A safe and welcoming place for all students
April 5, 2017
Growing Great People is our mission. To do that, we must make Gladstone schools a place where each student feels respected, included, and safe.
Our four schools work toward those goals in a variety of ways. Each month, Kindergarten students at the GCCF learn about different character traits, from teamwork to kindness. At John Wetten Elementary, teachers begin each day with a morning meeting, helping children in each class connect with and support each other. In April Kraxberger 7th graders will celebrate Challenge Day, a daylong community building experience. Gladstone High students led an assembly at Kraxberger to address bullying, sharing ways the high school builds a positive school culture.
As a school district, we are pro-actively working to end discrimination in Gladstone. A team of 25 teachers, staff, and administrators meet frequently for equity training. Our School Board attended a weekend of equity training. Next fall, this work will expand to include all employees.
This fall, I invited students and parents of color to meet with me to talk about their experiences in our schools. Like most folks, these families love the Gladstone community and the small-town experience here. They appreciate the way our teachers connect with students and families.
However, I also learned that in our classrooms, on our playgrounds, and on the streets of Gladstone, some people don’t feel welcome. Students of color often feel excluded and self-conscious. They do not see their culture, history, or experiences reflected in our schools. Too often, kids just brush off these feelings.
While we aspire always to do what’s best for kids, it’s time to recognize that our words and actions sometimes impact students in a negative way. What we heard from students and families saddens us, and strengthens our resolve to make our schools and our community safe, inclusive, and welcoming for all. Gladstone does not tolerate bullying, discrimination, or racism in any form. Our long-standing board policy clearly states:
The Gladstone District prohibits discrimination and harassment based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, disability, and marital status.
Our mission statement, “Growing Great People,” includes the guiding principle, “We believe diversity strengthens our school community.”
These are the values of our schools and our personal commitment to each student, community member, and staff member. I invite you to join us in this work, starting by serving as a role model for our kids. We need to show through our words and our actions that we value, respect, and include each and every person in our community.
If you hear of any bullying or discrimination in our schools, please reach out to school administrators, counselors, or to me. When we all work together, our differences make us stronger. This is an essential first step in Growing Great People.
August 11, 2016
Last night in Gladstone, something terrible happened. A man shot Police Officer Lee Jundt, then took a woman hostage in a sandwich shop on McLoughlin Blvd.
My heart sank when I heard the news. I’ve known Lee for 20 years, and he served as our first School Resource Officer in Gladstone Schools. He is an outstanding police officer, and an even better person. He cares passionately about the community of Gladstone.
This was not the first time Officer Jundt put his life on the line to protect the people of Gladstone. Luckily, he will be OK, thanks to his bulletproof vest.
Last night the Gladstone Police and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office were true heroes. They moved quickly and carefully to resolve this frightening situation, saving the life of the hostage. The rest of us do not say thank you often enough. Too often, we take for granted that police officers run toward trouble when the rest of us run away from it.
What a shock to be reminded that even in a safe town like Gladstone, violence can happen. But what makes us Gladstone Strong is that we are a community who takes care of each other.
This weekend’s Gladstone Community Festival was a great example of this. Hundreds of families turned out for Movie in the Park. Sixty groups marched in our parade! With 190 classic cars on display, Portland Avenue businesses had hundreds of customers. Kids competed in dodgeball, watermelon eating, and The Gladiator Race. The SHOC run raised thousands for cancer research.
Together we had fun, supported good causes, and got to know our neighbors. We showed the world that this is a community that pulls together: We volunteer, we support local businesses, and we celebrate family life. Our schools do their part in Growing Great People, and so do all of you.
This is the Gladstone we love. We are so grateful to the Gladstone Police Officers who protect this special place. My challenge to each of you is to take the time to say thank you to the heroes in our community.
A message from Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the daily gifts our community gives to Gladstone kids. In so many ways, it’s a second family that provides love and support every day.
Our volunteer team is over 1,100 strong! Walking the halls of our schools, I see mentors working with children one-on-one. Some are lunch buddies, providing gentle guidance and a caring adult role model. Many are tutors, helping students work step-by-step through academic challenges.
Gladstone’s faith community partners run the Clothes Closet. Together five churches provide for kids’ basic needs — jeans and hoodies, new socks, and warm jackets. With those gifts come self-esteem and a way to fit in, allowing students to better focus on learning.
Literacy is another important gift to our kids. Rotary gives dictionaries to each third grader and funds preschool Story Hour events. SMART volunteers share their love of reading with Head Start preschoolers. And the Clackamas Bookshelf this month provided 10 free books to every child served by Backpack Buddies – over 1000 books in all!
Each year, foundations, businesses, and service groups give over $350,000 per year to Gladstone schools. This added funding enables us to continue long traditions like Outdoor School while also adding innovative programs like Kraxberger’s college-readiness system and trauma-informed education at John Wetten.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of all this giving comes when students pay it forward. Gladstone High athletes donate a day of yard work for seniors. Elementary and middle school students launch a canned food drive. Seeing your example, Gladstone kids not only get involved in community service, but they also understand its importance.
On behalf of Gladstone Schools, I want to thank each and every one of you who helps our students. Day in and day out, you make a real difference to Gladstone kids. Because of you, I am confident that we are indeed Growing Great People.
A turning point for Oregon schools
A message from Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart
You hear it every day: Oregon’s graduation rate should be much higher. Our students should be achieving more in math, reading, writing, and science. Those things are absolutely true. What will it take to reach our goal, a 100% graduation rate?
The Oregonian recently published a series of articles including a comparative analysis that ranks all states’ school performance and education spending. By their calculation, Oregon ranks 38th in student performance and 39th in education funding.
How do we move Oregon schools from 38th to number one? First, we need to analyze the problem. Why do students drop out? Back in 2010, the Gladstone school district did some research. We surveyed and interviewed 52 dropouts to ask them why they did not finish school. What we discovered is how complicated life is for students living on the edge.
It’s a long list: foster care, neglect, domestic abuse, mental illness, and poverty. Divorced or separated parents, learning disabilities, parent incarceration, homelessness, and family members battling addiction. Most dropouts surveyed were coping with more than one of these challenges.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, over 26% of Oregonians experienced three or more of these Adverse Childhood Experiences. We cannot simply wish away the resulting impacts to Oregon’s education, health, mental health, and workforce. We need to take action.
