Ideas I Have for a New PPS Superintendent

Karol Collymore

Portland Public School folks are in the midst of replacing Vicki Phillips. They are asking important community members – including my awesome boss – what they’d like to see in a new superintendent.

Knowing they would not stop by and ask the worker bees what we thought, I figured I’d share my ideas here and then ask for yours. I will call our yet to be named superintendent, “Pamela” for my writing ease. Here we go:

1. Stay more than 5 years.
Pamela, if you get this job, please stay more than 5 years. That seems a proper time to
Get to know Portland, the children, and the issues. When you meet that adorable kindergartner who welcomes you with her reading of Oh the Places We’ll Go, make sure you are there at her 6th grade graduation with her copy of Forever.

2. Address the real issue of race and class in our schools.
Pamela, I know you are not a miracle worker, but there are serious issues of race and class in our schools. We also have “white flight” from allegedly “poor” schools in North and Northeast Portland – neighborhoods good enough to gentrify but not to send kids to the local schools. There is also the matter of the strange ways of deciding which neighborhoods get K-8 and which get the traditional method. Seems to be along lines of economics and color? Please don’t come here and ignore this.

3. Give our teachers real salaries.
Pamela, teachers are with our children longer than parents some days of the week. These professionals are helping us raise our children. It takes a village, but the village residents aren’t indentured servants.

4. Give our kids a safe, beautiful place to learn.
Pamela, it’s not about fancy computers, grants from large corporations, or standardized tests. It is about children going somewhere they’d like be most of the day. If you gross out when walking into a school building (which I’ve done) then you are responsible for fixing it. Please don’t send our children to schools that aren’t even up to earthquake codes. Your first visit should be to Rosa Parks Elementary in North Portland. It is beautiful, it is welcoming and a place where children will thrive. All schools should look like this.

5. Talk to Portland and we’ll talk back.
Pamela, I trust you’ll be welcoming of all opinions and distinguish the thoughtful from the ridiculous.

I don’t have children and after talking to my neighbor with a newborn, my maternal instinct is suddenly in hiding. I still want Portland kids to have the best of what we have to offer. I’d love to see what you all have to say.

  • hakan (unverified)
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    Pamela: A huge cinnamon role coated with frosting is not a good breakfast for our kids who rely on the free lunch/breakfast program. Seriously, would you eat a huge cinnamon role with frosting everyday for breakfast? Sure, the ups and downs associated with a sugar high make it difficult to learn but let’s also recognize the crippling epidemic of preadolescent man boobs.

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    The Moobs you mention, may sound like a joke, but I've seen said moobs and its true. Feeding children foods full of trans fat leads obviously, to obese children.

  • Himself (unverified)
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    Thanks, Karol, you nailed it on all five points.

    So far, PPS has run the community input phase of the superintendent search like a corporat marketing campaign, with focus groups and push polls.

    There is a real challenge here for those of us in the community who prefer strong, integrated, equitable neighborhood schools to a system that's getting corporatized by way of charter schools and Gates/Broad grants.

  • nathan (unverified)
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    More Money for Teachers?! Average salary in Oregon is ~43,000$ w/ pension, family benefits, and 2-3 months off per year. I am jealous. I am not saying this is an easy job, but hey if you want to make money go into a corporation.

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    Pamela: A huge cinnamon role coated with frosting is not a good breakfast for our kids who rely on the free lunch/breakfast program.

    I wholeheartedly agree. My children's school, Abernethy, is doing some groundbreaking work at providing education on growing food and cooking from scratch in the kitchen--a rarity in today's heat-and-serve insta-meal school kitchens. We parent volunteers scrimp and beg for funds to keep it running each year, and in fact, we're worried about the future of the program constantly. The District has indicated the kitchen and garden program are a problem because it labor costs are high when people in kitchens actually "cook" (instead of reheating a processed entree).

    But don't the labor costs of teaching kids how to eat healthy food pale when obesity and poor nutrition are such a huge problem for our kids? Pamela, take a look in the kitchens of PPS' schools and help us expand this model in order to promote health for the long-term.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    A big help would be to accept a salary that doesn't include any perks and is at least 1/2 of what Vicki got. This way we could give that extra money directly to the schools without having to beg for more from the people. In fact, lets cut all administrative salaries in half and get rid of all perks and give that relased money to the schools.

  • Sean Thuse (unverified)
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    Average salary in Oregon is ~43,000$ w/ pension, family benefits, and 2-3 months off per year. .

    Um, Nathan, last time I checked this was a post about PPS, not about statewide education.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Great post, Karol!

    As a PPS veteran teacher, I'd add "years of success as a classroom teacher" with more than just three kids in an ESL room.

    Dr. Phillips never had much of that, since she only spent three years (the legal minimum) teaching.

    Dr. Phillips may know how to color-coordinate her post-it notes, but she has little or no knowledge of what makes a great teacher.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    May I also add to my previous post that the new person be from, or grew up in, the Western part of the US. It seems every time we find someone that comes from the Eastern US, they tend to be extremely bossy and have a "my way or the highway" attitude. We do not need a 'my way - highway' attitude here in Portland.

