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Open School East strives for greatness

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gov. Kate Brown and Open School East Executive Director Andrew Mason place wishes in a box dedicated to the new Open School East. Open School East, a school for at-risk students, broke ground on its new Gresham home Thursday and Gov. Kate Brown praised the new school partly because it “meets the students where they are.”

Brown, surrounded by dignitaries and Open School East students, said “one size does not fit all and should not fit all.”

Gov. Brown and other luminaries were on hand for the Nov. 5 ceremony, that also featured a hip hop concert by Open School graduate and current staff member, Vinnie Dewayne.

Open School East is a college-prep school for children who have struggled to succeed in regular public school and is part of a group of Open Schools in the metro area. About 65 percent of Open School East students are students of color and about 85 percent live in poverty.

The ground breaking ceremony at 16519 S.E. Stark St. took place next to two giant earth movers with a banner strung between them declaring “we advocate greatness,” the school’s motto.

“This is a really big day for this community, this neighborhood, the school districts and the state of Oregon,” said Andrew Mason, Open School’s executive director.

These students “have dreams, and I know that … and they know it is about hard work and perseverance,” Mason said.

Open School East started last year with seventh grade, and added eighth grade this year and will serve 270 students when it grows to seventh through 12th grade in 2019, said Darrell Yuen, director of development. Open School East is currently housed at Oliver Elementary School, 15840 S.E. Taylor St., in the Centennial School District.

Kehni Jones, an eighth-grader who wants to be a nurse, said “I’m excited for the new school.”

Fellow eighth-grader Raymond Grant, whose sister Rayanna also attends the school, declared the morning “pretty awesome.”

Open School East draws students from Centennial, Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds, David Douglas, Parkrose and Portland Public school districts. It is organized as a state-designated alternative school and is not a charter school.

Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, a former Gresham Police Chief said Open School East will help create citizens who are “far less likely to be suspects or victims of crimes. ... This is crime prevention at its finest.”

Piluso also serves on the Gresham-Barlow School Board.

Piluso explained that the site, a former nursery, is symbolic, because the school will also foster new growth and plant seeds of change for both the students and the Rockwood neighborhood.

Open School, formerly called Open Meadow, describes itself as “a college-prep program for kids who need something different. We know which kids are most likely to drop out of traditional high schools. We find them and surround them with what they need to graduate and go to college: advocacy, equity, and rigorous academics.”

Open School East will use a new technique called predictive analytics developed by Johns Hopkins University that will use student characteristics to identify students in sixth grade that would most benefit from attending Open School East. “We go to their homes and talk with them and try to recruit them to the school,” Yuen said. “This is a big idea we are running with here.”

Open School has been serving students in Portland since 1971. “We’ve always drawn students from East (Multnomah) County,” Yuen said. Open School also had a program at Gresham High School called Step Up from 2009 to 2013.

The new Open School East on Stark Street is expected to be completed before school starts in 2016. It’s part of a new community campus for East Multnomah County, which will include the Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland Metropolitan Area.

Other speakers included Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and principal Elizabeth Jensen.

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