The Portland Board of Public Education held a ceremony on Monday, Dec. 5, to inaugurate its newest members. The Board also voted unanimously to elect at-large Board member Sarah Lentz as chair for 2022-2023 and District 1 member Abusana “Micky” Bondo as vice chair.
Sworn in at the inauguration ceremony at Casco Bay High School were newly elected District 3 Board member Julianne Opperman and two returning at-large Board members: Lentz and Benjamin Grant. Lentz and Grant were first elected to the Board this past June to fill unexpired terms, and were reelected in November to new three-year terms. Opperman now holds the District 3 seat formerly occupied by Adam Burk, after Opperman bested Burk and a third candidate in the race for that seat on Nov. 8.
Also sworn in were four student representatives to the Board: Jo Ellis, representing Casco Bay High School; Yonuela Francisco, representing Portland Adult Education; Caden Hemond, representing Portland High School; and Natalie Santiago, representing Deering High School. Dany McLaughlin, representing the Portland Arts & Technology High School (PATHS), was not able to attend the ceremony, so will be sworn in at a later date.
Lentz now replaces former Board Chair Emily Figdor, who served in the role for the past two years. Lentz was nominated by District 4 Board member Aura Russell-Bedder. Russell-Bedder said that in Lentz’ short time on the Board, she has shown “her ability to collaborate and communicate” and also to “think creatively and tenaciously as we problem solve.” Lentz also has a “strong equity lens,” and will help the board continue on the path to fully realize the goals of the Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, Russell-Bedder said.
Lentz, a PPS parent, brings with her more than 15 years of nonprofit leadership experience, as well as a lifelong dedication to social justice and racial equity.
“I’m excited and eager to be taking on this role right now, even as the district continues to confront enormous challenges, including a staffing shortage, continued racial inequities, and a payroll crisis, “Lentz said. “The reason is simple: I love the Portland Public Schools.”
She explained: “Growing up in small-town Indiana, I didn’t have what our schools provide.” Lentz said that when she was a child, her mother and father divorced, and each ended up with a life partner of the same gender.
“I thought having so many parents was cool, but my school and community didn’t,” she said, “My family wasn’t represented or acknowledged in books, in class curriculum, anywhere. This didn’t feel good. It left me hesitant to speak up in class or to fully express myself and made me a target for bullying.”
Lentz continued, “But I have always been a problem solver and wanted a better community for everyone around me. I took it upon myself to bring a book about a young girl with two dads into my classroom. I was really proud to have part of my family with me at school and to show my friends what my family looked like.”
However, she said, her teachers were shocked by the book, took it away and told her never to bring it back. “At the time, I didn’t have the words or understood the concepts that I do now to make sense of what happened. But I knew that I never wanted any other kid to feel as I did that day,” Lentz said. “That moment has served as an anchor for my education and my career, both of which have both been focused on equity and inclusion.”
She concluded her remarks by telling staff, students and community members that they all are important stakeholders in the Portland Public Schools and that she wants to hear their perspectives, feedback, thoughts and ideas.
Bondo was nominated by Figdor. “I couldn’t be more enthusiastic to nominate Ms. Bondo as vice chair of this Board, and I am so excited for her to take on this new role,” said Figdor, who represents District 2. “Ms. Bondo leads from her heart and based on her profoundly rich personal experience and deep commitment to the community. She’s determined, whip smart, and lights up any room she’s in. Ms. Bondo is truly an inspiration.”
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 currently leads a local nonprofit, In Her Presence, which focuses on helping immigrant women succeed in Maine.
Figdor and Bondo are the most senior members of the Board and Figdor said Bondo “will bring a wealth of institutional knowledge to the new leadership team, and she and Chair Lentz will be a powerhouse team.”
Bondo expressed her gratitude to the Board and said she looked forward to working with Lentz. Bondo said a key goal for her is balancing students’ social-emotional needs with academic learning. “We have a lot to do,” Bondo said. “Let’s start doing it!”
Superintendent Xavier Botana praised Figdor for her work as chair over the past two years. Botana said Figdor is a “a huge advocate for public education and a great believer in our public school system.”
Botana told Figdor that during her time as chair, he has been “grateful time and again for your focus, determination and wherewithal. I completely understand the reasons why you are deciding not to pursue the chair role for a third consecutive year, but I know you will continue to be an energetic and pivotal member of the Board.”
Figdor had initially accepted an informal nomination by the Board at its Nov. 15 caucus to chair the Board for a third time. However, Figdor decided over the past weekend to withdraw her name from consideration for the role.
“I never intended to chair the school board for a third year, but when Adam Burk lost his election in November, we had to scramble, as Adam was slated to become the chair,” Figdor said. “I told my colleagues I'd be willing to do it, but the more the reality sunk in, the more I realized that it's just too demanding to sustain for a third year on top of my full-time job and parenting my two girls.” She instead gave her support to Lentz and Bondo, saying, “Sarah and Micky will be a great leadership team for the district, and I’m so excited and optimistic for them to take on these new roles.”
In her remarks as outgoing chair, Figdor addressed the payroll issues that have confronted the district this fall. “Payroll is top of mind for all of us in this moment,” she said, “and we cannot be satisfied with our response until every single member of the Portland Public Schools has been paid accurately and reimbursed for fees or penalties they incurred due to our errors; we have fixed both the software and system of controls to ensure nothing like this can happen again; and we have rebuilt trust with our staff.”
However, Figdor said that despite the district’s challenges, “I remain full of optimism about our ability to transform the Portland Public Schools into anti-racist school district that inspires and meets every child’s potential.” She told fellow Board members: “I want to challenge each of us to be courageous. To stretch ourselves. Do not be satisfied with the status quo for our students or staff.”
Among the Board’s work for the year is selecting a replacement for Superintendent Botana, who will step down at the end of this school year. Lentz, Bondo and Figdor all are members of the Superintendent Search Committee.
As outgoing vice chair, Burk also addressed the Board and community, concluding his remarks by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve. Botana thanked Burk “for three years of distinguished service on the Board.” Botana said, “I have come to think of Adam as the spirit and conscience of the Board” because of the way he espouses “the values that are at the heart of the Portland Promise.”
Additionally, the Dec. 5 ceremony included remarks by staff and a recitation and musical performance by students.
WATCH THE CEREMONY ON YOUTUBE.
PHOTO: New Portland Board of Public Education members are sworn in on Dec. 5, 2022. From left are District 3 member Julianne Opperman and at-large members Sarah Lentz and Ben Grant.
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. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.