Nowhere is Oregon's amazing diversity more in evidence than in our schools, where children of all colors and cultures, rich and poor, learn and play and grow up together.
Unfortunately, schools in the U.S. — and Oregon is no exception — are struggling with an "achievement gap" that divides our children by race and ethnicity, by language, and by income.
As a society, we must come together to close the achievement gap, and not just for the sake of those children who find themselves on the wrong side of that gap, but for our nation's future, as well.
Our schools are the key to turning the country around. We must rise to the challenge and embrace diversity and equity as we raise standards and expectations for every student. We can do it. I know it because I've seen it again and again.
Across this state we have many stellar schools showing the way, demonstrating outstanding leadership, collaborating and innovating and putting students at the center of every decision and every move they make.
Every year the Oregon Department of Education honors many of these schools with "Celebrating Student Success Awards" to recognize their work. You don't have to look far to find one of these terrific schools —
The sign hanging inside the entrance of Lane Middle School says it all: "Think College." The slogan may seem "audacious for a middle school," Principal Karl Logan says. But that's the point.
Located in an area of Portland with a rough reputation, Lane is strikingly diverse, with more than half of students coming from minority groups, mostly Hispanic, Asian, and African-American. And the "minority" numbers don't even account for students from Eastern European immigrant families. About 4 out of 5 students come from disadvantaged homes. Yet that "Think College" slogan is everywhere in the school — on posters, on stickers, even on T-shirts.
Lane is geared toward raising academic expectations. For example, the school offers high school-level algebra to 7th and 8th graders and next year will start teaching geometry. Students this year can now take advanced writing, and across the school, teachers are becoming more strategic in their use of assessment data to target students who are struggling, as well as students who need more of a challenge.
Lane embraces innovation, such as the "Learning Gardens," a joint venture with Portland State University in which students learn lessons about science, math, and sustainability.
At first the intense academic focus was "so far out there," says Lynn Talent, who teaches a college-prep program. In the past many students didn't even consider college, either because they didn't see the point or because they thought they couldn't afford to go. Now everyone is encouraged to aim high. "We stuck with it," Talent says. "And now it's here to stay. The goal is 100% of kids going to college. I've got kids talking about going to Princeton."
Kevin Le, an 8th grader and student body president, says the school has improved greatly in his time as a student: "The teachers are more motivated. And the kids are ready to learn, even with some of the harsh things around them."
Last year was the first time Lane earned the federal government's Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) academic standard. The school also was rated as "Strong" on the Oregon state report card.
Lane is successful, Logan says, because of the dedication of its teachers: "You have to believe that you, as the teacher, are going to be the deciding factor, regardless of the challenges students have. And once you believe that, anything is possible."