PORTLAND — Successful completion of the $12 million renovation and addition at Lyseth Elementary School, getting the other three elementary school projects started and preparing a sustainable budget are among the goals outlined by Superintendent Xavier Botana as the new academic year got underway Tuesday.

Other goals include the continued implementation of the district’s strategic plan, called Portland Promise, reviewing how students decide which public high school to enroll in, and keeping staff focused on working toward a shared vision for the School Department.

Portland’s Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana will focus on school construction, budgeting and more this school year. File / Kate Irish Collins

Botana outlined his goals for the school year at a recent School Board meeting.

Overall, his hope is to continue to “advance quality education” in the city’s schools while continuing to move the district forward, he said Aug. 20.

Key to that effort will be upgrading four elementary schools under a $64 million bond passed by voters in November 2017. Construction at Lyseth Elementary has already started and this summer the School Board approved a plan to move forward on the other three schools included in the bond – Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche.

The district has hired Harriman, a Portland-based architecture, engineering and planning firm, to design all three remaining schools with the hope of bidding the projects out together as a cost-saving and efficiency measure.

Harriman also designed the Lyseth school project, which includes a new gym, library and specialty spaces, along with security upgrades.

At the Aug. 20 meeting, Botana told the board he’s “extremely proud of the work we’ve done together over the past three years” and said he feels “very accountable for the progress of the district.”

His focus this school year will be on five goals agreed upon during his annual review, Botana said.

In addition to preparing a budget that “achieves fiscal stability and sustainability,” and moving forward on school construction, Botana’s other goals are to execute the budget priorities for this fiscal year, which include adding new pre-kindergarten classrooms while working with the new pre-K director to move the district toward universal pre-K and advancing academic and structural leadership.

Botana said his other priorities are to increase the “collective efficacy” of the district, which he defined as ensuring staff know that they’re “part of an organization that’s focused on a shared goal and providing the supports needed to reach those goals.”

While he’s “extremely excited about the start of the new school year,” Botana also informed the School Board that “a significant amount of work remains to be done,” including improving academic performance overall and for at-risk groups in particular.

In updating the board on the progress made under Portland Promise over the past couple years, Botana said proficiency levels at all grades have remained “virtually unchanged” on standardized testing required by the state.

The most recent standardized test scores in math show that Portland students have made no progress in the past few years. Courtesy / Portland Public Schools

However, he also said that the achievement level of Portland students mirrors the state average, particularly in regard to literacy and math skills. But Botana acknowledged that the Portland schools still need to “make some headway.”

To that end, he said the “substantial investments we’ve made in the past few years have lined up the resources and structures we need to make progress.”

He said equity is “central to how we define ourselves as a school system,” but unfortunately there’s a “very marked difference” in outcomes for students in lower socio-economic brackets or who face other challenges, such as language barriers.

Botana said in order to increase those students’ academic achievement, the district must be “vigilant in understanding what barriers exist and removing” them. In that vein, he said the School Department is focused on increasing participation rates in Gifted and Talented programs and Advanced Placement classes for at-risk students.

In terms of increasing the overall graduation rate, though, Botana said the district has seen an improvement. The graduation rate increased 4% between the 2015-2016 academic year and the Class of 2019, he said, from 82% to 86%. The goal under the strategic plan is to see a 92% graduation rate by 2022, according to Botana.

While the data Botana shared Aug. 20 is somewhat of a mixed bag, he told the School Board there are “promising signs,” that the district is making progress.

Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez agreed, and said the board is “looking forward to seeing these goals carried out.”

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