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Superintendent Letter - November 10, 2022

Nov. 10, 2022

Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,

We recently submitted our enrollment numbers to the state and we have just six fewer students this school year as compared to last year. We continue to serve close to 6,500 students, which is good news after a couple of years of decreasing enrollment. We continue to be the State’s largest and most diverse school district.

Congratulations to Ellen Flores, a special education teacher at Lincoln Middle School, who last week was presented with  the 2022 Maine Psychological Association Educator Recognition Award in honor of her commitment to advancing positive mental and behavioral health outcomes for students. Ellen is amazing and a great example  of our dedicated PPS special education team – educators who are committed to ensuring that every Portland Public Schools student with special needs can successfully access a rigorous, meaningful education. Learn more about Ellen’s award in this newsletter.

It is fitting that Ellen is being recognized during  National School Psychology Week, Nov. 7-11, which highlights the contributions of those who meet students’ psychological needs. We are grateful to all of our school psychologists for their important contributions to ensuring that we meet the academic and social emotional needs of our students.

However, as with many other areas, full staffing continues to be a struggle. At this time we have three school psychologist openings. This impacts our ability to meet the needs of our students with special needs.

We continue to have a critical need in other areas of employment, including educational technicians, substitutes, teachers and bus drivers.

As you know, last year we had to cancel bus routes on a rotating basis because of a shortage of bus drivers and substitutes. We are doing all we can in the hopes of being able to avoid taking these drastic measures again.

We’re taking a number of proactive steps to try to attract and retain more staff.

Ed techs are one example. Nov. 16 is Education Support Professionals Day, a time to honor essential employees such as ed techs. To attract and retain more of these valued members of our education team, the Board of Public Education recently approved a new contract with our ed techs that increased pay, making us more competitive with neighboring districts. We also hope to be able to leverage for recruitment and retention a new Maine Department of Education program that will pay educational technicians in specialized programs such as our district Breathe, Bridge, and Beach programs an additional $2,500 if they participate in a five-week course.

We held our second hiring fair on Nov. 4, focusing on ed techs and substitute teachers. Both that fair and another we held in early October yielded some badly needed candidates. We will continue holding monthly hiring fairs to help plug away at our vacancies, which also include food service staff and custodians.

Substitute Educators Day is Nov. 18. We need more of these critical staff and have increased substitute wages on an interim basis for this school year to attract more of them. See the new rates HERE. Also, we temporarily are offering any staff member who refers a candidate for an educational technician or teacher vacancy a $1,000 referral fee if we hire that person and they complete the school year with us.

In addition, we are reaching out to our community. We need everyone who can to support our schools. Please contact your school principal if you can volunteer. For substitute or permanent jobs of all types, go to our Human Resources employment page to learn more and apply. Spread the word to anyone you know looking for a job. Anything you can do to help support public education in Portland would be greatly appreciated!

The Maine Department of Education, in recognition of the wonderful work that is happening at Portland Adult Education, the largest adult education provider in Maine. recently  awarded PAE three grants totaling nearly $1.5 million for three Strengthening Maine Workforce projects. This funding will enable PAE to increase the reach and intensity of the valuable services it provides to help Portland residents access their full potential. Learn the details in this newsletter.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Adam Burk for their three years of service as the District 3 representative on the Board, where they have been a dedicated and tireless advocate for students. I will miss Adam’s commitment and dedication to our school system, deep understanding of our district’s equity work and thoughtful, calm and determined advocacy for our students.

I congratulate Julianne Opperman, who on Election Day won the District 3 Board of Public Education seat. I look forward to working with Ms. Opperman as we continue the important work of creating a more equitable school system.

I would like to also extend my appreciation for Portland voters’ civic engagement this past Tuesday. While I’m disappointed that Question 5 – a City Charter change to give the School Board autonomy over the school budget –  failed to win approval, I remain committed to working with the Board and City Council to achieve a responsible budget each year that responds to what our community needs. We hope that the issues highlighted during the debate on Question 5 will spur better understanding of the educational implications of the financial decisions the Council is empowered to make. Read on in this newsletter to learn more election details.

Tomorrow, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day. To the members of our Portland Public Schools community who are veterans, we thank you – and all veterans – for your service.


Xavier Botana, Superintendent