  • Brandon Wolner (unverified)
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    No mention of the role of the parents. Not surprised for a "liberal" blog, but I did notice the cry for more money.

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    Add number 6 to that list:

    PPS needs to dismantle its 60’s era school system and institute a more future-looking model, one that promotes alternative forms of education like home-schooling, magnet schools, and a voucher system giving families the right to choose how their children learn.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    Right, Buckman...and in the process promote elitism and propaganda at it's glorious best. The 3 items you bring up can only be available to those who have the funds available to send them to those schools. Parents may have a right to choose how their children learn, but they have to be affluent to actually enable that right to choose. Poor people have no alternative to aletrnative schooling. Besides - we need to hire a superintendent first before we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Underpaid (unverified)
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    "Average salary in Oregon is ~43,000$ w/ pension, family benefits, and 2-3 months off per year."

    Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me, especially considering the benefits package and the fat PERS pension that goes along with it.

    Nope, not too shabby for a basic Bachelor of Arts degree and a teaching credential.

  • Sarah C (unverified)
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    I think Karol's post was great. As a parent of one child in school and another that will be joining her in a few years I am excited and nervous about the superintendent search. It is an opportunity that I hope is used well. Thirteen years ago when I moved to Portland this was one of the best urban districts in the country. It is not to late for the district to still be great.

    I agree that nutrition in school is important. My daughter attends Beach in North Portland. Until this last year Beach was a title 1 school but fell short by a few students. It is a really tough spot to be in. Unfortunately for schools like Beach, while we would like better nutrition we have to focus on other issues. Yes, I know that it can be even more important for the kids on free and reduced lunch but there are limits to what we can do.

    One of which Karol brought up. Some of the parents debate if an earthquake hits, is your child better off on and upper or lower floor? Beach gets one of the worst ratings in the distrit when it comes to earthquake readiness but there seem to be no plans to do anything.

    When it comes to parent involvement, Beach has a lot of active parents. I know of some parents who are working multiple jobs to keep the family housed. They are still in the school with their limited free time. The reality is that the poorer you are, the less likely you are to have connections to get things done (fundraising, the attention of the district, etc.)

    Beach is a very diverse school with rising test scores (I am not a fan of the tests but know this is the measurement used). In part because of the Spanish Immersion program, there is a waiting list to get into Beach. You would think the district would want to support a school like Beach, not try to cut staff like they are trying to do now (thanks in no small part to Vicky's magic math).

    When it comes to teachers' salaries they are underpaid. Volunteer for a day in a classroom and you will wonder how they do it. For the record, a starting salary is closer to $35,000 a year, they need to have a master's degree and they get two months in the summer that they do not attend school (the rest of summer break is spent in trainings and other meetings). During those two months, most teachers I know do spend time organizing lesson plans and preparing for the next year. During the school year it is rare for a teacher to work less than 40 hours a week. It is also rare for a teacher not to spend part of their salary on classroom supplies. At Beach many are in the school after hours for various different events. They also dip into their own pockets to pay for things their students cannot afford.

    I love Beach, I think it is a great school. We are proud that our daughter attends this school. I like Karol, would like to see schools like Beach better supported by the district.

  • joe hill (unverified)
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    Thank you for an excellent article. I wanted to reinforce your points about the confluence of race/class and school building conditions.

    First of all . . . and most important . . . we have to begin to repair the damage that the "school choice" movement has inflicted on public neighborhood schools. Common schools are supposed be engines of democracy and equality. As of now, they are the opposite of that; they re-inscribe class privilege . We need neighborhood schools for all.

    "School choice," by the way, in the great tradition of Bush-speak (cf. "Healthy Forests," "Clear Skies," etc.) means the opposite of what its plain meaning seeks to imply. The impact of school choice has been to inflict less choice on every level for the least privileged; less music, less art, poorer textbooks, visibly distressed physical plant, less of the fundamental amenities and choices that make being in school a life-affirming experience.

    Get rid of the charter schools that are draining our common schools of those students whose families are most system-savvy. Stop rewarding "white flight." If you live in a neighborhood, you should go to that neighborhood school.

    Once all of us have a stake in our neighborhood public schools, we can begin to address the other elements.

    jh

  • Sarah C (unverified)
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    Joe:

    I must admit we used school choice to have our daughter go to a Spanish immersion program. She is Latina and language is culture as they say. If she went to our neighborhood school she would get no Spanish exposure and we would be spending our time and money on getting that exposure for her. Instead, she attends a school with a similar demographic and we put our time and money there.

    Not all neighborhood schools can meet everyone's needs. It would be impossible. That is why we do need to have some magnet programs in addition to and not the detriment of the neighborhood programs.

    I agree about charter schools. I love how they can say "we accept any student" but parents must volunteer a certain number of hours, attend certain meetings, etc. If that is not trying to hand pick the cream of the crop then I do not know what is.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Brandon notes there were no comments on parents and their influence in school.

    The proud families of PPS kids have done MORE than their share of talking, writing, listening and voting. The families know they are one leg in the three-leggged stool of education -- families, students, teachers.

