Portland Public Schools administration is adjusting as the spread of COVID-19 continues to require remote learning.
Jake Giessman, former assistant principal at Lyman Moore Middle School, is now the interim director of the district’s Remote Academy. Giessman replaced Jesse Robinson, who led the completely virtual school in addition to her usual duties as director of curriculum, assessment, and instruction since the beginning of the school year.
Pamela Otunnu, who has worked as a math and English Language Learners teacher at Deering High School since 2017, has succeeded Giessman as assistant principal at Lyman Moore through the end of the school year.
Remote Academy was established to give the city’s public school students in preschool through eighth grade an option to attend school remotely instead of on a hybrid schedule. It is now the city’s largest public school.
Portland Public Schools spokesperson Tess Nacelewicz said via email Monday that Otunnu is in the Lyman Moore position on an interim basis because Giessman will have the option to return to the job at the end of the academic year.
If he chooses not to, the district will post the position and select a permanent replacement.
“Obviously, Pamela would be a strong candidate if that were the case,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “We also have high hopes that if not at Moore, Pamela would continue in a leadership role in the district.”
Otunnu, a graduate of the Portland Public Schools, expressed gratitude for the opportunity at a Jan. 19 School Board meeting.
She said unlike other districts in Maine, Portland’s school system is “representative of the world,” and in her new post she wants to improve the student experience.
Giessman said his work at Remote Academy this semester will be to “streamline and stabilize” the learning model, and work with stakeholders who have issues with it.
He commended Remote Academy staff and the parents of Remote Academy learners for building a virtual school “from scratch.”
Like many things in the era of COVID-19, Giessman called Remote Academy a “less-than-perfect” adaptation to the current times, but said parents have largely been understanding.
He applauded the students for learning without familiar practices like sitting at their teacher’s feet for storytime or being able to share meals in the cafeteria.
“These kids are also heroes and they’re the reason we’re all here,” Giessman said.