Archive for May, 2014

Starting A College Stampede

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

RACHEL GRAHAM CODY, Wilamette Week , January 29th, 2014
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Image: Christ Onstatt

Giant white sheets of paper cover the walls of Susan Anglada Bartley’s Advanced Placement English classroom at Franklin High School, the long pages listing the 88 seniors in her classes, the colleges they’re trying to get into, and where they have been accepted. The list includes Portland State, Oregon State and Willamette University, but also bigger fish such as Georgetown and Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

What’s remarkable is that the lists exist at all.

For years, Franklin, with its high poverty rate, struggled simply to get kids to graduate. It now boasts a record-setting grad rate and a stampede of seniors headed for college.

Bartley leads Franklin’s Advanced Scholar Program, which she helped create in 2007 and which has cleared a pathway to college for 256 Franklin students, many of whose parents never attended college. Along the way, Bartley and other Franklin educators have made Advanced Scholar the most popular student organization at Franklin. The program has grown from 89 students in its first year to 421 this year and now meets in the school auditorium.

“People don’t talk about ‘if’ they are going to college anymore,” says 17-year-old senior Quinn Nottage, who has applied to Occidental, Reed and NYU. “They talk about where they are going.”

Students, teachers and administrators alike credit the program with lifting achievement at Franklin. In 2009, the school failed to graduate even half its African-American students; now it has the top black graduation rate in the state — 88 percent. Every senior who has met the requirements of Franklin’s Advanced Scholar Program has been accepted by at least one college, and 90 percent have gone on to attend four-year institutions.

“I’ve been at Franklin 25 years, and it has only been in the last three that I’ve written college recommendations,” says William McClendon III, who teaches AP Psychology and U.S. and African-American history and is a longtime mentor in the Advanced Scholar Program. “Now I’m writing dozens.”

These are all outcomes Portland Public Schools officials say they want. The Portland School Board and Superintendent Carole Smith have for years sunk the district’s money elsewhere: millions of dollars to outside consultants and alternative programs aimed at closing the district’s persistent racial and economic achievement gaps.

Meanwhile, Franklin’s Advanced Scholar Program has turned around the high school at an annual cost of $60,000, covered mostly by grants and without a dime of direct support from the district.

Since the program’s start in 2008, Bartley and Franklin Principal Shay James have cobbled together funding from the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association, its foundation, Franklin’s general fund, and the National Education Association, a federal Small Learning Communities grant supported by the Gates Foundation. They’ve also received money from a grant from the Nike School Innovation Fund, which runs out this year.

District officials say they want to keep the program alive, and Smith has pointed to Franklin’s success as evidence of the district’s “focused effort” to close its racial and economic achievement gaps. Other district officials have credited Franklin’s success to Courageous Conversations, a $2.5 million racial sensitivity training program.

Bartley bristles at this suggestion, pointing out that the program was around for years before Courageous Conversations, and last November she asked district administrators to stop taking credit for a program they haven’t funded.

“I can’t peddle myself around, teach four classes and run this program. I’m almost at wit’s end,” Bartley says. “I see all these kids succeeding and getting into college, it’s a dream come true. These kids have the faith to take five or six AP classes and work so hard. Why aren’t they getting supported from the district?”

Bartley, 35, says she understands personally the transformative power of school. She describes herself as unfocused and headed in the wrong direction while growing up in Buffalo, N.Y. “I could have really gone off track,” she says, “but my teachers had such high expectations for me, and that made a huge impact.”

Backed by a federal grant, Bartley, James, school administrators and other teachers in 2007 looked for a way to emphasize acceleration, not remediation, to improve outcomes at Franklin. They discovered that students (especially those whose parents had not gone to college) were intimidated by the whole notion of higher ed, and realized those students needed more support in preparing for college.

The result was Advanced Scholar. Students can join anytime before their senior year. They must commit to four AP classes, maintain a 2.75 grade-point average, stay out of trouble and participate in at least two extracurricular activities (one has to be non-athletic). They meet with mentors twice a month and attend regular Advanced Scholar meetings, where they learn how to organize their time, apply for summer internships and decode financial aid forms. Tutors from Reed College are available every day after school.

