Marshall High Campus
Bree Woodruff has been teaching math in the Portland Public School system for six years and has experienced first hand the challenges of working with students and teachers in a large high school. "In the old school model, far too many kids were falling through the cracks," said Bree. "The average student GPA was 2.0 and there was this incredible sense of hopelessness among students, and frankly, among many of the teachers. Gosh, we had some horrible staff meetings."
When she tried to establish performance and behavior expectations with her students, it wasn't reinforced by other teachers. "Everyone was trying, but we weren't on the same page - so students were getting inconsistent messages," said Bree.
In the fall of 2003, Marshall High School converted into four separate small high schools with different areas of interest for students (the programs were later consolidated into three schools) including Biz Tech Academy, Pauling Academy of Integrated Sciences and Renaissance Arts Academy. The small schools allow for greater control over educational goals, curriculum design and student learning. They create a more personalized learning environment and opportunities for students and teachers to know each other and work together. Importantly, from Bree's perspective, the new model also allows some time for teachers to coordinate on their efforts.
"Having our own autonomy makes a huge difference," said Bree. "We meet regularly and staff is working together in a much more productive, organized and positive way." Bree indicated staff does a much better job of collectively establishing expected student behavior. "Now, my students know what I expect of them and it is reinforced throughout our school."
Bree played a key role in the design and creation of the Renaissance Arts Academy (RA2) a college preparatory arts focused small high school that lives on the Marshall campus. Like RA2, each of the small schools on the Marshall Campus has a rigorous curriculum that is aligned with the State of Oregon Standards, Portland Public Schools' Board Policy, and the Oregon University System entrance requirements. In fact, the small schools curriculum is more rigorous.
For example, students at RA2 are expected to take 4 years of English, 3-4 years of Math, 3 years of Science, and 4 years of Social Studies and Spanish, and Health/wellness classes in addition to their arts classes. "It is a very challenging curriculum," said Bree. "But we also provide the support students need to succeed."
Fredric Locke, administrator (Principal) for Renaissance Arts Academy has high praise for Woodruff. "She has been instrumental to our success," said Locke. "Without question, her critical thinking skills and deep concern for students and colleagues has made this a better school."
"We are definitely seeing positive changes in the small school environment," said Bree. "Student performance is going up, and although staff is working harder than ever, they seem to be much happier than when we worked in the old school model. I think there is a greater sense of hope among students and teachers…and that's huge."