The Portland Public Schools Is Grand Prize Winner for Equity Work

Portland Public Schools has been recognized for its commitment to equity as a Grand Prize winner in the National School Boards Association (NSBA) 2021 Magna Awards program. This is the first time in that program’s 27-year history that a Maine school district has been recognized with a Magna Award for its equity work.

The annual Magna Awards honor school districts across the country for programs that advance equity and break down barriers for underserved students. PPS, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, won for one of our signature programs: Make It Happen! – a college readiness program that helps multilingual students build competitive academic profiles for college admission and financial aid.

An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators selected the 15 winners – three Grand Prize winners and 12 first place winners. PPS is the Grand Prize winner in the category of districts with enrollment between 5,000 and 20,000 students. The other two Grand Prize winners were Massachusetts’s Mashpee Public Schools, which won in the under-5,000-enrollment category, and Michigan’s Detroit Public Schools, which was the winner for districts with more than 20,000 students.  This is the fourth year that the Magna Awards program has recognized school districts and their leaders for their efforts to bring educational equity to their students. It is believed that PPS is the first Maine school district ever to win a Magna Award.

“We are thrilled and honored to be chosen as a Grand Prize winner for our work to achieve equity for all our students, which is the central goal of our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan,” said PPS Superintendent Xavier Botana. “This recognition shines a national spotlight on the need to remove barriers to equity at a particularly important time, when the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the longstanding disparities that exist between different groups of students in our schools. Programs like Make It Happen! are vital to helping address these disparities, but there is much more we need to do. That is why my proposed FY22 school budget targets resources to the students to whom we owe the largest educational debt: those who are learning English, have disabilities or are alienated in our schools.”

Make It Happen!, founded 14 years ago, is a program of the district’s Multilingual & Multicultural Center. It’s a college-readiness and academic success program for language minority students in grades 9 through 12, and is designed to help students raise and realize their academic aspirations. The program provides students with personalized and structured academic support to ensure their success in school and help prepare them for college. Many graduates of the program are the first in their families to attend an institute of higher education.

Steve Bailey, Executive Director of the Maine School Management Association, said that Make It Happen! “is designed to meet students where they are and assist them in achieving their goal through personalized support.” Make It Happen! site coordinators and volunteer academic coaches, recruited from the community, help students take challenging classes, develop strong college applications, and engage in civic and leadership activities.

Diora Ndagano, a senior at Deering High School, said, “I joined Make It Happen! right after I arrived at Deering. I was an immigrant and I didn’t know anything about the education system in America, but with the help of the Make It Happen! program, I was able to adapt to school and apply to college. That’s how amazing that program was to me.”

In addition to bringing national attention to the district’s ongoing equity work, the Grand Prize includes a $5,000 grant that the district will use as a foundational investment to establish a college scholarship fund for students who participate in the Make It Happen! Program. The district plans to leverage this money to grow the fund. More details around the “Make it Happen Scholarship Fund” will be announced later this spring.

“2020 was a year like no other,” said NSBA Executive Director and CEO Anna Maria Chávez. “The 2021 Magna Award-winning districts represent the enormous efforts of school leaders during the pandemic to continue removing barriers to achievement for their underserved and vulnerable students.”

“The Portland Public Schools is very grateful to have our equity work recognized nationally,” said Portland Board of Public Education Chair Emily Figdor. “Achieving equity,  the centerpiece of our Portland Promise goals, is essential for us to fully realize our other strategic plan goals – achievement, whole student and people.”

The 27th annual Magna Awards program is sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s flagship magazine, American School Board Journal (ASBJ). PPS’ Grand Prize win is highlighted in the April issue of ASBJ. Read about the award-winning Make It Happen! program and the two other Grand Prize-winning districts at nsba.org/ASBJ/2021/april/grand-prize-magna-awards programs.

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov. 

PRIORITY NOTICE (Reminder): Moving Toward Understanding: Fostering an Intercultural Learning Environment

A workshop series by Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants (MICC).

“MICC is a women-owned business based in Portland, Maine, with years of experience helping schools, organizations, and individuals develop interculturally and navigate differences effectively. Passionate and engaging facilitators, we ground our interactive and experiential trainings in best practices of adult learning, and build on the strengths you already have. We have lived across the globe, and our work reflects that dexterity, curiosity, and humility.”