How to raise the graduation rate
This is not rocket science. To provide early intervention for at-risk students, we need more adults in schools. Lately, that need has not been met. In fact, at the worst point in the Great Recession, many Oregon school districts laid off up to 25% of their staff. Seven years later — despite an economy on the upswing — we have yet to add back most of the positions we lost.
To build a school system with a 100% graduation rate, we need more staff than we had before. Teachers. Counselors. Social workers. Truancy officers. Psychologists. Intervention specialists. Summer school staff. Tutors. Mentors. We need adults to serve the full spectrum of student needs through smaller class sizes, more course options, and more support programs.
Getting there will require a partnership with the Oregon Legislature. Only with their help can Oregon make the needed investment to reach that goal. More adults in our schools would make a life-changing difference to struggling students in a state where half of our children live in poverty, 13 percent are challenged by learning disabilities, 10 percent are English learners,and 35 percent are disadvantaged minorities. Where 26 percent of students have suffered three or more childhood traumas.
The will to change
Will Oregon voters and taxpayers support investment in schools? The answer is yes.
Oregonians value K-12 education more than any other state service. Year after year, residents identify school funding and education quality as our state’s top two needs. In fact, a statewide survey showed that 81 percentwould be willing to support increased K-12 funding through either higher taxes or reallocation of funds from other areas.
Despite our overwhelming public support for education, in the past 10 years, the portion of state funds spent on K-12 schools has actually decreased from 44 percent to just 39 percent today.
But what if the legislature simply decided to provide K-12 funding equal to the national average? That 15% increase would cost Oregon about $2 billion in the next biennium. In my school district, that funding level would provide full spectrum support from 50 more highly trained staffers, from teachers and counselors to learning specialists and more. To put that in perspective, this would be a 50 percent increase over our current staffing for these positions.
Coincidentally, $2 billion is also the gap between Oregon’s current school funding, and what is needed to implement Oregon’s Quality Education Model [QEM]. Published in 1999, the QEM was created by a collaboration of state business leaders, legislators, educators, and parents. It lays out a data-driven blueprint to provide every student in our state with an education founded on best practices.
For 16 years, Oregon has ignored the QEM. Setting outcome-based goals for education, has not been part of determining our state education budget. As a result, 28% of Oregon students do not graduate in four years.
Oregon is now at a turning point. Making our schools the nation’s best means we need more adults in schools — not just school staff, but social service and health care agencies, non-profits, and volunteers. For 16 years, we’ve had a plan in our back pocket with the power to transform schools. But we need to fund it. The only question remaining is whether the Oregon legislature has the will.
What’s the Buzz?
Bob’s Blog, May 2015
Spring is the busiest season in our schools, as students show the growth they’ve made this year, the schedule is filled with trips and competitions, and staff begins planning for fall. What’s new in Gladstone? Quite a lot!
Chinese program expands: The Confucius Classroom launched this year in grades K-5 and grade 8 has introduced students to a new language and culture. Students have tried their hand at Chinese knot weaving and paper cutting, sampled dumplings, learned to use chop sticks, and mastered some words, songs, and greetings in Mandarin. Some even had the opportunity for a Skype video chat with children in China!
The program has been so popular we plan to expand it next year by adding a second teacher. The new teacher will provide Mandarin language classes at Gladstone High School, giving students an added option for world language study.
Smarter-Balanced testing underway: The new state exams [replacing the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) tests for reading and math] are underway. I am pleased how hard our students and staff are working to make this a smooth process and a learning experience. The testing will be done in several shorter sessions to allow the flow of classroom learning to continue, and students will be given as much time as they need for the tests.
Grades three to eight began Smarter Balanced testing the first week of April and will be done by June. Our 11th graders begin May 11, finishing about two weeks later. The following grades are not tested: K, 1, 2, 9, 10, and 12. However, a few 12th graders have the opportunity for OAKS re-testing as needed to meet graduation requirements.
OAKS science testing is also underway for students in 3 grade levels only. Gladstone High 11th graders took the test this winter. Fifth graders completed this before Spring Break. Grade 8 students will take their test in May.
Technology planning complete: A group of 40 community members and staff partnered this fall and winter to create a Technology Plan to move the District forward. A copy of the plan is available here.
The group targeted six focus areas for technology advancement, including
1) Technology use to enhance student learning
2) Professional development in technology use
3) Student access to technology
4) Family engagement via technology
5) Community partnerships to increase technology access and enrich learning
This work will involve a new technology advisory group who will help chart a course for these strategies moving forward, beginning this spring.
The first steps include infrastructure improvements in all schools to serve foreseeable technology use. It also includes creation of a grant program to support staff who are pioneers in launching innovative technology efforts in Gladstone classrooms.
Food Pantry succeeds: The volunteer-run food pantry opened last fall and has already become an important resource to community members facing hard times. In April alone, we provided food to 125 people.
Partnerships with Dave’s Killer Bread and Bob’s Red Mill bring frequent donations of bread and whole grain products to fill the shelves. With the recent addition of a refrigerator and freezer, the pantry is working to develop additional partnerships to supply produce, dairy products, and meat.
How can you help? Currently, we are seeking volunteers for weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly two-hour shifts on Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. or Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
We also need food donations delivered to Gladstone High during school hours: peanut butter and jam, tuna & canned meats, pancake mix & syrup, canned fruit, pasta & spaghetti sauce, and fresh produce.
You may be hearing in the news about the new Smarter Balanced state tests Oregon students will take this spring. These state tests replace Oregon’s OAKS tests that have been used for many years.
Oregon is not alone in this. Seventeen other states will join us in taking this exam, related to the new Common Core standards in use across most of the nation. [A similar exam, the PARCC, will be offered in 12 states.]
As with the OAKS tests, Oregon requires these exams for students in grades 3 to 8 and also grade 11. At John Wetten and at Kraxberger, students will begin testing after Spring Break. At the high school, testing starts May 11. We will not have results until next fall.
The Smarter Balanced exams have a different format than the multiple-choice tests we used to give. They include some multiple-choice questions, but also require writing at each tested grade level, new question types, and a multi-step task that allows students to show research, writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
A math task for fourth graders, for example, may require students to use information from three tables to prepare a plan for a family trip to the zoo, given a $100 budget, taking into account ticket prices for various ages, lunch menu costs, and gift shop items.