    And if money isn't an issue in school, why does Catlin Gabel in Portland charge $25,000 per year, per student, and their teachers do not even have to be certified -- although they are obviously very talented.

    No one ever has an answer for that one. Brandon?

  • raul (unverified)
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    Buckman res likes homeschooling? We homeschooled our daughter up to 2nd grade- and it wasn't any of that crazy taliban garbage, either. It just worked for us at the time.

    We had to be careful, as their is a huge divide in the home school community- between families that are serious about academics and families that home school to keep their kids away from the gays and the commies.

    Home schooling was a choice, but we didn't ask for public money to do it. Choices have consequences, right?

    Many parents are very involved in their child's education, I would say a great majority of those that I have met and worked with. Your strawman won't stand up on its own.

    We as parents have been advocating for a long time, we just weren't listened to. It is the top down approach that is failing us. Let's get rid of this position, and start giving schools and principals and teachers more say in the day to day running of things, not some friend of Bill Gates that sits in a big office with a view.

    That is one staffing cut I can get behind. Oh, and 43k per years is crap money- and many have Masters Degrees.

  • megs (unverified)
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    Karol, good points. I only argue on the Rosa Parks issue. Looks great, not teacher or kid friendly. I like to integrate art into my centers. You cannot do art in the classrooms at Rosa Parks. Obviously a problem.

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    Megs - how can one not participate in art in the classrooms. They looked full of light and had great long desks. You seem to know something about it, so more information would be appreciated.

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    Dear Underpaid, an average salary is not the same thing as a starting salary. The "fat PERS pension" was significantly reduced in value a few years ago.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Fact: You must have a Master's Degree to teach public school (not private) in the great state of Oregon.

    Also, you must score one of the highest scores in the country on the Praxis test to teach in Oregon.

    California's minimum Praxis score to get a teaching license is a fraction of what it takes to get a license in Oregon.

    Our friends in the Golden State had to lower the bar after mandating 20 student classes in the primary grades.

  • Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com (unverified)
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    Yeah, joe? Magnet schools have been working in Portland for decades, and not just for the affluent. I went to a magnet school (MLC, in NW Portland) from 5th through 10th grades, and wouldn't have it any other way. The choice to leave your neighborhood school for another school should be available to all public school children. This actually levels the playing field for parents, who do not have to purchase property in an affluent neighborhood to send their children to a different school, where they will have different peers.

    Your request sounds more like, "keep ghetto kids in the ghetto school with no possibility for escape." Nice work.

  • Underpaid (unverified)
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    A masters is a basic requirement to teach K-12 in Oregon? Wow. I did not know that. Regarding California, my sister taught at the middle school level for years before earning her masters degree, at which point she soon went into administration. Never complained about her compensation either, but it was significantly greater than 43k plus benefits and the 3 months off deal.

    A regular hourly working stiff like myself receives just shy of 3 weeks paid vacation a year, holidays, 401k and so-so medical benefits. I work hard and don't feel under compensated for what I do. However, I do feel overburdened by state & local government. When you're talking about jacking up teachers salaries, I know who'll pay for it- me.

  • Terry (unverified)
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    Wonderful discussion, far superior to the district "survey", the feedback from which will undoubtedly be ignored anyway just as Vicki Phillips dismissed the howls of anger at her proposed reconfiguration of the Jefferson cluster.

    Here's my suggestion: just call up Beaverton superintendent Jerry Collonna and see if he's available. He's local and he understands the importance of neighborhood schools. What more could we want in a superintendent?

    Before I sign off, let me repeat what Joe Hill wrote:

    "Common schools are supposed be engines of democracy and equality."

    That's something we tend to forget in the debate over school choice.

  • Himself (unverified)
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    Garlynn, I think what Joe is talking about is having good schools in all neighborhoods, removing the necessity of moving or transferring to have a good school experience for your children.

    School choice benefits those who can afford to take advantage of it, and resegregates our schools. It in no way "levels the playing field for parents".

  • megs (unverified)
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    Supposedly there is an art room, since they don't want those nice new carpets getting dirty with paint and such. Teachers are to sign up. Wouldn't work for me.

  • megs (unverified)
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    and one more thing...."extremely bossy and have a "my way or the highway" attitude." That's an understatement. Can you say dictatorial? My favorite quote from the regime was "AND WE WILL BE CHECKING!" Meaning spying on you to make sure you are following orders.

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    When it comes to teachers' salaries they are underpaid. Volunteer for a day in a classroom and you will wonder how they do it. For the record, a starting salary is closer to $35,000 a year, they need to have a master's degree and they get two months in the summer that they do not attend school (the rest of summer break is spent in trainings and other meetings)

    Right. And don't forget that they don't get weeks of paid vacation like people in the private sector. Their time off is the summer. And they don't get paid for it. They just choose to take their 10 month salary and have it divided into 12 paychecks so that they still get a paycheck during the summer.

    Those two months in the summer are often spent taking courses to keep their licenses valid, working on their education plans for the following year, etc. All on their own time and completely unpaid.

