Portland, Oregon: Proving Multiple Options to Meet the Needs of Struggling Students and Out-of-School Youth

Portland, Oregon: Proving Multiple Options to Meet the Needs of Struggling Students and Out-of-School Youth
Portland, Oregon: Proving Multiple Options to Meet the Needs of Struggling Students and Out-of-School Youth


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) facilitated two trips to help national policy leaders learn more about re-engaging disconnected youth and expanding options for high school. These trips, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, offer hands-on professional development activities to Congressional staff, staff from relevant federal departments and agencies, the Congressional Research Service, the General Accountability Office, staff of national education and youth advocacy organizations, and senior staff working at the local level.

The first trip was to Portland, Oregon, and was designed to bring policy leaders and advocates together to learn about how that community is providing multiple education options to meet the needs of struggling students and out-of-school youth.


The purpose of this trip was to expose participants to interesting models of practice and innovative high school redesign strategies, facilitate discussion about policies that support dropout prevention and reconnection, and encourage participants to build a network of resources and contacts. Specifically, the trip was designed to enable participants to learn about the following:

  • Oregon’s alternative education legislation;
  • Portland Public Schools’ Education Options program;
  • Community-based organizations reaching out to disconnected youth; and
  • Municipal efforts to re-engage dropouts

The trip allowed participants to visit a number of schools and programs designed to provide struggling students and out-of-school youth with multiple education options, including pathways back to education for those who have fallen off track. It also provided a forum to meet with representatives from the state, city, and district, as well as local youth advocates working at the forefront of these issues in Portland.

Opening Session

In order to provide a context for and an overview of Portland’s impressive work reaching struggling students and out-of-school youth, our trip began with a panel of experts on national, Oregon, and Portland efforts to re-engage disconnected youth.

Work Across the Country to Re-engage Youth

Christine Sturgis, Principal, MetisNet, briefly provided a national context for the work in Portland to reach struggling students and out-of-school youth. Educators across the country are working to create new options for high school which meet the individual needs of students. Though there are some promising new school models, the overall picture remains troubling, with very high dropout rates in many communities. The Alternative Pathways Project was begun in 2005 as part of an effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase graduation rates of minority and low-income students and ensure that all students are college-ready. This project builds on the continuing work of the Alternative High School Initiative to increase the number of high quality schools for vulnerable youth. The Alternative Pathways Project developed a framework identifying policies and practices that push students out of school, proposes strategies for overcoming barriers to re-enrollment, and suggests ways to expand educational alternatives effective for vulnerable youth.

The Youth Transition Funders Group (YTFG), a network of grantmakers whose mission is to help all youth make a successful transition to adulthood by age 25, has been supporting focused work in numerous cities across the country, including Portland. The Out of School Youth/Struggling Students Work Group of the YTFG focuses on young people who are struggling to stay in school despite the poor quality of their educational experience as well as young people who have been pushed out or dropped out. Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland (OR), and San Jose (CA) have received grants of $275,000 each from the Out of School/Struggling Students Work Group, as part of its Initiative to Support Struggling Students and Out-of-School Youth. Grants will fund broad-based partnerships that include educational advocacy groups, public school districts, public care agencies, service providers, parents, youth, and other stakeholders.

Oregon Legislation Enabling Dropout Reconnection Efforts

Cliff Brush, Charter Schools Manager, Portland Public Schools and former Specialist in Alternative Learning Options, Oregon Department of Education described how the State of Oregon has refined its state statutes and rules in recognition of the fact that one size of education does not fit all. While the state holds the same standards for all students, it is a system of alternate approaches.  For over twenty years, the state has required that districts provide educational alternatives to best serve students’ needs and has done much to facilitate this process. There are state laws and regulations designed to account for different student needs and also different community needs (e.g. rural  and urban), all with a philosophy of creating a wide variety of standards based education options that help ensure each student’s success in education.

