The Portland Board of Public Education held a ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 5, to inaugurate its newest members. The Board also voted for Board Chair Sarah Lentz to lead the Board again for a second year and voted to have Vice Chair Micky Bondo continue in that role for 2023-2024.
Sworn in at the inauguration ceremony at Casco Bay High School was returning District 5 Board member Sarah Brydon, who was re-elected to that seat on Nov. 7, and two newly elected Board members: Fatuma Noor, who won the District 4 seat, and Usira Ali, the winner of an at-large seat.
Also sworn in were six student representatives to the Board: Rylee Knight, representing Portland Arts & Technology High School (PATHS); Charlotte McDonald, representing Portland High School; Tjimetja Muriua, representing Deering High School; Julie Kintiba and Adelina Nkunku, who will share representing Portland Adult Education on the Board; and Jayden Monteiro Rosado, representing Casco Bay High School.
At-large Board member Ben Grant nominated Lentz, also an at-large Board member, to be chair again for the coming year. Grant noted the importance of having stability on the Board at a time when there is a “changing of the guard” at the city, with new Mayor Mark Dion sworn in on Dec. 4. Grant said that in her time as chair, Lentz has set the Portland Public Schools “on a really good pathway” and served “admirably and well.” He said he expects she’ll continue to do so in her second year as chair.
Lentz, a PPS parent with extensive nonprofit leadership experience, reflected first about leading the Board during the past year.
She said the experiences made her think of a quote from Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative: “Always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing.”
Lentz continued: “This year has been full of opportunities to do the right thing, but my goodness the right thing has often been the hard thing – as often is the case when deep in equity work. From rebuilding payroll and other systems, to navigating hiring a new superintendent, to implementing our new high school preference policies, to creating and passing our budget, to opening our new and improved schools, to centering recruiting and hiring practices that help make the racial diversity among staff similar to that of students – we as a community have approached these hard things with care, intention, and transparency. We have worked through these challenges together and I am incredibly grateful.”
Regarding the coming school year, Lentz reminded everyone of the district’s mission: “The Portland Public Schools is responsible for ensuring a challenging, relevant, and joyful education that empowers every learner to make a difference in the world. We build relationships among families, educators and the community to promote the healthy development and academic achievement of every learner.”
Lentz said, “This is our task at hand, and as I mentioned before, it is going to take everyone in this room and community to get us there. This year also presents incredible challenges. We are facing a tremendous budget deficit – while we won’t know the exact number until we understand our state funding, we know that we will have at least a $10 million deficit.”
That arises from a combination of factors, she said: the end of federal COVID funding in 2024, increased costs and decreased state funding. “Right now we are in the process of working with the city and community on a budget that will meet these needs and the needs of our district. We are actively creating a strategic plan that will inform this work and Superintendent Ryan Scallon led a rigorous process to create four objectives for this year that will also impact how we prioritize resources in our budget.”
Lentz said those priorities are:
● We are one team with common goals, mission and values.
● We are growing our capacity to ensure the achievement of all students, starting with our historically marginalized students.
● We provide students with a challenging, relevant, and joyful education that prepares and empowers our students to pursue their dreams.
● We have organizational coherence: Our systems work, save time, and allow us to focus on outcomes for students.
“This work will be hard, but it is the right work,” Lentz said. “The right work to move our district to where it needs to be. But as I mentioned before, we need all of us in this room to participate, to use our incredible strengths, give one another grace, and do what is right even if it is hard.”
District 3 Board member Julianne Opperman nominated Bondo to continue as vice chair. Opperman cited Bondo’s leadership in the immigrant community, her experience as a PPS parent and her five years on the Board as key to her being a successful vice chair. Opperman also praised Bondo as a scientist who employs “rational thinking” in addressing Board issues.
Bondo, who is serving her second term as the District 1 representative on the Board, was first elected in 2018 and was the first Congolese American elected to public office in Maine. In addition to her background in biochemistry, Micky is also a past PPS parent and the founder of local nonprofit In Her Presence, which focuses on helping immigrant women succeed in Maine.
Board members also voiced their appreciation for departing Board members Aura Russell-Bedder, the District 4 representative, and Yusuf Yusuf, an at-large member, neither of whom sought re-election. Both members said serving on the Board had been a privilege and spoke of the importance of public participation to having successful schools. Additionally, Board members thanked outgoing student representatives for sharing students’ perspectives on issues, saying their important insights helped the Board in its work.
The ceremony also included pre-recorded musical performances by students.
WATCH THE CEREMONY ON YOUTUBE: https://youtu.be/4OAmogSzMMQ
PHOTO: (Above) Being sworn in on Dec. 5, 2023 are (from left) Board members Sarah Brydon, District 5, Fatuma Noor, District 4, and Usira Ali, at-large.
(Below) 2023-2024 student Board representatives are sworn in on Dec. 5, 2023.
The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 49.8 percent of the district’s students are white and 50.2 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.