Gladstone schools will give the test in parts over a few days, not all at once. While the tests will take longer than the OAKS tests, students will be tested only one time. Students may take as much time as they wish to complete the test.
Teachers have been preparing Gladstone students to take Smarter Balanced tests in different ways at each school. At John Wetten Elementary, teachers are using new math and English curriculum tied to the Common Core standards. Teachers are using practice tests, and students are practicing computer and keyboard skills in technology class.
At Kraxberger Middle School, teachers have been trained in the new testing format. Students understanding of math and reading standards has been checked twice this year. Math classes are practicing problems with short written answers and also multiple-choice questions. In addition, language arts classes are practicing evidence from the text to support their arguments.
At Gladstone High, teachers are reinforcing skills that will be tested. This includes practice citing sources to support one’s opinion, and practice problems similar to those used on Smarter Balanced tests.
If you have questions about the Smarter Balanced assessments, the testing process, or testing students with an Individual Education Plan, the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon PTA will host an information forum in our district next week.
I invite you to bring your questions for Oregon’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton at this event. Please join us on Tuesday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the Gladstone High School auditorium, 18800 Portland Avenue.
Parents and guardians from several Clackamas County and Portland east side school districts will attend. Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters and refreshments will be provided. Limited childcare is available to those who pre-register by calling 503.655.2777.
Gladstone is a small town in a big world. How do we help students connect with people around the globe, and help them gain an understanding of cultures different than their own?
One strategy this year is our new Chinese program, which introduces children to the Mandarin language, and Chinese culture. Funded by the Chinese government, our Confucius Classroom program is taught by Chinese teacher Miao Fan, who travelled over 6,000 miles from her home in Changsha City to spend this year in Gladstone.
With eight years’ teaching experience at a Chinese primary school, she brings an energetic, engaging teaching style to her work with Gladstone kindergarten classes, John Wetten Elementary students, and eighth graders at Kraxberger Middle School.
You may have noticed your child practicing what they have learned: Chinese greetings like ni hao [hello], children’s songs like Two Tigers, or the art of Chinese paper cutting.
While making Chinese dumplings, learning Chinese playground games, and telling Chinese stories, Gladstone students are also learning the values and traditions of a culture very different than our own.
By getting to know a teacher from China, our students are also learning how much we share with the people of China, from a love of sports, camping, and crafts to our commitment to education.
Long-term, I see this cross-cultural experience opening many doors for our students. Some may choose to study Mandarin in college. Others may enrich their lives through travel. Someday, as business professionals or diplomats, they may even build trade and diplomatic relationships with other nations.
I am grateful to Ms. Fan for both the creative lessons she brings to our classrooms, and her willingness to help build a bridge between our cultures. I can’t wait to see what our students will do with what they learn!
What it takes to Grow Great People
Bob’s Blog, October 31, 2014
This fall, the Gladstone School Board chose a new mission: Growing Great People. Our mission is broader than reading, writing, and math. Long-term, we are working to build the next generation of our Gladstone community: good neighbors, productive workers, loving parents, and community leaders.
Starting before children enter kindergarten, Growing Great People means we look at the complete picture of a child’s life, from hunger and health care needs to a nurturing family and connections to community. It means involving students in service projects and protecting their environment. It means helping them plan for college and careers. It means connecting kids with adult mentors who care.
Our mission rests on a foundation of nine core beliefs that guide our actions and strategies to help students learn and grow. Here’s what we believe:
• Teaching is the heart of what we do. In Gladstone Schools, we teach children to be life-long learners, always reaching for their next goal. We know lessons happen both in the classroom, and outside it. In future blogs, I will provide a glimpse inside our classrooms, with more information about the Common Core state standards, and the new state tests, Smarter Balanced.
• Every child can learn. Because different children learn in different ways, we adapt teaching strategies to meet their individual needs, and provide extra supports when needed to discover unique strengths.
• We educate the whole child. School is about more than academics. It is also about music, art, technology, and physical education; it’s about teamwork and community service, as well as sports, afterschool clubs, and healthy eating habits.
• Students will be ready to learn if we meet their social and emotional needs. Before kids can learn, they need a good breakfast. They need to feel safe and healthy. They need someone to listen. They need clothing and school supplies. Working with community partners, we help fill these needs so students can focus on learning.
• Diversity strengthens our school community. When people of different cultures, languages, races, experiences, perspectives, abilities, ages, and beliefs come together in our schools and community, we learn new ways of thinking, and strategies to build more inclusive schools.
• We have a collective responsibility for student learning. It takes a community to grow great people, and each of us shares in helping students: educators, parents, volunteers, partners, and community members.
• Early childhood programs build the foundation for school and life success. Preschool, library story hour, play groups, and other activities teach children the verbal skills, literacy, number skills, and social skills needed to be ready for the rigor and pace of full-day modern kindergarten.
• We can give each student the hope, confidence, and skills to fulfill their highest potential. To help each student find their niche, we need to be more than teachers. We are also coaches, advisors, and cheerleaders, helping each youth to dream, set goals, and try harder to do their best. We can also partner with parents to learn new strategies to support their child.
• Our schools — the center of our community — should build partnerships between families, volunteers, students, and staff. Growing Great People is such a big job that no person or organization can do it alone. To succeed, we rely on dozens of partners: parents, mentors, social service providers, non-profit agencies, the Gladstone Police Department, the local health clinic, the public library, youth sports leagues, pediatricians, and our faith community.
We are all pulling together to build the future of the Gladstone community. I’m grateful to have your support to help us accomplish so much with students both in our classrooms, and outside school. Little by little, day by day, each of us has a role in Growing Great People.
Welcome back to school! Already our schools are bustling with hard-working students and staff diving into lessons and classroom projects. As we begin the year, I want to remind families that regular school attendance is one of the most important ways to ensure academic success.
Did you know that across Oregon, one-fifth of students miss at least 10 percent of school days every year? That’s about 2 days per month. Attendance in Gladstone mirrors the rest of the state, so this year our district is trying some new strategies to improve regular attendance.
