Reflections from Education Innovation Officer, Colt Gill, on His Statewide Engagement

Looking Outside Oregon…

The last four days I have shifted away from statewide engagement to look to communities beyond Oregon’s borders. I have been attending the Community Convention by the America’s Promise Alliance. America’s Promise Alliance launched the GradNation campaign in 2010, building on 105 dropout prevention summits convened across the country to raise awareness and inspire action. GradNation is now a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to end America’s dropout crisis. Attending this has allowed me to learn from state and community leaders from across the country who have all focused improving graduation outcomes for students.

I have learned about public-private partnerships, programs that target historically underserved students, and policy initiatives that have made the transition into widespread practices and positive outcomes for children. These communities and states have proven that when an entire community comes together they can improve outcomes.

One of the many examples I learned from is the Academies of Nashville. This program includes over 350 private and public partnerships. It has improved their graduation rates by more than 9 percentage points over the last four years. Perhaps more importantly it has set students up with a plan for their future after high school graduation. Check-out this 5-minute video to learn more:

The research of this week and next I’ll be wrapping up the statewide engagement with more conversations in Lane, Douglas, Marion, and Multnomah counties. Later this month or early in November we’ll be able to share back what we have learned from Oregon’s students, parents, educators, and community leaders.


Culturally Sustaining Practices in Portland


I learned a lot. I learned from students and dedicated staff members, community partners, university leaders, and district and school leaders in Portland. Last week I visited three programs in Portland, some of which serve multiple districts. I got to see culturally responsive and sustaining programs in action. Programs that truly connect with the students, families and communities they serve. The staff, volunteers, and partners have a deep dedication to the people they serve and the mission they are trying to accomplish. This commitment to community and mission is one commonality these three programs share. But there are more… all three rely on cross-agency, inclusive partnerships to reach the community and their mission and they all three willingly share their methods with others so that their success can be replicated.

The programs were:


The list of partners is impressive:


I really did learn a lot! Each of this programs is focused on helping students reach graduation with a plan for their future. Each one of these programs recognizes that Oregon is becoming more and more diverse and that schools must change their practices to reach all students and families. And, each one of them is moving beyond talk and plans to serve our most marginalized students…they are doing it and they are a model for all of us.

KairosPDX knows that education is a gateway to future opportunity. They start with families and their youngest children through their Early Learning Network. The KairosPDX Early Learning network is focused on  providing direct and  indirect, culturally competent consulting and services to current in-home providers and families/friends and neighbors who serve under-represented youth including low-income youth and youth of color. They also offer a Family connections program, born of the belief that families are first teachers and children exist in the context of their families. The family connections program also serves as a broker and connector to community resources. Oh yes, and they operate a K-3 (eventually to grade 5) school or multicultural service learning academy.

OPEN School East is OPEN School’s newest 7th-12th grade college-prep school in East Portland. It helps students excel academically, graduate, and go to college. They focus on rigorous academics, teachers who are given time to develop meaningful relationships with students, and a lot of love and support – yes, I witnessed this…it is present in the halls, outside the school,  and in the classrooms. And, it seems to work. Their students advance an average of 2.5 grade levels in math and reading in their first year in the program.

3 to PhD is a unique partnership between Faubion K-8 School and the Concordia College of Education. This is a partnership that has been in existence for several years. It has now grown to a new level. The K-8 and the College of education will soon be housed within the same building! They aim to create a safer, healthier and more educated community. Their goal is to close the opportunity gap for the most marginalized and vulnerable children and families in the community. 3 to PhD hopes to restore a school as the heartbeat of a community. The effort includes:

  • Wrap-around services for children and families;
  • early childhood education;
  • health & wellness programs;
  • STEAM (science, technology engineering, arts and math) educational opportunities; and
  • one-on-one tutors, mentors and coaches from Concordia


Innovation is happening in Oregon! Over the next two weeks I will continue to visit with students, families, educators, and community in Lane, Marion, Linn, Benton, and Douglas Counties. Look for a report of all our findings in late October or early November.

State Chronic Absenteeism Plan Survey Tool: Share Your Perspective Today

House Bill 4002 (2016) directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Chief Education Office, in cooperation with other state education agencies, Department of Human Services, Oregon Health Authority, Early Learning Division, and community and education stakeholders, to develop a statewide plan to address chronic absences of students in the public schools of the state.

The Legislature has specifically required the following four elements to be included in the plan:

  1. A process for publicly disclosing annual information on chronic absence rates for each school.
  2. Guidance and best practices for all schools and school districts to use to track, monitor and address chronic absences and improve attendance.
  3. A process for identifying schools in need of support to reduce chronic absences and improve attendance.
  4. A description of technical assistance available to schools identified as being in need of support, including technical assistance that will be provided by the department or the office.


This survey is being sent out to “ground test” some of the practices that have been identified based on national and Oregon research and by the members of the HB 4002 Workgroup. This survey is one part of a community and statewide engagement strategy to help refine and prioritize elements of the final plan and consider local context.

