Portland Board of Education representatives and Superintendent Xavier Botana pose with Gerald Talbot, center, after deciding to rename Riverton Elementary School after him. Courtesy / Portland Public Schools

PORTLAND — The Riverton Elementary School will open for the next school year not only with a new name but also, perhaps, with a new community focus.

Talbot File photo

The Portland Board of Education decided unanimously last week to rename the elementary school off Forest Avenue the Gerald E. Talbot Community School in honor of Talbot’s legacy as a civil rights icon, community leader and first African American elected to the Maine Legislature.

The name change, which will take effect next fall, comes as school leaders consider transitioning the school from an elementary school model to a community school model.

“The community school model is widely used across the country as a way to look at creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ place where families’ needs are broadly met,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said.

Community schools serve as hubs and “bring educators, families, and community partners together to offer a range of opportunities, supports, and services to children, youth as well as their families and communities,” according to the Coalition of Community Schools. They are open to the public all day, evenings and weekends.

The school would be the first in the city to operate under a community school model. The community school exploration team hopes to develop a plan by end of this school year for next school year, said Riverton Principal Ann Hanna. The team plans to survey the community and use focus groups, she said.

The community school model, Hanna said, would strengthen the existing connection between the Riverton Community Center, which is located at the school, and what happens in the classrooms to create a facility that addresses more than just the academic needs of the community.

“We want to make the community center be more of who we are as a school,” she said.

Riverton is a good candidate for the transition to a community school because of its diverse student population, the same reason it was “the ideal facility” to bear Talbot’s name, Botana said. Close to two-thirds of the students at the school, or 63%, are students of color or are biracial.

Sahar Habibzai, Deering High School representative on the school board, said she is glad to be part of the group making the name change.

“It is so important for me to be part of this historic step and part of something that is so special for the Portland Public Schools community,” she said.

School board chairman Roberto Rodriguez said the school’s renaming sends a strong message as the school department works to bring a more diverse staff into the schools.

School board member Micky Bondo said she is pleased to have the school’s new name reflect the legacy of Talbot, but would like to see the school department establish African-American studies coursework.

Talbot, the founding President of Portland’s chapter of the NAACP, challenged racial discrimination in Portland’s rental housing market and was a key figure in the passing of the Maine Fair Housing bill, Maine Human Rights Act and the creation of the Maine Human Rights Commission. In August 1963, Talbot was among a group of notable Mainers who participated in the March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his famous  “I Have a Dream” speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Botana said the next step in the renaming is to formally notify the city and state of the change. The district will soon launch a fundraising campaign for a new school sign, which is expected to cost $20,000.

“We envision finishing this year as the Riverton Elementary School and begin the 2020-2021 year with the new name,” he said.

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