On a day designed to empower Oregon education leaders to take action to improve equity in the state’s public school system, the Oregon Leadership Network (OLN) Fall Leadership Institute brought together roughly 400 participants on December 10 at Portland’s Sentinel Hotel.
“Education is the opportunity to do better in our lives,” said U.S. Department of Education Assistant Deputy Secretary Libia Gil in her keynote speech addressing a renewed focus on English learners. Gil praised new standards that provide opportunities to rethink what literacy and language development means for English learners and affirm that English learners are capable of engaging in complex reading, writing, and comprehension.
The best predictors for student success are our expectations of students’ ability to perform.
“We must recognize that English learners are a heterogeneous population with all kinds of knowledge and cultural experiences,” she said. “As active agents of learning, we must encourage students to be engaged beyond using just social language but academic language as well…. Standards provide the opportunity to teach language skills at the same time as rigorous content.”
A highlight of the morning was a moving speech by Nelly Patino, a dual-immersion second-grade teacher in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. Patino grew up in Ecuador and became the first woman from her town to earn a college degree. Her first job in the United States was at a school, which led her to learn more about the education system and to earn an M.Ed. from Portland State University. As a classroom teacher, she takes pride in being able to speak with students in their native language, serving as a role model, and setting high expectations. She observes that “immigrants don’t want to be seen as a problem. They just want to be part of the country, be successful, and give back. What they want most of all is opportunity.”
Student voices were also showcased at the event with performances from the Soul’d Out a cappella group from Wilsonville High School and a lunch-hour demonstration from the Wilsonville robotics team, Error Code Xero, which included short speeches from students on what being involved in robotics has meant to them.
Breakout sessions highlighted an array of topics, including eliminating discipline disparities, creating equitable full-day kindergarten programs, engaging diverse families, and supporting English learners.
“The 2014 OLN Fall Leadership Institute provided a powerful opportunity for educational leaders across Oregon to consider how we can collectively act to create a more racially just education system,” said OLN Director Rob Larson>.
The OLN is a statewide network of more than 20 school districts, education service districts, state agencies, professional associations, and higher education institutions dedicated to building the capacity of education leaders to sustain research-based equitable practices across Oregon’s education system to eliminate disparities in student success. Administered by Education Northwest, the OLN holds leadership institutes twice a year.