  • Moe (unverified)
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    "Talk to Portland and we'll talk back." Under the Phillips administration it seemed like decisions were made, then to make themselves look good PPS (Phillips) would ask for public input, which was then disregarded and the plan that was already in place was just rammed down our throats....school closures, curriculum adoptions, etc etc. Get a superintendent that serves the taxpayers, not the other way around.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    It would be nice to have a superintendent who understands that school is about learning not testing. Fat chance though of getting one of those in a major district. Matt Prophet was from the east and was the best superintendent we have had for the last 40 years. The difference was twofold. 1. He understood that decisions should be made based upon what is best for kids. He infused this throughout the district. This brought many outstanding educators to leadership positions who were both bright and nice people who cared about kids. Most are gone now, of course. 2. He understood that every kid in the district should be treated as equally important making his or her school equally important to every other school. The School Foundation and Stand for Children have pretty much made sure, by controlling the school board and picking the superintendent, that this is no longer true. Hence, we get those rotten, terrible middle schools in lower economic neighborhoods (the southeast and north Portland) and the school board and administration do nothing to turn them around because they are not a priority and they wouldn't have the faintest idea how to do it anyway. After all, they don't live in those neighborhoods, their kids don't go to those schools, they don't work in those neighborhoods, and their friends aren't in those neighborhoods. So why would those schools be a priority with them?

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Anyone notice in yesterday's paper that the search has now "gone national"? We've all been down this road before, we know where it ends. Why can't the @#&*% School Board ever learn??????????

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    I love all these people that think teachers are paid what they're worth. I only know about 6 of them directly and 1 that I'm an aquaintence with. 3 high school, 1 junior high and 3 elementary. All have masters degrees and wouldn't have jobs without them...3 from Lewis and Clark, 1 from Westminster, 1 from Pepperdine and 2 from U of P. They're student loans are worth 2 years of their total salary. Are you kidding me? They can't buy houses because of their student loans and they all had to fight for their jobs. Teaching is one of the most underpaid professions anywhere. Get over yourselves. Try working 9 months of the year, 12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week with a bunch of sniveling ungrateful little kids who won't understand what they're doing until 10 years later. Once you do that then tell me they don't deserve 2 months that are unpaid off.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    Actually Garrett, we should cut administration salaries by 1/2 and re-distribute the now released money to the actual teachers.

    As far as 'going national' - this is a shame. We will end up with someone who is not a native of Portland or the Pacific Northwest who will treat parents and teachers like Vicki treated them - with disdain and a 'I know what's best for these western hicks' attitude. Why can't we just stay within the State of Oregon? I say lets get a new school board as well as a new superintendent.

  • fedup (unverified)
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    Disdain is right! And the attitude also was that nobody knew ANYTHING until phillips and her crew arrived. Keep this search local, get rid of Mincberg and the rest of the imports. Send them packing and lets take back our schools.

  • Sarah C (unverified)
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    I would love to see the search stay local also. The problem is that a lot of local people who would make good candidates have already said no. This is a tough time to head PPS - enrollment is declining, funding is always in question, there are mandates to meet from the feds, etc. I think a lot of it comes back to the funding - as a state can we finally provide stable and adequate funding for our schools? Until then PPS may be looking at outsider using the district as a stepping stone to other things.

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    " Cut administration pay in 1/2"

    Cheap shot for a very complicated job that requires more hours than many know. I've never worked for an administrator that doesn't regularly put in 60 plus hours per week during the school year. I've had some that were great, some that were ok and a very small number that were short sighted in very tragic ways. That being said, let's not hijack the thread onto a seperate topic.

    Steve,

    I'm really interested in your disdain for the PSF and Stand, which has me really curious. Could you please email me and explain why ? I would really appreciate it.

    Supt for a major public school system is a nearly impossible job. There are so many talented and passionate educators in Oregon and I just can't quite believe that no one from the state would be qualified and willing. Community building and trust are sorely lacking and should be a top priority. How refreshing would it be to have someone who actively challenged the negative aspects of NCLB/AYP, instead of grumbling, shrugging their shoulders and then foisting terrible practices upon students ? A leader that genuinely inspires their staff vs. dictatorial decisions . One who will have to make very tough decisions until enrollment stabilizes, funding becomes adequate and NCLB/AYP get major overhauls.

  • Wacky Mommy (unverified)
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    Teachers deserve $80,000 a year for all the nonsense they put up with.

    Keep neighborhood schools strong.

    Charter schools are frickin' union-busters.

    And don't give me any of this, "I drive my kid across town because I CARE," and "If YOU CARED you would do the same!" etc. No more of this parents being pitted against each other crap. We need to support each other, and not be all, "Look how smart I am! I moved across the street from Buckman! Don't you wish you were smart? We have money and GOOD parents at OUR school, nyah, nyah," (Kip and Colleen Richardson, Oregonian Sunday Homes article.)

    I want to stay in the neighborhood. I want my kids to know their neighbors. This is my hometown (Madison High, class of '82), but we are still considering a move to the Midwest because all of this gives me a raging headache.

    (And what the hell? "...make sure you are there at her 6th grade graduation with her copy of Forever."??? So she can learn how to lose her virginity at... 13? Just sayin'.)

