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Campaign Q&A - Arts Center

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Q&A with Lark Palma, head of school

Catlin Gabel is in the early stages of a campaign to raise money for endowment and a Middle and Upper School Arts Center. This Q&A primarily addresses questions about the Arts Center.

Is the Arts Center a luxury or a programmatic need?

The Arts Center is first and foremost a programmatic necessity. During the past 15 years, as the school has grown, the square footage dedicated to the arts per student has decreased. Educationally, the arts are a core of Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and are key to a well-rounded education. In no other discipline do critical thinking, problem-solving, predicting outcomes, analyzing, reassessing, and creativity come together as they do in the arts. In turn, the intellectual challenges posed by visual art, music, and theater facilitate learning in all other disciplines.

Will the arts program change?

It already has. As a progressive school our curriculum evolves and adapts to student interests. We have recently added essential new arts programs including Middle School drama, filmmaking, media arts, and photography. We have reached the point where the facilities limit our choices and compromise our vision.

Are the facilities really that bad?

The lack of adequate space for teaching the arts has been singled out in our last two accreditation reports as an important area for improvement. Our students deserve better than making do in shoddy outbuildings that were constructed for temporary use more than 30 years ago! Even with these challenges, the arts at Catlin Gabel have continued to thrive – thanks to the tremendous effort, flexibility, and talent of our teachers.

How quickly do we need to raise the money if we want students in the building by 2010?

We want to press forward with this ambitious timeline to avoid materials price increases and to provide our students with new spaces as soon as possible. We need to raise at least 75% of the cost – $5.6 million – by this spring in order to open the doors to students by fall 2010. And we need to be confident that we can raise the remaining 25% of our $7.5 million project before proceeding.

Why are we launching a campaign when people are worried about the economy?

It may seem counterintuitive to announce a campaign during uncertain economic times, but this campaign addresses the school’s financial security in two important ways. First, by focusing on the growth of our endowment we are setting in motion a plan to alleviate upward pressure on tuition. Second, building appropriate and forward-thinking arts facilities secures our school’s national reputation of superbly educating the whole child for life.

I know this is a stressful time for many people, given the current market challenges. I also know that history’s greatest philanthropists have stepped forward during the most difficult times, and I am confident that those in our community who can, will.

What makes you so confident?

Catlin Gabel parents, trustees, alumni, and friends are incredibly generous and loyal to the school. We are successful in raising funds when the need is clear like it is for the Arts Center. In addition, our savvy community members understand that increasing our endowment is insurance for a healthy future. During my tenure, we have successfully raised money for professional development, endowment, property acquisition, and building or remodeling the track and field complex, the Beehive, and many Upper School facilities including the math, science, modern languages, and humanities buildings, the library, and the Dant House. Our achievements make me optimistic about what we can accomplish.

Does tuition pay for buildings?

Unlike many independent schools, we do not assess a “building tax” on our parents to pay for new buildings. Instead, we fund projects with charitable gifts.

How did you choose what to fund?

The school conducted a comprehensive process to determine the campaign priorities. We developed a strategic plan and a master campus plan. The Imagine 2020 community conference in spring 2006 identified the most important skills the class of 2020 should obtain. Task forces and internal feasibility studies further refined our focus. The resulting priorities — endowment including financial aid, and a new arts facility for the Upper and Middle Schools — surfaced as the most urgent needs for the next five years.

How did you determine the amount to raise?

The campaign goal is based on interviews in which we asked a representative sampling of donors what we could reasonably expect from this community. For the Arts Center we considered the recommendations of our architects and builders, who are mindful of our restrained budget and desire for a simple yet forward-looking and sustainable facility.

My kid is not that into art, music, or theater. Why should I support an Arts Center?

Equipping students for leadership, success, and fulfillment requires much more than academic and technical instruction. Recent brain research is proving the value of training and exercising our creative skills. And, statistically, the measures of success in college, particularly in math and science, are directly related to the scope and depth of previous arts education.

Where will the Arts Center be and what will it look like?

The Arts Center will be built west of the Dant House between the Middle and Upper Schools and will bridge the two divisions. The grassy meadow behind the Dant House is “sacred” space and will be protected. The architecture is Northwest contemporary with lot of light and clean lines. Energy conservation and sustainability have been at the forefront of the design. I cannot adequately describe the design – it’s a visual! Join us for the evening Celebration of the Arts event on October 20, where we will unveil the plans. Also, some of the plans are being published in the upcoming Caller.

