Governor and mayor tour East Portland schools

Learn why Mayor Potter trekked to Parkrose, and Governor Kulongoski read a book to second-graders in Woodstock – both on the same morning this week. Check out this exclusive back-to-school story and photos …

Welcoming the mayor to Parkrose Middle School are Melissa Whitcomb, President of the Parkrose High and Middle School PTA; Ana Gonzalez, new Parkrose Middle principal; Student representative Jessica Luckenbaugh; the honoree, Portland Mayor Tom Potter; Marquese Hayes, student ambassador; and Molly Davies, Assistant Principal, Parkrose Middle School.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Even though it isn’t an election year, and no funding measures are up for a vote, both the city’s and state’s chief executives paid visits to schools in East Portland – just as school started for the day on September 6.

Potter visits Parkrose

Bright and early, Mayor Tom Potter waves hello as we both pull into the parking lot at Parkrose Middle School at 9:00 a.m.

Whisked inside the office of Principal Ana Gonzalez, Potter meets with district board members and school representatives, including Superintendent Dr. Karen Gray.

Mayor Tom Potter is interviewed by a Parkrose High School student reporter – freshman Evan Huynh.

The first reporter to interview Potter is Evan Huynh, a freshman from Parkrose High School.

“I want to make sure our young people get the best education we can give them,” Potter tells Huynh. “This is my third school visit this week. I come out to let the schools know we’re supporting them. And, we’re also seeing how the school is doing, and looking for ways we can help.”

The Mayor added that his visits also bring the media out. “It’s good to have the public’s attention directed to the good things at your school.”

In his personable style, Potter then turns the tables and interviews the young reporter, asking, “You just graduated from this school – what could be improved?”

Huynh thinks for a moment, and says, “Adding a few more programs would be better. Many [school] programs are dedicated to drama and art, which are great. But a program for architecture or construction trades would be a good addition.”

For some reason, news reporters asked the mayor only about his new beard – not about his reasons for visiting schools during their first week in session.

Mayor quizzed about … his beard
Next in line was a reporter from radio KPAM/860. Surprisingly, he only questioned Potter about his newly-grown, but neatly-trimmed, facial hair.

Asked about the feedback he’s received about his beard, Potter says, “So far, the vote has been four people in favor, zero against. Because it is so new, it surprises me to see it when I look in the mirror. My wife likes it. In the polling [on my website at] people can say if I should keep it or shave it off.”

Then the reporter asks if his new whiskers mean he’ll run for office again; Potter replies good naturedly, “The facial hair isn’t like a reading of tea leaves indicating whether or not I’ll be running again [for Mayor]. The only thing the facial hair says is that I was on vacation for two weeks, and it was easier not to shave.”

Says visit supports Parkrose Education
When we take our turn, we choose to ask Potter why he is visiting schools.

“Thank you, David, I appreciate the question,” Potter says with a grin.

“Young people are my first priority. As Mayor, I want to make sure they have the opportunity to get the best education possible.

“In Parkrose, the district has worked hard to overcome financial and facility shortages. They’re doing a good job. I want to make sure the voters understand what is at stake. That is, the children are the future of our community.”

The school’s principal and student representatives share their concerns about the upcoming school year with Mayor Potter.

The Mayor and school entourage set off for a tour of the school. He’s guided by student ambassadors Marquese Hayes and Jessica Luckenbaugh.

“I’m really excited to start school,” says Luckenbaugh, entering as an eighth-grade student. “I like to learn here. I thought it is pretty cool the Mayor came to visit. I was really excited when I learned I would get to take him around to show the Mayor our school today.”

Eighth-grader Jessica Luckenbaugh and student ambassador Marquese Hayes give Portland Mayor Tom Potter a tour of the school. Neither student indicated any interest in the Mayor’s new growth of facial hair.

After the mayor completed his tour, Ana Gonzalez — starting her third day as principal of Parkrose Middle School, comments, “We really enjoyed his visit today. We appreciate the interest he shows in our school, its students, and his desire to see that our students do well as they go on into high school.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski visits Woodstock elementary school

Meriwether Lewis Elementary School principal Tim Lauer talks with Governor Ted Kulongoski on their way to visit a classroom.

