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Listen to kids for ideas

MY VIEW •ÊShelve the past to shape modern education

Portland Public Schools is faced with an unenviable task. In the last year, the community, school board, administration and teaching staff have worked together to increase academic achievement and tackle tough issues in neglected areas of the district.

On the other hand, enrollment and revenue declines, shifting demographics, labor costs as well as antiquated and underutilized facilities have resulted in enormous budget constraints. The decisions ahead will be difficult. Solutions yet to be determined will no doubt support academic achievement reforms under way, but the overall complexion of the district will evolve. While many city, county, state and district officials continue to look for ideas to slow the inevitable, in the end, change will be necessary.

This is a critical moment for Portland that also provides enormous opportunity. We have a unique chance to step away from 'what was,' avoid hanging on to 'what is' and begin to consider 'what should be.' It is time to develop a vision different from those around us and unique to Portland.

For adults, our perception of school is based on what we know. Every day we drive by neighborhood schools on the way to work or to the store. Yet only 20 percent of us have children. For most of us, it has been decades since we've stepped inside a school building.

Education today is different; it is housed in buildings designed for programs long since abandoned, supported by stretched resources and dwindling funding capabilities.

While others look next door for five-year-old comparisons and consult experts who urge caution, Portland now has a unique opportunity to reconceptualize Portland Public Schools' role in the community and the community's role in education.

It is time to stop looking back, avoid making comparisons, suspend certainty, consider the unknown, think critically, ask deeper questions, engage the community and create a vision:

What should schools in this new century look like in a dynamic changing world?

Is education a building block in Portland's future?

What is PPS' role as an institution in the city of Portland?

What is the role of government, business and the community in education?

Are our educational systems broad and deep enough?

Can we envision a school system that merges teaching and learning, space and place and community?

Should Portland embrace a culture of learning and support for the youngest among us as well as the oldest around us?

What defines neighborhood, city, community, excellence and academic achievement?

Is data the only criteria that drives our decisions or is there room for the intangible?

Is education a designated site, an identifiable place or are there other opportunities?

Can we afford for our schools, civic institutions and even business to be 'silos' anymore?

For answers, we might look to the youths among us for inspiration.

They are interdisciplinary, can multitask and are interconnected. They are creative and inquisitive. They learn and are shaped by those at home, in the classroom, on the streets, in the mall, the friends they keep and through the enormous impact of technology and media. They do not live in silos. They communicate instantly across borders and retrieve information from other continents as they walk to school. They are comfortable in places that we adults are not.

And more than us, they are optimistic and moving forward. They are not dissimilar from youths across the nation.

In the coming months, our youths will listen as adults ask questions, consider ideas and work to find solutions to current challenges. Hopefully, at the conclusion, the district will stabilize. But then we should look to the future. If we are the City That Works, the state where We Love Dreamers, then let's borrow from Nike Inc. and Just Do It.

Becoming smaller is a fact. Becoming exceptional requires awakening a dormant Portland tradition of creativity, innovation and invention.