How can parents and alumni get involved?

If you’re jazzed by the prospect of a new Arts Center and want to help, e-mail or call Miranda Wellman '91, associate director of development, 503-297-1894 ext. 308.

Welcome to the new school year

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by Lark Palma, head of school

The first day of school is right around the corner and I couldn’t be more excited. Teachers are busy preparing for students to join us on campus. From the Upper School, where the new science lab gleams with possibility, to the Lower School, where first grade teachers are sorting books for their classroom library, the campus hums with anticipation.

Host families are reaching out to new students and parents to smooth transitions. Preschoolers and kindergartners enjoyed summer play dates on campus with a terrific get-to-know-you activity: running through sprinklers. Second graders had an ice cream social. Upper School pre-season sports practices have brought new and returning athletes together. After the first few weeks of school nobody is a stranger.

Faculty and staff members who are new to the school are becoming oriented, and we are getting to know one another at retreats. I can’t wait for you to meet our remarkable new teachers and staff members. Read about them on pages 4 and 5. I think you will agree; Catlin Gabel attracts the best and brightest.

Ours is a school with a deep history, fine traditions, and generations of community members. But each year’s infusion of teachers, staff members, students, and families offers opportunity for asking why we do things the way we do, for reflecting on our strengths and weaknesses, and for embracing change and growth. I hope those of you who have joined our school community feel free to ask questions, share your ideas, and assert yourselves in all that you do here.

A few years ago when the admission office hosted an event in the Barn for incoming freshmen, I observed how easily we can be insensitive to newcomers in our midst. The event was for both current Catlin Gabel 8th graders and students coming to the Upper School from elsewhere. Some of our 8th graders clustered together in front of the Barn, giggling and gossiping. They had unconsciously created a closed circle with their backs turned to new arrivals. Knowing this would make new students feel unwelcome, a teacher approached the huddle and gently reminded current students to open their circle and greet our newcomers. That was a teachable moment — for all of us.

It is fun for returning students and parents to come back to campus after summer vacation and see old friends. At the same time, please remember to open the circle and include new folks in your conversations. Extend a hand, say hello, introduce yourself, ask if you can give directions.

Our curiosity about one another is an extension of our curiosity about the world. You never know when someone you meet will become a beloved friend, favorite teacher, or business associate. I challenge each of you to seek out people you have never met before. Help our students remember this simple act of kindness, too. Learning about each other opens doors, opens minds, and opens hearts.

Here’s to a great year ahead. Welcome and welcome back!

Connecting Learning to the World Around Us

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By Lark Palma, head of school

Head of school Lark Palma leads students in Turkeys Saklikent Gorge

I remember the anticipation I felt as I got on the train to Tacoma in the fall of 1995 for my first experiential education trip with Catlin Gabel. Fifty-two 6th graders, Middle School teachers Hannah Whitehead and Brenda Duyan, and I were going to Charles Wright Academy. Together we slept on the gym floor, went to class, ate delicious food, and enjoyed spending time with our colleagues. I marveled at the way Brenda and Hannah played the role of social engineers, delicately dealing with gender issues, social disappointments, and the balance between having all-out fun and being considerate guests.

Many other experiential trips have followed that first satisfying foray. On numerous adventures to Mt. Hood with seniors we’ve worked together building buck and pole fences, enjoyed the warmth of the fires, wandered the periphery of the cabins with flashlights against a starlit sky—reveling in the beautiful and utter silence—and woken to the early morning sound of clattering pans and the smell of coffee. We’ve learned to work as a team and value one another’s skills, enthusiasm, and senses of humor.

My latest trip with students, to Turkey last summer, was remarkable. Together we experienced an absolutely unfamiliar culture and tried to grasp, each of us, how to incorporate into our own lives the sights and sounds—the bustle and smells of the market, the call to prayer, the starving dogs and cats, the kindness of the people, the dankness of the cisterns below the streets of the city. We talked about ancient history as we saw the panoramic views of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas from the plains of Troy and the battlements of Crusader castles, as well as Lycian, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman ruins. We reflected on war, life, and death at the Gallipoli graveyards, where Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims lay side by side.