The survey will be open until October 14th. Please feel free to share in your networks, and thank you for taking a few minutes to share your voice and perspective.

Reflections from Education Innovation Officer, Colt Gill, on His Statewide Engagement

Innovation in Southern Oregon


Community involvement was the main theme as I heard from over 20 community conversations across Southern Oregon last week. I was able to visit with students, families, educators, and many community partners from the South Coast region, through the Medford-area, and on to Klamath Falls. We heard from citizens of Douglas, Coos, Curry, Josephine, Jackson, Klamath, and Lake counties.

The level of community engagement was second-to-none that I have experienced in my statewide tour so far. Community partners included other government agencies, non-profits, philanthropists, involved citizens, and private industry and business leaders. All were focused on improving experiences and outcomes for students and the community as a whole. All these leaders see education as a primary driver for the success of their local community. They focused on the need to invest in quality programs in the schools that not only addressed skill development and relevance to each student’s future…but also developing a school culture that let’s each student know they are appreciated and cared for.


Two program areas where these distinct Southern Oregon Communities have invested their efforts include:

Trauma-informed practices with restorative practices that help students feel welcome and successful and engaged in school. And,

Strong high school-to-post secondary education. They have developed powerful partnerships with OregonTech, SWOCC, KCC, and RCC that are delivering high quality college credits to high school students in the area. All the K-12 and college partners in this effort want to see further commitment by Oregon’s education leadership to ensure the full transferability of credits earned by students at these institutions.

Many thanks to our Southern Oregon and South Coast education partners. Your dedication to students is clear and the results of your efforts both serve as an example across the state and further the success of your students and communities.


Healthy Kids Learn Better

Last week I had the opportunity to connect with the Health Kids Learn Better Coalition at Upstream Public Health in Multnomah County. The focus of our convening was the intersection of health and education and included other critical factors like transportation. We discussed the need to support the whole child (and their family) so that they could be ready to learn and succeed at school. I heard about a number of ways that schools can partner with other public, non-profit, and private organizations to help support students and their families, these included programs with proven outcomes like Playworks and Safe Routes to School. But we also discussed missing elements of support within Oregon’s schools. Oregon has well below the recommended ratio of each of these critical school professionals who provide vital support for students and learning: School Counselors- 1 for every 250 students (ASCA), School Psychologists- 1 for 500-700 students (NASP), School Social Workers- 1 for every 250 students (SSWAA), and School Nurses- staffed at levels sufficient to provide the range of health care necessary to meet the needs of school populations: 1 for every 125-750 students depending on the local needs (NASN).

Each community I have the opportunity to connect with adds richness to our dataset and underscores the need for regional flexibility in our approach to policy that will support improvement of Oregon’s graduation outcomes.


Innovation in Central Oregon

Innovation was the theme during my multiple day visits with educators, students, families and community leaders in Warm Springs, Bend, La Pine, Redmond, Madras, Prineville and other Central Oregon communities. The area has a thriving a ESD, partnerships like the Better Together-Regional Achievement Collaborative, and engaged community groups such as the Let’s Talk Diversity Coalition.

I learned about efforts to expand the  Juntos program in the region’s schools given the high graduation and college persistence rates of Latino students who have been through the program. I met with high school students considering the field of education from the Teach Oregon Program. They were brilliant students who could help to diversify Oregon’s teaching force. I met with a group of business leaders that are working with the Bend-La Pine School District to design an innovation zone to teach technology and entrepreneurial skills. In meeting with members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, I learned of their efforts to infuse more culturally relevant and sustaining programming in the schools that support their children. These programs are essential to both connect with the students and community and to maintain local culture.

Reflections from Education Innovation Officer, Colt Gill, on his Statewide Engagement

Educators Umatilla

Engaging in Union, Umatilla, and Morrow Counties…

Data, partnerships, and student-centered pathways were key takeaways after visiting communities in Northeast Oregon last week. This region has been a long-time leader in developing relevance for high school students by delivering college credits to high school students through the Eastern Promise model. This is an impressive partnership across the districts served by Intermountain ESD, Blue Mountain CC, and Eastern Oregon University. The program stretches down to the elementary level with “Academic Momentum” setting students up with a 10-year plan for their future school and career goals. Students in Eastern Promise classes had a 28 percentage point higher high school completion rate (2013-14 data: 68.5% completion rate for Oregon students vs 96.6% completion rate for Eastern Promise students) and their college persistence rates are over 40 percentage points higher than students across Oregon.

La Grande and Morrow County School Districts highlighted outstanding community partnerships. Well over forty partners come together in significant ways to make La Grande’s Career Technical Education (CTE) Program meaningful and future-focused for students. Programs are offered in natural resources, industrial technology, visual arts, performing arts, business, and culinary. Morrow County School District has created partnerships that have tripled their financial investment in preparing students to be at school every day ready to learn. Strong partnerships between advocacy groups and the school districts in the three counties was also a highlight. The Umatilla Hispanic Advocacy Committee has developed deep partnerships with the region’s school systems. The partnership and agreements between the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Pendleton School District serves as a model for Oregon. One highlight of the model partnership is that the tribe offers Native language instruction in the schools, this program enriches the experience of both American Indian students and non-American Indian students.