Oregon is very explicit in allowing funds to follow students in both public and private alternative programs, thus supporting the creation of alternative programs. By formula, state education funding follows students to each district approved alternative school or program. The general rule is that eighty percent of state education funds, based on the district’s net operating expense per student (NOE), is passed on by the district to the alternative program. Responsibility follows students into such programs as well. The state requires that districts must develop policies and procedures for approving, placing students in, and evaluating each alternative education program that receives public funding. Students in alternative programs take statewide assessments, and their scores are reported annually.

In Oregon, the state provides funding for high school education for a student until s/he earns a standard high school diploma as long as that student has not turned 21 before the beginning of a school year. This allows schools in Oregon to work with students who fall off track, even if they are older than the traditional high school student.

Oregon has 20 regional educational service districts, which receive public funding to provide services to districts across the state that do not have the resources to provide such services on their own. Many educational service districts provide alternative education programs to districts in their region.

Mr. Brush pointed out that it is not equitable to provide a program that a student cannot get to. He has been pushing the rules to makes sure districts understand that they must make provisions for transportation for students to get to the appropriate district offering.

Because of supportive state legislation and rule making, school districts in Oregon have the opportunity for innovation around how students earn credits toward graduation. A number of districts, including Portland, are  piloting or adopting policies and programs for awarding at least some credits based on proficiency (meeting or exceeding performance standards) rather than awarding those credits based on “seat time” (i.e., number of hours in the classroom) . This makes the state school funding system more complicated, so policy makers may need to  consider adjustments.

Drew Hinds, who is newly an Education Specialist with the Oregon Department of Education, joined the group and reported that the Department is working on rules to clarify goals for districts and alternative education providers. Alternative Education Workshops were held at 13 locations around the state to distribute drafts of the proposed administrative rules and facilitate discussions regarding district’s required evaluations of Alternative Education Programs/Schools.  In April 2007, after the workshops and public hearing process the State Board of Education adopted the rules.  Resources and law relating to Alternative Education in Oregon can be viewed at: http://www.ode.state.or.us/go/AlternativeEd

Alternative Education Options in Portland Public Schools

Jenni Villano, Director of Education Options, Portland Public Schools, introduced the Portland Public Schools (PPS) Education Options program. Portland’s students have a range of educational options, including programs geared to out-of-school youth for returning to education. PPS offers choices such as school-within-school programs in high schools, night schools, and stand-alone programs. Alternative offerings include specialized programs targeting primarily at-risk youth, out-of-school youth, homeless students, teen parents, teens with drug and alcohol problems, and teens returning from the juvenile justice system. This year, PPS has taken all of their district-run education options programs and brought them all under one high school name: Alliance High School. The district is trying to get away from the term “alternative” and is broadening their view of such programs as part of their greater high school redesign efforts.

In addition to a number of alternative education programs run directly by PPS, the district contracts with community-based organizations (CBOs) to offer education programs to youth who have left or are at great risk of leaving school. The programs these organizations offer are an integral part of the District’s commitment to re-engaging youth who have dropped out. In all, PPS contracted with 16 different CBOs to educate about 2,500 high school students in 19 alternative programs. About five percent of the PPS budget, or $8.5 million per year, is spent on contracting with such programs. In addition to focusing efforts on reconnecting dropouts, the district is also in the process of increasing supports early on to decrease the number of students falling off track early on.

Site Visit to Alliance High School

Participants were greeted by A.J. Morrison, Principal, Alliance High School. Alliance, Portland Public Schools’ within district alternative education option, is comprised of programs on four campuses. The Alliance HS @ Meek PreTech Program provides individualized academics with small classes and counseling and support programs to prepare students for post-secondary college or career. The Alliance HS @ Marshall Night Program provides an opportunity for employed or parenting students to earn a standard diploma in a supportive learning environment connecting education to career development. The Alliance HS @ FOCUS Program provides a non-traditional learning environment to meet students’ unique needs using individualized academic coaching and mentoring and modified grading periods. The Alliance HS @ Portland Night Program provides an opportunity for employed or parenting students to earn a standard diploma or GED in a program with small classes, individualized scheduling, and academic and career advising to develop independence and self-reliance.

