David Douglas High readies for new session with new building & educational focus

As this high school grows to 3,000 students, learn how the staff is gearing up to meet the challenge of the coming school year …

We usually photograph people – not objects – but the new 18-classroom building and landscaping is too attractive not to show you.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Next week, 3,000 central outer East Portland students will stream onto the David Douglas High School campus.

The first thing they’ll notice is that the entire main building – larger than two city blocks – has been painted. As kids approach the main entrance, they’ll stroll across a spacious, newly constructed concrete walkway.

And, looking south from the main entrance, instead of seeing the old tennis courts, they’ll catch a glimpse of the new, two-story classroom building.

What won’t be immediately obvious is how diligently the school’s 174 teachers have been preparing for the new school year.

Principal Randy Hutchinson says the new building’s computer lab is equipped to provide state-or-the-art learning experiences.

Building to meet growing student body
David Douglas High’s principal, Randy Hutchinson points out architectural features new building on the new building as we walk toward it.

“Give or take 100 students, we’ll be teaching 3,000 pupils this year,” Hutchinson says. “As more and more large apartment complexes are built here, our student population continues to grow. The 18 classrooms, computer lab and teacher workroom in our new building will help us meet the needs of our students.”

The building was completed on schedule, and on budget, comments Hutchinson as we walk in the building’s south entrance.

Ramping up their ‘literacy movement’
While their new building is an important addition to the campus, Hutchinson says “I’m really excited about our literacy movement within the school.

“We’ve put together a three-year plan addressing the most pressing issues that have come about due our student community’s changing demographics. Together, our staff has chosen literacy as our primary focus. Without being literate, you’ll go nowhere in life. If you can’t read, you can’t write and you can’t learn.”

According to Hutchinson, the school’s district office supports their enhanced literacy program, both philosophically and financially.

Teaching the teachers is David Douglas High math instructor, Bill Berry – a member of the school’s “literacy team”. He’ll be teaching half-time; he’s been recruited to participate in the district-wide math literacy effort.

Teachers attend classes
“We’re starting with a solid core of superb instructors,” the principal continues. “Right now, the staff is taking training.

“Every teacher, of every subject, in every grade level is becoming a ‘literacy coach’. This is a paradigm shift for us. We’re helping our staff learn new teaching techniques by adding expert staff members and bringing in guest speakers.”

Focus on vocabulary and note-taking
“We have a huge immigrant population at our school; they come from families speaking 46 different languages. Kids pick up on ‘street English’ quickly; they can converse with you. But tests show they don’t have mastery of the English language,” informs Hutchinson. “Improving student’s vocabulary is a primary focus.”

50% of the kids who go to college drop out in the first year, he continues, because they don’t have good note-taking skills. More than telling kids to “write it down”, new programs the school developing helps students learn to recognize and record important concepts — instead merely writing down phrases.

Bill Blevins, personal finance teacher, holds a wireless responder – it’s part of a system that provides teachers with instant feedback regarding students’ knowledge level.

Building in learning technology
Personal finance instructor, Bill Blevins, is setting up his classroom in the new building. He says he’s keen on the layout, lighting and equipment in the room.

One of the high-tech tools he’ll be using is the Classroom Response System, he says, as he shows us a wireless device that looks like a TV remote control.

“During class, I can put multiple-choice questions on the Infocus video projector. They click in their answer,” Blevins says as he demonstrates the system. “I can immediately see how the class is doing, both collectively and individually – and know whether we need to spend more time on the topic or continue.

When we ask how the students like this technology, Blevins says, “It makes classes more engaging for students. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had kids actually ask for more quizzes like they do when I use this system.”

Social studies teachers Tracy Lind and Heather Murdock-Wogmon say they’re really enthusiastic about starting school in their new classrooms.

A gift to students and teachers
As we conclude our tour, we meet social studies teachers Heather Murdock-Wogmon and Tracy Lind in the stairwell.

“It’s like a dream come true,” exclaims Murdock-Wogmon. “Everything about my new classroom gives me a feeling like the possibilities for education are endless.”

Lind nods in agreement. “This building is a great gift to the students, teachers and the community.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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