I’ve enjoyed these times with students and faculty over the years; my memories of each trip are vivid. But it’s the changes of heart coming out of these irreplaceable experiences that matter: watching students grow and gain the courage and confidence to make decisions, being with them as they stretch their ideas of what is normal and familiar.

Hands-on learning certainly takes place on trips, but more often these experiences happen on campus. I have seen students determining the circumference of Schauff Circle, constructing fairy habitats in the woods, building sophisticated robots for competition, moving the goats and sprucing up the campus, freshening Corkran Pond, and studying our food service for its sustainability and healthfulness. We know, as Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel did, that education happens best when children connect their classroom learning to the world around them—testing their knowledge through nature, activities, and other people. In all these activities, by doing something concrete, children actualize what they are learning, taking knowledge out of the realm of abstraction and into reality, coming to see how they will move through their own lives.

Experiential education is part of Catlin Gabel’s core identity. This issue of the Caller includes many examples of our commitment to this important aspect of learning. I hope you enjoy these stories and remember what these kinds of experiences meant to you when you were young and eager to figure out the world for yourself.

Class of 2008 College Plans

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Which colleges did our students select?

Babson (1)
Bard (3)
Boston Univ. (3)
Bowdoin (1)
Carleton (1)
Chapman (1)
Claremont McKenna (2)
Colorado College (1)
Earlham (1)
Evergreen State (2)
Hamilton (1)
Hampshire (2)
Lawrence (1)
Lewis & Clark (2)
McGill (1)
MIT (1)
Mt. Holyoke (1)
NYU (1)
Occidental (3)
Oregon State (1)
Portland State (1)
Princeton (1)
Reed (2)
Sarah Lawrence (2)
Scripps (1)
Seattle C.C. (1)
Smith (2)
Soka University (1)
Swarthmore (2)
Trinity (Texas) (2)
Tufts (1)
Univ. of Brit. Columbia (1)
Univ. of Edinburgh (1)
Univ. of Oregon (1)
Univ. of Oregon Honors (1)
Univ. of Pennsylvania (1)
Univ. of Puget Sound (3)
Univ. of Vermont (1)
U.S. Air Force Academy (1)
U.S. Military Academy (1)
Vanderbilt (1)
Washington Univ. (1)
Wellesley (1)
Willamette (1)
WPI (1)
Yale (1)

Celebrating the Class of 2008

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by Lark P. Palma, head of school

Where were our students accepted?

Download the PDF to see the list of all colleges that accepted Catlin Gabel seniors this year.

Which colleges did our students select?

Link to list of colleges the class of 2008 plans to attend.

The end of the school year is a time for transitions and milestones – retirements, relocations, good-byes to old friends, and hellos to new students, parents, and teachers.

The most poignant transition of the year is bidding farewell to our seniors as they embark on the next phase of their life experience. A Catlin Gabel education is not an end in itself; earning that diploma is a milestone. College and other post–high school experiences are continuations — other venues in which to grow, test limits, try new things, and solidify talents.

Catlin Gabel celebrates each student’s achievement — the benchmark for success is hers or his alone. Given the current frantic culture in regard to college admission, it is difficult to maintain the ethos around personal best, good college fit, and the notion that the next stage after Catlin Gabel is just a step on the journey.

I admire the Class of 2008 for their many gifts: their intellects, work ethic, athleticism, aesthetic sensibility and artistic talent, their enthusiasm for service to people close by and to people who suffer far away, their fervor to know and understand the world, and their involvement in politics and policy.

College acceptance is not what really matters

We have advised and counseled our seniors as they dealt with what may well be their first real-life contest. People who don’t know them made decisions about their futures in a tremendously competitive arena. Happily, the decisions turned out favorably for our kids. (More on specific college acceptance information later.)

Could every one of our students achieve at every school he or she applies to? Absolutely. In recent years, we find ourselves saying things like, “They were crazy not to take her.” “Who are they accepting if they didn’t accept him?” The fact is that college admission is an unfathomable, illogical process to which we attempt to ascribe logic. Why do most students apply to the same 25 colleges when there are hundreds of great colleges in the country? Many lesser-known colleges seek high-achieving students and offer substantial financial aid, yet their applicant numbers are low. Just as we accept the inestimable value of a $500 stroller and a $4 coffee, we are convinced that 25 well-marketed colleges deliver superior programs because so many people want to go to them. Sometimes that is simply not the case. A good college match depends on the temperament and personal and intellectual needs, of a particular student. The amount of time and energy spent on this enterprise suggests that college admission is more important than picking a life mate or finding happiness in a vocation and an avocation.