Alliance serves students who have fallen behind academically, as well as those who have fallen off-track by dropping out. About 20-40 new students enter the program every six weeks. The school works with these students to help them meet the same expectations and standards as all PPS students. The average age of entering students is 17, with most students entering with fewer than six high school credits (i.e., sophomore standing). Ms. Morrison conveyed that the schools’ biggest challenge is the low reading levels of many entering students and getting them to meet state and district standards is difficult. In addition, transportation is a difficulty for many Alliance students. Alliance is working to move from a focus on graduating students to a focus on student learning. The school is continually discussing standards and making sure their students learn what they need to know.

The AYPF group visited the Alliance HS @ Meek PreTech Program and learned all Alliance students are assigned an “advisory,” a group of five students meeting with one adult advisor. Students check in with their advisory twice a day, once in the morning and once after lunch, to discuss their classes and plan for the week. Advisories write weekly goals for each class, play games, read books together, and plan activities together (e.g., service projects, trips).

A panel of Alliance High School students met with the group. Students reported a friendlier and intimate school environment than their previous schools offered, and said that this motivated them to learn and succeed. The adults in the building, they reported, are checking up on them to keep them focused on school. Students described other aspects of the Alliance programs to participants. All work at Alliance must be of “B” grade or better and complete 100% of the assignments in order for credit to be awarded, though courses are non-graded. There is a lot of variety in the course offerings, so students feel they have a lot of choice about classes and most of the assignments were hands-on. Students are allowed to work at their own pace and do not have to wait for others if they are ready to move forward to new material. Thus, a student could take two weeks or an entire term to demonstrate mastery of a course.

Site Visit to New Avenues for Youth

The group visited New Avenues for Youth (NAFY) to learn about its educational and career development programs for homeless youth in Portland.  Founded in 1997 out of frustration that there were not services for homeless youth in Portland that addressed the importance of skill-building, New Avenues is committed to creating and providing excellent programs and services for homeless and at-risk youth to assist them in developing the skills they need to exit street life forever. As described by Program Director Sean Suib, “the NAY continuum of care is broken into four key areas: stabilization, outreach & engagement, early intervention & prevention, and skill building.” Suib went on to outline NAY’s multiple locations and programs as described below:

Reception Center

In collaboration with Janus Youth Programs, the Portland Police Department, and the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, Juvenile Services Division, NAFY runs a 24-hour Reception Center to provides immediate intervention services, such as referral to community resources, crisis intervention, counseling and family reunification. The goal of the Reception Center is to change the trajectory that these youth are on, and, yearly, 1200-1600 youth have been diverted away from the juvenile justice system due to services provided by the Reception Center. In addition to the immediate use of services, youth are also counseled as to their alternatives within the Portland Public Schools and families can continue to take advantage of free, in-home counseling services.

Drop-In Center and Education Center

The Drop-In Center is the hub of services for homeless youth to ensure basic needs are met, such as meals, clothing and showers. The Drop-In Center allows NAFY staff to interact with these young people to develop trust and connection with a supportive community in hopes of engaging them in NAFY other programs, especially school. Mondays through Friday, the teachers from NAFY’s school cook a hot breakfast for the young people in the Drop-In Center and work to engage them, so that they might participate in the school. The activity has earned the nickname “jazz and cheesy eggs.” The Drop-In Center is not open during the school, but in the afternoons it provides opportunities for young people to meet with case workers including drug and alcohol counselors, community health nurses, and special education specialists.

At the same site as the Drop-In Center, NAFY Education Center allows young people to work towards a GED or a high school diploma using competency-based curriculum and assessments. Geof Garner, Education Program Director, indicated that the school staff works to create an engaging curriculum that provides young people the skills they need to be successful in school and in life. One student indicated that the educational services at NAFY has allowed him to earn a GED and exposed him to the possibility of continuing his education at Portland Community College.

12th and Columbia site

Home to NAFY administrative offices, this site also hosts PAVE (Promoting Avenues to Employment) and the transitional housing facility. PAVE is a career-training program that prepares homeless and at-risk youth for employment through internships, job readiness training, and employment opportunities. The curriculum is designed in partnership with private sector employers, so youth can develop the skills to meet the needs of local businesses. The current training programs are tourism and hospitality and business occupations including healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. In addition, the staff in the PAVE program works to prepare these young people with job readiness skills, including resume writing, interviewing, time management, appropriate dress, and communication skills.

