OUR VIEW • Challenges are many, but progress made
At Pauling Academy on the Marshall Campus there are no cliques and few loners.
The halls are quiet and every student is greeted by name several times a day. Students feel free to walk into the principal's office unannounced to complain or just talk.
Ecology students trap northern flying squirrels on Mount Hood, do research, collect and analyze data and report findings to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Last year Pauling was the only high school to present at the annual conference of the Urban Ecosystem Research Consortium. Physics students won medals at the citywide Portland State University Design Competition. Everyone in the second year French class played a part in a video of Albert Camus' 'The Stranger.'
So why is our graduation rate only 60 percent?
When the Marshall Campus split into small schools four years ago the expectation was that test scores and graduation rates would improve. Part of that has happened (Marshall takes stock at four-year milestone, June 5).
Pauling Academy is showing academic progress. Math classes meet every day for 84 minutes. Last year 50 percent of students met state math benchmarks for 10th grade, compared to 29 percent of Marshall High School 10th-graders in 2003-04.
Ninth- and 10th-graders take a reading class in addition to their required English courses. Fifty-five percent of 10th-graders met reading benchmarks compared with 27 percent of Marshall High School 10th-graders in 2003-04.
As measured by the reading test, Degrees of Reading Power, freshmen increased their reading scores by 12.7 points from fall 2007 to spring 2008. A gain of 3 points is considered average.
But attendance and graduation rates haven't improved much in the last four years.
We track attendance in advisory class and regularly give attendance awards.
Teachers meet with students before and after school to help them make up missing work and finish projects. The special-education teacher relentlessly advocates for students with individualized education plans to ensure they are being included and accommodated in mainstream classes.
We could blame our demographics. The Lents neighborhood population is very mobile. Pauling welcomes homeless students even though they regularly miss school and frequently drop out. Working students oversleep and miss classes.
Eighth-graders who quit school are considered forecasted to their neighborhood high school and are added to Pauling's dropout count. But making excuses would be denying our responsibility.
Would we welcome community support with attendance incentives, internships and job-shadowing opportunities? Of course.
Do we need volunteers to make personal attendance calls at home and help connect students and families to social services? Yes.
But even without that kind of help, we'll come back in September and keep working to get our students to come to school and make it to graduation.
Our school is small, we know everyone's name - and we haven't given up on any of them.
Victoria Lewis a teacher at Pauling Academy living in Southwest Portland. Stevie Newcomer is principal of Pauling Academy and lives in Oak Grove.