  • Dave Porter (unverified)
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    To the new superintendent: Please come prepared to have a conversation with the Portland community about the future, what its shape and charactistics will be, what skills today's students will need to proper and survive, and how to give them those skills. I think world is rapidly changing. The world our children will live in will be very different from today’s world. Just getting test score up for all will not be enough. Asia, especially China and India, will be vastly more important in their lives than ours. The world will continue to feel much, much smaller. I think foreign languages, especially Mandarin, will become much more need skills. And foreign languages are best learned starting as young as possible, by immersion and by spending time in a country/culture that speak the language. So how to get more foreign language immersion programs in a school district that values neighborhood schools will be a big challenge. And finding a way to send many more, but hardly all, students to study abroad as part of their high school program will be an even bigger challenge. Just be prepared for this discussion.

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    Dear Superintendent,

    Be ready to deal with parochial attitudes and a culture of mediocrity. Everyone wants input and consensus, which most leaders recognize is a recipe for the status quo. Tough decisions will have to be made and some parents will have to be alienated. It's essential for the long term health of the district.

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    wackymommy - thanks for your points. I do think many teens can read "Forever" and not immediately want to have sex. I read Blubber about 100 times and never once collected money for UNICEF.

  • megs (unverified)
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    Karol, you are funny. loved the unicef comment. Paul, you're not funny. Tough decisions....do you mean charging ahead without forethought? Do you mean my way or the highway? Closing schools for no apparently good reason? Then wanting to pass a bond measure to build some more? The list goes on and on. Yeah, those are tough decisions. I'm sure VP wasted a lot of sleep over all of them.(not) But not much sleep was lost over alienating parents, teachers or administrators. And personally, I guess I am just pathologically anti-authoritarian. Last time I looked, America was still a democracy, and those are my tax dollars she's wasted.

  • Dickey47 (unverified)
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    megs: I've seen an anti-authoritarian school - Sprague High School in the late 70's. I suspect their graduation rate was very low as neither my brother or sister graduated. They actually had a policy of not questioning students if they didn't attend - "they may be having a bad day and can make decisions for themselves." I went in the 80s and it was a different school. There were expectations. Parents got calls if students skipped school. Teachers taught directly, not this "get into a group and discuss amongst yourselves" methodology known as constructivism. Elementary students actually learned their basic math facts. And there was some sort of basic expectation of discipline in the classroom using basic behavioral principles. Today, students are not taught math facts (hopefully they learn them at home, where schooling is supposed to take place?), there is a huge lack of discipline in the classroom (30% of teachers quit by year 5), and future teachers are not given the basics of behavioral principles.

    That said, I really wish they would limit their search for PPS Superintendent locally.

  • megs (unverified)
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    Sorry your experience was so lousy. My own kids went to an alternative project based school where they were taught to think critically and question. One ended up earning herself a full ride scholarhip. The other did just fine, too. So what it boils down to is, would you like to sit in a classroom where your opinion is valued or in a classroom where you are told to sit down and shut up and follow orders no matter what? The latter values do not lead to a very healthy level of citizenship in my mind. So extrapolate that to the superintendent issue at hand if you wish. On the issue of behavior in classrooms, there are many mentally and emotionally ill children in PPS classrooms with little or no support. And perhaps you should do some reading on the existing special ed laws and what that means for classrooms who operate under the inclusion model. There are families with major dysfunctions who send their kids into the classroom daily. There are drugs and alcohol and gangs and......need I go on? I wonder why there are behavior problems in schools? Well...I could go on forever. But I won't.

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Paul wrote, "Tough decisions will have to be made and some parents will have to be alienated. It's essential for the long term health of the district."

    Does anyone besides me think that "parents will have to be alienated . . . for the long term health of the district" sounds like an oxymoron?

    Paul, we've been hearing this since 2004. I can't say I understand how any of the "tough decisions" VP made (with the help of the school board) have contributed to the "long term health of the district" in any way. I'm with Megs--just a big waste of my tax $ so VP could get a higher-paying, more prestigious job in the private sector. This is why we don't need any more @#$% national searches!

    Eric, those of us who campaigned for Ruth and Michele WERE trying to get a new school board! Unfortunately, the Fourth Estate (with the exception of the conscientious souls at the Mercury) was willing to support only one of these fine ladies, and we all know the rest of the story.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    "Tough decisions will have to be made and some parents will have to be alienated. It's essential for the long term health of the district."

    If that's not ubiquitous propaganda, I don't know what is.

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    Thanks Megs, I did know if that was too weird... So you all know, PPS has a Zoomerang survey for public opinion. http://www.zoomerang.com/recipient/survey.zgi?p=WEB226LQ6NAXBP

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)
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    Hi all,

    Great post Karol, and thanks everyone for your comments. Just to clarify--the search is local and national. It is not an either/or situation. We don't want to limit ourselves or overlook any potential candidates. We want to end up with a person who is the best possible fit for Portland, knowing that we have looked everywhere. The broader the search, the stronger our assurance moving forward that whoever we end up with is the best possible choice for this school district and city.

