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Lets make dream a reality

Before my son entered kindergarten, I was vaguely aware of what a parent's role was in schools: I knew parents helped at school and urged their kids to do homework.

As one of these 'involved' parents, I would join the school PTA and help out when they needed me.

Little did I know what being involved would mean.

Being an involved public school parent isn't bake sales and reading in class. It is learning about funding formulas, tax compression and how to raise thousands of dollars from your fellow parents and neighbors for music, art, sports and even core classroom teachers.

We lobby legislators who can't or won't fund schools adequately. We now are the vanguard of local funding campaigns. We fight to keep antigovernment extremists, funded by out-of-state firms, from crashing the basic school system. We are raising our kids while trying to keep the structure of our schools from coming unglued.

When we 'rethink' schools in Portland, we see a place where kids are cherished and nurtured; teachers are respected and honored; parents provide the extras, not the basics of education. We see a time when every child has an adult who cares about him or her in school.

My son is in a school that is on track to close the achievement gap in the next few years. We will close that gap because of a devoted staff and a handful of volunteer mentors. In a world that talks about closing that gap, our teachers and parents are going to do it by choosing to make it a priority. Every child should have that opportunity.

When we rethink schools in Portland, we see a time when standards are high and teachers and students dream of what more they can accomplish. When we rethink schools, we expect our children to receive a quality education that will equip them for the 21st century.

We see a time when calling for so-called 'accountability' (think the federal No Child Left Behind law) will not be imposed on schools without full community support and financial investment to get the job done. Parents know tests are important, but teaching a child to learn rather than take tests is part of our vision.

When we rethink schools in Portland, the roller coaster of funding and the steady downward path to mediocre schools will evaporate. Our state will pay above the national average per student for school funding (Oregon is currently 9 percent below average).

We see schools as neighborhood treasures becoming more valuable every year. In return for the generous support of our community, schools continue to connect with their neighborhoods. Schools are what we will brag about when guests visit or job recruiters talk to candidates. Our kids will tell about the amazing things that are going on in school, and they don't worry about being featured in a 'Doonesbury' cartoon.

We see a time when we don't confuse what we invest in schools with other politically charged government expenditures and leaders stop telling us schools are a priority and schools start being a priority.

A few days ago, amid all the local stories questioning public support for schools, I stood with some wonderful families on a street corner with colorful signs. We hoped to connect with our neighbors and passers-by to ask for their support for our schools. The overwhelming response expressed by horn honks, thumbs ups and big waves convinced me that our vision of a Portland isn't that far away.

Otto Schell is the parent of a sixth-grade child at Beaumont Middle School in Northeast Portland. Schell, an attorney turned stay-at-home dad, is the vice president for legislation for the Oregon PTA, a nonpaying, full-time job. Last week, Mayor Tom Potter appointed him co-chairman of a new group, the Children's Education Coalition, which is looking for short- and long-term financial solutions for the district's schools.