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Superintendent Search Update - January 6

Alma Advisory Group, the professional search firm that the Portland Board of Public Education hired last month to aid in the search for a new superintendent, met with the Board and the Superintendent Search Committee earlier this week. Alma made a presentation as it worked with the Board and the Search Committee to define the scope of the work, the search timeline and community engagement in the search process.

Guided by Board feedback at its Jan. 3 workshop, Alma CEO Monica Santana Rosen outlined for the Search Committee at its Jan. 5 meeting the shared goal and purpose of the search in the following way: 

●      Our goal is to recruit, screen and select the next transformative superintendent of Portland Public Schools.

●      Our purpose is to lead a transparent superintendent search process, guided by equitable input of the Portland community, while centering on Portland Public Schools historically marginalized students, families, and staff and designed to mitigate bias every step of the way.

Also detailed at both meetings was the community engagement planned throughout the search process, which is key to a successful outcome. Community input will help inform and strengthen the job profile and the competencies required of a new superintendent, which will be used to recruit and screen candidates, and the Board will use feedback from the community to aid in its final selection of a new superintendent.

Currently, community engagement is slated to include the following, with more opportunities potentially added during the process:

●      Community Surveys

○      The purpose of the surveys is to find what community members consider most important for the role of superintendent. The survey will be open and available broadly.

●      Community gatherings

○      Two in-person community gatherings, one on Jan, 30 and one on Jan. 31

○      One virtual community gathering on Feb. 2

○      The purpose of the gatherings will be to engage in conversations with the community; breakout groups will allow for candid and deep discussion

●      1:1 Interviews and Focus groups with teachers, students, principals, staff, union leaders and community partners

○      The purpose is to allow for deeper discussions by role

●      Community Input Following the Selection of Finalists

○      Feedback from the community will be reviewed by the Board to inform their final decision.

Also detailed at both meetings was the timeline for the search process, which Alma estimates will take four to four-and-a-half months.

After the community gatherings in late January and early February, the job description and profile will be developed. Interviews and screening will take place in March. Finalists will be determined in April and they will be introduced to a Board stakeholder group. At the end of April or beginning of May, the Board is expected to identify a final candidate and make an offer. Transition planning will follow. Alma has already begun outreach and recruitment for the superintendent role and they are confident the district will be able to have a competitive search.

The Board’s overall goal is to select and onboard a new superintendent who will be able to fully take the reins of the district by July 1, 2023. The Board on Jan. 3 appointed assistant superintendents Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend to be interim co-superintendents until a new superintendent takes the reins. Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, currently co-principal at Deering High School, will take on the role of interim assistant superintendent for the transition. The team will fully assume leadership of the district after Jan. 13, the last day in the office for Superintendent Xavier Botana, who resigned Dec. 16 in the midst of a payroll crisis.

Botana had planned to retire at the end of this school year and the work to find a new superintendent began this past fall. The Board created a Superintendent Search Committee to spearhead the search. The Search Committee is made up of eight community members from a variety of stakeholder groups and four Board members.

The Board members are Board Chair Sarah Lentz, Emily Figdor, Nyalat Billew, and Yusuf Yusuf. Lentz is chair of the Search Committee.

The eight staff and community members of the Superintendent Search Committee are:

●      Alissa Bourque, director of the district’s pre-kindergarten programs.

●      Kerrie Dowdy, teacher and president of the Portland Education Association

●      Manar Eltahir, senior at Deering High School and president of the DHS Black Student Union

●      Joseph Inabanza, a 2021 graduate of Casco Bay High School and a former Portland Board of Public Education student representative

●      Betsy Paz-Gyimesi, a family engagement specialist in the district’s Multilingual and Multicultural Center serving the district’s Latinx students and families

●      Lucy Shulman, PAE adjunct instructor

●      Barbara Stoddard, former executive director of Human Resources for the past eight years, who is a Portland resident and the parent of two PPS graduates.

●      Matthew Winch, a PPS parent who serves on the Buildings for our Future District Advisory Building Committee

The Search Committee in November recommended Alma Advisory Group as the best firm to aid in the superintendent search. Alma Advisory Group is a professional search firm whose work aligns with the central equity goal of the Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan. The Board voted Dec. 6 to accept that recommendation and hire Alma. Its $48,000 fee will be paid out of the Board’s contingency fund.

Alma is led by women of color and is a non-traditional firm focused on organizational capacity building and equity and diversity in hiring, so is a good fit with the mission of the Portland Public Schools. The firm recently completed superintendent searches for the Denver Public Schools, the Cincinnati Public Schools, and Eugene School District 4. It uses competency-based screening processes to mitigate bias and stay grounded in the skills most important to the role.