While missing 2 days each month may not sound like a lot, over the course of a whole school year, it results in a month of lost learning time. By eighth grade, frequently absent students have missed a full year of school!
Whenever students miss a day of school, they lose the opportunity to learn and practice new skills. Sadly, the research shows that most chronic absentees never catch up. This impacts not just their grades, but also their confidence, and their success in life.
A child who is frequently absent develops gaps in learning that make each lesson more challenging– in reading, math, science, social studies, technology, and more. Besides that, they miss out on fun experiences and after school activities that help them connect with mentors and build friendships.
Regular school attendance is not just a good idea – it’s the law. If the school notices your child developing a problem with chronic absenteeism, administrators will schedule a parent conference with you. Students whose absenteeism continues may receive a letter from the Gladstone Police, referral to Attendance Court, or even a fine. Sending your student to school regularly can prevent all those things.
Good habits begin early. Kindergarten students with strong attendance are more likely to be academically on track by grade 3. Sixth graders with strong attendance are more likely to graduate. Because Gladstone teachers want every student to achieve their highest potential, I urge each family to make school attendance a priority.
We want your child to be in class. How can you help? Schedule medical and dental appointments after school or on early release days. Plan family vacations on no-school days, such as winter break, spring break, or summer. As Gladstone’s school attendance improves, so will academic achievement. When schools and parents work together, we can help each child succeed.
Planning is underway for the 2014-15 school year, and the Gladstone District’s Budget Committee met this week. For the first time in many years, I am happy to report that our budget situation is improving, bringing $1.6 million in improvements to our students thanks to increasing enrollment and a slight increase in state per-student funding.
This winter, we gathered input from nearly 500 parents and district employees. Over 75 parents participated in focus groups at each school, 20 percent of parents participated in a district wide survey, and 46 percent of employees provided input.
Here are the priorities we heard:
• More adults in schools
• More time to learn
• More professional development for staff
• Lower costs to families
• More support for the social/emotional needs of kids
Our draft budget was created with these priorities in mind. Here are a few of the changes proposed:
1) Total teaching staff will increase by 8+ full time positions over 2013-14 budgeted staff. Some of this additional staff will be added to accommodate increased enrollment. Some of these positions were added in the middle of the current school year, and others will be added this fall.
2) Average class sizes will be slightly reduced, with most class sizes around 29 for elementary students, 32 for middle school and high school students. While a few classes will be larger, most will see an improvement over recent years, a trend we hope to continue.
3) Four days will be added to the school year, meaning more learning time for students. An added six hours of professional development time for teachers will be added next year to allow teacher teams time to get familiar with new textbooks, Smarter Balanced testing, and the Common Core standards.
4) New textbooks and learning materials will be purchased. Last year we bought Common Core math books for grades 2-12. For next year we will have new math books for grades K-1, and new English Language Arts books for grades K-5. Some English language arts instructional materials for grades 6-12 will also be purchased next year, with the remainder in the following year. New education materials for Science and Social Studies will be next on the horizon.
5) Many student fees have been reduced or eliminated, lessening the burden on struggling families. At every Gladstone school, course fees have been eliminated.
Besides reducing fees, Gladstone Schools will keep lunch prices the same as this year; this program, funded in part by the federal government, continues to break even, without impacting the District’s operating budget. Athletic fees will not increase, good news for the 46 percent of Gladstone High students who participate in athletic teams.
Enrollment in Gladstone schools continues to increase, as it has for the past five years. This has resulted in added funding from the state (allocated on a per-student basis), ensuring that our kindergartens are at full capacity, and that we can continue to add new programs and hire staff to meet student needs.
The past five years have been a tremendous challenge for every Oregon school district. However, through these hard times, the Gladstone District team has pulled together, demonstrating teamwork, resilience, and innovation in continuing to move education forward for our students.
Graduation rates have increased. College credit opportunities have increased. New education and social service programs have launched, from proficiency-based grading, full-day kindergarten, and trauma-informed practice to the new Clothes Closet, and the Family Resource Coordinator program. Students have made tremendous individual progress, and we anticipate this year’s test scores will reflect dramatic improvement, particularly for students who have struggled in the past.
I am proud and grateful that Gladstone continues to be recognized for education innovation and leadership, both in Oregon and nationally. As the tide of Oregon’s economy begins to turn, I am confident the added staffing and school days next year will amplify the momentum and success of our district team, so every student benefits.
Bob’s Travel Blog #10: April 7, 2014
Since returning from China on Saturday, I have been reflecting on my experiences there.
The Chinese education system has many wonderful aspects, but our American public school system is better. We have a far greater commitment to all students regardless of their family economics, race, handicapping condition, and natural abilities. We encourage students to problem solve and to ask the question “why?” We encourage students to practice leadership and community service. We recognize that adolescents develop their academic achievement at different rates, so we make sure doors to success and learning are still open to them at 20, 30, or 40 years of age.
Principal Lu shared with me that he wrote a paper to the Secretary of Education regarding what he saw in Gladstone last November. He witnessed students working in areas of interest. He saw students using their problem solving skills to create a variety of solutions to the same problem. He saw students with their hands-on their learning.
There is also much to learn from the Chinese educational system. Make no mistake; they have made tremendous strides in the last 20 years. Their standards are world class. They have mobilized a nation behind a common mission. They hold education and educators in the highest regard.
The trick for Oregon is to hold onto the strengths of our system while embracing higher standards. It will be slippery slope — one that outside influences and groups such as the Legislature, the Federal Government, education-related entities, or advocates for special interests could influence in negative ways.
I believe it is possible to do both — to raise education standards and to embrace Bloom’s Taxonomy. Our students deserve the best education system in the world, and as education leaders we need to be vigilant to ensure that is what they receive.
The contradictions within China are profound. One sees Bentleys in Beijing but bicycles loaded with cargo in Xi’an. There are modern skyscrapers in cities, and very poor dwellings in rural areas. Students from affluence and cities can access the best education, while students with disabilities are placed in orphanages. China is trying to find the path to prosperity. I asked one of our guides what he thought China would like in ten years. He thought for a few seconds, then gave a one-word reply – “America.”
