Parent University Kickoff

Below you'll find a transcript of the opening speeches given at the event. To watch a recording of the event and the keynote speaker, click below or follow this link.

Welcome Remarks

Anna Trevorrow, Chair, Portland Board of Education

Good afternoon. As chair of the Portland Board of Public Education, I’m excited to be here with you today at the inaugural session of Parent University.

I’m excited about Parent U because the focus of this new initiative is on helping parents and caregivers help their children. In other words, Parent U is all about our Portland Public Schools’ families. The School Board considers families to be vital partners in the education of Portland’s children.

We consider the role of families so important that the board last March passed a new School and Family Partnership Policy.

That policy was developed after months of discussion and study by the Parent Partnership Policy Ad Hoc Committee. That committee had representation from all stakeholders, including parents, educators, administrators, school board representatives and Portland Empowered. Portland Empowered is a project of the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service that works to champion parent voice to improve educational outcomes for students.

Portland Empowered helped craft our new policy. The ad hoc committee integrated elements of Portland Empowered’s Parent & Family Engagement Manifesto into our new policy. The manifesto is a document that outlines ways that the Portland Public Schools can better engage with parents and families.

Our new policy states that the school board honors the diversity of our families and recognizes that parents, guardians and other family members play an important role in helping their children succeed in school.

It also says that the board encourages partnerships between district administration, schools and families in order to share the responsibility of educating our students. The board believes that our students will thrive if we welcome, inform, engage and empower families to support their children in school and build strong school communities.

Parent U is the latest example of the ways that the Portland Public Schools is working to engage and empower families.

Parent U will focus on trending educational topics that have meaning for parents and families today. For example, today’s topic is about the benefits of the kind of diverse schools we have in Portland. Another example is an upcoming session in February that focuses on the increasing rates of anxiety that today’s young people are experiencing. That session will screen the documentary titled “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety,” and explore what parents and schools can do to help children and youth manage stress and be more resilient.

In addition to helping parents and caregivers, Parent U also will help the school board. The community discussions that come about as we explore such critical and timely topics will not only help parents develop effective tools for helping their children, but also help the board in its policy making. What we all learn together at Parent U can guide the board in developing policies that are responsive to important, contemporary educational issues.

Thank you for being here today and participating in Parent U. Now, let the learning begin!

Opening Remarks

Xavier Botana, Superintendent

Good afternoon and welcome. I’m delighted we’re all here together today to launch Parent University.

Before we begin our very first session, I’d like to say a few words about Parent U – what it is and why it’s so important.

I’m speaking here today wearing two hats: I’m an educator and I’m also a parent.

I love being a father, but I also know from experience that it can be challenging at times as parents to know how to best guide our children as they learn and grow. And I think it’s even harder today than when we ourselves were kids. Today’s young people are part of iGen, a generation that constantly has smartphones and other devices in their hands. They’re great at texting and social media, but not so great at personal interaction with their friends and family. That may be why this generation is experiencing increasing levels of anxiety.

The purpose of Parent U is to help us parents and caregivers learn from experts and each other about ways that we can help our kids succeed in school and in life. Parent U offers free classes and events that are fun, interactive, and informative and that will focus on topics that are important to today’s families.

Why do we call this forum a “university”? The dictionary says a university is as an educational institution designed for instruction of students in many branches of advanced learning.

Parent U will have many branches of learning. We’ll focus on a wide variety of topics. They’ll include how parents can model a positive, "growth mindset" to help their children persevere when school becomes challenging; how to use art to discuss sensitive topics with our children; and how to raise healthy and resilient girls – and also healthy and resilient boys.

Among other offerings, I also plan to lead a lunchtime book discussion group in March about raising iGen children. We’ll focus on what we need to know and understand about today’s hyper-connected generation.

The learning at Parent U will be provided by experts. Those experts will not only be researchers and professors, such as our guest speaker today, but also you parents and caregivers. As anyone who has attended a college or university knows, you learn from your classmates as well as your professors. At Parent U, we also will look to each other to share our expertise and knowledge on specific topics.

One way that Parent U is unlike other universities is that we’ll have no grades or tests. Attend as many, or as few, sessions as you like. Our hope is that you all will  succeed at Parent U in gaining knowledge that helps you help your children.

We at the Portland Public Schools consider parents to be our partners. Research shows that parents can help increase their children’s success in school by being  involved in their children’s education and their community. Thank you all for being involved here today at our Parent U kickoff session. Dr. Amy Stuart Wells, a professor at Columbia University, will lead us in a discussion today about how to create truly integrated public schools that prepare our children for life in today’s global society.  

The Portland Public Schools is uniquely positioned to achieve this because we are the most diverse district in Maine.  

To give you a sense of our diversity, 36% of our students come from a home where English is not the only language spoken. English is not the first language of about 25 percent of our students. More than 60 languages are spoken by our students and their families. More than 43 percent of our students are students of color. And more than half of our students qualify for free and reduced school lunch.

We also have many financially advantaged students. Our data shows that our most financially advantaged students compete favorably with students from any school district in the state or country. They’re also better off because they have been fortunate to learn in the diverse environment that is the Portland Public Schools. In our classrooms, students learn side by side with students who have different world views and experiences.  Together they build new knowledge by challenging each other to think beyond their specific experiences and conditions and create a stronger school community.

But our data also shows that our financially disadvantaged students do not have the same outcomes.  And as a district, as a community, we cannot succeed if zip code, family income or lack of education, or not speaking English as a native language define our outcomes.  As part of our Portland Promise Equity goal, we are striving to reduce those pervasive achievement gaps. Initiatives like Parent U will help us do that. Thank you for participating.

Now, I would like to introduce our featured speaker today.

Dr. Amy Stuart Wells is a Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and the President-elect of the American Educational Research Association. She is the Director of The Public Good, a Public School Support Organization, and Reimagining Education: Teaching and Learning in Racially Diverse Schools, a Professional Development Summer Institute. She is the author and editor of five books and more than 50 articles and book chapters on issues of race and education. As a researcher who has interviewed thousands of parents about what they want for their school-age children, Dr. Wells is an ideal speaker for our first session of Parent U. Welcome Dr. Wells!