Parkrose High hosts citywide ‘education summit’

What was on the minds of those who attended this unique event, held in outer East Portland? Take a look and learn more …

The Parkrose High atrium was packed with people who came to the Portland Education Summit – with the aim of improving public education in the greater Portland area.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The first part of a two-day City-wide education summit, initiated by Portland Mayor Sam Adams, took place in the Parkrose High School atrium on April 10.

The purpose of the event was to help participants better understand the current status of the area’s regional education system.

At the summit, Mayor Sam Adams declined to speak with us, but Todd Diskin, the Mayor’s Youth Strategies Coordinator, outlined the nature of the event, after briefing discussion table coordinators.

Todd Diskin, the Youth Strategies Coordinator working in Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ office, prepares discussion table coordinators, before the summit begins.

Goal: improve number of high school graduates
“This event is critical for citizens and stakeholders to hear about the state of our schools,” Diskin told us.

“Moreover, we need to spend time listening to what interested people have to say. Their experience is just as important – if not more important – as what our leaders think about approaching improvements to education,” Diskin continued. “If we don’t hear and understand what’s going on in the community first, we can’t really address and support the things that our schools need – and that our families need – to help improve our [high school] graduation rates.”

Diskin listed three positive outcomes he expected from the meetings:

  • People who attend will feel that they were really listened to;
  • Attendees will discover tangible ways they can get involved right now; and,
  • The community will create a broader discussion on the topic of education.

“Gaining this broader ‘sense of community’ is important,” Diskin commented. “[Lower graduation rates] are not any one person’s fault – nor is it one person’s job – it’s all of us collectively needing to work together, to make a better educational system.”

Parkrose High’s Principal, Ana Gonzalez, welcomes attendees to the Portland Educational Summit session held at her school.

East Portland well represented
Just before the afternoon session began, Parkrose High School’s Principal, Ana Gonzalez, told us she was looking forward to the summit. “I’m really glad we are hosting today’s session,” she said. “All of the Parkrose School District is located within the City of Portland; what a better venue, than here at Parkrose High School?”

Also attending the summit was Fritz Hirsch, a Montavilla Neighborhood resident. “I’m here attending as a staff member at IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) on NE Glisan Street. I’m here today because we provide youth academics programs to help increase the success of the young people we serve. As part of the discussion, I’m hoping there will be a focus on the populations with whom we work.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams welcomes attendees to his educational summit.

Hopes to generate a ‘to-do’ list
Greeting the assembly of participants, Portland Mayor Sam Adams began, “I welcome you all to the first Education Summit. We’re glad you’re here. It’s about time we did this, huh?”

After introducing Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carol Smith, Adams explained that, out of what he hopes will be an annual effort, will come a “set of to-dos”.

Adams admonished, “These action items will be used by every person, every leader in the county, every parent, every citizen.  Today, we’re here specifically to learn about the state of our youth, and actions we can take to increase graduation rates, and access post secondary trading and skill training.”

Secondarily, Adams said he hopes to find ways to engage also those adults without school-age children in education. “Only 17% of folks in this county have kids in the schools. That means 83% of people in our county don’t have a direct, necessary connection. These people don’t perceive that they have a direct connection with education,  although they do.”

Initial issues voiced
Mayor Adams took his microphone into the audience, and asked for people to express their concerns with the educational system.

David Douglas School Board member Frieda J. Christopher expresses her concern about “cookie-cutter” concepts often prescribed for “all school districts”.

“I have a long history of what’s gone on over the years,” said Frieda J. Christopher, a David Douglas School Board member. “I’m very supportive the plans for the [educational] leadership group and what will come out of it. But there are multiple school districts in Portland; each of us is different.”

Christopher continued, “When you get down to it, there are even differences among individual schools. Plans and strategies need to take this into account. We need to be flexible – this means not mandating things for schools to do. It should provide goals and then resources if possible, and allow for the flexibility for them to use them in a way that will best help their children, in their schools – and their schools and school district.”

Frank Rosen, a representative from the Cleveland High School PTA, spoke up, saying “I want to know how we can begin respectful, community-wide discussion on improving and supporting teacher quality.”

Director of the East Portland Action Plan, Lore Wintergreen, poses questions, as Mayor Adams listens.

Lore Wintergreen, the East Portland Action Plan’s Director, asked two rhetorical questions, “Why do school districts not dedicate the extra funds they receive for ‘English as a Second Language’ and ‘special education’ students directly to those underachieving populations? The second question is, why does the Portland Schools Foundation not have an East Portland representative on their board?”

Group discussions facilitated
As part of the session, facilitators promoted table conversations. The audience was presented with facts and information, then the small table groups talked about that information – and shared opinions, using the City’s electronic polling “clickers” to provide response.

Mayor Adams invites attendees’ participation by signaling their preferences using “clickers”.

To conclude the day of dialogue, the Educational Summit’s special guest speaker, Michael Geisen, the 2008 National Teacher of the Year from Crook County Middle School in Prineville, Oregon, used his creative and humorous approach to share concepts about high-quality teaching and learning. Attendees left the event in a positive mood, with hopes for a continuation of positive dialogue.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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