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How an Oregon District Establishes Pathways for Graduate Success

Gresham-Barlow School District is creating programs to help graduates prepare for college and career

by Dr. Rod Berger

The Gresham-Barlow School District (GBSD) in Oregon is committed to providing a culturally responsive education that not only provides students with the skills and knowledge needed to graduate, but also an education experience that inspires and empowers them to turn into graduates who can succeed in a global economy. Dr. A. Katrise Perera, the district’s superintendent, and assistant superintendent Lisa Riggs are helping to develop students to transform into career-ready adults eager to face the challenges of a future that will demand evolving 21st century skill sets. By adopting and promoting programs like Portrait of a Graduate and Pathways to Career Success, Gresham-Barlow is preparing an environment that produces empowered, inspired and thriving graduates who will make a positive impact on the community.

Reflecting on her experience and journey to becoming a superintendent, Dr. Perera recognizes students have individual needs when planning their future. According to Dr. Perera, “Students today need a roadmap to see how they can be successful in more than one career. So often in public education, we push the college piece without understanding that some students may not choose to go to college. It’s our responsibility to make sure that they are equally prepared.”

Providing all students with opportunity and access is a key factor that drives Dr. Perera and the district’s leadership and faculty. Her enthusiasm for change is demonstrated in a recent op-ed, I Am Not Supposed to Be Here. In the article, she points to the need for leaders inside education to bring a better understanding of diverse experiences to help resolve some of the ongoing inequities perpetuated in our nation’s public schools. Gresham-Barlow programs incorporate equity and diversity into career exposure, exploration, and real-world experiences.

Outside of the typical college-ready learning, Gresham-Barlow is focusing on elements that provide career readiness. Quality hands-on experience, coupled with work-based learning programs are helping to develop important skills for workplace success.

To get a better snapshot of local business needs, Assistant Superintendent Riggs uses her extensive background in assessments to enhance the listening tours conducted by Dr. Perera and her team. Together, they discovered a large skill gap issue facing graduates that needed addressing. Riggs points out, “83 percent of HR directors and others are saying that they can’t find suitable candidates for positions. So it’s our job to listen to who those people are, what skills they need, and prepare our students.” As efforts moved forward, the work community in the county responded with a resounding “yes” to the district focusing on career readiness for students.

Although tangible skills are important, Riggs recognizes that the business community is even more interested in the personal attributes of graduates. “They need soft skills which we’re now seeing are essential skills: You show up on time. You have a strong work ethic. You’re honest. You have the ability to be flexible,” she shares.

Student and parental feedback are part of the final stage in condensing the narrative of the district’s complete story. Dr. Perera sat down and listened to the desires of both students and parents and found there was a need to commit to opportunities that highlighted the strength of students. As Dr. Perera adds, “There’s a need to look at key indicators of success or key indicators of progress and measure them differently than what our standardized assessments are doing.” Standardized tests highlight the weakness and Dr. Perera believes in setting up learning that accentuates the positive. “I heard very loud and clear from our parents and students that they want innovation, access and more opportunities that will allow students to engage, participate and be prepared for their future,” says Dr. Perera.

The efforts of Dr. Perera, Assistant Superintendent Riggs and the other members of the Gresham-Barlow team should be applauded for taking the initiative to develop district-wide programs that prepare students for future readiness and real-world success.

About Dr. A. Katrise Perera

Gresham-Barlow School Board selected Dr. A. Katrise Perera to serve as superintendent of schools beginning July 1, 2017. Prior to that, Dr. Perera was named Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent of Schools and National Association of School Superintendents 2015 Superintendent-of-the-Year Recipient. She is a self-proclaimed life long learner and former urban markets division national director for McGraw Hill Education.

Dr. Perera has served as superintendent in Isle of Wight County Schools (IWCS) in Smithfield (VA) from 2011 – 2015. While at IWCS, she saw an expansion of new opportunities for online courses, dual enrollment opportunities, and an iSLE 21 Initiative. She led the districts vision development, planning, and initial implementation for a new STEAM instructional program,

When she departed in June 2015, IWCS had progressed to the number four academic ranking out of fifteen school districts in Region II and 14th out of 134 Virginia school districts, which in combination with improved academic successes contributed to a decrease in the dropout rates (less than 3% points) and an increase in the on-time (4-year cohorts) graduation rates (93% – up from 88% in 2011), which surpassed the state average of 86%. The number of IWCS students that applied for and attended a two or four-year college increased from 21% in 2011 to an all-time high of 73% in 2015. The SAT scores improved by 27 points

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the governor’s office recognized the school districts Title I elementary schools and in 2014 an IWCS most challenged elementary school was awarded a National Blue Ribbon of Excellence and a National Title I School of Excellence in 2014 &2015

Additionally, Dr. Perera has served as an area superintendent/school improvement officer (SIO) in the nation’s seventh largest school district – Houston Independent School District (HISD) in Houston, Texas.

Follow Dr. A. Katrise Perera on Twitter

About Lisa Riggs

Lisa Riggs is the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Gresham-Barlow School District (GBSD).

Riggs has a master’s of education in educational leadership from the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada. In addition, she has earned a master’s of education in curriculum and instruction from Seattle City University. She has a bachelor of arts degree in English and education from Washington State University. 

In conjunction with the district leadership team, building principals, instructional coaches, technology department, and staff, Riggs works on the planning of an instructional framework, actionable steps towards district goals, and the implementation of innovative instructional program improvements in the district from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Follow Lisa Riggs on Twitter

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