The challenges to the Chinese environment are significant. The smog is profound in the cities. When we arrived in Beijing, the visibility was less than 2 miles. The wind kicked up overnight and we experienced two beautiful days. However that only meant the pollution went somewhere else. It is becoming a significant issue in China. They rely heavily on coal-generated power. The consequence is shown with a society that coughs and hacks their way through a day. I won’t be surprised if they mount a national campaign to reduce pollution. If they do, I won’t be surprised if they are successful.
The Great Wall is simply amazing. Its scale is beyond belief, especially since it was entirely built by hand.
Watching the flag raising at dawn in Tiananmen Square is an unforgettable image. At dawn each day the flag is raised in a formal ceremony in front of thousands of Chinese. The Chinese arrive early to secure their place behind the rope. There were at least 20,000 gathered on a Thursday morning. It is solemn and respectful — a simple ceremony. The flag is delivered by soldiers and raised at exactly dawn while the Chinese national anthem plays. The entire ceremony lasts for only 5 minutes.
I believe the Chinese have early learning figured out. Kindergarten is a wonderful experience for children, focused on a creative, structured plan, not on academics. Letters, sounds and number recognition are not the priority. A joyful experience is the priority. A positive school experience is what drives their early learning. The reading and math skills are important, but a distant second in importance.
I am so appreciative of the hospitality extended by Secretary Lee and Principal Lu. They attempted to meet every one of my interests. When I expressed an interest in seeing Chinese life in a rural setting they took me to Secretary Lee’s hometown, which is a farm village. The scenes were a stark contrast to the cities.
They sent me into many classrooms. I never felt they were only showing me the best of their system. When I went into classrooms it always turned into questions and answers. I was peppered about questions regarding a wide range of topics. I never felt it was scripted.
They both invited me into their apartments. They introduced me to their families and we broke bread together on many occasions. Secretary Lee is a delightful person.
Meals are an event. Each meal would last from one to two hours and many dishes would be prepared. One lunch we were served at least 24 dishes! The food was colorful and interesting. It was delicious. I learned to not ask what it was and simply go by taste. There were heads on some fish and poultry; we also ate tripe, sea snails, chicken feet and many new vegetables.
One unforgettable moment was the final lunch with the school administrators and deans. I was sitting next to the Party Secretary. (A Party Secretary is embedded in each school to insure that students and staff stay on course with the party’s goals.) In an organizational chart should would be parallel to the principal but the reality is that the party secretary is more powerful.
The party secretary stood and proposed a toast to me. I stood beside her and the group all grabbed their cameras. Even though they were speaking Chinese I knew they were egging her on to do something. She shook her head, laughed and moved a step away. I figured out they were telling her to hug me so I wrapped both arms around her and the cameras started snapping away to the wild laughter of the group.
There were so many unusual and heartwarming experiences. Things that stand out are visiting Secretary Lee’s parents’ memorial. Crashing a traditional Chinese wedding. Seeing a thriving vinegar business run out of a back room of a residence. Seeing and living amongst the rich traditions and cultural events. Most importantly, experiencing the Chinese love, commitment, and devotion to children.
In closing, I want to thank the Freeman Foundation in Massachusetts for underwriting the majority of the expenses for this experience. Their goal is to enhance the international opportunities and experiences of American students. As a first step, they have created the US/Chinese Administrator Shadow Exchange Program. They hope more partnerships will develop like the one between Gladstone School District and Xi’an Middle School No. 89.
I am pleased to announce that Principal Gaoyuan Lu and I have signed an agreement between Gladstone High School and Xi’an School Number 89.
This will establish a long-term friendship and partnership between our two schools to enable continued communications and intercultural learning between our two schools. We hope to eventually establish an exchange of students and teachers between our schools to deepen the level of cross-cultural understanding and learning.
Here is a picture of our agreement.
On Monday, all 3,000 students at School 89 gathered outside for the flag ceremony. Uniformed students entered with the flag, marching with their legs high and straight.
I made a speech to the crowd, telling them, “I have seen many treasures and rich traditions in China. I’ve experienced many wonderful things and met many interesting people. I’ve found that in both the USA and China that the most precious gift is our children.”
The speech was video recorded and I should have a copy when I return home. Standing on stage with me was Secretary Lee. He translated the speech.
This weekend was quite an adventure!
Mr. Lee picked us up at 8:30 Saturday morning for what we thought was a day trip to the mountains. These are the mountains that our guide last week wanted to point out to us, but unfortunately, the city was so smoggy that the mountains could not be seen.
We went to a university in Yangling and toured an agriculture and native species museum. Next we went to the mountains and rode a gondola from the top of one mountain to the top of another. Let’s just say that there was nothing about the gondola that looked safe!
Then we went out to dinner only to find out that we were spending the night. We Americans had not packed any clothes, a razor, nor even a toothbrush.
The goal of this visit was to show us more traditional Chinese living. That goal was accomplished –in part — when a centipede fell out of the sink faucet when it was turned on.
We went to bed and awoke the next morning to cannon blasts. By now we have learned that this means a wedding procession is underway. We went to take pictures and before we knew it, we were having our photo taken with the bride and groom.
Next we shared a traditional Chinese breakfast, followed by a three-hour visit at Faman Temple, the largest Buddhist Temple in China. It is impossible to describe how large this facility is. I was given some incense to burn for my most important wishes.
Mr. Lee showed us where he hid as a four year old (near his home) when the monks tried to find him.
Then we went to a farmer’s home (similar to Amish households in the U.S.) for a traditional farmer’s meal. The meal was very good. The one thing about Chinese food is you are not done when you think you are done. When we were full, the soup arrived. It is called one mouth noodle soup. It is served in a bowl about the size of a medium sized soup bowl. Just when we finished, another bowl arrived. They kept arriving until we had each eaten five bowls.
Then of course we posed for pictures with the owners of the farm. We are in everyone’s pictures!
Afterward, we drove to Mr. Lee’s home town, a farming village. We drove to near where his parents are buried. I talked him into driving us to their memorial, and we took pictures of him there. Of course we got very muddy because it had rained all day.
Afterward, we drove to a monument for an ancient emperor. The rock sculptures in front of the facility were made in the year 700 A.D. In China, that really isn’t considered very old, because many things in China are more than 2,000 years old.
Then just when we thought we were headed to our motel to clean up for dinner, we drove directly to the restaurant to share a meal with some folks who were very excited to see us (and really dressed up). At this point, neither Colin nor I had shaved in two days!
The food is very interesting. We have now eaten cow’s stomach, sea snails, and the total body of a fish that looks like a smelt. For the second meal we had a fish with the head still attached; its mouth was wide open, with teeth showing.
Finally that night we made it back to our motel.
I again visited classrooms and teachers at School No. 89. Today we also visited the junior school (grades 7-9), the kindergarten (3, 4 and 5 year olds), and the primary school (grades 1-6).
The first thing to note about the junior school is the number of kids in a classroom. The average is 64 students with one teacher, and no other adults. Today, Colin Cameron, who is our lead Oregon contact for the Education Shadowing Exchange Program, accompanied me. Our first visit was with a group of 9th grade students. Just like the previous day, they asked lots of questions. Again, they have a high interest in knowing everything about Oregon students.
We then met with English teachers and discussed their practice. The conversation could easily have lasted for two hours, but we only had 30 minutes on our tight schedule.
Next we observed a teacher lecturing to 64 students. The teaching style is direct instruction, meaning that the teacher delivers information, and students record the information in workbooks. There was little interaction, engagement, or questioning.
Principal Lu told me that he wrote a lengthy paper to his superiors after visiting Gladstone schools in November, describing how meaningful Gladstone classes were to students. He observed our students following areas of interest at Gladstone High School, and how each student was free to pursue their own learning.
Next we went to the kindergarten school, which serves children age three, four, and five. It was very cute and the children were precious. The classes looked a lot like U.S. classes, with two major exceptions. School lasts from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In this way it also serves as childcare. The second is that all instructors are college graduates from early learning programs. In Oregon, only kindergarten teachers are required to have a college degree.
Our day ended with a visit to a primary school, serving grades 1 to 6. There we were rockstars! Kids followed us everywhere. We had the chance to meet with a fourth grade class (50 students in a class with one teacher, grades 1 to 6). The younger students asked lots of questions just like the older students. The younger students had very good English skills.
Thursday morning we started our school visits, with the opportunity to shadow a Chinese school administrator. Our group of Oregon educators scattered throughout the region. Several administrators had long car drives, and another flew two hours to the north to an area near Mongolia. Middle School No. 89 is located in the oldest part of Xi’an. It is inside the City Wall.
Mr. Lee, who is Secretary for the No. 89’s International Program, picked me up at 9 a.m., and we arrived at his school shortly after 10 a.m. Mr. Lee is very gracious and well informed. He was an English teacher before becoming Secretary. The Secretary position is similar to what we call a vice-principal.
Photo: Pictured are my hosts Mr. Lee and Shellie. Mr. Lee painted this calligraphy in about 15 minutes while I watched in his office. It is a Chinese poem. He is sending it with me as a gift. Mr. Lee is a famous artist in China and his work is often seen in publications.
Embedded within the school is a Chinese Government Secretary. I will try to find out today what the role of the Government official is, but I suspect it is to ensure that the objectives of the government are being met.
My first task was to give a lecture to an English class. All classes appear to have 55-60 students. The seating is theater style. I will try to measure a classroom today. They appear to be smaller than classrooms in Gladstone High School.
Students are eager to know about students in the U.S. The lecture was basically a 45 minute question & answer session. One of the teachers did film part of my second lecture. Hopefully we can download some film so that portions of this can be shared with Gladstone students.
Students here have asked questions about how American students perceive Chinese students. It should be noted that the Chinese really want to be respected by Americans. They are on a mission to gain international status similar to America.
They asked lots of questions about U.S. students:
• study habits
• daily life
• parents (they wanted to know if parents put as much pressure on US students as they feel in their own life)
• Do all American students have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
They also wanted to know about:
• the NBA (one students held up a magazine with Damian Lillard on the cover)
• the military
• American students’ social awareness
• How to get into an American University
My second lecture was in a theater with two classrooms and approximately 120 students. We then visited numerous classrooms for short Q & A sessions. In total, I had the opportunity to meet with 300+ students.
We discussed how the U.S. education system’s goal is to create opportunity for all students. I shared that one of our strengths is laws that protect the rights of individuals regardless of wealth, handicapping condition, gender, or race. I shared that these laws provide a great base but our work is far from complete.
We discussed service learning, clubs, sports, family life, separation of church and state, faith (one student wanted to know how students acquire faith), and many more questions. Students were incredibly respectful. In China, students stand when they ask a question, and I noticed that all eyes stayed on me.
In class, students sat on narrow benches similar to a balance beam. They laughed, clapped, cheered and were so warm. I told them that in many respects they are no different than students in Gladstone — they,too, have hopes an dreams for their future.
In one lecture I handed out Almond Roca candy to each person who asked a question. After a session one young man came forward to asked me how old I was. After I told him he said I looked much younger. I didn’t think about giving him a candy. He pulled me close and whispered in my ear, “May I have candy? I want to give my girlfriend some candy.” I told him he was working it. I then handed him three candies. A few hours later I saw him in another class and asked him how it worked for him. He replied (with a smile), “that is just between us, okay?”
Photo: This is some of the delicious food we’ve enjoyed.
Photo: This is a group of Chinese teachers working together to analyze the national test data.
Photo: This is another gift from Mr. Lee.
Photo: Here is a local resident delivering some recycling.
My time is short today because we need to pack and be ready to move to the next location in two hours.
We visited Middle School No. 89 and it was very nice to see Principal Lu, who visited Gladstone Schools last November. The group greeted us warmly and we met with a delegation of students. The students were very kind and excited to meet Americans.
We toured the school and several student groups performed. The students selected for performances were 7th – 9th grade. The older students are immersed in their studies for the national exams. As I shared yesterday, the exams are very stressful and represent incredibly high stakes.
After our short visit we went to lunch. The food has been amazing and very good. Yesterday I tried chicken feet. There are a lot of bones in a chicken’s foot!
In the afternoon we visited an Arts magnet school, The Shaanxi School of Art. The school focused on a specific style of opera that uses traditional instruments, dance and expression. Students performed on many different instruments and we watched the training of dancers.
Here is a picture of me presenting a gift to Principal Lu, a Gladiator banner.
