Davis is principal of da Vinci Arts Middle School and a member of the Portland Public Schools team that helps implement an equity-focused principal pipeline.
There is no one more important to a student than their teacher, but the principal of their school is right behind.
In fact, research backs it up. School leaders set the tone for a student’s experience – from feelings of calm and safety, the focus of teachers and staff on children, and accountability to the school community.
Perhaps equally important, the principal serves as a living, breathing example of a leader. It is therefore essential that we have excellent principals in charge of our schools – and principals who understand how to help every child reach their potential. Principals have the opportunity to have a major impact – and the opportunity to set a powerful example.
That’s why I’m proud to be principal of Portland Public Schools — and why Portland is fortunate to be one of eight school districts nationwide to receive a five-year, $8.2 million grant to transform the preparation, selection and ongoing support of directors. Funding comes from the Wallace Foundation, which works with grantees to address social issues, including educational inequalities. This grant gives Portland a historic opportunity to infuse racial equity into our core recruiting and coaching processes.
Our success in creating an equity-focused school system depends on empowering those with the commitment and leadership skills to face the moment. Over the next five years, PPS plans to hire approximately 120 directors and 85 assistant directors. It is in all of our interests that our schools have consistent and competent leadership.
As a Portland native, I have seen educational equity initiatives come and go with new superintendents, principals, and teachers, and with each new graduating class. But this time it’s different because it’s different – because of the approach and investment provided by the Wallace Grant. This initiative accelerates our efforts to identify, recruit, prepare and retain leaders focused on racial equity, while addressing our struggles to attract and retain administrators of color – for all of our schools.
A key part of our grant is to focus on community-wide equity. PPS partners with Lewis and Clark College and Portland State University to create thriving cohorts of school administrators – identifying high-potential candidates as early as high school.
We also work with community organizations; the Oregon Council for the Advancement of Educators; and the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the state entity that licenses all Oregon educators to explore alternative paths to leadership outside of traditional college- and university-run licensing programs. This follows recent updates from the Legislative Assembly regarding the licensing of teachers to address labor shortages in education.
This work should interest you, whether you are a parent, business owner or taxpayer reaping the immediate and long-term benefits of a community where all residents have equitable access to education, regardless of background. race or neighborhood.
This work should also be of interest to you if you are concerned about closing equity gaps in our city and schools.
A survey this year in The Oregonian/OregonLive pointed out that black fourth-grade students, on average, barely read at the third-grade level, with the gap widening over time: black eighth-graders in PPS on average, are reading at about the level they should be in the fall of sixth grade.
We also have to deal with high turnover in the director’s office. Nationally, a third of principals leave within two years. Turnover is even higher in schools with higher concentrations of students of color and lower-income families, a troubling trend we’ve also seen in Portland.
My colleagues are aware of these issues and are already addressing them by creating new programs to support our current leaders. For example, PPS piloted a new leader development program to support principals with one-on-one coaching and workshops. The district also plans to create a new system that will help track leaders’ strengths and needs, flagging areas that need support.
More steps are needed. But as the person responsible for ensuring that all of our students excel, I am delighted to see plans underway to ensure future graduates can reach their full potential.
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