Parkrose schools open – with safe celebrations

See how the Parkrose School District is responding to education needs in the COVID-19 coronavirus era …

In outer East Portland, at Prescott Elementary School, students and families check in with staff and teachers as the school year begins.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

All summer long families and students across the Parkrose School District (PSD) wondered what how their 2020-2021 school year would be starting, because of COVID-19 coronavirus concerns.

School did begin on September 9, with “welcome back” events at their four elementary schools, the middle school, and across the street at Parkrose High School – for about 3,100 students, in all.

Even with years of experience, starting as Principal at Prescott Elementary School in 2002, and then, in 2017 being named PSD Superintendent, Michael Lopes-Serrao says every day has brought new challenges.

“Our spring term was an emergency response – getting staff, students and families ready for the extended closure, and continuing educating by way of distance learning,” Superintendent Lopes-Serrao told East Portland News.

His school district is incorporating what was learned earlier this year, as it starts fall term using distant learning strategies, says PSD Superintendent Michael Lopes-Serrao.

“This spring we learned a lot; and families gave us a lot of feedback about what worked and what did not work – feedback we took to heart,” acknowledges Lopes-Serrao. “Now, we’re putting all that into action in a very short period of time. Our employees started back just two weeks ago, so they had a very short period of time to get ready for pretty big ‘lift’.”

Shifting strategies to meet metrics
They’ve had to make adjustments to their strategies throughout the summer, he says. “Earlier, the plan was to have students back on our campuses, at least part-time – socially-distanced, and with the new protocols.

“Then, the Governor announced the new metrics in early August, and that created a quick shift to prepare for what we’re doing today – getting all of our students ready to learn from home. So, we’ve been helping our teachers learn all the new tools they’ll be using to teach our students, remotely, this fall.”

Lopes-Serrao added that he expected the District would be using comprehensive distance learning at least until November. “Our School Board would like to let our families know, at the end of September, if we will be extending distance learning beyond that.”

New year, new Principal, at Prescott Elementary

Principal Nichole Watson, new this year at Prescott Elementary School, talks with a student.

Cheerfully greeting students at Prescott Elementary School outdoors, in the playground we found Principal Nichole Watson.

“I am the new Principal, since July, so I’m very new,” Watson remarked. “I’ve been an educator for ten years, but I’m super excited, because this is my first principalship, and I’m the first Black Principal of Prescott Elementary.

“I starting teaching in the classroom and doing some racial equity work in a different district, and I’m now serving the fine folks at Prescott,” Watson says, by way of introduction.

Prescott Elementary’s librarian Heather Abney meets students, and distributes supplies from a table set up for second graders.

All the school’s staff was on hand, meeting their students and their families – properly socially-distanced – and passing out Chromebooks, school supplies and the curriculum.

“We’re assuring parents that, even though this way of educating is certainly different, ‘different’ doesn’t have to be bad – but that it can be better,” explains Watson.

Her continuing education, to get her Administrator’s certificate, didn’t cover how to be a Principal during a pandemic, Watson admits. “But, in learning to be an administrator, the idea is to prepare oneself to engage students and families, and to build a school that both centers on, and celebrates, all children – which is what we’re doing here.”

As a tasty part of the celebration, Dana Pompetti of Kona Ice serves up cool treats on a hot summer afternoon as a fundraiser for the Prescott Family Community Association.

Children and their families appeared to delight in the day’s event, travelling from station to station, matriculating for their new year in school.

“The Prescott community is magical,” Watson says thoughtfully. “This is a school that has incredibly solid ‘bones’; and I’m here to facilitate, to be a cheerleader, and to champion the work that they’ve already done – and the work that they want to do.

“I’m really lucky to be here,” Watson sums up, as she turns her attention to welcoming another family.

Another ‘drive-through’ event held at Parkrose High

Parkrose High School’s Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Ryan Gallagher gives “welcome back” bags to families, during the back-to-school “drive-through” event.

Having enjoyed a “drive-through graduation” this spring [CLICK HERE to see this story], the staff of Parkrose High School (PHS) gained experience they put to good use when the hosted a similar back-to-school drive-through event on September 9.

Staying in their vehicles, students and their families entered the high school’s campus through the north parking lot, and headed south along the theater and library area, where they were greeted by teachers and staff members as they passed.

We didn’t need to ask the names of these cheerful Parkrose High staff members who are saying hello to returning students, because they were all “self-identified”.

Parkrose High School Principal Molly Ouche gives T-shirts to students Tran Nguyen and Tuan Nguyen.

Experience with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic during the spring campus closure gave them valuable experience they’re putting to good use this fall, says PHS Principal Molly Ouche.

“Last spring showed us what worked, what didn’t work, and how to be flexible and responsive to the needs of our students and families. We learned a lot from our school community; they gave us valuable feedback on the work we needed to do to prepare our staff to move forward to ensure that we do a better job this fall.”

PHS Athletic Secretary Sybil Hernandez, Attendance Secretary Tiana Davis, and Bookkeeper Shannon Maslach, are staffing the “refreshment station”.

They’re ready for comprehensive distance learning, helping their just over 1,000 students continue their education, until it’s safe for them to return to the campus, Ouche confirms, as she distributes T-shirts to students. “I love and appreciate the Parkrose High School community, and we are working extremely hard to get our students and families the experience they deserve, even at a distance.”

Nutritional assistance programs delayed by smoke
The district-wide PSD nutritional assistance program was scheduled to begin on September 14, and was delayed by hazardous air conditions.

But, on September 21, the lunch program did start at all four Parkrose elementary schools, and the middle school, serving lunch on-site from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Also – at many of the schools’ bus stops – instead of picking up kids, PSD busses will be staffed to distribute lunches, around the noon hour.

All students in the community, through 18 years of age, are eligible to get the meals – at no cost.

To keep up-to-date as the school year continues, visit the official Parkrose School District website: CLICK HERE.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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