What really matters for our students is what they do when they arrive at college. Our seniors have learned to learn while engaged in reading and writing, examining molecules, testing hypotheses, painting portraits, building community, and playing soccer. College and life beyond Catlin Gabel will provide our seniors with many opportunities to continue learning and they will grab those opportunities with zeal.

This may be a shocking admission, but when I was the college counselor at my son’s school, I did nothing to help him decide where to apply. I left that to him. It all worked out just fine. The decisions he made have resulted in a satisfying, fulfilling life with a great partner and two children. He is a wonderful husband, father, and son. Where he went to college has nothing to do with any of that.

Class of 2008 by the numbers

As headlines in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other media blast the news that this is the most competitive year for college admission, our senior class defied the odds. Sixty percent of our seniors are attending their first-choice schools. Ten percent more will attend their second choice. Students from the class of 2008 (including those who have deferred enrollment) plan to attend 45 different colleges or universities, 53 will attend private colleges, and 11 will attend public colleges. The biggest group of seniors, 45 percent, will move to the East Coast for their next adventure, 25 percent will stay in the Pacific Northwest, 11 percent will travel to California, and the remaining 19 percent will venture to the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, the South, or abroad. Link to list of colleges the class of 2008 plans to attend.

Thank you, parents

Many thanks to the parents of the Class of 2008 for supporting the joyous and busy lives of Catlin Gabel students. I sincerely appreciate you for years of feeding and driving kids, watching performances and athletic events, hosting and attending get-togethers, volunteering, and turning out for numerous meetings. Your children progress in this world with habits of heart and mind learned from you, and from their teachers and classmates during the Catlin Gabel part of their journey.

Experiential Learning

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by Lark P. Palma, head of school

Just before break I had the pleasure of getting together with alumni who live in the Bay Area. Catlin Gabel’s former students are always interested in what is new at the school and how we adapt to technology, globalism, and current trends in education. They also love to hear about traditions that they remember from their school days. Lower School Experiential Days, Middle School Breakaway, and Upper School Winterim are among our alumni’s favorite memories, and they are delighted to know that their alma mater continues to offer breaks from classroom learning for cross-graded extended blocks of time devoted to experiential learning.

I am impressed every year with the imaginative, educational, fun, and new offerings our students, teachers, and parents design for Winterim, Breakaway, and Experiential Days. This year for the first time we ran Breakaway and Experiential Days concurrently, so there were several groups that were not only cross-graded, but cross divisional, as well.

Learning by doing

The benefits of experiential learning are numerous. Most people learn best by doing. The hands-on activities offered through these multi-day immersions in an activity are truly hands-on. Lower School students in the “From Sheep to Shawl” project learned to knit and further immersed themselves in the topic by visiting a sheep farm to learn about turning wool into yarn. Middle Schoolers in the EnertiaKarts class designed and built both conventional and electric racing go-carts and learned about batteries, brakes, chassis design, and steering along the way. Upper School students interested in computer games didn’t just play computer games; they developed a computer game using design, programming, music, and creative skills.

Learning by traveling

Helping students take risks is a major component of experiential learning. One of our favorite ways to stretch students is through travel. Fourteen fifth grade students traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they stayed with host families from the Summit School. This exchange is a longtime tradition for our two schools. Middle School students who study French traveled to Martinique, which gave them a language and cultural experience they will never forget. A group of Upper School students traveled to San Francisco to explore the city’s cultural and ethnic history through museum visits, talks with history professors, and tours.

Learning by going outdoors

We like to encourage students who are not experienced outdoor adventurers to take advantage of Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim to try something new. Both the Lower and Middle Schools offer snow adventures for novice skiers or snowboarders. Hiking and rock climbing are also popular options. This year, 12 Upper Schoolers had the good fortune of traveling to the Grand Canyon to raft the Diamond Down stretch of the Colorado River and hike its many side canyons.

