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Board Inaugurates New Members, Selects Chair

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Board Inaugurates New Members, Selects Chair
Posted on 12/07/2020
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The Portland Board of Public Education on Dec. 7 held a virtual ceremony to inaugurate its newest members. The board also voted unanimously to choose District 2 member Emily Figdor as chair for the coming year.

Sworn in by City Clerk Katherine Jones were newly elected Board members Jeffrey Irish (District 5), Aura Russell-Bedder (District 4) and Yusuf Yusuf (At-large). Seats on the Board are for three-year terms.

Also sworn in were five student representatives to the Board: Tessa Boxer-Macomber, representing Portland High School; Haley Allen, representing Casco Bay High School; Emily Cheung, representing Deering High School; Abagail Hill, representing the Portland Arts & Technology High School (PATHS); and Mangasa Yangala, representing Portland Adult Education.

At-large member Anna Trevorrow made the formal nomination to select Figdor as chair. Before being elected to the Board two years ago, Figdor was known as a community activist who led the winning campaign to pass a $64 million bond in 2017 to renovate four Portland elementary schools. Trevorrow said Figdor’s goals as an activist were always about bettering the school district as a whole and that those activist skills would be “transferable to chairmanship” of the Board.

At-large member Roberto Rodriguez said it had been “an honor and a privilege” to lead the Board as Chair over the past two years and that he was happy to pass the leadership baton on to Figdor. He said that during her time as Board member, he has admired her dedication, clear communication and the clarity she brings to decision making.

In her inaugural address, Figdor praised Rodriguez saying, “He has led us and our city with heart and moral clarity, inspired by his lived experience.”

She continued, “I am here today for two reasons: My family and the Reiche Community School.” Her parents, whose families fled anti-Semitism in their home countries to come to the United States, imbued in her the value of education, she said.

And when her own daughter started kindergarten at Reiche Community School, that “multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and economically diverse school gave me hope for the future and for our city. And that motivated me to use the professional skills and experience I had developed over my 20-year career in public policy to fight for more resources for our schools.”

Figdor continued: “Now, years later, I’m more committed to our schools than ever. And I believe that not only do we need more resources for our schools, but we need to target those resources toward Black students, Indigenous students, and students of color to begin to pay back our education debt.”

To help do that, Figdor said she sees three priorities for the Board. One is to develop and put into practice a district equity policy. Another is to achieve universal pre-kindergarten, including transporation services for pre-K families. Third, she said, “we need to fully fund the Lau Plan, our plan to provide an equitable education to our many English Language Learners.”

Figdor concluded by thanking the Board “great honor” of selecting her as chair. “I can’t wait to see all we will accomplish together,” she said.

Also at the ceremony, Board members also honored three members stepping down this year: Marnie Morrione (District 5), who completed four terms, and Tim Atkinson (District 4) and Mark Balfantz (at-large), who each served one term.

District 1 member Micky Bondo praised Atkinson for his passion and commitment and giving up family time to serve and for always being “about the people” – keeping his focus on students and staff.

Trevorrow described Balfantz as “well informed, insightful and devoted to quality curriculum.” She praised him for prioritizing students in every budget decision and said he was skilled at expressing an opposing decision in public debate while “maintaining a high level of respect” for those with another view.

At-large member Sarah Thompson told Morrione: “You have accomplished great work in some very challenging times.” Thompson listed Morrione’s work as Board chair on and on many Board committees. Among accomplishments Thompson cited were Morrione’s spearheading of the effort to renovate the city’s elementary schools and her leadership of the search committee that resulted in the hiring of Superintendent Xavier Botana in 2016. Morrione wiped away tears as Thompson spoke.

The virtual ceremony also included recitations and musical performances by Portland Public Schools students.

Photo: Portland Board of Public Education Chair Emily Figdor