    The feedback we got from the public meetings held in N, NE, SE, SW, and downtown (which as a longtime critic of PPS outreach, I thought were quite good in that they allowed informal, two-way conversation between members of the public and the board) was strikingly consistent.

    What I heard at those public meetings in May/June (and am hearing in the additional meetings being held with teachers, community groups, electeds, and others) is that this community wants a superintendent who "gets" Portland (whether from being local or from experience in similar communities, plus willingness to listen + learn), who truly embraces community collaboration, who values and works supportively with our principals and teachers, who is able to lead an honest and open discussion (and take action) on the race and class disparities in our schools, and who looks beyond standardized test scores to educating the whole child.

    If you have a candidate you would like to suggest, please send their name to the search firm helping us, [email protected] The application deadline is August 10.

    You can take the online survey, or simply send in your thoughts on qualities you are looking for in a superintendent by emailing: [email protected] We are currently working on a draft "criteria" document describing the qualities we are looking for that is directly based on the input received, which the board will use to craft our interview questions. This public input really does matter, so thanks for speaking up!

    Thank you, everyone, for your passion and support for our public schools.

    -Ruth Adkins

  • megs (unverified)
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    Thanks Ruth, for the info. Hopefully the rest of the school board has been hearing things the same way have. And hopefully, for a change, it will matter.

  • megs (unverified)
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    sorry...should say 'same way you have....' Wish I could edit after I post.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    DH, sorry I don't know how to email you so here are the basics. SFC and TSF both worry solely about their own neighborhoods (upper middle class PDX -- Wilson, Lincoln, parts of Grant and parts of Cleveland). They make it look like they care about the rest of the district, but if you look at what they actually do for the other neighborhood schools it is pretty much worthless. The problem is they control the school district and hence set the priorities. And the priorities are the above mentioned neighborhoods. I would have no trouble with them if they would just say they are organizations set up to keep their neighborhood schools strong -- a concept I support as much as anyone in PDX. But we need a school leadership which understands that all kids and schools in Portland are of equal importance. The leaders of those organizations and their school board toadies (a term I borrow from RFK jr.) refuse to truly understand this, hence, since they run the place, we get stuck with leadership who doesn't understand this. I'm in the phone book. Call me if you want solid examples and would like to discuss this more. Some people might think these comments are too off the blog topic, but without understanding how this works you won't understand how the superintendent will REALLY be selected.

  • (Show?)

    As an example of culture of mediocrity, I note all the comments above bemoaning a search that has gone national. Are we going to elevate "local" over qualifications"?

    Any well-qualified local candidate should be able to survive a national search--otherwise we should not hire them. Their understanding of the local district should count in their favor; lack of experience and parochialism may count against them.

    megs and zarwen, of course it doesn't mean charging ahead without forethought. But it also means making decisions and not being stymied by the constant need to forge consensus.

    I am not one who believes this district will grow in the next 20 years. The housing prices, migration patterns, and birthrates all argue against it. So we cannot maintain the same neighborhood schools that we have had in the past.

    Some schools will HAVE to be closed and some parents will HAVE to be alienated.

    If "getting Portland" means continuing along the same path as the past two decades (the district has been going along this path for a lot longer than the past Super, Zarwen), then I don't want someone who "gets Portland" and gives us more of the same. If you want a Nero, just let me know.

    This city has undergone substantial change in the last 20 years, and the next 20 look to change only more. For my part, I want an innovative, forward thinking leader who can stabilize the district and attract families back to PPS. The old model just ain't working.

  • megs (unverified)
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    The reason I'm shaking in my boots, is the last national candidate did "charge ahead without forethought," regarded teachers, parents and students with disdain, and used Portland as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Of course we all knew that was her ultimate goal. So why not get someone who is really invested in this community and in it for the families, kids, teachers and not their own ass kissing goals?

  • megs (unverified)
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    And furthermore, after closing all those schools, seems projection for enrollment is suddenly up, (and if you lived in North Portland like I do, you'd surely agree...seems we're missing some of our neighborhood schools though)....and now PPS (under VP's direction before she climbed the ladder) is going to try to pass a bond measure to build NEW SCHOOLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So yeah....let's keep it real.

  • fedup (unverified)
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    Why worry about building new schools? Just let them go to all those new charter schools and private schools that seem to be growing like weeds.

  • Himself (unverified)
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    Paul makes cites the common fallacy in the neighborhood schools debate: it's all about demographics; schools will close; some parents will be alienated.

    What this argument ignores is the effect of liberal school choice and the selective white flight that it encourages and the "hard choices" it forces in low-income neighborhoods.

    We need to speak clearly and honestly about the agenda that Vicki Phillips followed in her quest for greater things (up to and including Sec. of Ed. under the coming Democratic prez). It's not whether or not she made "hard decisions" or "tried" or "cared". It was about applying neoliberal free-market thinking to public schools, a dangerous, failed agenda for children and neighborhoods.

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Paul wrote, "But it also means making decisions and not being stymied by the constant need to forge consensus."