NAFY transitional housing program is also located at the 12th and Columbia site. Up to 24 young people can live in this dormitory-style housing for up to two years. The young people at this facility live in communal-style where they are responsible for common chores including cooking a meal a week for the group with the help of a staff member. Each resident must spend at least 30 hours a week working towards self-sufficiency, either by attending school or a training program, looking for or working at a job, or doing service for the community. This is a requirement to maintain eligibility for the transitional housing program. NAFY also runs an independent living program for youth who might not need 24-hour supervision or as a stepping stone for those coming out of the transitional housing program.


New Avenues for Youth takes advantage of multiple funding streams, both public and private, including:

  • Portland Public Schools at $35 per day per student based on attendance,
  • Publicly funded money from federal, county, and city governments, which accounts for 65% of the budget, and
  • Private donations.

According to Kari Brenk, Associate Program Director, New Avenues for Youth, “workforce development funding streams often cream, but mixed funding allows us to do pre-training/soft skill development to get young people into career training.”

The philosophy at NAFY is that “no door is the wrong door” and they have been extremely successful at targeting an often difficult to reach population, homeless youth. New Avenues for Youth is just one of the many specialty programs that exist within Portland’s portfolio of educational options for young people. The strength of NAFY lies in their ability to recognize and meet young people and provide the support and services necessary for them to redirect their lives.

Site Visit to Open Meadow Alternative Schools

Founded in 1971, Open Meadow Alternative Schools (OM) is one of Portland’s oldest alternative education programs, serving 600 students between the ages of 10 and 21 each year in programs including OM Middle School, OM High School, OM Corps Restoring the Urban Environment, Corporate Connections, and the STEP-UP at Roosevelt Middle School. OM offers a personalized educational experience for middle and high school students, including an array of transition services that help students move smoothly from middle school to high school and from high school to college and career. OM successfully re-engages disconnected youth in their education, providing academic and support services to those at high risk of dropping out of school.

Open Meadow’s relationship with PPS is the backbone of the program. This is supported by Oregon’s legislation facilitating state education funds following students. Open Meadow has a $1.2 million contract with PPS. The school leverages these dollars to add considerable funding from other private sources to support its programming.

The OM STEP UP program, an 8th to 9th grade transition program, attempts to improve retention at nearby Roosevelt High School through year-round Supplemental Educational Services and personal development opportunities for students at Roosevelt and its feeder middle schools. Middle school counselors identify students who faced challenges in 8th grade for inclusion in the program. STEP UP provides homework and study skills development through an intensive summer camp and summer school program, and a school-year program involving eight hours of afterschool programming per week. Through the STEP UP program, OM has developed a very close relationship with Roosevelt High School. Teachers at Roosevelt give up one planning period per week to meet with the OM STEP UP Coordinator, and OM has been engaged in professional development activities for Roosevelt staff. Trip participants met with Open Meadow STEP UP students, Zack and Vinnie to learn about their experiences in the program. Both reported that the program motivated them to be successful (or even see themselves as capable of success) and realize the importance of relationships with caring adults. OM operates the STEP UP program at a per student cost of $1000 in the summer and $2800 during the school year.

Open Meadow Middle School and High School are a neighborhood schools that students choose when traditional school is not working for them or when they want to come back to school after having dropped out. “We are about relationships,” said Open Meadow Director, Andrew Mason, “we are about getting to know students and their needs so we can get them on track with school.” With a staff-to-student ratio of 1:14 and classes of no more than 12, OM students enjoy close relationships with their teacher-advisors and peers.

Aligned with state and local standards, Open Meadow High School’s curriculum is augmented by project-based learning activities and community service and accommodates a variety of learning styles and student needs. Students take an average of two-and-a-half years to graduate and earn high school credit in a variety of ways. They may demonstrate competency or mastery by passing exams, presenting work samples, providing documentation of prior learning experiences, and showing classroom or equivalent work, such as career-related learning experiences or supervised independent study.