Module 1: DEMYSTIFYING ISLAM: CULTURE, COMMUNITY, AND FAITH

Thursday, March 18, 7:00-8:30 PM
Thursday, March 25, 7:00-8:00PM

Presented from both the perspective of a Muslim immigrant in Maine and a non-Muslim Mainer who lived in a Muslim majority country, this training seeks to dispel myths and misunderstandings by asking the questions: What is Islam and what is it NOT?

This training will:

  • Provide a brief history and context of the religion
  • Include discussion of Islam’s similarities to Christianity and Judaism
  • Define important terms
  • Give participants insight to more effectively reach, serve, educate, and connect with Muslim people

Presented by Reza Jalali and Liz Greason

Module 2: MICROAGGRESSIONS: THEIR IMPACT ON STUDENT LEARNING

Thursday, April 1, 7:00-8:30 PM
Thursday, April 8, 7:00-8:00 PM

As educators, what don’t we know we don’t know? Exploring this question can be a gateway into understanding and interrupting microaggressions.

This training will:

  • Define microaggression
  • Differentiate between different types of microaggressions
  • Identify the impact microaggressions have on marginalized student groups
  • Discuss what we, as educators, can do to minimize the impact of microaggressions in the classroom and schools settings

Presented by Deb Breiting and Liz Greason

Register here: https://mainestate.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0qceusrTwrGdC9jU12AsxF9NXts3SoWEt9

About the Presenters:

Liz Greason
Liz Greason

Deb Breiting is co-founder of Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants and hails from Vancouver, Canada. Born in Montreal to immigrant parents from Germany and Japan, Deb grew up in a multilingual and multicultural home and is a first generation university graduate. She has a degree in Linguistics and German from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and is a graduate of the UBC Certificate Program in Intercultural Studies. With a professional focus on teaching English as a Second Language, Deb most recently taught at Portland Adult Education for the New Mainers Resource Center and coordinated projects designed to further support the integration of immigrants with professional backgrounds into Maine’s workforce. In addition, Deb has lived in Toronto, Munich, and Tokyo where she has worked for schools and non-profit organizations. Deb is an IDI Qualified Administrator and is currently enrolled in the Master’s program of Adult and Higher Education at University of Southern Maine.

Liz Greason
Liz Greason

A Mainer by birth, Liz Greason is co-founder of Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants. She lived in the Middle East for many years, where she taught students from around the world at the American University in Dubai, with a focus on effective cross-cultural communication. Since returning to the United States, Liz has applied her knowledge of the Middle East and Islam, intercultural competency, and intercultural communication to help Mainers effectively recruit and retain a diverse workforce and serve diverse populations equitably. Liz has also served on the faculty of the University of Southern Maine (USM) and Portland Adult Education. Growing up in Bridgton, Liz graduated from, and later taught at, Lake Region High School.

Liz holds degrees in Women and Gender Studies, with focus areas of intersectional feminism, from Mount Holyoke College and Reed College. She is a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory.

Reza Jalali
Reza Jalali

Reza Jalali is a noted writer, educator, immigrant advocate and former refugee from Iran. He was recently appointed Executive Director of the Greater Portland Immigrant WELCOME Center, a non-profit organization that serves as a hub for organizations and individuals to collaborate in helping Maine’s thriving immigrant community reach its civic, economic, and social potential. Additionally a prolific author of the immigrant experience, Reza’s forthcoming book Dear Maine: The Trials and Triumphs of Maine’s 21st Century Immigrants will be available in August 2021. Jalali’s other books include New Mainers, Moon Watchers, Homesick Mosque and Other Stories, and The Poets and the Assassin. His children’s book, Moon Watchers, has received the Stepping Stone Multicultural Award. His five-act play, The Poets and the Assassin, which is about women in Iran and Islam, has been staged to rave reviews across New England. Jalali’s storytelling was also featured on National Public Radio’s popular program, The Moth Radio Hour.

Additional information:

This workshop series will require participants to maintain a reflection journal. Participants should come motivated to create change and should be prepared to participate in group discussions based on readings and resources shared prior to the session.

Engaging in this cohort provides an opportunity for participants to earn credit hours. To receive credit, participants must attend all four sessions.

For more information contact Danielle Despins; a volunteer member of Maine DOE’s internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) sub-committee at (207) 592 -1448.

