A Portland Public Schools administrative building on Cumberland Ave.
A Portland Public Schools administrative building on Cumberland Ave. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Portland Public Schools has signed a contract with Chicago-based Alma Advisory Group to conduct the district’s superintendent search after it was unanimously approved by the school board last week.

Portland Public Schools began the search process a few months ago, when Superintendent Xavier Botana, who joined the district in 2017, announced he would be leaving at the end of this school year — a year sooner than his contract would expire.

A superintendent search committee voted unanimously on Nov. 22 to bring the Alma decision to the board. The committee is composed of five school board members and eight community representatives, including current and former PPS students, parents and staff. 

The timeline for the search was laid out prior to the vote on Dec. 6. The district hopes the search will conclude by May to ensure the new superintendent has time to adjust to the position before Botana’s departure in June. The initial screening of top candidates is expected to occur throughout February and March, followed by background checks and final interviews in April and May.

The search is expected to cost $48,000 before adding travel or advertising costs. Costs would come from the board’s contingency fund, Botana said at the meeting, which sits at roughly $85,000.

District 2 Board member Emily Figdor said at the Dec. 6 meeting that she received positive feedback from Denver and Cincinnati public schools, both districts who have used Alma for superintendent searches.

Not only does Alma, a woman-of-color-led-business, align well with the district’s equity goals, Figdor said, it will have four team members working on the search, more than the other firms would have.

At-Large Board member and participant on the search committee Nyalat Biliew said the firm is “exactly what Portland Public Schools needs: they’re innovative, they’re forward thinking in their understanding of equity.” 

Stakeholder engagement is the next step of the search process — which includes input from search committee members, teachers and parents. The search firm agreement explains this process will include community focus groups “and two to three large community gatherings.”

The way Alma “embodied equity” in their work and showed their understanding for PPS and Portland was a huge part of the decision, Lentz said, particularly when identifying the importance of tailoring the search to the community and the district’s multilingual families.

Newly elected School Board Chair Sarah Lentz said that she’s happy with the contributions of the committee in selecting Alma, calling it “a rich and thorough process so far.” The search committee interviewed three firms of the six that replied to the district’s request for proposals, choosing Alma over Human Capital Enterprises and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

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