OM High School, which enrolls 85 students at any one time, regularly has 60 young people applying for the 20 available slots each six weeks when new students are admitted. Although there are no eligibility requirements, the school does require an interview and often turn away many interested students due to limited space.

Open Meadow Students, Rodney and Sarah met with participants to discuss their experiences in the high school program. Rodney, who is 18 years-old, is working on a work study packet and plans to graduate soon with more credits than required for a high school diploma. “Teachers at Open Meadow are more like friends than teachers,” he reported. Sarah, a 17 years-old recent OM graduate taking art classes at Portland Community College, plans to attend Evergreen College. She told the group that OM teachers and staff are “adults who really cared about me.”

The CRUE high school program, a partnership between OM and the Wetlands Conservancy, enrolls 42 students ages 16-21 in a crew specializing in integrated marketing and communications, natural resources, or human services for field-based learning and community service projects. The mostly hands-on curriculum emphasizes a positive work ethic and marketable job skills while using community project sites as classrooms. Participants are expected to complete project work for external project sponsors two days per week in crews of eight.

Open Meadow’s Corporate Connections program offers high school graduates much-needed employment training and 12-week internships with area companies. Upon completion, students are eligible to apply on a priority basis for career-track jobs with the partner corporations.

Mason identified for the group what he sees as the key components of Open Meadow programming:

  • Supports, opportunities, and challenges are crucial. That is, you must set a high bar for students. One key support is around transitions. “Unless you’re facilitating the transition from one place to another, the likelihood of a drop increases,” said Mason. The OM STEP UP program is a perfect example of this.
  • An array of options for an array of different learners. This reflects the reality of the labor market as well. Adults jump around in careers, and you need to take different steps to get to different places.
  • Relationships are critical. Open Meadow is fundamentally relationship-based. Anything over a 1:15 adult-student ratio or 120 student school size does not work.

Reception Celebrating Education Options in Portland

Trip participants enjoyed an evening reception with members of the Coalition of Metro Area Community-based Schools (C-MACS), a loose but highly effective coalition of 16 community-based organizations working with PPS to comprise a comprehensive education system accessible to all students. In addition to running their own schools, many of these community-based youth-serving organizations cooperate closely with nearby public schools. Portland Public Schools views the C-MACS organizations as partners in the city’s mission to educate all children—a strong indicator of the extent to which the city’s school leaders are prepared to enter into nominally unconventional arrangements to offer attractive choices to its actual and potential dropouts.

The product of this collaboration is a system offering attractive, student-focused options for students, with programs and paths to meet their varied needs. The 19 programs offered by C-MACS range in size from 10 to 754 students annually and are all evaluated externally on a regular basis. Located throughout Portland, they include drop-in, GED, small diploma-granting, and community college programs. They also provide specialized services for homeless youth, teen parents, recent immigrants and English language learners. All share a mission to reengage young people, and all embody Portland’s approach of responsibility for all young people.

Briefing on City-wide Efforts to Re-engage Disconnected Youth in Portland

Leon Andrews, Program Director, Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities provided an overview of role in city in this work. Andrews stated, “Portland has demonstrated a commitment to protecting youth voice through Bill of Rights for Youth.” Andrew Moore, Senior Consultant, Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities, seconded these remarks by indicating, “Portland knows what it takes to get cross-agency collaboration.” He highlighted their mayoral leadership, establishment of meeting table that is always expanding, willingness to adopt cross-system collaboration as a strategy, and attention to data sharing between and among system with focus on accountability for program quality and policy impact.

Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong, Neighborhood Policy Manager, Office of Mayor Tom Potter discussed the evolution of the Bill of Rights for Youth and the role of the mayor’s office. The mayor has been committed to providing a space for youth voice in city government. Every Wednesday morning at City Council meeting, the mayor asks the question, “How are youth doing?” and provides time for a young person to answer. The Bill of Rights for Youth grew out of the mayor’s desire to have a policy document to address the concerns of young people in the city.