Learning that Governor Ted Kulongoski was scheduled to visit Meriwether Lewis Elementary School at 10 a.m., we travel to the Woodstock neighborhood.

As the first to greet him, we ask Kulongoski why he is visiting this grade school.

Says school visits make job worthwhile
“It is the beginning of school. It’s always important, I think, that kids see this as a great time,” the governor tells us as we stride toward the school’s entrance.

“I’m always out here trying to promote education. This is where it all starts; these kids at this age. I saw them standing there [in the schoolyard] as I went by, waving. I thought it was great. I like it. It makes the job all worthwhile.”

Inside the school, Kulongoski is greeted by principal Tim Lauer, interim Portland Public Schools Superintendent Ed Schmidt, and Oregon State Representative Carolyn Tomei.

Walking in the hallway, Kulongoski asks Lauer to describe the demographics of the school’s neighborhood, and whether or not special education is available.

They turn into the Debra Swan’s second-grade classroom. The children are active and talkative until their teacher utters the “magic word” – Rumpelstiltskin. They fall silent.

Press conference with second-graders

Governor Ted Kulongoski holds a press conference with students of Debra Swan’s second grade class at Lewis Elementary.

After he takes off his jacket, and sits down with the youngsters, Governor Kulongoski talks with the class.

“Working for kids, I think it is one of the most important things I do,” the Governor begins. “I’m trying to help you in school here, so you can learn to do anything you want to do. Oregon needs you guys. That’s why I come here to talk to you: To tell you how important it is to be in school.”

“Are you happy you are the Governor of Oregon?” asks a second-grade girl sitting in the front row.

“I am more than happy,” Oregon’s governor replies. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love being the Governor of Oregon. There are days when it isn’t the best job. But I always like it. It is always fun.”

“Do you have any pets at your house?” asks a boy.

“Yes I do,” Kulongoski replies. “I have the ‘first dog’, named Hershey. She thinks she’s top dog – but I’m the top dog.”

Students supply governing suggestions

Hanna and Makalia show Kulongoski sentiments starting with “If I was Governor of Oregon …” shared by other Lewis Elementary School posted outside their classroom.

After reading a brief story to the class, Kulongoski is escorted to a wall outside the classroom, adorned with printed sentiments starting with “If I were Governor of Oregon …”

Kulongoski reads aloud, “If I were Governor of Oregon, no one would drink alcohol.” He pauses, smiles and remarks, “Oh, that’s an interesting one. Ah, I don’t know – actually, ah, that is a wonderful statement. Is there a temperance movement here at the school?”

The Governor says he agrees with a posted note stating, “If I were Governor of Oregon, I would make sure no child played with guns.”

“If I were Governor of Oregon, I would make sure no sharks would ever eat anybody.” Kulongoski remarks, “That shows quite an imagination.”

Kulongoski reads a several more, including “If I were Governor of Oregon, I’d keep people safe by not letting them speed through [red] lights”, and “If I were Governor of Oregon, I would make sure that all the schools were really good.”

Principal Tim Lauer, Governor Ted Kulongoski, interim superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Ed Schmidt and Oregon State Representative Carolyn Tomei strike a pose in front of the student-made welcome banner.

Says he’s pleased with recent legislation
Asked how state-level politics influence local education, Kulongoski responds, “For teachers, I think there is an attitudinal difference in their belief that the state legislature and governor actually understands the importance of education in children’s lives.”

“I think as much as it is tangible, there is the intangible aspect of this saying ‘this is important to us’, and we have to provide the resources for it. I think it was a good session in the legislature for education. I think you’ll see it play out in the attitudes of the school’s professional staff,” explained Kulongoski.

After the Governor left the school, Lewis principal Tim Lauer says he thinks it is an honor to be visited by the state’s highest ranking executive. “Kulongoski demonstrated a real interest in our school and students. We’re all happy he chose to come visit our school here in Woodstock.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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