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A NEW MODEL FOR EDUCATION: Private college, impoverished school to share a home

New facility will house Concordia's teacher program and up to 800 of Portland's poorest students from Faubion School

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Grace Cappleman, a graduate of Concordia University and a teacher assistant at Faubion PK-8 School, listens to student Keller Tolen read a book. The partnership between Concordia and Faubion has created a student-instructor ratio of 5-to-1.

They say it’s a model that has never been tried before in education: A private college partnering with an impoverished public school to build a joint state-of-the-art facility that will house both.

It’s called the 3 to PhD Initiative, and it’s happening in Northeast Portland.

Instead of endless lectures and role-playing among adults, at Faubion School (PK-8) on Northeast Dekum Street, Concordia University students regularly cross Northeast 29th Avenue to be immersed in a real school with real kids.

A new $43 million, three-story building will weave the two organizations together so tightly that the college dean and the school principal will share an office wall.

“It’s a theory of change. It’s not just a building,” says Concordia spokeswoman Madeline Turnock. “We want to prepare leaders to transform society. This is the most poignant opportunity to live out that mission.”

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - An artist's model of the planned $43 million facility that will house both the Concordia University College of Education and Faubion PK-8 School in Northeast Portland. Demolition starts this fall with construction slated to begin in February 2016.

The unique partnership started on LaShawn Lee’s first day as Faubion’s principal. A visitor from Concordia University walked over to offer a friendly hello and tell her about their College of Education and service-oriented ethos.

“I was very intrigued,” Lee says. Before long, student teachers and volunteers were filling classrooms and lining the hallways with one-to-one tutoring.

From a struggling school of 200, Lee has grown enrollment to 525, but 91 percent of Faubion’s kids are below the free-and-reduced school lunch income line. Forty-five percent are homeless or nearly homeless. Sixteen percent are English language learners and 20 percent have special education needs. Yet with a steady stream of enthusiastic college students, the student-instructor ratio is at a staggering 5-to-1 and standardized test scores have made remarkable gains. In 2012-13, for example, eighth graders’ science, math and reading test scores went up by 20 percent, 16 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

The relationship with Concordia has only grown stronger and, Lee says, “seven and a half years later, we’re all getting ready to move in with each other.”

“I’ve never quite heard it put that way, but I like it,” says Gary Withers, the Lutheran university’s chief strategic relations officer.

More than just a school

The 130,000-square-foot building will be more than just a school for adults and children. A health clinic and food pantry will welcome families from the south entrance, addressing acute needs and teaching healthy habits.

“A child who is hungry, tired and not necessarily as emotionally comfortable as they ought to be is not ready to learn,” Withers says. “What if we address those elements first?”

While Portland Public Schools taxpayers are footing the majority of the bill for the project through $27.5 million in bond money, Concordia has pledged to raise $15.1 million to fund many of those “extras” that it considers necessary for this new approach to education to work, such as the pre-kindergarten program.

“We simply can’t create a safer, more educated community without all of this,” says Kevin Matheny, Concordia’s chief development officer.

Concordia also will fund dedicated spaces for instruction in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).

“We want to have a great focus on experiential learning,” Withers says — and that includes the college students.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - An artist's rendering of the three-level, $43 million Faubion PK-8 School and Concordia University College of Education, which is slated to open September 2017.

Transparent walls will separate many spaces — including the lecture hall that will hang over the new cafeteria — so young students can see undergraduates and undergraduates can get a taste of what working in a school really means.

“So,” Withers says, “you want to be a teacher?”

Prospective students waiting for their application interview with the dean will sit in the front office next to the crying 6-year-old going home and the mom asking about after-school activities.

Demolition on the current 1950s brick Faubion building will start this fall, with students moving to the shuttered Harriet Tubman Middle School for two years. Construction is planned to begin in February 2016, and students will move back to their sparkling new facility in September 2017. The building will have capacity for up to 800 children from early childhood to eighth grade and will see around 600 undergraduates per year. Withers imagines an even more integrated community than that, with 2,000 of its undergraduates — from aspiring nurses to engineers — touching Faubion in some way during their school career.

'A whole new world'

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Mackenzie Price, a kindergarten teacher at Faubion PK-8 School, graduated from Concordia University in  2014. Price says everyone is very excited about the 3 to PhD Initiative's $43 million project to build a state-of-the-art school with science labs, a health clinic, a food pantry and more.

Walk down the halls at Faubion School and you might run into Makenzie Price, an exuberant 2014 Concordia graduate who cannot think of anything bad to say about the building project or the partnership.

“This place is my home,” says Price, who now teaches kindergarten but has worked as a student at the school since she was a sophomore. “Everything I know about teaching came from this school.”

Price grew up in Tigard, where the types of issues her students face on a daily basis were rare.

“It’s a whole new world,” she says. But she also says that she has students from unlikely backgrounds who regularly tell her they plan to go to college or become professors, because they see that modeled around them. “I’m not kidding. I wish everyone could experience this.”

Price then jets off to lead a large group of children in the cafeteria/auditorium in a practice performance for Black History Month. The rainbow of small faces — Faubion is one-third black, one-third Latino and one-third white — sings out:

“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Someday. Deep in my heart. I do believe. We shall overcome. Someday.”

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Staff members listen to students at Faubion PK-8 School sing 'We Shall Overcome' in preparation for a Black History Month celebration. Faubion's student population is split fairly evenly into thirds between white, black and Latino students.


Without Faubion School principal LaShawn Lee, none of the 3 to PhD Initiative would have been possible.

Lee even coined the “3 to PhD” term, which she defines as the three trimesters of gestation to “pursuing one’s highest dreams.”

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - LaShawn Lee, principal at Faubion PK-8 School, invited Concordia University College of Education undergraduates to teach in her school nearly eight years ago. Now, the schools are gearing up for a $43 million project that would house them together.

Asking a couple of Faubion teachers what catalyzed the change in culture at the downtrodden school is a bit like asking a fish about the water they are swimming in. After a beat, reading specialist Meredith Caldwell simply says: “Leadership. LaShawn had a vision.”

Instructional coach Mary Harbolt agrees.

“I think it’s because of LaShawn’s vision to take care of the whole child, which means the whole family, which means the whole community,” Harbolt says.

“We’ve seen many other principals,” continues Caldwell, a 1999 graduate of Concordia, “and they were never able to form the connections. Never to this level.”

Lee grew up in South Carolina in a large family of educators.

“Because of their passion for education and teaching, I naturally gravitated toward this career,” she says. Lee’s 28-year career has included a National Board certification, two Teacher of the Year school awards, and a master’s in Educational Leadership from Winthrop University in South Carolina.

But the achievement that probably earns her the most points from her students is her time as an astronaut.

For a total of five weeks over two summers, Lee spent time conducting science experiments in zero-gravity, flying in astronaut simulators and conforming NASA content with National Science Education Standards in Houston, Texas, and Huntsville, Ala.

But Lee’s teachers say what really makes her stand out is her attention to their earthly needs.

Harbolt says Lee's support is so complete that even if teachers need a drink of water, she will go get it for them.

Lee laughs, as she does often, and says: “I literally will."

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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