Yesterday, we attended lectures regarding the Chinese education system. The Chinese view their education reforms as one of the most ambitious efforts in the history of public education. Approximately 250 million Chinese children attend public schools.
Education is compulsory for nine years, beginning with first grade and ending at ninth grade. Over 99 percent of children attend primary school.
Private schools are one of the fastest growing enterprises in China. Many educated parents view them as superior to the public schools. Many retired public school principals start private schools, after facing mandatory retirement from the public system at age 53. At the end of their public school career, the principal usually has many contacts within the business community, and those contacts become business partners after retirement.
The principal will frequently take his “best” teachers with him when he starts a school. Teachers can make twice as much working in a private school. Families pay $50,000 yen (roughly $10,000 U.S.) as an entry fee into the private school.
The goal for parents is to prepare their child (many families fall within the one child rule) to enter a prestigious university. The lecturer’s daughter, for example, attends Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A student’s future is dependent on his or her performance on the national exams. Major exams that determine the course of a student’s education occur at 9th grade and again at 12th grade. Approximately 50 percent of students enter a trade school at the end of 9th grade.
Photo: Here is our group in front of the library at Shaanxi Xueqian Normal University, where teachers are trained.
It is hard to know what the high school completion rate is, but only 79 percent of students attend a secondary school (high school). Of this number, approximately one-half attend a trade school and the remaining students attend a regular secondary program. The drop out rate is much higher in rural areas than in urban areas.
In a future blog I’ll discuss the social issues that have resulted from the heavy emphasis on assessments. So much rides on their success on the exams that it is all consuming for families. Students attend school for roughly 12 hours per day and may have an additional 1-2 hours of travel time to school and back. Saturday is not mandatory, but many students attend support programs on Saturdays. Sunday is normally spent at home studying under the watchful eye of parents. The emphasis is on the child’s education.
The goal in China is to spend 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product on education (compared with about 7.5 percent in the U.S.). Classes with 50, 60 or 70 students and one teacher are fairly normal.
Today we visit Middle School No. 89. This happens to be Gladstone’s partner school in the exchange program. [Principal Lu, the school’s leader, visited the Gladstone School District for five days last November.] Tomorrow, our group will separate and each of us will spend approximately five days with our partner administrator.
Principal Lu and I will have discussions regarding a Memorandum of Understanding between Gladstone School District and Middle School No. 89.
Here’s my schedule for today:
Morning: Overview of basic education policies and challenges, presented by Professor Li Hui from Xi’an International Studies University
Afternoon, Lecture 1: Recruitment and evaluation of principals and teachers
Lecture 2: Professional development of principals and teachers, presented by Professor Liang Zhaoyang, Dean of Principal Training Faculty
Tonight is the Welcome Dumpling Banquet with Mr. Sun Jianning, Director of International Office, Education Department of Shaanxi Province and Mr Guo Wei, Secretary General of Shaanxi Education Association for International Exchange.
Michelle Obama and her daughters are also in Xi’an. They arrived at the Terra Cotta soldiers as we were leaving.
Next we toured the City Wall of Xi’an.
Photo: Kelly Carlisle and Bob Stewart bike along the city wall in Xi’an.
Our visit to the city’s Muslim Section was very lively, and gave us a glimpse of China’s cultural diversity. [Photo below]
Then we visited Pagoda Square.
Today was designed to help our group of American educators get used to the time change (15 hours ahead of Oregon) and get settled into a country a long way from home.
Bob’s Blog #5: March 4, 2014
Food for Thought
Some of the most important supporters of Gladstone students aren’t in our classrooms – they’re in our kitchens.
Gladstone Schools has a wonderful nutrition services team that serves breakfast and lunch every school day, not just in our schools, but for preschoolers served by Head Start and Family Stepping Stones. On a typical day, we serve 1,500 meals, making us the biggest restaurant in town.
We consider our cafeterias to be extensions of our classrooms, an opportunity to help students learn healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. That is why our principals are involved in menu development. In our kitchens, nothing is fried – instead, entrees are baked or roasted. All milk is low fat or non-fat. And our cooks use whole grains for foods kids love, from pizza crust and corn dogs to muffins.
Kids like the food. Just don’t tell them that it meets strict state and federal requirements that limit the amounts of fat, salt, and sugar! Our staff has strived to keep meals affordable, while maintaining a self-supporting food program that does not impact the District’s education budget.
Over 50 percent of Gladstone students qualify for federally-funded free or reduced-price meals. Free breakfast for all of them means students start their school day focused, with more energy to learn. Our experience shows this dramatically boosts student achievement.
Ask a student what their favorite cafeteria food is, and you may be surprised to hear that it’s carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, or grapes. Each of our schools has a salad bar available daily, and every student meal includes salad, fruits, or vegetables.
Our cooks’ Harvest of the Month program features a different locally grown fresh fruit or vegetable on each month’s menu. Don’t be surprised if “locally grown” means it came from our organic gardens at Kraxberger Middle School or the Gladstone Center for Children & Families.
Food, of course, is about more than nutrition. It is about building community. Gladstone’s school cooks do that in a special way by serving a special Holiday Lunch at each of our four schools in the fall. Parents are invited to share a meal with their children, and staff help serve the food. The cooks treat us to a special turkey lunch, with green bean casserole, cranberry relish, and miniature pumpkin pies.
Here’s the good news: Since 2007, the child obesity rate has been declining. Thanks to the efforts of parents and schools, we are turning this situation around, leading to life-long health benefits for kids. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….Bob’s Blog #4: January 22, 2014
A Community that Gives
Gladstone has so many special people. Some folks work alongside me at the Gladstone Education Foundation (GEF), a volunteer-run non-profit that supports Gladstone Schools. This hard-working team of 16 includes parents and community members, as well as current and retired staff from Gladstone schools.
The results they’ve achieved are visible in each of our schools: books for kindergarteners, new risers and guitars for the elementary music program, the Kraxberger community garden, plus science and technology equipment at Gladstone High. During Oregon’s economic downturn, this support has been more important than ever.
Since 2000, the GEF has devoted their time and talents to raising and giving funds to Gladstone schools and student needs. They have provided staff training on suicide prevention, support for 6th grade Outdoor School, and equipment from athletic gear to computers. They have also supported social service programs for Gladstone kids, like the Backpack Buddies nutrition program for struggling families.
