Volume 2, Issue 7: April 2009

From the superintendent:
Today's realities, tomorrow's opportunities

In many ways, school districts are like our students: We approach today's challenges knowing that they will define who we are tomorrow. In this month's PPS Pulse, you'll see a few examples of how Portland Public Schools is looking ahead, even as we face tough times.

Although we must cut our budget in line with today's economic situation, we are focusing our dollars to provide a strong education for every student, and on preserving a foundation to rebuild when the economy rebounds. We also are taking steps and making plans to improve our school buildings with the future in mind — providing better space for learning and adding cost-effective green measures.

And with your ideas and engagement, we are moving toward a new design for our high school system, one where every student is inspired and challenged, where students succeed no matter their family income or ethnicity, and where more students graduate on time and with the skills they need to succeed.

The decisions we make today will shape the next generation. The discouraging news all around us can't be an excuse to stop thinking about the future. I hope you will help me chart a course forward for our schools and our students.

Carole's Signature Carole Smith PPS Superintendentsuperintendent@pps.k12.or.us

1. Weigh in on the future of PPS high schools

In their own words

Students share their thoughts on high schools.

Portland Public Schools wants to know what you think of three proposals for a future High School System. You're invited to share your thoughts online or at meetings April 29 and May 2.

The proposals, dubbed Big Ideas, have the same goals: getting more students interested in and inspired by their schoolwork, driving up graduation rates and ensuring that students achieve no matter what their family income, race or ethnicity.

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But each idea comprises significantly different arrangements of programs, school sizes and options for high school students.

The ideas are:

  • Special focus campuses. Students would attend the large high school in their neighborhood, which would include ninth- and 10th-grade academies to ease the transition to high school. In 11th and 12th grade, students could choose among at least three programs at the campus, with themes based on career or interest pathways, such as arts, health care and engineering.
  • Neighborhood high schools and flagship magnets. Neighborhood high schools with 1,100 students would offer a wide cross-section of similar courses and programs in every part of the district. New flagship magnet schools, open for transfer to all students in the school district, would offer deeper focus in a specialty area.
  • Regional flex network of schools. PPS would be divided into regions, each with a collection of different types of schools: a larger regional school with a variety of core and elective courses, small schools with specific themes and an alternative program. Students would be guaranteed a spot within the region's schools, and might take advantage of the flexibility to take courses at different schools.

Big Idea meetings

What do you think? Share your opinions with PPS leaders online and at meetings:

The school district also is holding an earlier meeting April 20, inviting members of school support groups, including PTAs, site councils, local school advisory councils, booster clubs and foundations.

Translation services and child care for ages 4 and over will be available at all three meetings.

PPS has scheduled two meetings for community members to discuss what they like and don't like about each of the ideas, and how they could be improved. There's also a meeting for leaders of school support groups (PTA, LSAC, site council, foundations, booster clubs), active volunteers, and teacher and staff leaders.

Staff will use feedback from the meetings to build a model for the PPS High School System that may mix and match elements from the three ideas, as well as incorporate new ideas brought forward by the community. In June, Superintendent Carole Smith will present the model to the school board — with further workshops and public input planned as the implementation and details are developed.

Learn more on the High School System Redesign page, or e-mail project manager Sarah Singer.

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2. Graduation rates increase

A just-released report shows that 14 of 16 PPS high schools raised their 2007-08 graduation rates from the previous year. The Spanish English International School (SEIS) on the Roosevelt Campus posted the largest increase: from 50 percent in 2006-07 to 71.1 percent in 2007-08. Madison High School and the Arts Communication and Technology School (ACT), also on the Roosevelt Campus, also saw double-digit gains in their graduation rates. Read a news release on PPS graduation and dropout rates.

3. Budget outlook for schools darkens with news from Salem

Message to parents: Speak up!

Sen. Margaret Carter encourages parents to tell legislators what they think about school funding.

The state economy has grown worse in recent weeks. That means even fewer dollars for already strapped schools — but how much less?

This week, PPS budget staff members updated the school board about the deteriorating revenue picture, which is forcing the school district to look at deeper budget cuts in 2009-10 — such as a shorter school year and larger class sizes. The school board also heard state Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, urge parents to speak out for schools.

At a school board work session Wednesday, April 15, board members heard that the state budget picture is changing rapidly, and that legislative leaders expect swelling unemployment and a distressed economic outlook to result in even less money than was forecast last month.

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Carter, co-chairwoman of the legislative committee that writes the state budget, addressed the school board by video. Among her remarks:

  • A $5.9 billion state school fund for 2009-11 — approximately $700 million less than the current biennium fund — is a "realistic" budget figure, based on the economy's downward slide.
  • Parents should share their concerns about school funding at a legislative forum Tuesday, April 21,  from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Moriarty Building at Portland Community College Cascade Campus, 705 N. Killingsworth St.
  • Despite the severity of the state budget cuts, education remains a priority. Carter pledged to do what she can to preserve the current 41 percent share of the state budget that K-12 schools receive.

Prison sentencing mandates and federal requirements of the Oregon Health Plan have put a squeeze on dollars available for schools. Without an economic upturn, new revenue or changes in state funding priorities, schools are threatened with further reductions in what has already been a shrinking portion of the state budget in recent years.

Letter delivers warning

Last week, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo wrote to school district superintendents and warned that a year from now, the entire state budget could be $5 billion short of the levels needed to keep services whole.

As a result, they urged schools to plan budgets based on their share of a two-year total of $5.4 billion to $5.9 billion for K-12 education. 

Those totals affect the proposed 2009-10 budget that Superintendent Carole Smith presented to the school board March 16:

  • If the state funds schools at $5.4 billion, this would result in a $52 million cut to PPS.
  • A $5.9 billion funding level for schools would result in a $33 million cut to PPS.

According to the letter, school districts should plan for worst-case scenarios.
Based on the information from Salem, staff from the superintendent's office and the budget office told school board members that PPS will consider additional cuts in next year's budget. These cuts go beyond those included in Smith's proposed budget released last month.

Staff members outlined the following additional reductions and trade-offs for consideration, depending on the severity of state cuts to education:

  • Reduce more central office positions.
  • Delay textbook adoptions.
  • Cut as many as 415 staff positions.
  • Use reserves.
  • Cut up to 28 instructional days from the school calendar.
  • Cut four noninstructional days from the school calendar.
  • Make across-the-board salary reductions.
  • Change the school district's contribution to employee health benefits.
  • Increase rental rates and athletic fees.

Staff and the board recognized that all issues related to represented employee salaries and benefits are subject to collective bargaining.

Smith's proposal in March cut $14.4 million from the current PPS budget and asked employees to take salary freezes to avert layoffs, cut the central office and increased class sizes by 1 percent in grades above kindergarten.

That budget was built on an anticipated $6.4 billion for Oregon schools — using the state's March revenue forecast as a baseline, federal economic stimulus dollars earmarked for K-12 education and state reserves, as proposed in public statements by state leaders.

Since the superintendent released her budget, there have been new signs that state revenues have continued to drop, meaning fewer dollars for schools and other state-funded programs.

Wednesday 's meeting was the first public work session the school board has scheduled to review PPS' proposed 2009-10 budget. No public testimony was taken at the session. Additional sessions are scheduled in coming weeks, some including an opportunity for the public to comment. 

You are encouraged to send your comments on the budget issues facing PPS to the Budget Office. For up-to-date information about the budget outlook, click here.

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4. School roof project energized by solar addition

Nine schools slated for roof repairs this summer are getting more than a simple replacement. They're also getting a solar energy covering that will save electricity costs and give students an everyday lesson in sustainability that won't be over their heads.

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In February, the school board approved replacement of nine school roofs across the school district that require urgent improvements. Because of tight capital budgets in the past decade, PPS facilities staff has been forced to patch over earlier patches, which has left the roofs — and the students and teachers inside the schools — vulnerable to Northwest rains. The nine schools selected were:

  • Atkinson Elementary School
  • Creston K-8 School
  • Jackson Middle School
  • Lane Middle School
  • Lent School K-8
  • Pioneer at Columbia School
  • Roseway Heights K-8 School
  • Scott School K-7
  • Woodstock Elementary School

Replacing these roofs will prevent leaks, avert further building deterioration and keep students warm, safe and dry. They will also make each school safer in the event of an earthquake by better anchoring roofs to building walls.

Going solar

As important as these improvements are, PPS staff wanted to do more to make the buildings greener.

This winter, representatives of Portland-based Gerding Edlen Development approached PPS with a plan to replace the new roofs and to install $6 million in state-of-the-art solar membranes at no additional cost. Subsidized through the sale of Business Energy Tax Credits, the solar roofs will harness enough solar energy to produce 882,297 kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

After a third-party tax credit investor achieves its return on investment — in approximately five to eight years — the solar equipment will become PPS property, which is projected to save PPS $1.1 million in utility costs in the following 15 years.

Sustainability is one of the five guiding principles that underlie Portland Public Schools' efforts to upgrade the school district's aging and deteriorating school buildings.