PRIORITY NOTICE: Moving Toward Understanding: Fostering an Intercultural Learning Environment

A workshop series by Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants (MICC).

“MICC is a women-owned business based in Portland, Maine, with years of experience helping schools, organizations, and individuals develop interculturally and navigate differences effectively. Passionate and engaging facilitators, we ground our interactive and experiential trainings in best practices of adult learning, and build on the strengths you already have. We have lived across the globe, and our work reflects that dexterity, curiosity, and humility.”

Module 1: DEMYSTIFYING ISLAM: CULTURE, COMMUNITY, AND FAITH

Thursday, March 18, 7:00-8:30 PM
Thursday, March 25, 7:00-8:00PM

Presented from both the perspective of a Muslim immigrant in Maine and a non-Muslim Mainer who lived in a Muslim majority country, this training seeks to dispel myths and misunderstandings by asking the questions: What is Islam and what is it NOT?

This training will:

  • Provide a brief history and context of the religion
  • Include discussion of Islam’s similarities to Christianity and Judaism
  • Define important terms
  • Give participants insight to more effectively reach, serve, educate, and connect with Muslim people

Presented by Reza Jalali and Liz Greason

Module 2: MICROAGGRESSIONS: THEIR IMPACT ON STUDENT LEARNING

Thursday, April 1, 7:00-8:30 PM
Thursday, April 8, 7:00-8:00 PM

As educators, what don’t we know we don’t know? Exploring this question can be a gateway into understanding and interrupting microaggressions.

This training will:

  • Define microaggression
  • Differentiate between different types of microaggressions
  • Identify the impact microaggressions have on marginalized student groups
  • Discuss what we, as educators, can do to minimize the impact of microaggressions in the classroom and schools settings

Presented by Deb Breiting and Liz Greason

Register here: https://mainestate.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0qceusrTwrGdC9jU12AsxF9NXts3SoWEt9

About the Presenters:

Liz Greason
Liz Greason

Deb Breiting is co-founder of Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants and hails from Vancouver, Canada. Born in Montreal to immigrant parents from Germany and Japan, Deb grew up in a multilingual and multicultural home and is a first generation university graduate. She has a degree in Linguistics and German from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and is a graduate of the UBC Certificate Program in Intercultural Studies. With a professional focus on teaching English as a Second Language, Deb most recently taught at Portland Adult Education for the New Mainers Resource Center and coordinated projects designed to further support the integration of immigrants with professional backgrounds into Maine’s workforce. In addition, Deb has lived in Toronto, Munich, and Tokyo where she has worked for schools and non-profit organizations. Deb is an IDI Qualified Administrator and is currently enrolled in the Master’s program of Adult and Higher Education at University of Southern Maine.

Liz Greason
Liz Greason

A Mainer by birth, Liz Greason is co-founder of Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants. She lived in the Middle East for many years, where she taught students from around the world at the American University in Dubai, with a focus on effective cross-cultural communication. Since returning to the United States, Liz has applied her knowledge of the Middle East and Islam, intercultural competency, and intercultural communication to help Mainers effectively recruit and retain a diverse workforce and serve diverse populations equitably. Liz has also served on the faculty of the University of Southern Maine (USM) and Portland Adult Education. Growing up in Bridgton, Liz graduated from, and later taught at, Lake Region High School.

Liz holds degrees in Women and Gender Studies, with focus areas of intersectional feminism, from Mount Holyoke College and Reed College. She is a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory.

Reza Jalali
Reza Jalali

Reza Jalali is a noted writer, educator, immigrant advocate and former refugee from Iran. He was recently appointed Executive Director of the Greater Portland Immigrant WELCOME Center, a non-profit organization that serves as a hub for organizations and individuals to collaborate in helping Maine’s thriving immigrant community reach its civic, economic, and social potential. Additionally a prolific author of the immigrant experience, Reza’s forthcoming book Dear Maine: The Trials and Triumphs of Maine’s 21st Century Immigrants will be available in August 2021. Jalali’s other books include New Mainers, Moon Watchers, Homesick Mosque and Other Stories, and The Poets and the Assassin. His children’s book, Moon Watchers, has received the Stepping Stone Multicultural Award. His five-act play, The Poets and the Assassin, which is about women in Iran and Islam, has been staged to rave reviews across New England. Jalali’s storytelling was also featured on National Public Radio’s popular program, The Moth Radio Hour.

