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Letter from Interim Co-Superintendents - February 4, 2023

Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members, 

Happy February! We’ve gotten through January, often the coldest and snowiest month of the year. The frigid temperatures at the end of this week remind us that it’s still winter, but the days are slowly but surely growing longer. We hope everyone stays safe and warm this weekend. 

We are inspired by all of the incredible things that are happening in schools and classrooms across PPS. This week we chose to highlight some of the meaningful STEM teaching and learning taking place in our schools.  

Over the past few years teams of teachers from all school levels – high school, middle school and elementary – have worked collaboratively to develop a PPS Science Vision, a PPS Math Vision and a PPS Computer Science Vision.

Our Science Vision sets a path for the district to provide our students with a rigorous and engaging science education that enables them to become scientifically and ecologically literate, as well as technologically capable problem solvers. Our Math Vision centers on the belief that all students are capable of knowing, doing, and enjoying math. We strive to create a math community where students grapple with rigorous and meaningful problems and engage in productive discourse with their peers that allows them to construct a deep conceptual understanding of math. The goal of our Computer Science Vision is for our students, who are digital natives, to develop a foundation of computer science knowledge and learn new approaches to problem solving that harness the power of computational thinking to become both users and creators of computer technology.

Engaging math and science learning goes on at all school levels. For example, East End Community School kindergarteners recently were introduced to some basic physics concepts as they began to build a pinball machine, learning how pushes and pulls control the direction of a pinball. 

Sixth-graders at Lincoln Middle School have been engaged in a wide variety of science learning experiences that include learning the relationship of mass and volume with density and then making predictions about what would happen when liquids with different densities were mixed together. Students were surprised when they didn't mix! This density lab set the stage for students’ studies about atmosphere layers and their different masses, volumes, and densities. And Lincoln seventh-grade science classes are learning about muscle, skin and bones,  dissecting raw chicken wings as a visual, hands-on lesson part of that biology unit.

Several science classes from Portland High School are participating in the University of Maine and Maine EPSCoR's water sampling pilot program this spring. Students will have the opportunity to connect virtually with University of Maine researchers who are using environmental DNA (eDNA) as a powerful tool for various environmental applications. Students will collect water locally and EPSDoR's labs will process the samples and return fish biodiversity data back to schools. Classes will use the data for analysis, projects and discussion. 

To read more about these and other examples of awesome science and math learning in our schools, please check out this article on our website, which includes photos.

As we have been doing in previous letters, we’ll also use this opportunity to continue to update you on our payroll situation. As we shared with our staff earlier this week, we have continued to make strides to address the systemic issues that surfaced last fall and to address the backlog of individual employee issues. Our most recent Jan. 27 payroll run continued to demonstrate that our core payroll systems are functioning properly. We have resolved more than 80 percent of all individual issues reported to us since last fall, and we’re working as quickly as possible to resolve all remaining issues.

This past Tuesday, Jan. 31, we received the expected report from Spinglass, the consultant that we hired to conduct a forensic analysis of our payroll systems and records and make recommendations on how to improve them going forward. We're still in the process of reviewing the report with our bargaining units, who have asked for more time to go over the details. We expect to be able to share more information about the report early next week.

We also want to update you on the superintendent search. The Board of Public Education is moving forward with the search process in order to have a new superintendent in place by June. We are grateful to the many families, staff and community members who participated this week in our three community engagement forums and also in focus groups to assist in the search. Your voices are critically important to the process – stakeholder engagement is essential to a successful outcome.

We’re also conducting a community survey to get your input on the most important responsibilities, goals, and skills needed for the role of superintendent. At its Feb. 1 meeting, the Superintendent Search Committee voted to extend the  deadline for completing that survey to Monday, Feb. 6. If you haven’t yet taken the survey, there’s still time – just  click HERE. Make your voice heard – the feedback gathered from the forums, focus groups and survey will be used in developing the job description and profile. Interviews and the screening of candidates are slated to take place in March.

We’ll sign off with a reminder that February is Black History Month, an opportunity to celebrate achievements by African Americans and recognize their central role in our nation’s history. It’s tragic that this month started with the funeral of Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who died following a brutal beating by Memphis police. This latest example of horrific racial injustice illustrates the deep work we need to continue to do as a community and a country. We know that Tyre’s murder can be particularly traumatizing to young people and to staff, impacting them in a variety of ways. We have provided our educators with resources to help them talk with and support our students.

Let’s use this month as a springboard for all of us – as an organization, a community and as individuals – to renew our commitment to our Equity goal and to recognize unjust practices and proactively work to eliminate them.


Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend, Interim Co-Superintendents

Staff & Community Newsletter