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Expect school bond to transform Portland

My View: Work could be catalyst that changes PPS into world-class district


This summer, the first step in a historic transformation of Portland will begin. For the first time in generations, Portland Public Schools is launching a major school rebuilding program.

It’s a pivotal moment for our schools and our community. A thriving city depends on a strong public school system. This bond offers us an opportunity to not just redesign and rebuild outdated schools, but to reimagine and redefine the education that happens inside them.

If Portland can offer a world-class education in safer, more sustainable and supportive learning environments, we can compete as a world-class city for the rest of this century.

Bond based on community priorities

Last November, Portland voters approved an eight-year school building improvement bond that will rebuild or replace Franklin, Grant and Roosevelt high schools, as well as Faubion PK-8. The bond also will fix leaking roofs and upgrade seismic safety, accessibility and science labs at a total of 67 schools.

The work kicks off this summer. Crews will begin replacing the three-acre, badly deteriorated roof at Wilson High School, which also will provide better protection for students and teachers during an earthquake. Alameda K-5 will receive a complete earthquake safety upgrade. Bridlemile K-5 and Lewis K-5 will get new, seismically stronger roofs. Laurelhurst K-8 and Chief Joseph-Ockley Green PK-8 will get updated science labs.

This bond is a reflection of Portland’s priorities. Prior to November’s vote, a community task force developed a plan to rebuild all of Portland’s schools during the next 32 years. Then, parent and community input helped determine where the work should start.

Community input will continue to inform our school improvements every step of the way. This summer, advisory groups will begin meeting to shape designs for the first school rebuilding projects at Roosevelt and Franklin high schools. Public design input sessions start in the fall.

A transformational moment

Work to start the school improvement bond comes at a potential turning point for education in Portland and in Oregon. In Salem, state leaders are proposing to increase education’s share of the state budget for the first time in a decade. Gov. John Kitzhaber has laid out an educational vision that would support every student from cradle to career.

Last month, the Portland School Board approved a budget that will add 65 staff members to our schools next year. The graduation rate is rising and the achievement gap is narrowing. PPS enrollment grew this year, for the fourth year in a row.

To get better results for our students, we still need to transform much of what happens in our schools, and the way our school district interacts with our community. The school improvement bond has been — and will continue to be — a vital catalyst in this process.

Since February, we have been asking community groups to help shape the vision for schools we are about to transform. Through more than 20 meetings, we have heard from first-graders and futurists. We convened high school students and listened to education advocates. We met with teachers, principals and parents.

We heard the feedback in voices and languages that represent many of Portland’s diverse communities. People want schools that are safer, more inclusive and more flexible than they are today. They want learning spaces that spur greater collaboration and stronger relationships between students and teachers. They want classrooms that inspire creativity and innovation, and give students a chance to engage new technology. They want schools that welcome the community and build partnerships that help students explore the world outside the school.

As a school district, we need to keep these aspirations in mind in everything we do — from rebuilding a school to teaching a class. That’s how we will give Portland students both the school facilities and educational outcomes they deserve.

Everyone in our community can be part of this transformation. Take our school bond vision survey online. Get involved in the school rebuilding design processes this summer and fall. Or, volunteer with a school or community organization. Offer an internship to a student. There are endless ways to be involved.

At a recent public session on the school improvement bond there was a baby named Hope. She is the daughter of a parent who worked very hard to make the transformation of our schools a reality.

I think it was fitting that Hope was in that room. This bond has the potential to change education in so many positive ways, for Hope and for all of Portland’s current and future students. That will help Portland grow and thrive, too — and offer all of us both hope and confidence in a better future for our city.

Carole Smith is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools.