I shadowed a PPS principal for half a day. Here's what I learned. (Portland Business Journal, December 2017)

Posted on December 11, 2017 in Media Coverage

By Suzanne Stevens

Read the story below and here.

With two kids attending Portland Public Schools, in-laws who are both retired teachers and some experience covering education as a beat reporter, I figured I had a pretty thorough grasp of the challenges facing teachers and administrators.

Turns out, I still have plenty to learn.

I spent half a day in October at Maplewood Elementary in Southwest Portland. My son is a first grader at Maplewood, but I wasn’t there to see him. Rather, I was a participant in the nonprofit All Hands Raised’s annual Principal for Almost a Day program. Now in its 17th year, the program aims to build understanding, awareness and partnerships between school and community leaders.

My host was Principal Jill Bailey, a veteran Oregon educator. This is her fourth year as principal at Maplewood, and she feels pretty lucky to be there.

“Maplewood is a strong school with a robust community and talented staff who are passionate about our students and education,” said Bailey, who is also hopeful about changes at the administrative level. “Big picture, I feel that Portland families and businesses support our district, and I’m excited and hopeful about new leadership with the board and superintendent.”

Maplewood has a lot going for it. Nestled in the Southwest hills just south of Hillsdale and Multnomah Village, the school is surrounded by solidly middle class neighborhoods and student achievement scores are above average.

And yet there are challenges. Time and resources are in short supply.

As is the case for all Portland public schools, parents help cover the cost of basic supplies — pencils, markers, glue, paper — and teachers often dig into their own pockets to stock their classrooms. It’s certainly not ideal but it is a reality in cash-strapped school districts. And certainly, not all families have the luxury of purchasing $50 or more worth of school supplies, which can leave schools in less wealthy neighborhoods with fewer tools.

“Asking was my first choice as opposed to using money from our school budget to make the purchase,” Bailey said.

During my visit, the old fridge was sitting in a makeshift staff room. It’s a cold, drafty area about the size of maybe eight standard office cubes. The old staff room was turned into a 2nd grade classroom last year, one of three new classrooms that have been added to Maplewood in the past four years.

When Bailey started at Maplewood in 2013, the school had about 330 students. Today it has nearly 380. That’s meant carving out space for new classrooms wherever Bailey and her team could find it.

The 4th and 5th grade classes are already in modular units. I asked Bailey where she’ll find room for another classroom when the need arises?

“We won’t. There just isn’t any more space.”

None of this is unique to Maplewood, and probably not a huge surprise to anyone. Even so, it was enlightening and inspiring to spend time in the classroom. It was also a reminder of how much work there is to be done.

“I truly believe that everyone benefits from having strong public schools,” said Bailey, “and in particular, the business community.”