Peer pressure brings a lot of students to their first Advanced Scholar meeting, and a sense of being part of something big keeps them there. Advanced Scholar graduates have a Facebook page where they write posts about college, answer questions and emphasize that current Franklin students have a legacy to uphold.

“It’s gotten to the point where no one even asks if you are in Advanced Scholar anymore,” says Jessica Robinson, a 17-year-old senior who says she knew she wanted to go to college but had no idea how to get there before she joined the program. ” It’s more surprising if you are not in it.”

Bartley has done all this on a shoestring: The program pays teachers up to $45 to mentor students for one hour per month, but everyone agrees mentors spend far more time working with students. (Every administrator at Franklin is also a mentor, though they are not paid extra.) Bartley has spent money on a summer planning session and iPads, but also on such attention-getting efforts as Advance Scholar sweatshirts, distinctive graduation stoles, plus pizza and tacos for the monthly meetings.

The district’s chief academic officer, Sue Ann Higgens, has suggested $50,000 for Advanced Scholar in next year’s budget, and another $50,000 to Roosevelt and Madison high schools to start similar programs there. “The superintendent has charged me with improving our graduation rates and closing our racial opportunity gaps,” says Higgens. “This is a strategy that I think anyone can see works toward that.”

Bartley — who last June won the National Education Association’s prestigious H. Councill Trenholm Memorial Award for her work — says replicating success at other schools will require on-the-ground leadership, not planning imposed from the top.

Others agree. “We’ve all been through that cycle where the district gives you a half day of training, you land on the ground at 75 miles per hour, and then they give you two years to produce results,” says Franklin science teacher and Advanced Scholar mentor Dave Sherden. “Advanced Scholar was a bottom-up thing, not top-down. It would be a huge mistake to try to implement this as a whole program.”

Madison Principal Petra Callin says Advanced Scholar has great promise and that it would be a mistake to plunk it down in other schools as is. She’s already removed prerequisites for enrolling in AP classes and is now looking at how Madison can accelerate learning for all students.

“If one structural thing worked and worked exactly the same everywhere, every school in the country, all schools, would be knocking it out of the park,” Callin says. “There are a lot of things we know work, but how they work in any building is different place to place.”

Brenda Ramirez, 17 and a senior who grew up speaking Spanish at home and was self-conscious of her vocabulary and accent, says she had assumed college was not in her future until she joined Advanced Scholar. She’s already been accepted at Portland State and is waiting to hear from the other schools on her list.

“This program,” Ramirez says, “lets you know you are equal to anybody.”

2013 NEA HCR Award Winner Susan Bartley

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Award Ceremony in Atlanta, GA, July 2, 2013

Publ. 8/14/13 by the National Education Association

Franklin thrives on ‘culture of smartness’

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Jennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune, 11 April 2013

Christopher McBee is deciding between staying close to home or braving it in the cold Midwest.

The aspiring engineering student has been accepted to Oregon State University and Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisc., which gave him a nice scholarship offer — but all his friends are going to OSU.

So McBee, 18, a senior at Franklin High School, will spend the rest of the month doing what most of his college-bound peers are doing: more campus visits, more talks with friends and alumni and financial aid officers, and more soul-searching about one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

More than ever, Franklin students have been focusing on going to college — and positioning themselves for success — thanks to a program called Franklin Advanced Scholars. About 400 students school-wide, nearly a third of the school, are participating.

“It does create this culture around college,” says Franklin counselor Holly Vaughn-Edmonds. “It really has pivoted Franklin to this culture of smartness.”

This year, all 66 senior Advanced Scholars will graduate and go on to a 2- or 4-year college, up from 48 last year.

All have successfully completed four AP classes (or three AP and one dual credit) during their time at Franklin, in addition to meeting behavior, grade and attendance standards. They’ve met regularly with their assigned mentor to discuss topics such as resume building and the college application process.

Founded five years ago as Franklin was struggling to increase its rigor and attract more students, the program is the only one in Portland Public Schools and could soon be a model statewide.

Teachers and administrators created the program “at a time when our school was looked down upon,” says Susan Anglada Bartley, the Advanced Scholars coordinator and AP English teacher at Franklin.

Cleveland High, which Franklin is often compared to, has their International Baccalaureate program for high-achieving students. Franklin sought to create a college-prep environment of its own, and “now we have people asking to come to Franklin from Cleveland,” Bartley says.

