David Douglas Schools christen ‘Early Learning Center’

See why officials say this new education center will ‘change children’s lives for the better’ …

Celebrants cheer the opening of this building, the “Richard C. Alexander Early Learning Center”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Amid music and speeches, ground was broken for an “Early Learning Center” at Earl Boyles Elementary School in the Powellhurst Gilbert neighborhood of outer East Portland back on December 5, 2013.

> See our coverage of that event: CLICK HERE.

Now, on schedule and in time for the new school year, officials again traveled to this of outer East Portland school – located in the David Douglas School District (DDSD) – this time, to celebrate the completion of the building and center. That was on September 18.

The Earl Boyles Elementary School Percussion Band welcomes visitors to the celebration.

David Douglas School District Superintendent Don Grotting says he believes the Early Learning Center will help the youth in his district.

“This new Early Learning Center is important to me, personally, because it is going to change kids’ lives for the better,” DDSD Superintendent of Education Don Grotting said before formal speeches began.

“Hopefully, it will eliminate the ‘achievement gap’,” Grotting told East Portland News. “It’ll give our kids from impoverished areas, not only in our district but throughout the state, a model for other school districts to help children of poverty and children of color have the same chance that [that students in] more affluent school districts have.”

Asked if this is an educational experiment, or is a proven system, Grotting quickly responded. “This is based on research data that shows that, any time you can start influencing and impacting children at an early age – and their families as well – it’s the best investment you can make an education.”

Elements of the programs at the DDSD Early Learning Center include:

  • Family engagement
  • Early literacy
  • Providing some social services children and families need
  • Providing care for, or identification of, early health issues


DDSD Board Chair Frieda Christopher thanks residents for helping to fund the new Early Learning Center.

After Grotting welcomed officials and guests, he introduced 24-year DDSD Board member and now Board Chair Frieda Christopher, who is also a founder of the David Douglas Educational Foundation.

“First, I do want to thank the residents of our school district,” Christopher began. “Without their support for our bond measure, we would not be celebrating this Center today. $3.5 million of that bond measure was set aside for this project. We communicated that very clearly to our residents, and they were supportive of this project based on the need.”

Superintendent Grotting shows a grant check facsimile in the amount of $939,923 given by the Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission Grant Program Director Julie S. Omelchuck; and Earl Boyles Elementary School Principal Ericka Guynes holds a plaque that will be affixed to the entrance of one of the Center’s conference rooms.

Earl Boyles Principal Ericka Guynes was honored by having the new infant toddler classroom christened in her name. Speaking about the impact “Early Works” has had at Earl Boyles, she said, “This project is about changing a community, and it has.”

The featured speaker, Governor John Kitzhaber, said “There is no place I’d rather be on planet Earth than right here, right now.” And indeed he was.

Governor John Kitzhaber addresses the celebrants.

Kitzhaber then launched into remarks seemingly oriented towards his gubernatorial re-elected campaign, recounting his claims of championing education and health care in the state.

At the conclusion of his speech, Kitzhaber announced, “I’m really proud to have the honor to announce today that this facility will be dedicated as the Richard C. Alexander Early Learning Center.”

Earl Boyles Elementary School First Grade Teacher Nicole McGowan shows off her new classroom.

The enclosed play court at the Early Learning Center is ready to delight kids.

After the speeches, groups were led on tours of the Early Learning Center – which houses four full-day kindergarten classrooms, three preschool classrooms, and a developmentally appropriate outdoor courtyard. Tours also showed off a new Neighborhood Center that officials say will provide access for all families in the Earl Boyles catchment area to the education, health, parenting, and the other support services and resources they need.

The Center began providing preschool to 90 students, including all the catchment’s 4-year-olds, at the beginning of the current school year.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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