Additional information:

This workshop series will require participants to maintain a reflection journal. Participants should come motivated to create change and should be prepared to participate in group discussions based on readings and resources shared prior to the session.

Engaging in this cohort provides an opportunity for participants to earn credit hours. To receive credit, participants must attend all four sessions.

For more information contact Danielle Despins; a volunteer member of Maine DOE’s internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) sub-committee at (207) 592 -1448.

PRIORITY NOTICE: New Dates Available for Free Anti-Bias Professional Learning Series for Educators

The Maine Department of Education is sponsoring a workshop by Amber Coleman-Mortley, Moving Beyond the Movement: Fostering Authentic Transformation for Sustainable Outcomes.  This Learning Series was originally scheduled for earlier this month but it has been rescheduled and the registration has opened back up for additional attendees! Please see the updated dates below.

Updated Learning Series Dates & Syllabus:

  • Wednesday, February 17, 7:00-9:00pm
    Module 1 – Now is the Time: Using the past to inform the present: How do we apply anti-racism, anti-bias, and equity to civics and history classrooms?
  • Wednesday, February 24, 7:00-8:30pm
    Module 2-Be bold. Be brave. Be inclusive: Engaging your stakeholders: How do we facilitate community engagement around anti-bias work?
  • Wednesday, March 3, 7:00-9:00pm
    Module 3- Culturally relevant pedagogy for all: How can we leverage culturally relevant pedagogy to support all learners in our school community?
  • Wednesday, March 10, 7:00-8:30pm
    Module 4- Practical applications and continued strategies for continued allyship: What small, and large, changes are required to ensure that our practices and policies are investments, not investigations?

Amber Coleman-Mortley brings a diverse voice into civic education, manages a large network of education influencers, and has built a successful youth fellowship of students fighting for equity in civic education. Amber’s advocacy and expertise have been featured in the New York Times on several occasions.

Register here: https://mainestate.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUkdOihrzIoHtEhnto0lYp7KcxZ3tbYW9SQ 

Learn more about Amber

Amber Coleman-Mortley is a talented creator and builder of digital and grassroots networks where she focuses on cultivating an engaged community of active participants through multimedia video and virtual spaces. In her current role as Director of Social Engagement, she brings diverse voices into civic education, manages a large network of education influencers, and has built a successful youth fellowship of students fighting for equity in civic education.

Amber’s equity and civic work is centered around building strong teams for improved community outcomes, which is inspired by her years as a three-sport varsity athlete at Oberlin College where she earned North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) all-conference honors for 8 out of the 11 seasons she competed. She also has a Division 3 , NCAA appearance in the 4×100 m. She currently serves as an alumni advisor to Oberlin College’s, Black Student-Athlete Guild.

Amber taught for nine years as a P.E/Health teacher and head varsity volley ball and head varsity track coach. She has experience building curriculum and leadership programs for student-athletes and team captains. Amber presented on Anti-Racist Coaching and Sports and Social Justice at the U.S. Soccer

Foundation’s Virtual National Training. At the center of her work are equity, critical thinking, and civic problem-solving. She has experience collaborating virtually with parents and educators around equity, anti-racism, and culturally relevant pedagogy, which includes work with the DuPage (Illinois) Regional Office Of Education.

Amber is a highly regarded social media influencer whose work brought her to the White House to meet former first lady Michelle Obama to discuss influencer campaigns that focus on family health and wellness. She is a parenting expert and author of Mom Of All Capes where she covers parenting strategies in civic education, education technology, parent-teacher partnerships, and social-emotional development. The podcast she co-created with her children, Lets K12 Better, discusses how to improve K12 education and family life through partnerships and communication.

Amber’s advocacy and expertise have been featured in the New York Times on several occasions which includes viral videos, a full-page spread in print media, and several online articles. Her insights have been cited in publications from the LA Times to the Smithsonian Magazine, The Washington Post to LAist. Coleman-Mortley has shared insights for parents through her work for Edutopia, civic education and parenting for TODAY Parenting, and even shared tips for weary travelers through Southwest Airlines. Amber’s voice has been amplified on countless podcasts including Edit Your Life about how to talk to children about race, EduTable about education a inequity, NPR affiliate KPC Conprocessing the state of the world with children. She’s presented live with New York Times Parenting and Sree Sreenivansan’s daily global show on talking to kids about race.

