A conversation with DDSD Superintendent Don Grotting

Learn how the leader of this outer East Portland school district thinks education is faring – and why …

David Douglas School District Superintendent of Education Don Grotting spends a moment with office assistant Laura Brewer.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The occasion for this conversation, held not long ago in his office at the David Douglas School District, was that Superintendent of Education Don Grotting had been named 2014 Oregon Superintendent of the Year by the Oregon Association of School Executives.

But, as is his way, Grotting preferred to talk with East Portland News about the successes and challenges of the school district – and not about his award.

“I’m an about midterm in my fourth year at DDSD,” Grotting began. “The freshmen who are here when I came in are now seniors, and will be graduating in June.”

Balancing the budget
When he arrived, the District’s budget hadn’t yet been finalized. “The DDSD School Board was back then, for the first time in a long time, starting to face some financial difficulties. So, over the last three years we’ve eliminated about 130 teaching positions and the equivalent of 50 classified positions, and also five administrative positions.  When I began here, our expenditures were definitely outspending the revenues. We had to make some reductions to get those aligned.

“Right now, we are just starting to feel that our revenues are finally starting to match our expenditures. It’s been a tough three years for everyone in the district.”

Asked if these reductions have impacted education in a negative way, Grotting responded, “I think we have found ways to keep it working well. We try to do things that would lessen the impact to students. But, anytime you increase classroom sizes significantly, and reduce some elective classes for students – that’s not good for kids, and it’s not good for staff.

“One of the things I am proud of is that we have been able to maintain our music, arts, and theater programs. We are one of the few districts that offer a music program to all students, K-12.  And we have instrument band opportunities for our students in upper elementary grades, middle school, and high school.  You just don’t see that in every district.”

Parent groups help the music instructors by seeking out donations of equipment and sheet music, and doing fundraisers, Grotting pointed out.

Superintendent Grotting says everyone in the school system has worked to balance the budget – and to continue to provide a quality education for students.

Maintaining a quality education
Even though the David Douglas School District has the highest poverty level in Multnomah County – and perhaps even in the State – Grotting reported that student [test] assessment scores have held steady.

“Scores have risen in some areas, and fallen a little in other categories. I attribute that to class size, and with the reduction of some of our resources that we have not been able to provide teachers.  I think it all adds up.

“The graduation rate at our high school is at about 70%; some people would say that that’s pretty good looking at comparison schools. But it still means that 30% of our students are not graduating. While the district is recognized for providing a good education, I think we can do better.”

Don Grotting talks with Asst.  Superintendent Ken Richardson.

Says how Capital Improvement Bond has helped
“Amazingly, our Capital Improvement Bond passed in 2012,” Grotting said. [See our story about efforts to promote that Bond measure: CLICK HERE.]

“I think passing the Bond shows the support of not only the community, but also of our parents.  To pass a Bond in these economic times is unheard of, especially when a Bond comes out that supports maintenance in all the schools.

“Every school in this district will benefit from some sort of maintenance. This includes removing asbestos from the buildings, putting on many new roofs, installing new flooring and paint, and upgrading HVAC systems so there is good air ventilation for both staff and students.

“There were also funds in the Bond for new technology and textbooks,” Grotting said. “We had not updated our textbook adoptions for over 10 years. We’re also putting I-Pads in classrooms for kids to use now. We couldn’t have done this without the Bond.”

Grotting noted that the Bond also helped fund the creation of the Early Learning Center for preschool kids and their families. [To read about the groundbreaking ceremony for this facility late last year: CLICK HERE.]

Don Grotting shows us his “Oregon Superintendent of the Year” award.

About Grotting’s award
“Yes. I was chosen Superintendent of the Year,” Grotting said, after East Portland News reintroduced the topic. “It was a complete shock and surprise to me. Members of the Oregon Association of School Executives stopped by, in the middle of a School Board meeting, to make the presentation.”

With typical humility, Grotting deflected the conversation, pointing out that the efforts of many who work in the school district have been recognized for their successes.

He pointed out that, in 2013, Earl Boyles Elementary School Principal Ericka Guynes was named “Oregon Elementary Principal of the Year”, and that Alice Ott Middle School’s Principal James Johnston was recognized for leading one of 11 secondary schools in the entire United States for student achievement.

“You might say that I have a lot of people that make me look good every day,” Grotting said. “We have a very supportive School Board. They’re careful to create policy innovation, but also careful not to micromanage. We have dedicated principals in our schools – and classroom teachers as well. Everyone at DDSD works for the students’ success, including the food service people, custodians, and bus drivers.

“Any success that might be attributed to me really reflects the support we receive from our community members and the organizations that support our schools,” Grotting concluded.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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