    Our previous super was anything but "stymied by the constant need to forge consensus." I think it may even be fair to say that consensus was never on her list. As Megs pointed out, she initiated sweeping reforms, not only "without forethought" but also without educational research to back up her plans! I know this because the parent group at our school kept asking where was the research that would show how her experiment for our school was going to improve it for our students. A year later, we are still waiting. . . . Now, with her plans in various stages of implementation all over town, the District is in disarray, and she has bailed out rather than stick around to see it through. For the sake of argument, let's say her unresearched reforms have a 50-50 chance of success. Who is going to be around to clean up the mess if they fail?

    "the district has been going along this path for a lot longer than the past Super, Zarwen"

    Paul, I don't need you to tell me what has been going on in the District over the past 15 years. I was a teacher in the District from 1992-2000, before I becamse a parent. So I am THOROUGHLY aware of EVERYTHING that went on under Bierwirth, Snowden, Canada and Scherzinger. Please note that the two big failures on that list were east-coast castoffs who were in trouble at their previous jobs, just like Phillips. The reason people are "bemoaning a search that has gone national" is that we believe there is virtue in learning from past mistakes--especially the ones that have ALREADY been repeated!

    "I am not one who believes this district will grow in the next 20 years."

    What you (or anyone else may) believe about the next 20 years is irrelevant. Population projections are good for only 5 years at best; beyond that, they are totally unreliable. So, Paul, you may be completely right about the future, but then again, you may be completely wrong. Either way, what kind of sense does it make to close and sell off schools and then demand $ from taxpayers to build new ones?

    Mind you, I don't have a problem with closing schools WHEN IT MAKES SENSE. But too often over the past three years, it didn't. And I NEVER support selling off our school buildings. The paltry $5 million or so they get per building is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a new one. This is racketeering behavior, designed to enrich the real estate developers in this town, not to improve education for Portland schoolchildren.

    As a taxpayer, I demand better accountability for how my tax $ are spent. Are these the kind of “decisions” you want to support? You think alienating parents in this manner is a good thing? I've had enough, thank you.

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Paul wrote:

    "Some schools will HAVE to be closed and some parents will HAVE to be alienated."

    "I want an innovative, forward thinking leader who can stabilize the district and attract families back to PPS."

    OK, Paul, which one is it? Alienate parents or attract families? Sorry, you can't have both. Even if you could, they would cancel each other out!

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    Zarwen, the reason your school didn't see the educational research to back up the proposals is that educational research is pretty much worthless. The word "research" suggests that some sort of controlled testing has taken place and given some sort of result (like in science). Education by its very nature is not amicable to "research" and there is pretty much no solid educational research. Mostly just stuff where someone comes up with a study which pretty much "proves" what they wanted to show anyway. A good friend of mine was the head archivist for several years at a major university. Says he never saw an educational study that wasn't hugely flawed. The main problem is you can't get a control group. And it is much too complicated. Just think about something like creating a seating chart. 30 kids -- 5 rows, 6 columns. More ways to seat your class than all the grains of sand on the earth. And that is just one arrangement. So, when you hear "educational research" just think correlation cause there ain't no such animal as "educational research". And correlations need to be interpreted. So "best practices" and "research shows" -- just garbage used by people who don't know better and who want something to protect their job. After all, if they are trying this approach which "research shows" works, then they can't really be criticized for where they are at present or if the "new" approach doesn't work. See how this all fits. And I didn't do any research to come up with this, just some serious application of common sense. Liked your comments.

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Thanks, Steve. I appreciate you explanation of "educational research," and even more your earlier explanation of how SFC and PSF control the school district.

    The point I was trying to make was, that if some kind of research did actually exist, regardless of how flawed it might have been, why weren't VP's minions trotting it out at every opportunity, especially when parents demanded to see it? My conclusion, which was finally admitted by a PPS administrator, was that there was no research in the first place. This administrator is now on record stating that there was no research, no "best practices," that the whole thing was about money. I had been saying that for a year, but a lot of my parent colleagues were disappointed, disgusted, disillusioned, dis-whatever after hearing it from the PPS guy. A sad commentary on how much we want to believe in our leaders even when all evidence should lead us to do the opposite.

  • megs (unverified)
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    Always question authority. Learned that in the '60's.

  • Himself (unverified)
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    Whether or not "research" exists or is valid, actual facts on the ground show us that the free market approach pimped by Gates, Broad, Portland Schools Foundation, Phillips, Wynde, Regan et al. leads to resegregation and inequity in our public schools.

    The only research that matters is a simple examination of the distribution of educational resources (read money) in the neighborhoods of Portland. Take a tour of Lincoln and then stop by Jefferson. That should tell you everything you need to know. If that's not enough, compare and contrast Robert Gray with Ockley Green.

    If you think more of the same polices that got us here is going to solve the problems exposed in that kind of research, you need to have your head examined.