Learning by playing

Many of our students take part in sports experiences during our four-day learning periods. One of the combined Lower and Middle School offerings gave students a chance to learn about basketball from all angles. They played the game, went to a Trail Blazer game, visited the Nike campus to design shoes, and met with former Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey. Another group learned all they could about fly-fishing. Upper School students explored the world of sports in a Winterim dedicated to sports played around the globe. We’re not sure cricket will catch on at Catlin Gabel, but at least one group of students tried their best to learn the rules and ropes of the game.

Learning by helping others

One popular Winterim class is volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Catlin Gabel Upper Schoolers and faculty leaders work hard to improve housing in our community. Learning construction skills while benefiting our community epitomizes our commitment to experiential learning and service.

This is just a sample of the exciting, creative, and focused learning that happens during Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim. Students gain enormously from the chance to engage in activities in depth, take risks, form new relationships, and make choices about what they want to learn. Catlin Gabel’s commitment to experiential learning is steeped in our progressive tradition. When our current students are alumni, they will ask if we still have experiential days programs at Catlin Gabel. We will most certainly answer in the affirmative.

Endowment fuels our dreams

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by Lark P. Palma, head of school

We are fortunate at Catlin Gabel. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary we can plan for the future from a position of programmatic and financial strength. Given our financial security, we can afford to picture a future where fewer families feel squeezed by rising tuition. We can imagine admitting students without regard to family income. We can visualize a responsive program that adapts to the needs of a rapidly shifting world. We can dream of offering salaries that attract the nation’s best and brightest teachers. The key to all these dreams is, in a word, endowment.

The national trend, as reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, is for independent schools to behave like colleges and universities in their efforts to raise endowment money. Independent school heads nationwide are talking about the power and positive effect endowments have on the life and future of our schools. Now, at a time when obtaining a superb education is out of reach for many average American families, it is imperative that independent schools secure the funding that addresses this reality.

Endowment 101

Endowments are the most powerful way to fund the heart of an institution like ours: its students and teachers. In the simplest terms the endowment is an investment fund that generates dividends. Financial managers who advise the school administer our endowment. An advisory group of longtime supporters (primarily alumni) monitor our endowment for future generations. The endowment principal itself remains untouched while the dividends, interest, and market value increases gained from investing wisely, are available for spending. Like most schools, portions of Catlin Gabel’s endowment fund are earmarked for specific programs such as financial aid, while other portions are allocated for general operations.

Where we are, where we’re going

We are grateful to prudent benefactors such as Howard Vollum, who seeded our endowment, and the Malone Foundation, who recently increased our endowment, with eyes toward the future. Currently our endowment stands at $24 million. This year we transferred $900,000 to use for current operations including teaching assistants, scholarships, global education, robotics, and athletics.

The National Association of Independent Schools recommends an endowment that is at least three times the annual operating budget – this year our operating budget is $15 million. Other financial experts recommend that a school of our size retain an endowment of at least $50 million. It is clear we must increase Catlin Gabel’s endowment to protect our academic integrity, develop new programs, and remain financially strong.

Catlin Gabel’s endowment is on par with some independent day schools, but well behind others we aspire to emulate in this regard. The Blake School in Minneapolis has a $50 million endowment; Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles has $56.5 million; Honolulu’s Punahou School (where former CG headmaster Jim Scott now leads) boasts a $177 million endowment; and Lakeside School in Seattle has a $154 million endowment.


Catlin Gabel has reached a mature stage when increasing our endowment must be one of our top priorities. A robust endowment will ensure thoughtful growth and give us the breathing room we need to secure a strong future for teachers and students. I look forward to the day when our endowment provides the school with the freedom to turn all of our aspirations into reality.

Contributing to Our Community: An Enduring Theme

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By Lark Palma, Head of School

Lark Palma, right, with Beginning School head Pam McComas

Some form or another of Catlin Gabel School has been part of the Portland community for 149 years. The current school, which merged the Catlin-Hillside School and Gabel Country Day School, has been here on this beautiful Honey Hollow campus for 50 years this year. Happy 50th anniversary, Catlin Gabel School!

That sort of longevity has been reflected in the Portland community in an abiding and subtle way, with most of it deriving from the philosophical pillars of the school—and in turn the many alumni of Catlin Gabel and its predecessor schools who have made their lives in the Portland area. Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel believed that the primary purpose of education was training for civic life and civic engagement. We are fortunate to live in Portland, a city that for the most part values citizen involvement, congruent with the way we encourage our students to participate in public life.