The district investigated solar roofs last fall. However, because of the downturn in the economy, the tax credit market that would have financed the installation collapsed — leaving PPS without partners. Gerding Edlen, however, was able to put the pieces together.

The project is scheduled to get under way in June, and to be completed before school reopens in September.

As part of the project, Gerding Edlen will provide schools with curriculum materials on the solar project, so students can see how warmer and drier school buildings can also help provide clean and renewable energy for their future.

Click here for updates and more information about school building conditions and upgrade plans.

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5. 2009-10 calendar: More school days for students

Wondering when school starts next year? Planning a spring break vacation? The proposed 2009-10 school calendar is out and it includes some big changes: Next year, students will be in class five more days than this year.

Important dates have been set for the 2009-10 school year:

  • The first day of school will be Tuesday, Sept 8.
  • Winter break will be Monday, Dec. 21, through Friday, Jan. 1.
  • Spring break runs from Monday, March 22, through Friday, March 26.

Four days that were previously used for teacher development will be used as classroom instruction days for students. In addition, one day that was used for parent-teacher conferences in November will also be used for instruction.

One day each month, all PPS schools will open two hours late to accommodate teacher professional development.

The proposed calendar was approved by a Portland School Board committee on Thursday, April 16. The full school board is scheduled to adopt the calendar April 27.

6. From Brazil with love
Bus delivering PPS students to Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. WHITE BIRD/CHRIS ROESING Students head to the Schnizter Concert Hall for a performance by Dance Brazil. Students head to the Schnizter Concert Hall for a performance by Dance Brazil. Students head to the Schnizter Concert Hall for a performance by Dance Brazil. King School eighth-grader Sterling Akles-Rogers is interviewed by a Fox 12 cameraman. Students pause before the performance, sponsored by the dance presenter Dance Brazil. Arts teacher on special assignment Jeffrey Gilpin had no trouble finding students and teachers wanting to attend the performance: He had to turn away more than 300 students from the performance. The student performance preceded another that night by Dance Brazil, which is based in Salvador, Brazil.  Dancers' athleticism met with great enthusiasm from students. Capoeira combines dance and martial arts.

Bus after bus delivered PPS students — more than 2,500 total from 30 schools — to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland for an energetic performance by Dance Brazil. They prepared for the April 1 performance with a curriculum developed by PPS teachers. Students learned about capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial arts form, as well as Brazilian history and culture. The dance presenter White Bird made the free performance possible; this was the ninth year that co-founders Walter Jaffe and Paul King have partnered with PPS.

7. Kaiser offers free health insurance for kids

Kaiser Permanente, in partnership with schools and the Multnomah Education Service District, is offering free health insurance to grade K-6 children attending Multnomah County public schools.

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The insurance is free — there is no premium — but families must pay a small co-pay for office visits and prescriptions. Once enrolled, children are covered through age 19 if they remain in school.

To qualify, children must meet three main requirements:

  • Attend school – Children must attend a public school in Multnomah County. Charter schools and publicly funded alternative programs also qualify.
  • Grades K-6 – To enroll, children must be in grades K-6. Siblings can also be covered if they are age 3 or older (through 12th grade).
  • Income – Families must earn 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, this is about $4,600 per month, or $53,000 per year.

Kaiser offers the insurance as part of its community benefit program, which, among other goals, seeks to expand access to medical care for the uninsured. About 4,000 children already are covered through this no-premium plan; Kaiser and MESD want to double enrollment by the end of the year.

In addition to the Kaiser insurance, the Oregon Health Plan offers low-cost health insurance to children from families that earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

According to the latest census data, 107,000 Oregon children — about one in nine — lacked health insurance in 2005-07, the latest period for which data are available.

For questions about the Kaiser program or the Oregon Health Plan, or to enroll, contact MESD: 503-257-1732, speterso@mesd.k12.or.us.

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8. Students rock out with violinist's music lesson

Lessons on the violin

Violinist Aaron Meyer shares his music with MLC students.

Well-known local violinist Aaron Meyer knows how to get students to sit up and take notice.

With backing from the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, a nonprofit organization that supports music education in schools, Meyer is holding 40-minute presentations that blend modern and classical music. Since February, he has visited nine PPS schools, and will play at two more next month.

"Aaron Meyer is a world-class violin player, and we're thrilled to help so many students experience his one-of-a-kind performances," says Janeen Rundle, board director of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

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"Aaron Meyer is a world-class violin player, and we're thrilled to help so many students experience his one-of-a-kind performances," says Janeen Rundle, board director of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

Between songs, Meyer talks with students — usually elementary or middle school age — about how musical instruments work, asking them questions that range from basic ("What is the main material used to make violins?") to more advanced ("What defines an acoustic instrument?").

