By Sagarika Ravishankar
On Friday, June 15, our Partnership convened with Portland Public Schools Superintendent, Guadalupe Guerrero; and Oregon’s Early Learning Council Chair, Sue Miller, for an armchair discussion surrounding Portland’s progressive vision for education in Portland, and how that will take place in the years to come. John Branam, SVP Investor Partner and Board Member moderated. Here’s what we took away:
What’s the vision?
The shared vision is to create systems in Oregon that will make it the best place to be a child, learn, and grow. In order to do so, we have to do so much more than supporting children – we need to support their families as well. As a community, we need to break down barriers that keep our underserved children from thriving and enable them to be the owners of their education. We want to create new and different pathways to keep our students engaged and connected, and to help them discover their passions, so we need to create the environments that will allow them to do that..
What steps have been taken?
Governor Brown has put together a children’s cabinet with the Early Learning Council, K–12, Oregon Health Authority, the Housing Authority, and DHS. They meet once a month to plan and focus resources to support young children.
Additionally, Portland Public Schools (PPS) is beginning a campaign to revitalize campuses so that they become places of learning that are equipped with the tools to explore their interests and passions.
What wins have we already achieved?
Early Learning Hubs (there are 16 hubs Oregon) are developing cross-sector partnerships – on the ground relationships with agencies and nonprofits that have a hand in supporting children and their families.
Additionally, bringing Miriam Calderon to Oregon has been a major win. She is currently serving as Oregon’s Early Learning System Director and previously served as the Senior Director of Early Learning at the Bainum Family Foundation and as a political appointee in the Obama Administration, advising on early learning policy at the Domestic Policy Council. She’s bringing her and connections to bear in Oregon and has opened lucrative doors to funding that will help expand early learning initiatives.
Another major win comes from our community—Portlanders are committed to their neighborhood schools, and there is stalwart support for the initiatives that will improve our school systems. With a supportive community, we can work to instill a culture of continuous improvement.
What challenges have stood out?
We have a long way to go. Part of creating a culture of continuous improvement is acknowledging that we haven’t done enough to provide an opportunity that should be a civil right and that we need to continue adjusting. We and the State need to get serious about helping children when they are infants, especially kids in poverty and children of color, or we aren’t giving them the support they need to thrive. We need to be serious about investing in children to make sure they’re successful—the vision and the will exists, but funding and resources continue to act as barriers to progress.
How are we going to respond to the needs of a diversifying population?
As a strong starting point, we need to create a system that will be responsive to dual language learners. Research shows that it’s essential for children to be fluent and capable of learning in their home language and can learn English concurrently. Requiring children to learn in English at an early age can hold them back from learning at the same rate as their peers.
We also need to diversify the workforce. We need to employ staff who are people of color and multilingual so that students can connect and identify with their teachers and see what’s possible for them to achieve.
Overall, we need to set an expectation that everyone is guaranteed the opportunity to be upwardly mobile. Our community deserves to know that we’re looking out for their best interests and that we’re going to be transparent in evaluating what success and possibility looks like for their students.
Thank you to everyone who attended Inspiration & Innovation Night, and an extra special thanks to Superintendent Guerrero, Sue Miller, and John Branam for moderating! If you’re interested in learning or doing more, please contact Phoebe Ebright at email@example.com.