  • marcia (unverified)
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    That would make for a good research project. And it could be extended to the suburbs, also. Two years ago, as part of a Jonathan Kozol study project, my daughter's Roosevelt H.S. class took a field trip to a neighboring suburban high school. She told me that on the bus back home, Roosevelt students and teachers alike were actually in tears over the glaring inequities.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    Marcia, lucky those Roosevelt kids didn't go north across the Columbia and look at the Vancouver or Evergreen districts. Both make any Oregon school district look meager. Heck, the kids and teachers would have been so distraught they would have had to bring in extra counselors to help them through it. Maybe they could have borrowed the three working in the Evergreen middle school where I teach. (The inequities are most glaring in the middle grades.) And something else. The resources are pretty equal throughout each district.

  • marcia (unverified)
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    So what do you see as causing this lack just about everything in some Portland schools? This is an issue that teachers at my school have asked more than once, since we have had no art, music, p.e. librarian, counselor etc. for years, and now we are adding 7th grade and only after begging finally got a p.e. teacher.

  • Himself (unverified)
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    So what do you see as causing this lack just about everything in some Portland schools?

    Funding follows students. As middle class families have fled North and Northeast Portland schools, the money has left with them.

    I believe after the big ax fell on district-wide PE and music, it was left to the principals to reinstate these programs from their discretionary funds if they chose. Of course in poorer neighborhoods, literacy is going to take precedence, so what's a principal to do? Hire an extra reading teacher or offer music?

    Furthermore, as enrollment drops at schools in the poorer neighborhoods (thanks to liberal school choice), principals there are left with even less discretionary budget.

    The resulting pattern is predictable and self-reinforcing.

    If this cycle of increasing inequity isn't a priority for the next superintendent, we're going to have to have some kind of uprising in this district. It's going quickly from bad to worse, and gender-segregated schools with uniforms aren't going to make it better. Neither are charter schools.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    Himself, nice answer -- I believe someone has to decide that we need middle schools that engage kids in our lower economic neighborhoods else we will continue with their downward spiral and continue with the huge dropout numbers and lots and lots of kids involved in gangs, drugs, alcohol, and early pregnancy. It is, after the money, the #1 priority in the school district. But nobody really cares about this who is in leadership positions in the district. One interesting thing however, while it costs extra to have the sports teams, leagues etc. I always talk about (figured Nike would help with that maybe) it costs little or nothing to add electives -- you can add music, art, band, drama, dance, full P.E.etc. etc. for almost nothing to a middle school. This is because the same number of kids are in the school with the same number of teachers each period. There is no extra cost (except some for instruments, supplies etc, but it is very little especially after the initial investment which incidentally could be made using the funds from The School Foundation, just a little charter switch would set up the whole thing). People might say literacy would suffer, but not if we focussed the literacy programs at those kids who most need it, the kids who really don't read well or write well at all, instead of generalizing across the board making sure every kid comes up a few points on their test scores. Never mind they hate school, can't find France on a map, and have never heard of the 1st amendment. They know the tricks for improving their reading test scores.

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Gosh, Steve, as erudite as you obviously are, I would have thought that you would know there is TONS of research out there showing that music classes improve literacy scores every which way. Music classes are an investment not only in the arts, but in literacy too!

    I am still kicking myself for falling for VP's shtick about how her plans to go K-8 were the first step in restoring music and art to the schools. And we all know what she did with the levy $ once she got it. What nauseates me still is that the school board let her get away with it (except for Sonja Henning, God bless her).

    My husband was asking me just this evening what OR law requires for elementary music instruction. I explained to him that, in the absence of a music specialist, the law REQUIRES the classroom teacher to provide instruction. But it is not happening at my son's school, which is a highly regarded magnet school; I am inclined to assume that it is not happening at other PPS elementaries that have no music specialist, either (although I would LOVE to be wrong on this one). And now that so many middle schools are gone, I don't think it is a stretch to conclude that these new K-8s will provide LESS music and PE instead of more.

    As I have written in many forums, it will takes years or even decades to clean up VP's mess. What kind of candidate would want to enter a situation like that? I conclude with a shudder that the best we will be able to get would be a person who sees VP's "reforms" as progress rather than problems and will proceed accordingly. And then there is VP's own promise that she'll be back, a la the Terminator.

    Others have written that we need a new school board; I am inclined to agree, but as you hinted in your post, Steve, it would need to be accompanied by some significant retooling of the PSF and an uprising by parents against the "business community" telling them to butt out!

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    Zarwen, you are so right on the money about music being correlated with improvements in all sorts of other phases of school. So, I am sure is P.E. and the arts as well as after school sports. We need them all in the middle schools and many of those programs in elementary schools. Keep up the good fight.

  • marcia (unverified)
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    "I conclude with a shudder that the best we will be able to get would be a person who sees VP's "reforms" as progress rather than problems and will proceed accordingly."

    Isn't this exactly what the school board has said they are looking for in a candidate? To continue with the reforms that were started under Phillips, including the core curriculum? Makes me shudder too.

  • Zarwen (unverified)
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    Exactly. Isn't it nice to know that the message about better outreach and LISTENING to the parents has fallen on deaf ears yet again, making it more obvious than ever that our "input" is mere window dressing. Get ready for the next east-coast castoff! Probably will be a friend of VP, too; WW reported today that she had a hand in choosing her successor back in PA. Interestingly enough, he is now in jail!

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