Public schools boosters hold annual conclave in Parkrose

After a decade of meeting in other locales, find out why this group – dedicated to furthering and supporting public education – chose Parkrose High School at their 2010 gathering site. They attracted City, County, and State leaders, among others …

Kathryn Schwartz – coordinator of the 2010 Community & Parents for Public Schools meeting held at Parkrose High School – pauses for a moment with organization board member Debbie Gordon.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
People from all over the greater Portland area, of diverse ethnicities and demographics, gathered at Parkrose High School in October 16 – as the day-long 2010 Community & Parents for Public Schools meetings got underway.

“This is the meeting of our local chapter of the national organization Parents for Public Schools,” explained board member and coordinator of last year’s meeting, Debbie Gordon.

“We work to keep public schools the ‘school of choice’ for the community,” Gordon told us. “We work to engage parents, the family, and the community to help them become involved with their students, their schools, and their school districts.”

Johanna Backford, a parent-volunteer checks attendees into the day-long conference.

Asked why the meeting was being held at Parkrose High this year, Gordon responded, “This is the first time that we’ve gone County-wide…and we’re so pleased that the Parkrose School District is hosting us.”

Says conference aides educational activism
Instead of trying to promote enthusiasm for public education in Portland’s population, “The conference is [composed of] people who are already activists, in terms of working to strengthen public education,” Gordon said.

“It’s very important that we come together and draw energy from one another’s passion and activism,” she added. “And also, we’re doing our best to ‘pass the torch’ down to the new generation of parents and community leaders, so that we’ll have sustainable work to build and strengthen schools in our community.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams welcomes conference attendees.

The kickoff speaker at the morning’s general assembly was Portland Mayor Sam Adams.

“Let me tell you a story about a young woman who became pregnant and was unable to complete her high school diploma,” Adams began. “She went on to have four kids; and ended up as a single mother. Through it all, she fought for her kids’ education; she fought for effective education.

“And, despite the fact that she worked a couple of jobs, and got by with food stamps and other support, she was finally able to go back and get her high school degree, and eventually, a college degree.”

Conference attendees listen intently as Mayor Adams tells a compelling story about a mother’s insistence on having an education.

Adams continued, “As hard as she fought for, and was involved with, her children’s education, two of her four children dropped out of high school. It was one of the most heartbreaking things for this mother. But even then, she did not give up. It took one of those high school dropouts six years to get a GED; the other one took eight years.

“The fact is, she cared so much about her children’s education, she just wouldn’t give up when there were moments of failure and disappointments. That woman was my mother. She didn’t have the opportunity that you have, to come here today – to improve the partnership between schools and parents.”

Adams concluded, “Thank you for spending a sunny fall day with us. We are thrilled to be a partner, and we are ready to go.”

Doug Wells, president of Parents for Public Schools national board of directors tells the organization’s history.

“The theme today is, of course, parent involvement,” said Parents for Public Schools National Board President, Doug Wells, as he addressed the general assembly.

“This is a chapter of a national organization, founded in Jackson, Mississippi, 20 years ago,” Wells went on. “About the public schools in Jackson, the parents said, ‘This is not acceptable for our kids’. Our movement is based on the fact that parents need to be more involved in schools.”

Describing the work of the local chapter, Wells posited, “We’re committed to building a sustainable network of diverse parent, family, and community forces to ensure a high-quality education for all the children in Portland’s public schools. We know that there is clear data, now, saying that parents’ involvement makes schools better.”

Breakout sessions, like this one, provide attendees with a wide variety of access to information – and civic leaders.

After the plenary session, Oregon State Rep. Jefferson Smith (D) District 47 noted that he was pleased to see the conference being held in outer east Portland.

“The Parkrose School District is a big part of my [State congressional] district,” Smith told us. “Parental involvement has a significant impact on student success.  Anything that we can do to encourage that is good. Hopefully we’re building a little bit of energy to build more and more attention to this part of town. If there’s a tiny thing that I can do to help support the effort to engage parents in education, I want to help.”

Parkrose Superintendent points our diverse participation
We met up with Parkrose School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, who was on her way to a breakout session. “This is a wonderful event.”

Specifically, Gray added that she was happy “to see so many people, from so many places around Portland. The Mayor was saying to me how he has never seen an event with so much diversity represented. It gives me chills when I think about what he said.”

This panel discussion – “School Funding and Budgeting” – brings together State Rep. Jefferson Smith, Parkrose Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler, and Portland Public Schools Zone #2 Board Member David Wynde.

Break-out sessions abound
Sixteen specialized breakout sessions were held throughout the school all day, attendees took in topics ranging from the stopping of bullying to preparing kids for college.

One we stopped in to see was called “School Funding and Budgeting”.

Starting off, Portland Public Schools board member David Wynde cited Oregon’s tax-limiting “Measure 5” for crippling education funding. “It changed funding in the State. It means, most importantly, that we ‘elected’ no longer control the revenue sources in our district.”

He added, “Since Measure 5, spending on K-through-12 education has gone down, and down, and down, in real terms. We’re trying to do more with less, and we’ve been trying to do more with less almost every single year.”

State treasurer chimes in
Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler quipped, “An interesting thing about being State Treasurer is that I get invited to talk on panels, and speak about subjects where I have no expertise whatsoever. This is another one of those conversations.”

Wheeler added that he was about to speak a citizen and a taxpayer, not as a school funding expert.

“Oregon has two long-standing traditions,” continued Wheeler. “The first tradition is one of not having the pie be larger; right now 52% of the State’s budget goes to education funding. That sounds like a lot, until we consider that we have more than hundred school districts across the state of Oregon. Education is our primary foundation, not only for economic growth but also for economic self sufficiency, and for families. When you consider how that percentage is shrinking, that’s problematic.

“The second tradition in the State of Oregon is also some of these ballot measures that we, as a population, continue to support. They actually impact the volatility of the funding stream. I’m as concerned about the volatility as I am about the adequacy of funding.”

To learn more about Community & Parents for Public Schools: Portland see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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