The Bill of Rights for Youth grew out of a need to agree on what youth need. Kennedy-Wong articulated the goals as placing children as a priority of the city and its administration and educating the public on the available services for young people as well as highlighting the lack of service, motivating city officials and the public to work in this area, and addressing the gap. She also said the Bill of Rights for Youth has been a powerful tool in conversations around funding and the revision of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Zeke Smith, Director of Community Engagement, Portland Schools Foundation, oversees an initiative to create a shared understanding and commitment and to increase opportunities for high quality education and career development options that help all of Portland’s young people connect to postsecondary education, promising career paths, and engaged citizenship by the age 25. This initiative entitled Connected by 25 is a collaborative effort among Portland Public Schools, alternative education providers, business, advocacy organizations, the state, city, county governments, and Worksystems, Inc. (the region’s workforce development agency). Connected by 25 is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Portland is one of only five cities in the nation to receive this funding.

Smith indicated that Connected by 25 has “placed a high premium on collaboration for those organizations at table.” The group began their conversation with a commitment to collect the data necessary to make inform decision-making. The data helped the group target one area for their work: the 8th to 9th transition. Connected by 25 is working with its partners to effectively address this transition period and will measure its success based upon improvements in student transitions.

Alice Kersting and Emily Ryan, Co-Chairs, Youth Development, Multnomah Youth Commission recounted the timeline leading up to the creation of the Bill of Rights for Youth. The process, which took just over a year, solicited input from young people and adults in the city of Portland and surrounding Multnomah County. The Youth Commission has been and will continue to be the lead organization around youth issues and will continue to serve as a joint advisory council to the city and county.  Both co-chairs commented on how they are beginning to see youth voice including in many policy and planning conversation. It is evident that the Bill of Rights for Youth has been excellent leverage for including young people in these conversations.

During the question and answer session, panelists were asked to identify the state and federal measures that have aid the city and county in its effort to reconnect and engage young people.  The panelists commented that in Portland the conversation about secondary school redesign has always included out-of-school youth since many of the same organizations have been collaborating.  In addition, community development block grants and federal youth violence prevention block grants have been used to fund this work.

Site Visit to Portland Community College, Gateway to College Program

Portland Community College (PPC) has been committed to creating access and alternatives to youth through a variety of different programs. According to Linda Huddle, Director of Alternative Programs, Portland Community College, “PCC believes any door is the right door back to school: and they are aiming to create multiple options for young people to connect with education.” The range of alternative programs at PCC provides out-of-school youth opportunities to reconnect with education based upon their current skill level.

The Gateway to College program is capstone program of the PCC Alternative Programs as it provides young people an opportunity to earn a high school diploma while earning community college credits towards an associate’s degree. The model, which is being replicated across the country with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Early College High Initiative, includes an accessible route to college for previously out-of-school youth, learning community model, wrap-around support services, and relevance of learning through connection to college/career majors.

Students enter the Gateway to College program after an application and admissions process that screens them for academic ability to succeed in college-level coursework as well as desire to participate in the program. Students who are unable to meet the admissions criteria are counseled into PCC’s other academic programs to gain the skills to participate in Gateway to College or may be counseled into one of the other alternative education program available in Portland. An average Gateway to College participant is between the ages of 16 and 20, out-of-school or on the verge of dropping out, behind in high school credits (average 7.8 credits), has a GPA of 2.0 or below, and has expressed interest in earning a high school diploma, but not interested in returning to their old school.

During their first term, students participate in Gateway Foundation, a cohort learning community with classes focused on reading, writing, math, counseling and guidance, and an academic lab to prepare students for the challenges of college-level work. The purpose of this foundational semester is to help participants learn how to see themselves as a different kind of learner. After this initial semester, students transition into traditional classes at PCC, but continue to receive additional support from the Gateway to College staff. This includes a Resource Specialist who serves a case manager, assisting students academically and directing them to other support services.

Students remain in the program until they earn a high school diploma or until age 21. Gateway to College has been successful; out of 900 students served as of October 2005, 20% are still enrolled, 20% have graduated, 20% left and continued their education elsewhere, and 40% left and are not continuing their education. Gateway to college has awarded over 100 high school diplomas and more than 25% of students who received a high school diploma also earned an associates’ degrees. In addition to their outcome data, Gateway to College has been collecting information from students on their experiences with the program. The collected information has played an important role in improving the program over time to better serve students’ needs.