During a recent show at Metropolitan Learning Center, things started off nicely, if predictably: a brief introduction by Principal Frank Scotto, a few quick words from Meyer, and then his first song, a melodic tune he wrote called "Emerald Shores."

To students' delight, Meyer switched instruments after the song, saying: "You've met my acoustic violin. Now you can meet my electric violin." Holding the electric violin like a rock musician and playing with his fingers, he filled the room first with the sound of an acoustic violin, then with distortion-heavy riffs.

The students were hooked.

"Aaron makes the violin cool," says Principal Frank Scotto, who has seen Meyer perform several times. "He never disappoints."

Meyer says he tries to educate students while keeping it fun. In addition to playing three full songs at MLC, he held students' attention by demonstrating various effects and techniques, describing his equipment and taking questions. He talked about what inspires him and what first motivated him to learn to play — he was 5, and it involved a giant cake in the shape of a violin.

Twice, Meyer told students to remember, even if they forget everything else, that all music relies on math and science, from the engineering of the violin to the computer processing done by the effects box.

Meyer's final performances this year are at Lent Elementary School on April 17 and at Clark@Binnsmead K-8 School on May 4.

To learn more about Meyer, go to his Web site. For more about the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, click here.

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9. Honor band and choir stir up interest
PPS All City Middle School Honor Band trumpeters rehearse.

Two groups made up of top middle-grade musicians have attracted support from no less than royalty.

The PPS All City Middle School Honor Band and the Honor Choir give students an opportunity to develop their skills beyond what is normally taught in the classroom, says Gray Middle School music teacher Jeanne Berg, who directs both.

"We have students who practice music outside of school and really go the extra mile," Berg says. "The honor groups give them a chance to work with peers at other schools at a level that is more advanced."

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But there are no all-city groups for high school students. That's inspired the Royal Rosarians — a local organization that supports children and community causes — to help the middle school groups financially and, they hope, to sow the seeds for a high school honor band. The organization's support effectively halved the $30 that students normally pay to cover the cost of music directors, accompanists, T-shirts and music.

An Honor Band flutist (left) prepares for a March performance, which also included music from the Honor Choir (right).

The ultimate goal of the Rosarians is to have a high school honor band that can play in the Grand Floral Parade, part of the Portland Rose Festival. (Middle school students do not march in the parade.)

Rosarian Pierre Pham says his organization was motivated after watching the parade in 2006. "A few years ago," he says, "Portland Public Schools created a marching band by grouping together all high school students who played instruments, and they marched in the parade. … They had lots of power and sound, but they could have been tighter."

A year later, Pham says Dan Foster, a music teacher at Benson High School, proposed something different: an honor band composed of students who chose to participate. But the band disbanded in 2008 for lack of students.

"So we thought that if we started earlier, we'd have a greater impact and help feed the high schools," Pham says.

Hear the PPS Honor Band perform “Liberty March” by James Swearingen.

If this year's middle school honor groups are any indication, the Rosarians should be hopeful. The honor groups' annual concert, held in March at Benson High School, featured about 120 students expertly directed by two retired PPS teachers: Doree Jarboe, formerly of Grant High School, and Warren Dalby, who taught at Mt. Tabor Middle School.

Berg, pleased that the performance was attended by Portland School Board member Ruth Adkins and Gray Principal Larry Dashiell, said it went well. Asked if the groups will be back next year, her reply was quick: "Oh, yes!"

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10.  Pathways program gets a green light from employers
Jeremy Cogdill, an architectural intern at Zimmer Gunsul Franz, speaks with students during Architectural Career Day in October. Cogdill was working on a project for the Port of Portland that's currently under construction at Portland International Airport. COURTESY OF ZGF
Jeremy Cogdill, an architectural intern at Zimmer Gunsul Franz, speaks with students during Architectural Career Day in October. Cogdill was working on a project for the Port of Portland that's under construction at Portland International Airport.

A good career exploratory program can get students on the road, but they'll find it hard to gain traction without community support. That's not a problem Portland Public Schools has to worry about, however. Whenever business and industry representatives are enlisted to help with the PPS Career Pathways program, the response is not just "Yes!" but "What more can we do?"

