Xavier Botana, the incoming superintendent for Portland Public Schools, spent many years teaching English as a second language prior to becoming an administrator.

But for the last six, while he was associate superintendent in Michigan City, Indiana, he never really got to employ those skills. That school district’s diversity, he said, was black and white, and not international.

That’s one of the things that drew Botana to Portland, a district that has seen its enrollment diversify considerably through immigration, primarily from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Roughly 1 in 4 students in Portland is an English language learner.

“I think the ELL component is something I’m looking forward to embracing,” Botana said Thursday during a break while touring several Portland schools. “It’s a big challenge for the district but I think a great opportunity as well.”

Botana, 53, was hired by the school board last month and begins a three-year term as superintendent on July 1. He decided to come to Portland for two days this week to tour the schools and meet staff and students before the summer break starts.

At King Middle School on Thursday morning, newly named principal Caitlin LeClair gave Botana a tour. The halls were unusually quiet. The eighth-graders were all at an end-of-year ceremony and the seventh-graders were on a field trip to a local beach.


He stopped and spoke with teachers and a few students. When he introduced himself, a slight accent came through. Botana is a Cuban immigrant and speaks fluent Spanish.

Although he’s spent his career mostly in the Midwest, Botana and his family have ties to Maine. They have been coming for several years to participate in a program at Sunday River for skiers with special needs. Botana and his wife, Suzanne, have a 13-year-old son, David, who has a limb difference.

“We don’t have deep roots here,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to settling down. I don’t see this as a springboard to something else.”

Board members cited Botana’s interest in staying long-term as one of the reasons he was chosen. Since 2007, Portland has had six superintendents. Botana succeeds Jeanne Crocker, who has served as interim superintendent since Emmanuel Caulk left last summer after three years to take a job as head of a school district in Kentucky.

Botana said he envisions staying in Portland indefinitely and wants to build on a strong foundation that already exists.

“This is a district that has so many things going for it,” he said. “It’s not a situation where I feel I need to come in and turn it around or fix anything.”


After touring King, Botana visited Hall Elementary, one of the city’s oldest schools and one that is due to be replaced by 2018. The pupils at Hall were much chattier than the ones at King and Botana engaged with several. When he was introduced to a group of second-graders as the new superintendent, many asked, “What’s that?”

“Well, it’s kind of like the head teacher,” he said. “I work for all of you. I get to help make decisions about what happens next and how to improve things for everyone.”

As he left Hall and made his way to Deering High School, Botana remarked that although he wanted to meet as many staff members as possible over the next two days, he likely wouldn’t remember many names. Yet when he entered the main office at Deering, he greeted the principal, Ira Waltz, by his first name.

“Good memory,” Waltz said, before leading Botana to the library, where teachers had gathered for an informal meet-and-greet.

Botana began his career as a teacher in Illinois and graduated to administrative positions on the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools. He has been associate superintendent in Michigan City, Indiana – a district of 6,000 students – since 2010.

Sue Olafsen, president of the Portland Education Association, spent Thursday chaperoning Botana throughout the district. She said the response to his hiring has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think everyone is excited to have him on board,” she said.

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