Parkrose schools’ retired superintendent plans next career

How does retired Parkrose School District superintendent view his tenure? Does he plan to kick back in an easy chair? Read his reflections on his time managing the district‚ and his new adventure‚ right here‚

Now that he’s retired, Parkrose School District’s former superintendent, Michael Taylor, says he’s pleased to have helped increase the quality of education that Parkrose students have received‚ but gives teachers and staff members the credit.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
On June 30, the hard-charging superintendent of the Parkrose School District walked out of his office on NE Prescott St. for the last time‚ and into retirement.

We’ve brought you the story about how the district’s board conducted a community-wide research program, from which they developed a concise plan for the future of education in Parkrose. Then, the school board conducted an extensive search for a new superintendent. And, we introduced you to the candidates, and the board’s selection of Dr. Karen Fisher Gray to fill Taylor’s post.

Taylor’s good ‘grades’
Just before he left Parkrose Schools, we asked Taylor to share some of his thoughts about his tenure at Parkrose‚ and plans for his future.

“I feel really good about my time here in Parkrose,” Taylor began. “The transition process has spoken to that. The board’s research says there is a core level of satisfaction about what we‚ our schools, teachers and staff‚ are doing. It shows they appreciate our desire to maintain quality education. That says something good.

“We’ve worked to make this happen. I feel good both about my tenure here, and the transition process.”

While Taylor credit’s the districts achievements to the diligent efforts of its teachers and staff, he does admit he’s pleased to have had a hand in improving public education in Parkrose.

Best part: seeing more students succeed
We asked Taylor what the best part of his time in Parkrose Schools.

“Sometimes in education, you don’t get to see the results of the things you have done. But the way things were in this district, you got to see the results.

“Other people in other districts work as hard I do, and know as much about schools and I do, but not everybody gets the opportunity to help close such a [educational success] gap. It is easier to close the first part of the gap‚ moving from 50% of your kids making it — to 70% — than moving from a 70% success rate to a to 100% rate.

“When I came here, my predecessor told me, ‘All the basics are here, Mike. The core is solid. It just needs to be organized and brushed up a little bit.’

“It was true. Our core staff was good and only got better. Our community supports our educational efforts. The core structure was here; it just needed to get aligned.”

Alignment, Taylor told us, is “about getting people into the right places to do what they need to do. More importantly, successful alignment means moving non-important stuff out of the way so our educators can be successful. To a great extent, we accomplished this.”

Not the best of times: contract negotiations
Asked if there was anything he truly disliked about the job, Taylor thought for a moment before answering.

“If I never negotiate another contract with the union, it will be fine with me. The further the relationship between the school management and the teacher gets, the less the issues are about your schools and your kids.

“To a degree, the interests that were present [in negotiations with unions] got further away from the good of the teachers and the students. We had a couple of hard rounds of negotiations, influenced heavily by outside interests. This stresses the relationships among management, the teachers, and the district.

“Yet‚ and David, this is important — the individual teachers, staff members and organization‚ I have the greatest respect for them.”

Dealing with budget woes
“Another difficult task was creating a budget with the lack of funding we had before the Multnomah County I-Tax,” Taylor continued.

“After 10 years of reductions, having to make yet another round of cuts the year before the I-Tax‚ that was extremely difficult for me. We were down to the point losing services to the point to where the NEXT cut would become toxic to the kids we were trying to serve. It just felt like any more cuts would harm our students.”

Taylor says he’ll stay involved in East County education‚ he plans to help set up a construction trade Skills Center in outer East Portland.

No easy chair for Taylor
Although he did admit to taking fly-fishing lessons this spring, Taylor’s retirement won’t consist of hours spent terrorizing trout. Nor will be be putting his slippers on and lounging in his easy chair at home.

“I’m going to stay involved with education,” Taylor said about his next adventure.

“There is a four-district ‘Skills Center’ that’s being developed; created in association with the Oregon Building Congress.

“The Skills Center has a charter [school] application in to the State of Oregon; it will be sponsored by four school districts in East County. When it is approved, a charter school in construction, architecture and engineering will be available to high school juniors and seniors.”

Skills Center partners with existing high schools
Taylor continued, “I’ve pursued this notion several times before, and never was able to make it happen. I firmly believe that the Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham is a good model for this program.”

Instead of building “mega-high schools” that try to be “all things to all students”, Taylor continued, the concept of operating educational clusters, centers or satellites of specialty makes better sense.

The educational model of the future, he added, is to have a core public high schools, and satellite learning centers.

“If we create a massive number of small schools, we lose public education. We lose the integration of cultures and interests.

Combines specialty training and school spirit
High school juniors and seniors will take general education courses when they attend their “home” high school every other day. “On their days at the Skills Center, students will get [educational] content in math, English or communication, calculations and maybe some of their science — in conjunction with skill sets in construction and engineering.”

Taylor told us that the “comprehensive” high school provides the setting for socialization. “The social culture of high schools is important. A sport, proms, arts, elections and even ‘donkey basketball’ are important parts of growing up.

“At the same time, when it comes to the individual learning interests, schools have to better accommodate the individual student’s needs. We can’t build academies to accommodate all interests in all schools.”

The Skills Center is being developed with partners in the construction trades: carpenters, electricians, HVAC and sheet metal. These trades all currently have their training centers in outer East Portland. The Skills Center, Taylor said, will be located at NE 158th Ave. and Sandy Blvd.

“You’ll be hearing more about it in September,” Taylor promised.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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