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Partnerships with local employers are helping students gain exposure to career fields and a better understanding of how their education connects to the future. Examples:

  • Last fall, PPS and its Career Pathways partner, the Portland Workforce Alliance, hosted the first Pathways Summit. Seventy local business and community leaders responded to an invitation to meet. The request: Help us make education more relevant so we keep our students engaged in school. Leaders were asked to help develop the district's six career pathways, and if they were willing to host career days, job shadowing and internships. Their overwhelming answer: "Of course."
  • In March, Wieden & Kennedy representatives welcomed 40 PPS teachers, counselors and principals to the mega-ad agency's Pearl District headquarters. At the all-day event, the educators were inspired to dream about their individual schools' Arts & Communication Pathway, one of six in the Career Pathways program. They'll come together in the fall to work more on the curriculum.
  • Last year, four major health care providers hosted 30 teachers at sites throughout the city. After gathering ideas for their schools' Health Services Pathway, teachers met to develop curriculum.
  • In October, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca held its annual Architectural Career Day for more than 70 PPS students. There, they learned about careers in architecture, landscaping and related fields — and even worked together to design a middle school.

At the Wieden & Kennedy event, employees inspired and energized the PPS participants. Educators said they were reminded of the need to make educational efforts more relevant to students, and several said they hoped to introduce students to the agency.

"We'd like to bring kids here next year," said Devon Baker, administrator of the Arts, Communication & Technology school on the Roosevelt Campus. "It's a powerful message, showing students the opportunities."

Cleveland High School counselor Barb Tillman said: "Kids are looking for relevance in their education. We need to get them out of the classroom to get that." Terry Waldron, a Cleveland art teacher, agreed: "This is what kids need to experience!"

Jeanne Yerkovich, program manager for PPS Career Pathways, says relevance is what Educator/Industry Partnership Days are all about. Teachers get an inside look at professions their students might be interested in, and they also see the practical application of what they're teaching.

Teachers also hear how critical skill sets —  what are known as career-related learning standards —  are to employers, Yerkovich says: "Problem solving, teamwork, communication … over and over again, we hear how important these skills are."

Education/Industry Partnership Days are critical to PPS in helping prepare students for successful futures.

"Jobs change over time, and they keep teachers connected to those changes," says Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Toni Hunter. "We really depend on partners to bring experiences to our classrooms."

Kevin Jeans-Gail of the Workforce Alliance is impressed by the business community's investment: "Each experience reaffirms for us that there are many people willing to help and support kids with their education. We find that people really care: They care about their profession, they care about young people, and they care about the quality of education offered in Portland "

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11.  Expo is one-stop shop for students considering careers

It's no crystal ball, but the fifth annual NW Youth Careers Expo could offer a glimpse into the future for thousands of students. More than 100 exhibitors from throughout the Portland area are expected at the expo, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at the Oregon Convention Center.

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The event is free, but students must pre-register through their school. Five thousand students, most of them from Portland Public Schools, are scheduled to attend. Parents are welcome.

"If students hope to acquire family wage jobs, they're going to have to continue their education beyond high school, via a trade apprenticeship program, community college or university," says Kevin Jeans-Gail of the Portland Workforce Alliance, a key sponsor of the expo.

 "The expo is part of a broader strategy to connect young people with their passion, educate them about career opportunities and help them make informed choices about their lives after high school."

Exhibitors represent the business, industry and government sectors, and education — including PPS. For the first time, representatives from the Human Resources Department will be available to talk to students about careers in teaching and education, along with Portland State University's Graduate School of Education.

Some of the top companies in Oregon will participate, including Intel, Microsoft, Gunderson, Legacy Health Systems, US Bank, city of Portland and Portland Trail Blazers.

One-on-one opportunities

More than 80 college counselors and human resources and industry professionals will be available through the Portland Human Resource Management Association to conduct mock interviews, offer instruction in completing a job application and making a good impression, and provide career guidance. Students may also meet with community college representatives to explore post-secondary educational resources.

"The expo provides a unique one-stop opportunity for students to connect what they're learning in school with their future possibilities," says Jeanne Yerkovich, program manager for Career Pathways. "In a short time, they can talk with industry experts, try occupations on for size through hands-on activities, explore postsecondary education and training options, and practice job readiness skills through mock interviews with HR professionals."

Yerkovich points out organizers' help in paying for transportation and substitute teachers.

"When we told the expo organizers that the only way schools could bring large numbers of students would be if funds were available to pay for school buses and substitute teachers, they listened," she says. "Since 2005, they have raised more than $55,000 to pay for buses and subs.  No school has ever been turned away."