Through community events like the GCCF breakfast, Dinner & Auction, the Garage Sale, and the Golf Tournament, the GEF raises thousands of dollars and brings our community together in support of kids. If you have not yet had the chance to be a part of this, I invite you to attend one of our fun events!
The next opportunity is the Dinner & Auction on Saturday, February 15 at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds. This year’s event has a casual “country chic” theme, a delicious spread of barbecue, and some exciting auction items, from a helicopter tour and gift baskets to get-aways at Palm Springs and the coast. To donate an auction item or to order tickets, $40 per person, call Tammy Tracy at 503-655-2777, ext. 577.
Tax-deductible donations to the Gladstone Education Foundation are another easy way to support students and programs across our community. Send your donation to:
Gladstone Education Foundation
17789 Webster Road
Gladstone, OR 97027
Love to volunteer? Consider serving with the GEF Board of Directors, and lend your expertise to this effective, collaborative group of leaders. You will build community connections, plan fun events, and help make decisions about GEF contributions to our schools. For more information, call GEF Executive Director Kathy Beykovsky at 971-227-2655. We’d love to have you join the GEF team.
Blog post #3: December 20, 2013
The pursuit of happiness
What happens in our classrooms is important. But learning doesn’t stop when the last bell rings. In all our schools, students are involved in afterschool programs.
To succeed in school and in life, youths need experiences that connect them with adult mentors, a positive peer group, skill mastery, and a way to explore career options. These gifts are provided in different ways for different ages by the free afterschool programs in Gladstone schools.
Gladstone Center for Children & Families offers a bimonthly Story Hour. This afterschool event provides toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten children time to enjoy books and practice listening and pre-reading skills. Kids five and under get a free book to read at home so their vocabulary continues to grow.
John Wetten Elementary will launch after-school classes in January, from chess and Legos to cooking, knitting, Leopard Leaders, choir, and crafts. To make the program a success, adult mentors are needed to teach classes one hour per week. (To volunteer, call Angela Johnson at 503-656-6564, ext. 265)
Kraxberger Middle School offers several ways for kids to get involved and stay safe after school, from choir, volleyball, track, and robotics to KAOS club activities like soccer, kickball, chess, crafts, ultimate Frisbee, and hip hop.
Gladstone High has something for every student, from the electric vehicle club and the robotics team to The Laureate literary magazine, the Green Club, Drama Club, Anime Club, the Ultimate Fan Club, and Key Club, as well as 17 competitive sports teams.
The research is clear: Students involved in afterschool activities show improved attendance and engagement in learning, as well as improved school achievement.
If your child has not yet discovered these opportunities, encourage them to try something new in 2014. This is a fun way to discover strengths, work with a team, learn problem solving, and build a resume for college applications.
If you have a skill to share with young people, we invite you to look for an opportunity to become a mentor in Gladstone Schools. (To volunteer, call Angela Johnson at 503-656-6564, ext. 265) No matter what age you work with, you will make a lasting difference in the life of a student.
Blog post #2: November 14, 2013
Learning to serve
With the end of the term approaching soon, many families will be focused on their child’s report card. While a report card provides important information on student academic progress, I want to remind you what you likely know already – that one of the most important things kids learn in Gladstone school is not graded. I’m talking about community service.
Being a good community member is something we teach our students every day, in every class. Walk into Gladstone High, and you will see the results: Students welcome you to their school, hold the door for you, and offer to help carry your heavy load. Ask them for a favor, and they stand ready and eager to help.
In the past month, we’ve seen two examples of GHS students practicing community service. Homecoming week, 167 athletes and Key Club members fanned out across the community for a day of service called Gladstone Gives Back. They went door-to-door, helping neighbors with yard work and other chores to spruce things up. It was their way of saying thank you for everything our community does to support our schools.
Last Thursday, Gladstone High held a special event to honor veterans in our community. Student greeters ran into the pouring rain with big umbrellas to welcome their guests, and then took the time to talk with them about their military service. The jazz band and choirs performed to honor more than 60 veterans. In the end, there was a feeling of connection between the older generation and the high school students that comes from mutual respect.
Community service starts long before high school in Gladstone. At the Gladstone Center, kindergarten students help decorate placemats for a fundraiser or by create art for the Board Room walls. They learn early that every person, no matter how small, can help their community.
At John Wetten Elementary, we teach children three simple rules: Be Kind, Be Safe, and Be Responsible. Through Positive Behavior Intervention & Support, we celebrate those behaviors, and reward them in every classroom, every day. This fall these young superheroes raised over $23,000 for school programs through their jog-a-thon.
Kraxberger Middle School reinforces the same message through their Power Time class. This unique course offers each student daily strategies and reminders to help, serve, and include others. Middle schoolers also learn the importance of service through hands-on projects like this month’s canned food drive, from November 18 to 22. Helping others, they learn, is a win-win.
Learning to serve – at home, at school, and in our community –is an essential part of education in Gladstone schools. That’s why it’s the cornerstone of our mission, Growing Great People.
Blog post #1: October 22, 2013
Points of pride
You may have heard in the news recently about the state’s annual report cards for Oregon schools and districts. Please bear in mind that these ratings, based on a complex mathematical formula, do not tell the whole story of what’s happening in our schools.
I am proud of our schools’ recent accomplishments. Highlights include:
• Kindergarten students benefited from an expanded education program that includes music, physical education, technology, and access to school meals.
• John Wetten students exceeded the state average for 3rd grade math and 5th grade reading. The school is a front-runner in piloting Common Core mathematics.
• Kraxberger students exceeded the state average for 6th & 8th grade reading, 6th & 7th grade math, and 8th grade science.
• Gladstone High students exceeded the state average for reading, math, writing, and science, with 95% of last year’s seniors passing state assessments. Graduation rates exceeded the state average by more than 10 percent. Over 68 percent of graduates from the class of 2010-11 enrolled in college.
Our schools are known for innovation. Gladstone is a district that engages students, teaches technology, encourages creativity, models sustainability, supports families, and builds community, starting well before children enter our schools.
Our community’s work is growing great people. Thanks for being our partner in making that happen for each child we serve.