Parents, students, and staff members of the Portland public school district participated in two events this week intended to collect input toward the district’s superintendent search.
The events, run by Chicago-based Alma Advisory Group, allowed school community members to engage the search firm and discuss guiding questions that they’ll use to find Portland’s next superintendent. The first event occurred Monday at East End Community School, and the second on Tuesday at Casco Bay High School, after the Phoenix went to print.
On Monday night, tables of parents and students filled the East End Community School cafeteria before splitting into smaller discussion groups.
Sylvia Flowers, manager of Alma’s search team, said at the beginning of the event that they’re looking to reflect what matters most to the PPS community in the job search before posting it by the end of February.
The search firm wants survey responses from parents, students, staff and Portland residents, who were asked to rank the importance of qualities like the district’s academic performance, equity and anti-racism efforts, support of students and staff, communication, financial stability and more. It is available online to community members until Friday, Feb. 3 in eight languages.
According to Alma’s timeline, the goal is to have the new superintendent selected and onboarded by July 1.
The district’s selection would succeed outgoing superintendent Xavier Botana, who started in Portland in 2016 and resigned this past December. Botana was key to implementing the “Portland Promise,” a district-wide plan approved in 2017 that served as a blueprint to guide student learning in a way that is equitable for all students. Botana helped to secure more funding for services for students experiencing opportunity gaps, increase staff diversity to more closely match the diversity in the student body and worked to give voice and place to traditionally underrepresented community members.
The two previous superintendents before Botana served shorter terms.
Sarah Thompson, a school board member from 2006 to 2021, led two of the three past superintendent searches in Portland. She equated the current search to the first she chaired for Jim Morse in 2008, which occurred after a budget crisis for the district under former superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor in 2007.
According to Thompson, the board conducted an organic search process, mostly by themselves, without a search firm. That included a 21-person interview committee, which was unwieldy, but necessary to ensure the new superintendent could regain the community’s trust, she said.
“In some ways, we’re kind of back there now,” Thompson said. “The board really needs to be sure to include the community in any way they can, and not be limiting in any way.”
For future searches, the district began enlisting search firms to aid in the process. Additionally, the school board’s presence on search committees has grown with each subsequent search. In 2011, when the district hired former superintendent Manny Caulk in 2012, the committee included three school board members. That number increased to four in 2015 in the process of hiring Botana. It’s now at five in the ongoing search.
The PPS superintendent search will be underway for the next few months. In addition to the in-person community events, the district is holding a virtual event with Alma on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 6:30.