Sponsors are Columbia Wire & Iron Works, Portland Development Commission, Portland Workforce Alliance, PCC Structurals, Lampros Steel, Legacy Health Systems, Marks Metal Technology, NECA/IBEW, Oregon Iron Works, Oregon Staffing Association, Portland General Electric, Portland Human Resources Association, SW Washington Human Resources Association and WorkSystems.

Three PPS schools in new competition

New to the expo this year is a competition called "The Intern."  Sponsored by the Links community service organization and hosted by the expo, the competition includes students from Jefferson, Lincoln, Rosemary Anderson, Aloha, Milwaukie, Parkrose and Reynolds high schools. 

The competition will include school teams of five juniors and seniors working together in a scavenger hunt and a career task fashioned after "The Apprentice." The task will be designed by Wieden & Kennedy employees, who also will coach the teams prior to and during the event. Executives from Portland's top businesses will evaluate the competition.

"It's kind of a "Great Race" meets "The Apprentice," Yerkovich says.

KGW's Joe Smith will be the competition's Donald Trump. The winner will receive a top internship with a local firm and a $250 stipend.

For more information on the expo, go online to www.nwyouthcareersexpo.org or e-mail totalevent@comcast.net.

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12.  District helps students meet college test requirement
ACT Logo

Next week, all PPS juniors will skip class for five hours — but it's OK. On Wednesday, April 22, 11th-graders will take the ACT test, a four-subject exam used by colleges nationwide to make admissions decisions. Learn why PPS is giving juniors the opportunity to take the test for free, and why families — and students — should care.

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Families should already have received this flier (PDF), with more information about the test. Students also received material to help them prepare for the test.

Why the ACT test?

When deciding whether to admit students, most four-year colleges and universities look at test scores, along with factors such as high school grades and written essays. The two most common tests are the ACT and the SAT; usually, students need to take one of these exams when applying to college.

Most students who take the ACT or SAT do so on their own, paying out of pocket (the tests are about the same price) and traveling to a testing facility, often on a Saturday.

In 2007, PPS began making the ACT test available to all juniors, including those in charter schools and alternative schools and programs. School counselors and district leaders wanted to make it easier for students to take the test and, especially, to entice students who don't believe they are college material.

They chose the ACT over the SAT test because it is a better measure of what is taught in high school. This helps students do well and provides Portland Public Schools a tool to evaluate its own curriculum and programs.

In addition to the ACT test, PPS administers the EXPLORE assessment to freshman students and the PSAT test to sophomores.

Logistical challenge for schools

School staff work hard to administer the test.

"The ACT is very directive, very detail oriented. Everything is by the book," says Jan Watt, special projects coordinator at Cleveland. "We're providing equity by offering it to all students, but it's a scheduling nightmare for staff."

There are many rules that, if not followed, disqualify students and their test results. For example, all PPS schools must take the test on April 22, a date set by ACT, and the test must start by 9 a.m. Only certified teachers may administer the test, and they must be trained each year. The testing area must be cordoned off so that students cannot access lockers, and each school must have a testing coordinator who oversees the testing process; at school campuses such as Roosevelt, this means they must have three coordinators (who must also be trained).

"You really have to cross your t's and dot your i's," says Annie Walsh, a counselor at Lincoln High School.

The test itself takes about five hours, but students must also pre-register using computers at the school, a 1½-hour process that includes a 72-question survey about students' interests.

Beth Burczak, a backup test coordinator at Roosevelt Campus, says it's worth it: "This is such a tremendous gift and opportunity for students. Some students don't think they're college bound, and by giving them this option, it helps some of them see that they can pursue an advanced education."

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13.  Taking a sun break
 Randy Batchelor of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation MATT SHELBY

The Evans-Harvard Music Conservatory is still under construction at da Vinci Middle School, but PPS representatives and others involved in the project took a moment on April 10 to celebrate completion of its roof. Here, Randy Batchelor of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation explains how the roof will generate all of the building's electricity. Keep up to date with the building's construction.

14.  New lights brighten the picture in school gyms
Dmitry Polishchuk walks a row of the PPS warehouse at the Blanchard Education Service Center. Not only is it easier to locate items, but new lighting will save about $50,000 a year in energy costs. BRIAN M. CHRISTOPHER
Dmitry Polishchuk walks a row of the PPS warehouse at the Blanchard Education Service Center. New lighting will save about $50,000 a year in energy costs.

Four-and-a-half years ago, UV radiation from a cracked metal halide light bulb in a Lake Oswego school gym damaged teachers' skin and eyes, setting into motion a state bill outlawing the use of both halide and mercury vapor bulbs. For Portland Public Schools, it was an opportunity to install lighting that is not only safer but far brighter and energy-conserving.

