Portland School Board members say the new superintendent they selected Tuesday won them over with his kindness and character, and his commitment to stay in Portland for the long haul.

Xavier Botana, a Cuban immigrant who has worked in Indiana, Illinois and Oregon, said he was “honored and excited” about the move.

“It’s an amazing district,” Botana said in a phone call after the vote. “I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity.”

Botana, 53, will begin a three-year term July 1 and be paid $148,000 a year, with a possible performance bonus of $7,400. He succeeds Jeanne Crocker, who served as interim superintendent after Emmanuel Caulk left last August.

“Not only does (Botana) have the skills and experience, he also has the sensibility and character to lead in a way that we want for our district,” board member Stephanie Hatzenbuehler said.

Botana is Portland’s sixth superintendent in nine years, and board members said his commitment to staying in the district was very important to them.

Before Caulk, the superintendents were James Morse, Jeanne Whynot-Vickers and Mary Jo O’Connor, who resigned in 2007 after a $2 million deficit sent the district into a financial and management tailspin that took years to stabilize.

School board member Sarah Thompson, who served during those years, alluded to wanting a superintendent who would provide stability.

“I genuinely believe that he’s here for the long haul,” Thompson said. “I’m very excited about that. We have had a lot of changes over the years and we need to stay stable for a while. We’re at a good spot right now.”

Botana said he already has Maine ties. He and his wife, Suzanne Botana, and their 13-year-old son David, have been coming to Maine for years to participate in a Sunday River program for skiers with special needs. David, who has been homeschooled since third grade and is now enrolled in the Stanford Online High School, has a limb difference, Botana said, without elaborating.

He said his wife, a contract school psychologist with a specialty in bilingual students, and son have many Maine friends.

“There’s a whole network of people there,” Botana said, including David’s ski instructor, whom his son considers a grandfather figure. “I feel very fortunate.”

In Michigan City, Indiana, Botana played a lead role in establishing a freshman academy for struggling students at the high school, an honors program and an early college program, according to the superintendent there, Barbara Eason-Watkins. He also helped launch magnet schools and alternative education programs, in addition to bolstering the district’s career and technical education programs.

“Xavier Botana is an exceptional leader who is intelligent, collaborative and visionary,” Eason-Watkins said in an email. “The district is fortunate to have hired such a dedicated and talented leader.”

Botana has been associate superintendent of the 6,000-student Michigan City Area Schools in Indiana since 2010. The Portland school district has about 7,000 students.

Before moving to Indiana, Botana served for about a year as chief academic officer for Portland, Oregon, public schools, then returned to the Chicago area for family reasons.

Before that, he was chief officer of instructional design and assessment for Chicago Public Schools and an administrator for the Illinois State Board of Education, and held other positions in schools in Illinois.

Botana has a master’s in educational administration and has completed some doctoral program course work.

“He said he doesn’t see Portland as a steppingstone, he sees it as his capstone project,” Portland School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said. “I think he’s the whole package for us.”

He was one of two finalists for the Portland position, out of an initial pool of 41 candidates. His contract is available online at pressherald.com.

Botana shared his own immigrant past during a forum with Portland parents, noting the city’s large number of immigrant students. One in four is an English language learner.

Botana said he was born in Cuba and as a young child was sent unaccompanied to Spain to live with his grandparents for two years before being reunited with his parents in the United States after they had obtained visas.

The exodus of unaccompanied Cuban minors in the early 1960s was driven by parents who feared that Fidel Castro’s government would decide how their children would be educated.

 


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: