After more than a year of hybrid and remote learning, Portland Public Schools students will return soon to full-time, in-person instruction. We’ll welcome them back with clear teaching and learning priorities organized around the goals of the Portland Promise, our strategic plan. These teaching and learning priorities are key to our students’ success and aligned to the four Portland Promise goals of achievement, whole student, people and equity.

Xavier Botana is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at [email protected]

To help everyone understand what these priorities are all about, I’ll be writing a series of columns exploring each one in detail. This month, I’ll focus on an overview of what they are and why they’re important.

We have four priorities for this year: strengthening core instruction to ensure students master grade-level learning, creating safe and equitable school environments where students feel a sense of belonging and connection, fostering a district-wide culture where staff feel supported to grow professionally to best serve students and families, and enabling effective school operations.

Strengthening core instruction relates to our achievement and equity goals. Underpinning it is the idea that exposing all students to grade-level learning with appropriate support is key if we want our students to learn at high levels.

Our strategies for strengthening core instruction include continuing our math and phonics curriculum work and launching new science and social studies units. To help ensure that instruction is equitable, we’ll reduce remedial pullouts and tracking. We’ll also promote inclusive practices and work to include the voices of traditionally underrepresented students and parents to ensure their needs and views are accounted for in our work.

Our priority of ensuring safe and equitable schools will help us realize our whole student and equity goals. We know that if we prioritize authentic individual relationships with each student, equitable and transparent systems in our schools, and meaningful support structures district-wide, along with deep listening to what our students and families tell us they experience and need, we will create an environment where students feel valued and thrive.

Strategies to achieve this include fulfilling our commitment to have a “Portland Promise Point Person” for every student across all grades, working with our staff to build skills and mindsets to use restorative practices and de-escalation to influence student behavior, and implementing our newly revised anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy.

Our priority for creating a district-wide culture where teachers and other staff feel supported to grow professionally relates to our people and equity goals. We aim to create a professional learning culture throughout the district where our people trust each other and welcome feedback to grow professionally and better respond to student needs.

One strategy is to improve our planning processes at the district and school level. We also will implement key recommendations from our Educators of Color Report – a study completed this past school year about the experiences of PPS educators of color in our schools. For example, we plan to establish pathways for advancement for them and improve recruitment of diverse staff.

Our last priority is focused on flawless operations in our school system in areas that include buildings, transportation, technology, finance and nutrition to reduce time spent on operational issues by teaching staff. That will enable them to focus on what they do best.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have students in school full time this coming year. Our goal is to “build back better” by focusing on these four priority areas. I look forward to explaining our work in more detail in my coming columns this year.

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