PPS, like most school districts, used the industrial-type bulbs (technically, they're called lamps) for years. In June 2007, Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed the bill prohibiting their use. Dozens of PPS gyms and one 110,000-square-foot warehouse later, they've been replaced by energy-saving fluorescent lamps and fixtures.

Each fixture reduces the energy load by approximately half — and offers almost twice as much light output, making gyms far more inviting and warehouse goods easier to find, PPS electrical foreman Louis Bybee says.

"Our warehouse people used to take flashlights down the aisles to find things," he says. The flashlights had a second use: When tallying warehouse items, employees used them to make their solar-power calculators work.

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There's an additional savings in the warehouse, where the lights are motion-activated, turning on and off individually based on occupancy. Another plus: The new lights activate instantly, while the old ones took 10 to 12 minutes to reach full brightness.

The lights have gone through extensive safety tests by both the manufacturer and by PPS employees. The wire guard around them has been fine-tuned to prevent damage from errant basketballs and other gym hazards.

The total cost was $377,000 ($256,500 for lights and $120,000 for installation by Milwaukie-based Stoner Electric), but PPS paid significantly less as a result of a state-mandated contribution from utilities. And the cost is offset immediately by energy savings. Bybee estimated annual savings to be more than $48 per fixture: Multiplied by 1,000 new fixtures, that should save the district about $50,000 a year.

"This is a huge win-win for the district," Bybee says.

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15.  District to screen all second-graders for TAG
Readiness fair
These sample TAG screening questions ask students to match shapes and colors.

Beginning this fall, PPS will screen all second-graders — about 3,000 students — for talented and gifted (TAG) status. In the past, only students nominated by a teacher or family member were screened for TAG, a designation that helps ensure all students are taught at an appropriate and challenging pace and level. Last fall, second-graders at Title I schools were automatically screened.

"The goal is to identify more students from underrepresented populations, including children from poverty and those who speak English as a second language," says Teri Geist, who leads the TAG department as a principal on special assignment. The 30-minute, nonverbal screening determines whether further testing is warranted. Learn more about TAG.

16.  Thousands of books arrive in K-8 libraries
Readiness fair MATT FERRIS-SMITH
Irvington librarian Julie Polachek (center) with student assistants (from left) Maya Ullrich-Carter, Cassie Hill, Martin Chasehill, Justin Robinson and Ny'Asia Stafford.

Boxes of brand new books, along with media players, projectors and bookshelves, arrived in 22 Portland Public Schools K-8 libraries this month. Each school received more than 300 books, including Irvington K-8 School, where librarian Julie Polachek quickly got the books in circulation with the help of student assistants. The materials were purchased using a $500,000 grant awarded to PPS last summer by the U.S. Department of Education. Learn more in this July 2008 news release.

17.  Parents form all-district special education PTA

Late last year, a group of PPS parents created the Special Education PTA, dedicated to improving the education and well-being of students with disabilities. "It's a community that was formed to discuss best practices, learn from each other, learn how to work with teachers and exchange information," says member Alicia DeLashmutt. The group, open to all parents, educators and community members, holds its next meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, at Beverly Cleary K-8 School at Fernwood (map). Learn more at the group's blog: http://septap.blogspot.com/.

18.  Schools give environment a helping hand
Readiness fair
Ready for a tree.

Students across Portland Public Schools are celebrating Earth Day (April 22) and National Arbor Day (April 24) with tree plantings and festivals.

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Sellwood Middle School is holding a Sustainability Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 25. In addition to crafts, live music, herb planting and puppet making, there will be information about energy conservation, recycling and even a tutorial on building with cob (a mix of sand, clay and straw) by Earthen Hand. The free event is at the school (map).

Also at Sellwood, the SUN School's Make a Difference Club recently helped replace disposable lunch trays with reusable trays, set up recycling stations around the school and participated in the Energy Challenge, an annual event in which PPS schools compete to reduce their energy consumption.

Students and employees at two schools planted dozens of trees this month: 21 at Hayhurst Elementary School on April 7, and 50 at Roseway Heights K-8 School on April 16. Roseway's trees include fruit and nut trees alongside their edible garden and decorative trees near the school building. Providing the trees are the Arbor Day Foundation and the Home Depot Foundation, which this year selected 13 sites nationwide for tree donations.