Gateway to College, like many of the community-based organizations in CMACS, receives their funding from the district through Oregon’s funds follow the child legislation. Funding is based upon a formula for average daily attendance, which covers the cost of courses books, wrap around student support, program, and administrative costs. Students are required to pay lab and activities fees of approximately $70 per semester. Portland Community College does have financial aid available for qualified students.

Huddle shared with the group some student success stories, but also highlighted policy changes at the federal, state, and local level necessary for programs like Gateway to College. These included additional flexibility within NCLB for high-risk students including lengthening of time to graduation and alternative assessments; financial aid eligibility for high school students who are 100% in college settings and classes; weighted student funding from the state; flexibility with instructional time; and recognition of qualification of alternative educators.

Following the formal presentation, the group has an opportunity to dialogue with Gateway to College students. Students spoke about what caused them to drop out of school and how they came to Gateway to College. For many students, traditional schools did not meet their needs either academically or socio-emotionally. In comparison, the Gateway program provided them the flexibility to maintain a job and the support they needed to overcome the obstacles that previously had made them unsuccessful in school. Students talked frankly about the stereotypes of a dropout, the reasons for leaving their previous schools, and why the Gateway to College program worked for them. Huddle said it best, when she indicated “Gateway to College works; the student success stories speak for themselves.”

Meeting with Portland Public Schools Leadership

To reach struggling students and out-of-school youth, Portland Public Schools (PPS) has created a broad array of programs of its own and works closely with community-based organizations and Portland Community College to offer a wide-range of options to retain and reconnect students. PPS’s focused strategy of dealing directly with a population that most districts all but ignore significantly increases the number of students graduating from high school in Portland.

As PPS aims to meet students’ needs in the 21st century, its focus is on providing a quality portfolio of high schools, including community-based and District options, which offers the best fit for every student. The district in the process of taking what it has learned about providing multiple options to struggling students and out-of-school youth and making this a central strategy in its high school redesign efforts.

Superintendent Vicki Phillips told the group that the district is working to make sure that all young people are successful by age 25 and that the system provides high-quality options grounded in the curriculum but eclectic in their delivery. “We need to hold steady the ‘what’ we want students to be doing and vary the ‘how’,” said Phillips. Oregon’s policy framework and PPS’s connectedness with community partners both help the district a lot in this endeavor.

Carole Smith, Chief of Staff, PPS explained that Portland is at a very exciting moment. With the Connected by 25 initiative, there is a move to look beyond schools to a whole community-wide system of services for young people. In addition, the community-based organization and in-district education options programs have recently been moved into the PPS organization chart as a core piece of academic programming for that group of students. The concept of education options is part of the PPS high school plan. The value of the community-based organization alternative schools has been stressed by leadership so that now everyone in the district understands their importance.

PPS Chief of High Schools, Leslie Rennie-Hill, described for participants PPS’s shift to being much more intentional about its high school offerings. The district is analyzing where the supply and need are in order to assess what changes need to be made. The goal is a portfolio of small schools, with options which are all equally valued so that the system has the best possible match for every student and provides some fluidity so that students who need to make a change mid-stream can do so without losing credits and falling behind. To this end, PPS is making their Education Options program as symbolically obvious as possible (e.g., by featuring it prominently in the new organization chart and having regular meetings for all high school programs). Community-based organizations have opened the district’s eyes to what young people can do, and their work will inform PPS’s small schools as they develop. One area where the district is thinking of making changes is in the 11th and 12th grade programs, where they are considering offering more options for internships, dual-enrollment, and real-world experiences

Andrew McGough, Executive Director, Work Systems, Inc. discussed their role in providing job training for both in-school and out-of-school youth, approximately 1200 yearly, through partnerships with Portland Public Schools and many of the alternative education providers. As Portland is beginning to experience a labor market crunch, the business community has concerns about their ability to find skilled workers. McGough commented, “Work Systems, Inc. has been successful in training students and getting them some postsecondary education in high-growth, high-demand occupational areas and the business community continues to be supportive.”

