Combined with her academic credentials and track record of growing an organization, she brings a unique perspective and valuable competencies to Portland Adult Education.”
Botana thanked the selection committee, made up of PAE staff, students and community partners and led by Assistant Superintendent of School Management Aaron Townsend. “These folks invested countless hours developing and following through on a vetting process that yielded this great outcome for the Portland Public Schools,” Botana said.
He also expressed his gratitude to PAE Executive Director Anita St. Onge and Assistant Director Elizabeth Love “for their tireless work and dedication to continuing and growing the tremendous work of Portland Adult Education. I look forward to working with them on an ongoing basis as this succession takes place. They have positioned us for continued excellence.”
Portland Adult Education is the largest adult education program in Maine, where approximately 2,000 students each year strive to improve their academic and workforce skills to strengthen their roles as citizens, taxpayers and employees. PAE courses help students reach a variety of goals, from achieving a high school diploma to improving their skills in order to get a job or a better job or enroll in college. PAE serves a large population of immigrant students, many of whom have had previous professional careers in other countries, and, in order to secure a job here in a related field, need to improve their academic and professional English. PAE has the programs to meet these students’ goals.
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 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals