Issues

I Get It.
I’m A Parent Of Elementary Students.

I’m the parent of two future Grant High School students who believes that it’s time for a parent of elementary school aged kids to have a seat at the table of the PPS School Board.

The children and teachers in one district – Portland Public Schools – do not have access to the same basic resources including safe buildings, staffing, critical support services, new books, technology and playground equipment.

Our challenges are not unique to any one school, a zip code or side of the Willamette River. These challenges are pervasive in them all yet schools within zones and on opposite sides of the river often believe their problems are unique. They’re not. We need to solve for the success of our school district together as one district. Let’s start here:


A VISION AND THE POLICY TO BACK IT UP:

The role of a school board is to “provide a public link to public schools.” The board must work with the superintendent to:

  • Develop and implement an educational vision with strong student outcome and high expectations at the core.
  • Create and support clear policy to support that educational vision. When policy is clear, the board and superintendent can quickly identify when it’s not being followed and take corrective action.
  • Establish review processes for PPS policy and staff to create at path to identify what’s working and what needs improvement.


ACCOUNTABILITY:

The most pressing issue facing PPS is lack of clear accountability procedures. An accountability plan (“matrix”) doesn’t sound “glamorous” but it’s how we can measure our successes and provide a critical pathway for feedback from staff and the community. It’s how we can identify the need to pivot away from bad policy.

An accountability plan should be implemented in a way that provides the opportunity for collaboration when setting educational goals at every level of the PPS organization – from the superintendent to staff to principals to teachers. It keeps staff engaged and invested in student outcome. It addresses the low employee moral that is plaguing the district by giving staff a voice that is valued during the planning and review process. A work and learning environment that values a 360-degree feedback process is one that both employees and the public can trust.

I would like our new superintendent to:

  • Require employee input for staff and program goals with corresponding metrics for success.
  • Guarantee a clear annual staff evaluation process that allows not only feedback for those being evaluated but a path for honest, anonymous and documented employee feedback.
  • Value new ideas and “thinking outside of the box.”


SAFETY

In October of 2013, I snapped a piece of deteriorating paint off of my neighborhood school next to the 1st-grade entrance. The building exterior was in extreme disrepair and, even after numerous complaints due to concerns about mold and a leaking roof, my principal told me “Virginia, you won’t get this building repainted in a million years. I’ve asked.”

I tested the school paint for lead and was shocked at what I found. Alarmed, I picked up the phone and called PPS to tell the staff it was positive for lead (ultimately identified at 33% pure lead by weight). Little did I know it was the beginning of a 3+ year journey that included 1,317 emails, filing a complaint with the EPA/OHA, pleading for parental notification, countless phone calls, intense media exposure including a front page story in the Sunday Oregonian that blew the lid off the issue, school board testimony, an implosion at the PPS central office and, finally, the first closure of PPS school grounds due to lead contamination.

Why didn’t I walk away? Because once you have the knowledge, you are culpable if you don’t act. By not giving up, the effort directly resulted in the stabilization and abatement of lead-based paint at 40 PPS schools. In the spring of 2017, I was invited to sit on the PPS Bond Stakeholder Advisory Group as a Community Leader to help craft the current bond measure. I was thrilled. Rebuilding and modernizing our school infrastructure is critical not only to the safety of our students but to the modernization of our learning environment.

The bond measure touches every school and resolves the most urgent hazards in their entirety. The recommendation also outlines the need for long-term maintenance funding to ensure that we take care of this major investment in our infrastructure. We can’t lose sight of this.

My efforts have been covered by the Huffington Post, OPBs “Think Out Loud,” The Oregonian (including a front page investigative report in the Sunday paper) and all local news stations.


EQUITY

PPS has adopted a policy built on equity, but needs much more reliable and holistic support for both students and staff.

It’s 2017. That means it’s time to create the new PPS Racial Equity Plan.

I support the preservation of PPS Equity Funding and the move to create a new five year Racial Equity Plan (the current plan ran from 2011-2016). This plan should include community partnerships at it’s core, wrap-around support services for our students, tools to create a culturally responsive curriculum, and a very critical eye on funds that should be serving children of color on a more equitable basis.

In 2013, I discovered that my neighborhood school was returning funds earmarked for specific student services to the general fund with a lack of regard for their intended use. I quickly grabbed a friend and we pulled the budget for every single school in the district to see if the problem was widespread. As suspected, there was no oversight and no accountability to ensure compliance with the state mandate for these services – the very services that PPS finally admitted they were out of compliance with several months ago – Talented and Gifted services. We did not rest until the budget was centralized and accounted for.

I’ve been warned by many, “Don’t talk about ‘TAG stuff’ during your campaign because the public won’t understand.” I completely disagree and what I continue to explain is that “oversights” like this affect many students living in high areas of poverty who are consistently under-identified. My husband was one of those kids – nearly held back in fourth grade as a Hispanic boy on the west side of Chicago who was disengaged at school – not because he couldn’t understand the material. He wasn’t challenged. Thanks to a great teacher and his concerned father stepping in at the last minute, he was assessed and accelerated just in time.

What happens when a child like him is missed? What happens when a well-intentioned teacher doesn’t have the necessary funding for support staff and measurements for success? Kids and teachers lose. I also strongly support community-based partnerships, increased special education funding and wrap-around support services (a system of care management) for students and parents. They are absolutely critical for the success of any PPS Equity platform.

Oregon is #1…in hate and bias crimes per capita according to a new project released by the respected journalist website ProPublica.

I’m an ardent supporter of developing and supporting a culturally responsive learning environment with continued investment in community partnerships that support our most at-risk students.

While we educate staff, we also need to educate students. It’s critical that the district goes “all in” to fully implement an Ethnic Studies curriculum per the Resolution 5262 adopted by school board in May 2016. Created and presented to the school board by PPS students,  it includes an ask to “focus on history, culture and US social movements of people of color, immigrant and LGBTQ communities.” In a time when hate crimes are the on the rise in Portland (I Co-Chair the Security Advisory Committee at Portland’s JCC), this type of curriculum not only educates all students in a way that mitigates bias, it also increases the attendance and graduation rates of at-risk students. It makes school relevant to their experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Here is a great article that discusses this phenomenon:

https://ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-gse-study-suggests-academic-benefits-ethnic-studies-courses

Learning to read…Reading to Learn.

As a board member, I will also strongly support financial investments in Early Learning and  K-3 literacy programs to move students from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” If a child is not reading at grade level by the end of third grade, we know that they are four times less likely to graduate by age 19. If that child lives in poverty, that child is 13 times less likely to graduate. Unacceptable. This is one of our more critical investments as a district because it’s the foundation by which our children  learn.


FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY:

PPS needs to revamp the budgeting process to allow for zero-based budgeting across all departments. My husband is the managing partner of the small business we own. Our personal business experience combined with my years managing budgets and generating revenue for companies including Coca-Cola, Metro – Chicago and Flair Communications has taught us that zero-based budgeting is a financial “best practice.”

PPS departments should be required to justify expenses during the annual budgeting process vs. receiving a lump sum based on the prior year. This method is being “tested” in both the PPS Athletics and IT departments. We need to roll it out across all departments as soon as possible. This will allow PPS to diligently tracks funds to:

  • Eliminate waste
  • Clearly understand department and program financial needs
  •  Tackle funding state mandates like PE, TAG and CTE programs
  • Make a plan to address extremely important issues like ADA compliance

THE “F” WORD

Parents with students in schools with the highest numbers of at-risk students often speak of the “F” Word…foundations. I’ve both co chaired and served on the steering committee for PPS neighborhood school foundation auctions. I’ve always wondered ”Are parent communities leaving money on the table by only focusing on fundraising for individual school foundations? Could we put more money in the Equity Fund?” They are. There is a better model.

If we work together – as one district – could we raise more and not only keep the same staffing and programs in place but increase them? Can we pull more parents and businesses into the fundraising process if we modify our strategy? Could we work together and erase the self-imposed imaginary lines between clusters, zones and sides of the river?

Based on my deep professional experience with sponsorship negotiation and partnerships, I think these are questions worth asking. Why? Because many parents step away from the process because of the unintentional divisiveness. We need to come together.

If you want a proven collaborative, action-oriented school board member who knows what it’s like to worry that your child’s needs aren’t being met at drop off every morning with no end in sight, vote for Virginia La Forte on May 16th.

The school board and new superintendent have a responsibility to rebuild trust in PPS and with our community. Virginia wants to be part of the team that makes that happen for everyone that lives in our city.