All of the programs were ambitious, creative, and motivational. However, one student-led program at Umatilla School District stood out as truly inspirational. Please take five minutes to check-out this student project focused on changing a culture to empower girls to become involved in robotics and engineering:

Oregon’s STEM Hub Network Welcomes Two Americorp VISTA Members

In 2015, Oregon’s statewide network of eleven regional STEM Hubs was selected as one of 27 communities recognized by the National STEM Funders Network for innovative cross-sector partnership work focused on alignment and coordination of systems to support applied learning opportunities for Oregon’s learners. With support from the Chief Education Office and the Oregon Department of Education, South Metro Salem STEM Partnership (SMSP) and the Southern Oregon STEM Hub applied and were awarded two full-time Americorps VISTA volunteers through the STEM Funders Network’s STEM Ecosystems Initiative to support communications and the integration of youth voice and empowerment in design and decision-making regarding applied learning opportunities.

SMSP Welcomes Communications volunteer

The South Metro-Salem STEM Partnership, hosted by Oregon Tech in Wilsonville, is excited to welcome an Americorps VISTA member in August to support capacity-building goals in the area of communication and outreach for the entire state STEM Hub network.  Ian Zentner, a recent computer science graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, will bring enthusiasm and skills developed through his extracurricular management of a college community radio program to the work of the STEM Hubs.

Ian will support the STEM Hub Network in two main ways.  First, he will facilitate the development of shared communication and marketing materials that support the development and distribution of some common core messages.  This work is critically important in strengthening the larger network infrastructure that unites the STEM Hubs.  Second, the South Metro-Salem STEM partnership developed and launched an online platform in early 2015, Oregon Connections, for industry professionals to engage with educators and students to expose students to the real-world applications of academic concepts and available career pathways.  Investments from the Department of Education and Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s Office of Community College and Workforce Development allowed for the expanded licensure of Oregon Connections to teachers throughout the state, beginning in Fall 2016.  Ian will support the development of training and recruitment materials to bring industry and community professionals into the system to support student learning in all areas of the state.

The Southern Oregon STEM Hub Welcomes Youth Voice VISTA Member

The Southern Oregon STEM Hub is thrilled to welcome an Americorps VISTA member, Allison Sweeney, who will support the Hub’s work in incorporating youth voice into STEM initiatives. With Allison’s leadership as a program coordinator, The Southern Oregon STEM Hub will pilot an initiative called the Chief Science Officer program beginning Fall 2016 with an eye to building a statewide network of young STEM leaders who will be empowered to take action and to be at decision-making tables regarding STEM opportunities in their schools and across the State of Oregon. Chief Science Officers are peer elected middle and high school students who build leadership skills and use them to bring exciting STEM experiences to their campus in order to foster a culture of curiosity and a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, helping to build a diverse and creative workforce. They also represent their peers in the STEM community and provide youth input to leaders in education and industry, providing a bridge between our current learners and the fastest growing sector of careers. Allison will focus her first year on building relationships with schools, community organizations, and industry partners to create a network of committed adults who will support the training and work of 50 CSOs who will be elected in Spring 2017. Over the next three years we hope to support at least 80 Chief Science Officers representing all 13 school districts in Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath Counties.

Meyer Memorial Trust and the Northwest Health Foundation Announce the Winners to their Equity Illustrated Contest

Earlier this year Northwest Health Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust held an “Equity Illustrated” contest to help move toward a more equitable Oregon by asking “How would you illustrate equity to help your fellow Oregonians understand?”. Recently the winners were announced; three adult entries and one youth. You can see the winning illustrations by going to the Northwest Health Foundation website here.

Reflections from Education Innovation Officer, Colt Gill on his Statewide Engagement

Two Days in Hood River and Wasco Counties…

In coordination with the Statewide Regional Collaboration Summit at the Columbia Gorge Community College this week, I was able to convene with many more students, families, community members, board members, and educators from three districts over the course of three days: North Wasco County School District, Hood River County School District, and Dufur School District.

My biggest take away from these visits was the incredible amount of community involvement in these school systems. There were so many community organizations represented at the meetings and many more that interact daily with the students and the schools. These organizations cover a wide range of supports, from Juntos, which engages with Latino families and helps focus on high school graduation and paths to higher education, to the Dufur Garden Clubs that work with students in the FFA greenhouse, and everything in between.

Community support also came from a variety of public agencies and nonprofits including the Columbia Gorge ESD, the Department of Human Services, the education foundation, private donors, Helping Hands Against Violence, The Next Door, and several more. This is a community that comes together to ensure their students are supported.