New Superintendent shares challenges in ‘State of David Douglas’ talk

What steps are being taken to help the burgeoning David Douglas School District function effectively, in a new decade? Take a look – changes are in the wind …

While the kids of outer East Portland are enjoying their last few moments of summer vacation, educators are hard at work, here, in the David Douglas School District administration building.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In an unprecedented meeting, we were invited to lunch with administrators of the David Douglas School District (DDSD) on August 25.

“We’ve been meeting, planning, and refining our educational strategies for the coming year,” explained DDSD Superintendent Don Grotting, as the room full of principals and administrators gathered for lunch in the district’s administration building boardroom.

With the group seated in a large circle around the edges of the room, Grotting spoke passionately about the challenges they face in the district.

“First of all, this school district really has the best interest of its students at heart,” Grotting began. “I truly believe that. Our goal this year is to get all of our teachers, administrators, and other staff members all ‘on the same bus’ – working with the same focus.

“Specifically, our focus is on improving student achievement.”

DDSD Superintendent Don Grotting, surrounded by his school administrators amid their week-long planning meeting, speaks frankly about the district’s challenges.

Shifting demographics compel change
The demographics in outer East Portland, and specifically in the David Douglas School District, are significantly changing, Grotting pointed out. “We fully realize that we’re not teaching only white middle-class kids. The people in our area now include many ethnic groups, and our poverty level is increasing.

“To succeed, we are finding new ways to get in touch with our kids, and get in touch with our community – responding to our changing demographics, to make sure that our instruction is making a significant positive difference in the lives of our children.”

This involves, Grotting added, meeting the challenge of changing instructional models and curriculum, to meet these needs.

“Because David Douglas High School is largest high school in the state, with about 3,000 students again this year, the campus has a population larger than many smaller Oregon towns.”

Dealing with explosive growth
A significant challenge to the school district, Grotting said, is gearing up the infrastructure to meet the population growth of outer East Portland.

“Unlike a lot of other school districts in Oregon, which are seeing decreases in enrollment, we’re seeing increases. Right now, all of our buildings are just about at capacity; every available space is being utilized by students.

“Having the board, the staff, and the community working together to help provide the infrastructure necessary for a quality education will be an ongoing goal of this district.”

Facing up to budget cuts
“Another of our ongoing challenges,” Grotting told the group, “is Oregon’s educational funding. We’re looking at significant increases in PERS contributions, as well as decreases in revenue. We have [been given] one-time Federal ‘stimulus’ money; that will be going away. The question is, ‘How will we maintain and sustain programs with decreased revenues?’”

The DDSD has cut about 36 full-time jobs this year, Grotting revealed. “Looking at the next biennium, I’m pretty sure additional cuts will be necessary.

“We’re trying to increase student achievement, and increase opportunities and programs for our children, while at the same time having resources taken away. This difficult, not only for our school district, but for every other district in the State,” Grotting summarized.

A primary focus for this year, Grotting says, is making sure all of their students are gaining mastery of the English language.

Facing ELL challenges
One of the district’s chief priorities, the Superintendent pointed out, is to increase English proficiency. “This is especially important among our English Language Learners; these students are not doing as well as they need to be doing.  We also see deficiencies in other student sup-groups. We’re looking at what we can do to help those students do better.

“Overall, David Douglas School District has had a ‘flat-level’ in student achievement. Our goal is to turn that around.”

Professional Learning Team Wednesdays
Instead of holding occasional “in-service” seminars for teachers and staff, Grotting said, this effort will occr weekly this year.

“The focus of our professional development program throughout the year is that we’re going to have a late start every Wednesday morning of the school year. During that time, the focus will be on our Professional Learning Teams, to increase student achievement.”

At these Wednesday morning sessions, teachers and other staff members will share information, including identifying students who are lagging behind. Working together, they’ll formulate specific plans to help these students learn more proficiently.

“We’re looking forward to a good year,” Grotting concluded. “Our 1,500 employees are dedicated to helping our 10,000 kids get a good education.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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