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Welcome to Scoop On Schools

If you are wondering how to find the best Portland area school for your child, we’ve got you covered! Follow a step-by-step process created by two Portland moms who have gone through it themselves and want to give you the scoop on how it all works.

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Entries in Portland Public Schools (11)


Faubion K-8

Faubion School is a PPS neighborhood school located in NE Portland. Much of the Concordia neighborhood lies within its boundaries. Most PPS neighborhood schools offer the same standard curriculum, so the real differences lie in the extras each school can offer and that very important, but somewhat intangible, school community. I’ve spent the past few weeks talking with several people about the school’s community and how neighborhood schools come up with ways to fill in the gaps left by spending cuts. Here’s what I’ve found:

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The Odyssey Program at Hayhurst - profile

The Odyssey Program is a K-8 “Living History” PPS Focus Option program housed at Hayhurst Elementary in SW Portland. Since 1994 Odyssey has used mixed-aged classrooms, team teaching, as well as team learning to create an experiential and thematic learning environment.  Comprised of 3 grade-level clusters (K-1-2, 3-4-5, and 6-7-8), each with 3 teachers who work together, Odyssey students have a unique, integrated learning experience.  Here’s the scoop:

Scoop Half-Full:

Imagine a school where kids don’t know boredom; where they learn through the lens of different periods of history while taking on identities from that era; where they work freely in teams of their choosing, in a program designed to challenge them at their own ability levels.  Then also imagine that the curriculum is carefully culled from a variety of resources, designed by teachers dedicated to working in such a unique program.  Welcome to Odyssey, the PPS Focus Option at Hayhurst, where in any given season you might walk into Ancient Rome, Renaissance Europe, or the Oregon Trail.  And if you’re kid isn’t a history buff, don’t dismiss Odyssey just yet.

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Richmond School - profile

Richmond School is a K-5 Japanese language Focus Option in SE Portland, entirely populated with students via PPS’s lottery.  It’s an award-winning partial language immersion program where half the day is taught in English, and half in Japanese. 

Scoop Half-Full:

Parents of all stripes – some from Japan, some with Japanese roots, some who are drawn to Japanese culture, and some that simply like the idea of a language immersion program – send their kids to Richmond for the challenge of learning Japanese.  Over the course of their 6 year elementary career students thrive in an international atmosphere comprised not only of the school’s families, but also the staff which include teachers and interns from Japan who are learning from its model immersion program.  Richmond students become fluent in speaking, reading and writing Japanese (no easy feat with its intricate alphabet!).  And all the students’ hard work culminates in a trip to Japan during the 5th grade where they work on individual research projects. 

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Creative Science School - profile

Creative Science is a Focus Option School in Southeast Portland that boasts a constructivist approach to learning, which means that instruction is designed around the scientific method of making and testing hypotheses as a means of learning.  Heavy emphasis is placed on problem solving, fostering curiosity, and doing projects as proof of learning.  Formerly housed at Bridger Elementary, Creative Science was given its own home a few years ago and has been gathering momentum ever since.  Here’s the scoop:

The Scoop Half-Full:

Creative Science’s cheerleaders cite three reasons to come here – student engagement, challenge, and creative instruction.  Because students have opportunities to make choices about their learning and experiment they take ownership for their learning in an active way. Teachers also are heavily invested in Creative Science’s methodology, which requires a flexible curricular plan and an educationally adventurous spirit. 

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Charter Schools – Who Should Get In? 

I struck up a conversation with a mom at a Northeast Portland playground lately that could have threatened to undermine all the obsessive research I’ve been doing on education lately. We were each pushing our infant sons in baby swings, commenting on life with kids, the weather and Portland neighborhoods. I learned she lived nearby and was a decade-long Portlander. She learned I lived in Southwest Portland and had lived here for not quite two years. It didn’t take long for our talk to turn to education.

She had just received word that her son had been admitted to the Emerson School. She was happy about it, even though her first choice had been the Metropolitan Learning Center, where her son had been waitlisted.  I congratulated her on her happy news and mentioned my interest in learning more about the charter schools and other forms of alternative education in Portland. Her smile disappeared.

