Ryan Scallon is superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

When I first transitioned into the district in July, I committed to spending the first three months listening and learning in the community. In that time, I’ve met with more than 500 students, parents, staff, business leaders and community partners face to face, and we’ve gathered additional information through a survey that over 925 people completed. We also partnered with a national expert in school district strategic planning to visit classrooms, review student assessment and conduct a thorough organizational diagnostic of Portland Public Schools.

On Oct. 3 I shared the trends and themes from that listen-and-learn process with the board and public. I identified 10 themes highlighting that we have both amazing strengths as a school system to build on and opportunities to improve outcomes and experiences for students and support for staff. Like many organizations, we have made progress and we still have areas for continued improvement.

The listen-and-learn data points to many strengths, with five identified as particular areas to build on: Teachers have established welcoming and caring classroom environments; PPS has advanced equity for students; PPS has committed to having high-quality instructional materials in all classrooms; staff feel a sense of community and belonging at the school level; and families feel welcome and engaged in PPS.

There also are five key areas where we can leverage our strengths to accelerate outcomes for students: Focus on ensuring high achievement for all students; more opportunities for students to go deeper and take on more challenging instruction; professional development and feedback to instructional staff; improved operational systems and procedures; and staff engagement in district-level decision making.

Over the next several months, we will complete a strategic plan that will establish goals, guardrails and priorities for the next five years. There will be a number of opportunities for community engagement, including through the Strategic Plan Steering Committee and focus groups. This will be especially important as we face a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall this coming school year.

As we continue to improve our schools, our students benefit from our amazing teachers.

Last Wednesday I was joined by state Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin and educators from across Maine to recognize Joshua Chard, a second- and third-grade teacher at East End Community School, as the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year. He is an amazing educator who makes his students, colleagues and school better as a result of his work. In the ceremony, two students shared reflections that capture Chard perfectly: “He is a magical teacher, and by the end of the day you always have a better day.”

Chard is one of six Portland Public Schools educators recognized by the Maine Teacher of the Year program within the past decade. The others are Matt Bernstein, Casco Bay High School social studies teacher, 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year and 2022 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year; Cindy Soule, the district’s literacy coordinator, 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year and 2020 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year; Brooke Teller, the district’s STEM coordinator, 2017 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year; Talya Edlund, assistant principal at Lyseth Elementary School, 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year and 2015 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year; and Karen MacDonald, a retired King Middle School teacher, 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year.

Finally, October is National Principals Month. We are unbelievably proud of and fortunate to have school leaders that ensure each day is fantastic for students. When you see your school principal, please take a moment to say, “Thank you.”

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