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Stand builds strong, unified voice for kids

Two Views • Stand for Children controversy shouldn't hurt local schools
by: L.E. BASKOW Portland’s education advocacy organization Stand for Children faces heavy criticism for comments by Executive Director Jonah Edelman and for changes that have alienated longtime volunteers.

Eleven years ago, I was a young mom of three children in Nashville, and I volunteered on a subcommittee for the public schools. I was very uncomfortable when the subject of educational reform arose.

I am a proud product of public schools, college and medical school. As a daughter of a public school teacher, I saw firsthand how hard great teachers worked.

When we moved to Portland, my husband and I put our three children in Portland public schools and I continued to volunteer - on PTA boards, site councils and in classrooms. But I became convinced that my efforts were just patching holes while the whole system was sinking.

Portland Public Schools has a 53 percent graduation rate and an unacceptably wide achievement gap.

Though our schools need better funding to provide a longer school year, better-paid teachers, more books and better buildings, I and many other public school advocates realized that money alone was not the answer. Our kids are not getting the instructional quality that I had as a child or what children get in other parts of the country.

Even comparing PPS student achievement with similar Oregon districts (size, number of free and reduced lunch recipients, and number of English language learners), it was clear that our children were lagging behind.

So, after many years of leading the charge for more stable funding, three fellow parent volunteers and I started a Stand for Children team at our high school. Our team members interviewed teachers and administrators and sought student input to develop our priorities, always with the ultimate goal of increasing student learning and success.

Our Stand team has allowed us to build a strong, unified voice for improvements in funding and instructional quality and support in our public schools. This doesn't mean union-bashing, privatization or any of the other misperceptions I've recently heard about Stand.

Rather, we have worked on issues like persistently advocating for a more informative evaluation tool for PPS teachers and principals. Finally, after three decades, the PPS teacher evaluation system is being revamped to help teachers grow in their craft.

We are also pleased that the district is working equally hard to revamp principal hiring and supervision, as well to train principals to properly evaluate and coach their teaching staff.

We all know that for children to excel educators need to be treated as professionals and given the feedback they need to improve.

In my experience, Stand staff and team leaders have been extremely committed to working with teachers and to translating their input into action. Over and over again, teachers have told my team that they wish they were more valued and respected as professionals.

They said they wanted to collaborate more with their colleagues, receive more feedback on their work and be included in conversations about how to maximize their potential to increase student learning.

As a Stand member, I learned about an Oregon program that is helping some districts do all of these things - the CLASS Project. My team and I met teachers and administrators from the CLASS Project districts and had the opportunity to understand how it has positively impacted students.

Starting with Stand's Legislative Breakfast in February, we talked to our legislators about ways to expand the CLASS Project to other districts around Oregon. I felt so strongly about the program - and issues like all-day kindergarten and increasing access for low-income students to community college classes - that I took the lead on recruiting more than 500 Portland parents, students and teachers for Stand's 2011 Rally for Schools in Salem. We were among more than 2,000 people who converged on the capitol to ask for positive changes for Oregon's education system.

My biggest win that day was watching the Portland high schoolers I had helped recruit talk to their senators and representatives about improvements they wanted to see in their schools.

I donate my time to Stand because I truly believe that together, parents, community members, students and educators can change the odds for Oregon's kids. I'm proud to be part of an organization that's willing to talk frankly about what needs to improve with our public schools, even if it makes some adults uncomfortable.

Stand doesn't have all the answers. But after 10 years in Oregon, I believe it's one of the most effective and honest avenues for improvement for our students.

Eliza Erhardt of Northwest Portland is a Portland Public Schools parent and Stand for Children member.