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Portland Public Schools receives $8.2M grant to promote diversity among principals

The grant will help the district put a focus on developing diverse leadership candidates who prioritize racial equity and social justice.

PORTLAND, Ore. — School districts all over are experiencing staffing shortages. But in Portland, a new multimillion dollar grant is expected to help the district not only hire and retain more school leaders, but make sure they’re diverse.

This month, Portland Public Schools received an $8.2 million grant that’s intended to help create a more diverse candidate pool filled with people wanting to become school principals.

But like many other school districts experiencing staffing shortages, it’s all hands on deck at Portland Public Schools (PPS). Even superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero is stepping in to help.

“If that means the superintendent should fill in and cover kindergarten lunches, that's what I’m going to do,” said Guerrero, who had recently returned from doing just that prior to his interview with KGW.

He said while the staffing shortage has been an issue for years, uncertainty in the pandemic has made it worse.

“What you're seeing today [are] critical staffing shortages, and that's especially true with teachers in particular areas but […] it's especially acute with school leaders,” Guerrero said. “Typically every spring [we] would have some level of a candidate pool, but we're finding that pool is getting increasingly shallow.”

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That’s where the $8.2 million in grant money from the Wallace Foundation is expected to help, and it’ll be helping in more ways than one.  

The grant will give more resources to the district as it creates a “principal pipeline” or an “on-ramp” that’ll develop and nurture aspiring administrators. It’ll also mean more mentorship and coaching. A big part of the plan is to make sure those candidates are diverse with a commitment to racial equity and social justice.

“You need leaders who not only can operate and manage a school building along with their faculty, but that they're also prepared to ask some critical questions,” said Guerrero.

“But it's also important that our students in our school communities see a diversity in our educators and in our school principals that's reflective of the demographic of our students. I don't think it's okay for a student of color to go through their pre-K-12 experience and never see an educator or leader who looks like them.”

The grant money will also help PPS work with local universities to build up the candidate pool, with the goal of developing more leaders of color.

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Portland Public Schools was one of just eight school districts across the country to receive the grant, which will be dispersed over five years.

In addition, this month, superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero was recognized as 2021 National Superintendent of the Year by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. Guerrero is PPS’ first Latino superintendent.