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Irvington Elementary - profile

Irvington Elementary is a PPS neighborhood school located in close-in NE Portland.  When it comes to the non- focus option neighborhood schools within PPS, there isn’t much variability with curriculum, so comparing apples to apples means looking at the bells & whistles, and the school community as a whole. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting to several parents over the last year and here’s the scoop:

The Scoop Half-Full:

The Irvington community takes a lot of pride in its school which is evidenced by all the support it shores up from a stellar auction each year to a solid volunteer corps.  The efforts really pay off in terms of the school – which averages at a very reasonable 22 kids per classroom, by the way – having such “extras” as a full-time PE teacher for next year, a variety of arts with local artists doing residencies throughout the year, field trips, a SMART reader program, a soccer field, community garden, a robust playground area, and a wonderful library in the center of the school. 

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Woodstock -- Mandarin Immersion Program 

Woodstock Elementary is a neighborhood school in SE Portland that also contains the only elementary Mandarin immersion program in the Portland Public School district. As part of the Oregon Chinese Flagship, Woodstock provides the first six years of a program that escorts learners of the language all the way through their senior year at the University of Oregon. The school offers 50/50 immersion, meaning half of the day is taught in Mandarin and the other half are taught in English.

The school holds tours the first Tuesday of every month, and I’d strongly urge anyone considering an immersion program for their child to attend early on in the school research process. My tour guide was a parent of two students enrolled in the program who helped me understand just how much commitment and focus is required to learn this complex and confusing language, and exactly why it’s not a good fit for every child.

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Winterhaven - profile

Winterhaven is a school with a definite identity.  A math and science focus school in PPS, it is known far and wide for its brainiac kids and high expectations.  Once a school that hand-selected its students, it now gets its students more democratically via the lottery, but it still attracts families and kids that want challenge.  But it isn’t just a math and science school - there are some definite surprises that await you at Winterhaven.  Let’s take a deeper look.

The Scoop Half-Full:

Lovers of Winterhaven point to its rigor, strong curriculum, high expectations, and focused community.  Kindergarten through fifth grades have only one class per grade level, with class size hovering in the high twenties, and so families are guaranteed to get to know one another.  Sixth grade is an additional “intake year” when they double the number of students per grade, so it is a good one to keep on your middle school screen if your child likes an academic atmosphere.

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Bond Proposal Falls Short -- Or Does It? 

You don’t have to be an anti-tax curmudgeon to be concerned about Portland Public Schools’ bond and mill levy proposals. Portland homeowners already pay pretty hefty property taxes and higher-than-average utility rates. Nevertheless, most parents I talk to plan to vote yes on the mill levy increase that will preserve more than 200 teaching positions that are certain to be otherwise cut thanks to the state’s massive budget shortfall. The bond, which promises to renovate and upgrade all of the district’s schools, isn’t exactly a slam-dunk, however.

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Buckman Arts Elementary - profile

Buckman Arts Elementary, is a K - 5 PPS Lottery Choice option, which infuses the Arts into most of its teaching – as well as a neighborhood school. This means if you happen to live in its district, you’re an automatic in; and if you don’t, you must lottery in. We spent a wonderful Kindergarten year at Buckman & spoke with several parents with kids currently there.  Our collective impression:

The Scoop Half-full:   

Because Buckman incorporates the arts into the academic learning, it tends to highly engage kids in school & learning from the outset. Assuming your child has an innate interest in performance, music or art, s/he will be excited to go to school – and if you tour, you may very well feel the palpable joy of happy kids in the hallway.  Buckman has a full time art teacher who teaches skills, theory, and technique in several mediums.  There’s also dramatic arts, music, and dance as separate classes (in 6-week rotating blocks) – and plenty of art activities in the classrooms themselves.  Another bonus is the city pool in the basement which makes for a more rounded PE program (in as much as PE is a program these days anywhere…)

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