Additional information:

This workshop series will require participants to maintain a reflection journal. Participants should come motivated to create change and should be prepared to participate in group discussions based on readings and resources shared prior to the session.

Engaging in this cohort provides an opportunity for participants to earn credit hours. To receive credit, participants must attend all four sessions.

For more information contact Danielle Despins; a volunteer member of Maine DOE’s internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) sub-committee at (207) 592-1448.

Register here: https://mainestate.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUkdOihrzIoHtEhnto0lYp7KcxZ3tbYW9SQ 

Joint Statement of Commitment and Support for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Maine Schools

The Maine Department of Education, Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, Maine Education Association, Maine Principals Association, and Maine Curriculum Leaders Association enthusiastically affirm the right of every student to an equitable education.  We proudly and steadfastly support the educators and districts in Maine who are taking on the work of understanding and dismantling racism and inequity in our schools and communities. We urge all Maine schools and educators to accept their role and responsibilities in examining and addressing the inequities that have long existed in our society and institutions.

We define educational equity as providing each student a legitimate opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive in school and beyond.

Equity depends on a deliberate and systematic abolition of the inequities that have been sewn into the fabric of American society. These persistent inequities have long disadvantaged students on the basis of race, sex, gender, gender expression, language, physical and intellectual ability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, indigenous origin, religion, and all aspects of human identity that have been subjugated within our society. We recognize that education is one of many systems that have had a role in perpetuating racial inequities, and that through close examination of our system, we can and must strive to attain diversity, equity, and inclusion of all voices and experiences. We believe this work is central to living up to our promises of providing an outstanding education for every Maine learner and continuing to be a public education system of excellence.

We recognize and commit to our role and duty as Maine public education leaders to actively partner with all schools in constructing a new educational paradigm, founded on the certainty that every student can and will be successful when:

  • School is a welcoming, safe place for all school community members to bring their whole identities with them
  •  Social emotional and behavioral supports are understood as critical prerequisites to academic learning
  • Students’ primary and home languages are recognized as assets, cultivated, and leveraged
  • Every educator in every role shares the responsibility for ensuring equity for every student and participates in equity education, both in teacher and administrator preparation programs and ongoing throughout their careers
  •  Families are meaningfully engaged as partners in their children’s education and welcomed into our schools
  • All academic and non-academic programming is culturally responsive and co-constructed with community members

Examining racism and inequity is difficult work. As each student of Maine is a future citizen of our global society, we believe this is work that needs to be engaged in respectfully and civilly by all the schools and communities in our state.  Understanding and addressing racism and inequity will take many different forms, all of which are valid and needed. Already many educators, school districts, and organizations are exploring this work in some of the following ways:

  • Defining with school and community members what makes a safe and welcoming place for all and committing to the vision
  • Reviewing your SAU’s Controversial Issues policy and best practices for engaging in discussions responsively and responsibly.
  • Engaging community members in discussions and actions to ensure that schools are a safe and welcoming place for all students
  • Engaging in equity audits to examine a variety of practices and programs
  • Expecting all school personnel to engage in professional learning about anti-racism and culturally responsive practices
  • Reviewing and revising curricula and materials to ensure they are well-rounded, decolonized, and representing all experiences
  • Adopting anti-racism instructional practices, programs, and policies
  • Establishing Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committees of stakeholders
  • Establishing expectations that every student will achieve and is challenged with rigorous curricula
  • Creating, supporting or amplifying student Civil Rights Teams within each school

We believe in the power and responsibilities that are bestowed on our educational institutions to provide a safe and equitable place in which all students can thrive, and where students are encouraged to examine their world, their beliefs and their role in society through multiple perspectives. We believe all students, all families, and all human beings deserve to be celebrated, included, and heard, and we are committed to supporting our schools and educators in taking on the challenge of examining and changing our practices.

We stand united in our commitment to this work and our support of the educators who are courageously stepping up and stepping into the learning, growing and changing that is needed. Our organizations will continue to provide resources, support and technical assistance as we all expand our own knowledge and capacity to engage in this critically important work on behalf of our students and our collective future.