Vernon celebrates grounds improvements

On Earth Day, April 22, Vernon K-8 School will plant a tree to celebrate extensive improvements made to their playground and school grounds earlier this month. Staff, community members and students installed new picnic tables, circuit training stations, a fence around their garden and playground paint. Partners included Home Depot, the Alberta Coop and Subway.

This week, parents and staff at Laurelhurst K-8 School are encouraging students and families to consider alternative transportation options — car pooling, biking, walking or scootering — to get to school on at least one day.

Laurelhurst is also holding a "no idling" education campaign urging families to turn off cars while waiting to pick up students. A volunteer father, Michael Muhle, posted vinyl signs with messages including "Idling = Zero miles to the gallon" and, simply, "Please turn your engine off while you wait."

Creative Science School invites community

On Sunday, April 19, Creative Science School (map) held "Generation Green: An Earth Day Celebration" from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. This free community event included a ladybug release, recycling relay, food, gardening, crafts, prizes, a seed giveaway and information and resources on environmentally friendly activities.

In January, CSS students and parents purchased reusable lunch trays by selling "Wrap-n-Mats," reusable sandwich/snack wraps that open into a placemat. The lunch trays have already kept 10,300 styrofoam trays out of the landfill and saved the district more than $360.

Ongoing activities at CSS include:

  • Students are collecting energy bar wrappers (more than 3,000 so far) and giving them to a company called TerraCycle to be made into tote bags
  • On Waste Free Lunch Days, held monthly, students pack lunches that can be completely eaten, reused, recycled or composted in the school's worm bin.
  • A Garden Group is planting native plants, a butterfly garden and installing a greenhouse.
Benson students get an up-close look at wind turbines. Benson students get an up-close look at wind turbines. Benson students get an up-close look at wind turbines. Benson students get an up-close look at wind turbines.

At Benson High School, an electronics class visited the PacifiCorp Leaning Juniper Wind Farm near Arlington on April 3. The students, accompanied by teacher Tim Hryciw and Nancy Bond, the district's energy conservation coordinator, learned how companies choose where to build wind farms, how they build wind turbines and how the turbines create electricity. They also learned about job opportunities in the industry.

For more information about environmentally friendly activities at Portland Public Schools, go to the Resource Conservation Web page.

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19.  Lane, Boise-Eliot, Whitman honored

Three PPS schools are among 19 being honored at a dinner hosted by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo for achievement gains in their diverse student populations.

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The Celebrating Student Success Awards recognize schools' efforts in raising the achievement of minority and/or low-income students. Lane Middle School in Southeast Portland will receive a top honor as one of seven Champion schools in Oregon.

Boise-Eliot School in North Portland, selected last year as a Champion School (see video made for award), will receive a Continuing Success award this year, while Whitman Elementary in Southeast Portland was honored as a Rising Star school.

Boise-Eliot’s story

The Oregon Department of Education last year commissioned Eugene-based Chambers Productions to create this video celebrating Boise-Eliot as a Champion school.

"These diverse schools have so much they can teach us about the power of strong leadership, the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and the things that are possible when we adults believe that all students can achieve at high levels," Castillo said. "Please join educators, legislators, and business and community leaders from around the state in thanking them for all that they are doing for Oregon students."

The public is invited to attend the Celebrating Student Success Banquet from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 1, at the Oregon Convention Center. The dinner is $40 per person; to register, contact Crystal Greene by e-mail or phone, 1-503-947-5650.

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20.  Rotary clubs put the word(s) out to PPS students
Readiness fair MATT FERRIS-SMITH
Faubion third-graders (left to right) Emiliano Zook and Basimise Majagira are excited to receive dictionaries.

All PPS third-graders own a dictionary, or will soon, thanks to Portland-area Rotary clubs. For several years, local members of this community and civic service organization, which has clubs throughout the world and about eight in Portland, have purchased and distributed the dictionaries to help increase literacy.

"We all know that public schools need additional resources. It's amazing to see how excited the kids are to receive a dictionary," says Mat Hunnicutt, a Portland Rotary Club board member.

About 3,400 dictionaries have been delivered to schools. If your third-grader doesn't have one yet, don't worry — it's on the way!

PPS Pulse is a publication of the Portland Public Schools Communications Office.

Robb Cowie, director; Katie Essick, editor; Matt Ferris-Smith, Sarah Carlin Ames, Matt Shelby, writers; Richard Martin, designer. Stay up to date with the PPS news page. Questions, comments or story ideas: ppspulse@pps.k12.or.us or 503-916-3304.

Portland Public Schools is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

Portland Public Schools - 501 North Dixon Street - Portland, Oregon 97227 - 503-916-2000 - www.pps.k12.or.us