All of the Advanced Scholars have gone on to college.

Franklin’s population grew more diverse and low-income after taking in Marshall students, and Bartley made it her job to ensure those students were reflected in their most rigorous courses.

Franklin offers 15 AP classes and seven dual-credit courses, in which students earn credit at Portland Community College. “At other schools, tracking happens,” Bartley says. “We don’t allow tracking. Any kid who gets a D in English, or gets sent to the assistant principal’s office — we say ‘Have you thought about Advanced Scholars?’ “

Seniors have until May 1 to make their final decisions on what college they’ll attend.

Seventeen teachers at Franklin, plus the principal and vice principals, serve as mentors for the Scholars. The teachers are awarded small stipends for their time through a Nike School Innovation Fund grant of $10,000 per year.

Nike has committed to funding the program with a $10,000 challenge grant next year, but future funding is uncertain.

Julia Brim-Edwards, founder of the Innovation Fund, hopes the contribution will help leverage greater community support.

“Quite simply, it works,” she says. It “nurtures and drives academic excellence.”

As education funding falls short statewide, state Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, sees it as part of the solution. He visited in the fall and says he was “more impressed than ever.”

The program “struck me right away as something which schools around the state might use to overcome some of the financial shortcomings,” he says.

Farther from home

Bartley’s AP English classroom at Franklin, room 160, is ground zero for the Advanced Scholars.

Now, as it is every spring, her walls are covered in a patchwork of orange and purple paper as a visual representation of her students’ college application process.

Orange papers with the names of colleges on them signify acceptances; purple papers hold the names of schools students are attending.

So far this spring, the 54 students in Bartley’s two AP English classes have garnered 166 acceptances.

Alejandro Flores is one of the few in-state students who were accepted to Reed College, which admits just 3 percent of its students from Oregon. He was also accepted to Seattle University, University of Portland and PSU, but it will all come down to financial aid.

“I check the mail three times a day,” says Flores, who wants to study medicine. While he’d be the first in his family to attend college, his parents have always expected him to go, he says.

The same is true for Paris Gresham, another Advanced Scholar who was also coincidentally admitted to Reed.

P. Gresham (C. Onstott, Portlnd Trib.)

She’ll soon visit the campus for a second time, not sure yet if it’s the right fit. “When I visited, I didn’t see many students like me,” she says, meaning black. Gresham also wants to be farther from home.

While some make the case that college is not for all students, Bartley says Franklin has made it part of their high school culture because in Oregon and nationally, a college education has become a direct indicator of earning potential.

“While life isn’t all about money, we need to prepare our children with the skills they need to be successful in real life,” Bartley says.

For many, she adds, college is “a doorway into a kind of financial stability that they have never experienced before; even at age 18, they realize that attending will impact future generations.”

It was that line of thinking that prompted senior Yussef Sheikhnur, 17, to change course after coming to Franklin two years ago from the shuttered Marshall Campus.

He was a different person then: “I knew I wasn’t going to go to college,” says Sheikhnur, who was born in the U.S. to parents who came from Somalia. “I was into the wrong things; I wasn’t doing what my parents told me to do.”

He was barely passing his classes, until one day Bartley and Vaughn-Edmonds convinced him to sign up for AP English class.

Along the way, he retook five or six of his classes to get back on track, through summer and night school. And he changed his mind about college, applying to Western Oregon University and PSU.

He thinks he’ll go with PSU, since they have an African Studies program he’d like to pursue. “I can be the first in my family to go to college,” Sheikhnur says. “I want to try to help my community; be a leader.”

Shatanya Banks, 17, and Rebecca Sanford, 18, both Advanced Scholars, will also be first-generation college students.

Banks has been driven since a young age, since her own mother had her at age 16 and struggled to raise her on her own. “I told myself I would succeed,” says Banks, who’s been working afterschool jobs since her sophomore year to help pay for college.

She wants to go to medical school to be an ob-gyn and is waiting until the final financial aid packages roll in until she decides between Concordia University, PSU, University of Portland and George Fox University.

Sanford, who wants to study mechanical engineering, has been accepted to 10 of the 15 colleges she’s applied to. “I want to go to Whitman (College), but it’s so much money,” she says. “I’m basically just trying to go to any school where I can stay under $10,000 per year. My dad is still paying off his loans.”