Lessons Learned, In Brief

As outlined in the purpose of the trip, the goal of the trip was to have participants understand practices and policies in Portland and the state of Oregon that facilitated both dropout prevention and reconnection of out-of-school youth. In the words of the participants, here are some lessons learned:

  • Leadership, collaboration, respect, and individuals that can pull off incredible change are what are needed in all communities that want to reengage and educate all youth.
  • That the school system may be the best “lever” system for approaching the youth development needs of a whole community. Often it seems that the school system and other service systems in a community are at odds with each other, rather than working together to develop an overall system to support the success of ALL youth in the community. I learned that if you can get education system leadership (both K-12 and postsecondary) to buy into a commitment to success for all, that they are an invaluable ally to other youth-serving programs & agencies, and a likely best central operating system for building a wider system of support in the community.
  • It was interesting to learn more about alternative education in general.  I’ve been in lots of high schools, but never in an alternative school.  Trying to reach these youth brings up a whole other set of challenges for educational institutions however; there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about being able to reengage these youth.
  • The most vital lesson that I learned on this trip is the importance of investing time to partner and collaborate as well as how important it is to continue to have conversations about engaging disconnected youth so that resources can be shared across states.

Contact Information

A.J. Morrison

Alliance High School
4039 NE Alberta Court
Portland, OR 97211
Tel. 503-916-5747

Drew Hinds

Education Specialist
Oregon Department of Education
255 Capitol St. NE
Salem, OR 97310
Tel. 503-947-5799

Sean Suib

Program Director
New Avenues for Youth
314 SW 9th Ave.
Portland, OR 97205
Tel. 503-517-3921

Andrew Mason

Executive Director
Open Meadow Alternative Schools
7621 N. Wabash
Portland, Oregon 97217
Tel. 503.978.1935

John Canda

Office of Youth Violence Prevention Director
Office of Mayor Tom Potter
1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 340
Portland, Oregon 97204
Tel. 503-823-4027

Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong

Neighborhood Policy Manager
Office of Mayor Tom Potter
1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 340
Portland, Oregon 97204
Tel. 503-823-4277

Kate Raphael

Education Advocate
Office of Mayor Tom Potter
1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 340
Portland, Oregon 97204
Tel. 503-823-4740

Linda Huddle

Director of Alternative Programs/PCC Prep
Portland Community College, Southeast Center
Mt. Scott Hall, Room 106
2305 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, OR 97216
Tel. 503-788-6119

Cliff Brush

Charter Schools Manager
Portland Public Schools
P.O. Box 3107
Portland, OR 97208-3107
Tel. 503-916-3359

Vicki Phillips

Portland Public Schools
501 North Dixon Street
Portland, Oregon, 97227-1807
Tel. 503-916-2000

Left as of May 2007

Carole Smith

Chief of Staff
Portland Public Schools
501 North Dixon Street
Portland, Oregon 97227-1804

Leslie Rennie-Hill

Chief of High Schools
Portland Public Schools
501 North Dixon Street
Portland, Oregon, 97227

Jenni Villano

Director of Education Options
Portland Public Schools
501 N Dixon
Portland OR 97227
Tel. 503.916.5438

Alice Kersting

Multnomah Youth Commission
Commission on Children, Families and Community
421 SW Oak, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97204
Tel. 503.988.5839

Emily Ryan

Multnomah Youth Commission
Commission on Children, Families and Community
421 SW Oak, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97204
Tel. 503.988.5839

Zeke Smith

Director of Community Engagement
Portland Schools Foundation
905 NW 12th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209
Tel. 503-234-5404 x 30

Andrew McGough

Executive Director
Worksystems, Inc.
111 SW 5th Ave., Suite 1150
Portland, OR 97204
Tel. 503.478.7371

This trip report, written by Jennifer Brown Lerner and Nancy Martin, summarizes a field trip that took place on March 4-7, 2007 in Portland, Oregon. The trip was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels.

AYPF’s events and policy reports are made possible by the support of a consortium of philanthropic foundations: Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WT Grant Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, and others.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.