David Douglas High School honored for good grades – and music excellence

It’s amazing to have seen who delivered the good news about academic achievements made at the school this year! And, it’s true – David Douglas Schools won a GRAMMY Award! Get all the facts, read the in-depth interviews and see all the great photos, right here …

Half of the David Douglas High School student body waits for their assembly program to begin. The other half sits on the other side of the gym!

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Honors upon honors were heaped on schools in the David Douglas School District in the month of May.

Superintendent of Public Instruction visits DDHS

“If you can, come over to our morning school-wide assembly,” invited David Douglas High School (DDHS) Principal John Bier on the morning of May 13. “You’ll enjoy our ‘awards assembly’ – but we’re also hosting a very special visitor.”

Walking in from the parking lot, we guessed who the special guest was, when we saw Susan Castillo, who heads the Oregon Department of Education, as the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

When you walk into the main DDHS gym, and it’s filled with more than 3,000 students all cheering – the feeling is scintillating.

DDHS senior Larry Ma on the schools Break Dance team shows his fancy – and athletic – moves, to an approving crowd.

Student athletes of all sports were introduced and stood up to take their bows; teachers and staff members to be honored during the school assembly joined them. Then other students were received awards for their academic achievements and artistic endeavors.

All this, plus their live band entertained, as well as their crack break dance team. And, they went on to introduce Isedro, a young man they’ve been helping by way of their ‘Sparrow Club’ – by letting him and his family know they were sending them to “Lego Land” in Southern California.

School district board member Frieda Christopher, DDHS Principal John Bier, and Oregon Superintendent Castillo applaud students’ accomplishments before the big announcement is made.

Finally, Principal Bier took the microphone and explained, “Like you, we staff and teachers are accountable for helping you make good grades. Last fall, we got a letter from the State of Oregon Educational Department that said, ‘Your State test scores don’t look very good, right now’.

“I’m a little bit competitive when it comes to that,” Bier continued. “I knew the students of David Douglas High are very smart students, and we have awesome teachers.  Let’s give a shout out for our teachers!”

Thus, the school’s staff fine-tuned their teaching and encouraged students to rise to academic excellence, remarked Bier. “Guess what, you guys have done a fantastic job. The achievement scores have gone through the roof. Not only that, we’ve increased other things like our graduation rate – it’s outstanding!”

Pausing for a moment, he looked toward Susan Castillo, Oregon’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, sitting on the sidelines.

“I thought perhaps we should get more than just a piece of paper congratulating us for our achievements. Instead, we have here today the top person in the State for education. I’m pleased to introduce to you, Susan Castillo.”

Susan Castillo, Oregon’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, greets the student body at David Douglas High.

“When I learned about what you’ve accomplished in the school year, oh my gosh,” Castillo began. “I was so inspired. I had to come here, in person to see your faces and to say ‘congratulations’ on how hard you have been working this year!”

She asked the students to give their teachers a round of applause, and added, “You students are amazing people. I’m very inspired by you; and as I travel around the state I’ll tell everyone what’s been happening at this school. I am so proud of all of you.”

Castillo concluded, “You set a fabulous example of what’s possible – students who ‘bring it’ every day to the classroom. Everybody in the school believes in you, and congratulations for working hard.”

DDHS is a good model for achievements that even a large school can make, Susan Castillo says.

As we walked out, Castillo told us, “I plan to talk about what has happened at the school, because it serves as a wonderful model for other schools. It shows that you can change what happens in student achievement.”

We asked if it’s difficult for kids to get a good education in a school with a population larger than many Oregon towns.

“That’s definitely not the case here at David Douglas,” replied Castillo. “I think they’re showing the way – and it’s really important that we have a school like David Douglas that serves as such a wonderful model.”

David Douglas High named GRAMMY Signature Gold School

Before DDHS Showcase Concert, international jazz recording star Portland saxophonist Patrick Lamb, DDHS Principal John Bier, and the Recording Academy’s regional governor, Mike Jones meet.

A few days later, we were invited back to the DDHS Showcase Concert on May 17, at which their instrumental and vocal groups performed their final show for the school year.

Principal Bier invited us back into the “green room”, where internationally-known recording artist Patrick Lamb, and Cherie-Anne May, the district’s music program coordinator, and Mike Jones, Governor for the Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter, were all waiting for the program to begin.

“I’ve been here 21 years,” Bier began. “And as a teacher, I’ve always known that there’s a very strong tradition of music at David Douglas Schools. Now, being Principal, I truly see the scope and strength of our music program.”

All schools are facing cuts, the Principal told us. “This includes us – we had to cut over 10% of our budget this year. But we’ve have had such community support and school board support for music programs, that they will continue. This is a real chance to celebrate our music program’s success.”

Specifically, Bier added, the school was named one of seven U.S. public high schools to be awarded as “GRAMMY Signature Gold School” for excellence in music education – and with it, to receive a $5,500 grant from the GRAMMY Foundation.

David Douglas Schools’ music program coordinator, Cherie-Anne May, says music education helps prepare students for success after graduation.

The district’s overall music program coordinator, Cherie-Anne May, told us, “I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn that we would receive this award. I was almost overcome to think that we have made it this far; this is a really big deal.”

May said she could hardly contain pride. “Many of our students’ families in this neighborhood struggle to get by. It’s nice that they can have acknowledgment from such a high organization that they’re doing well.”

About music education, May opined, “Music is the one subject in which students really have to ‘put it out there’. You can’t perform at 70% and be successful as a musician; you have to be at 100%. Music education also encourages both creative and critical thinking – skills students need, as they go into the world.”

Mike Jones, representing the Recording Academy, and musician Patrick Lamb, join Cherie-Anne May as she introduces the program.

With that, we headed out to the Horner Performing Arts Center Auditorium for the presentation and program.

Cherie-Anne May, David Douglas School District’s music coordinator, led off the program by introducing their special guests for the evening, and set the stage for the award they were about to receive.

Professional musician Patrick Lamb says he continues to support music in schools.

Before the show, we asked recording artist and Portland saxophonist Patrick Lamb what his role was to be in the evening’s proceedings. “I’m here with the GRAMMY Foundation – I’m like their Vanna White, presenting the check!” he quipped.

“Actually, I work to bring attention to our schools’ music programs,” Lamb told the students and parents in the auditorium.

“This is where it all starts, for a lot of professional musicians – right here in our school programs,” Lamb added. “Chris Bodie and I, for example, had the same beginning band teacher. So, even it seems like music programs can be easily cut, I’m working to make sure we are instead keeping them alive and vital.”

Mike Jones, Governor for the Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest chapter, tells about the award about to be presented to the school.

Next Mike Jones, Governor of the Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter ,explained the award. “The Grammy Foundation is a nonprofit charitable arm of the Recording Academy, with the mission of cultivating the appreciation and advancement of recorded music on American culture.

“One of the ways they do that is to support music education through programs such as the ‘Grammy Signature Schools Program’.”

Principal Bier, and instructors Jennifer Mueller and Christopher Silva, accept the check from the Recording Academy.

Jones said that 20,000 high schools to have the opportunity to apply for this award.

“This year, 36 high school music programs were selected,” Jones continued. “And among those, David Douglas High School became one of seven ‘GRAMMY Signature Gold School’ schools. This reinforces what you already know; you have a really special program here.”

Mike Jones, Governor for the Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter, presents the “GRAMMY” Award to David Douglas High School musicians Alex Burfett, Sally Vu, and Samantha Westmoreland.

After the presentations, the concert began.

Congratulations to David Douglas High School!

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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