The well-being of a democratic society requires citizens capable of making sound judgments about matters that make up our common life—our government, the education of our children, the books we read, and the culture in which we live. These judgments help shape our society and create its ethos. At Catlin Gabel, we know our students will be prepared to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens, both here and beyond the school.

State representative Ben Cannon ’88 visits with students after speaking at a January assembly

The last decade has seen extraordinary leadership in this community by some of our alumni, a few notable examples being Gil Kelley ’71, director of urban planning for the city of Portland; David Bragdon ’77, president of Metro; Oregon state representative Ben Cannon ’88; and arts patrons Jordan Schnitzer ’69 and Sarah Miller-Miegs ’79. A number of graduates in the last decade are working in nonprofit organizations in the city and around the world, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, the Peace Corps, and Mercy Corps. Some have even started their own organizations and supported them with their salaries from other jobs.

Examples of our school’s engagement outside our campus boundaries go back as far as 1923. The late Deborah Anne Smith Snyder ’27 recalled that during that year Miss Catlin brought in news of a Japanese earthquake and asked her students what they could do to help. Even back then Miss Catlin was urging her students to become responsible citizens of the community and the world. Our students are always ready to pitch in to help others: for example, the 1988 earthquake in Mexico City, brought close to us by our Olinca exchange, spurred a massive relief effort, and in 2004 students worked tirelessly to raise money and give aid to victims of the Asia tsunami.

The Rummage Sale, the school’s most visible outreach to the public, is 63 years old. This inspired idea that began in the 1940s has grown to a four-day event where thousands of people from the Portland area and beyond shop for affordable goods, with proceeds going to financial aid. This effort is made possible every year by thousands of volunteer hours contributed by students, teachers, parents, faculty-staff, and friends, all committed to making sure we have tuition assistance available to students who might benefit. Many students get their first taste of their broader communities when they take part in community service projects. Upper School students work toward required hours of service, and Middle Schoolers work once a month off campus in various agencies and schools. The dogged environmental restoration work of our students over many years on the Elana Gold ’93 Memorial Environmental Restoration Project in the Mt. Hood National Forest has brought stunning results, gradually bringing degraded habitats back to vibrant life. Even in Beginning School, students begin to develop a disposition to be of service to others, making snacks and artworks for homeless people and shut-in patients, and getting visits in return. Both the Cascade Aids Project and the Oregon Food Bank have recently honored our students for their contribution of volunteer time, and many other agencies—and the people they serve—directly benefit from their abundant energy and limitless reservoirs of caring and good will. Madison Kaplan ’04 reflects the views of many of her fellow alumni when she said of her experiences reaching out, “When we grow up after high school we are going to be away from sheltered Catlin Gabel. It is important for us to see life outside Catlin Gabel. We can be more prepared and open-minded when we are living in a world of so many possibilities. Service learning is also a good way to give back to the community. Hopefully, giving back will become second nature to everyone.”

Many students and members of the faculty and staff also work to enhance the educational experience for other teachers and students, as one of their forms of public service. Faculty and staff members serve on independent school boards to help keep the “independent” in independent school. Teachers have contributed to national curriculum in mathematics and social studies. The school has been a teacher of teachers by offering science, technology, and mathematics workshops in the summer and maintaining a partnership with Portland State University. Since 1991, the Lower School has partnered with Lewis & Clark College in bringing in students from the masters teaching program for a one-year internship into the classroom for every grade. The Beginning School, Middle School, and Upper School have invited students from Pacific University, Lewis & Clark College, and Portland State, among others, to learn side by side with our master teachers. Several teachers and staffers are adding to the national voice of education through educational journals, blogs, and other forms of publishing and communication. Twelve of our teachers and staff members are currently engaged as teachers of teachers in educational settings around the city. Educators from the Northwest, other parts of the United States, and all over the world come to our campus to see how we teach school here at Catlin Gabel.

Catlin Gabel has always defined itself as an agent of positive change, with a focus on the development of the city of Portland, the preservation of our cherished 54 acres, and the shaping of educational values. It is no accident that improvements in public education cohere around principles that Catlin Gabel School has incorporated since its inception: maintaining a small class size, creating environments where children are known, and meeting the needs of diverse learners. These values have become part of the Chalkboard Project, the Gates Foundation, and other projects that improve the learning environment in all kinds of schools.

This Caller is a celebration of our past 50 years and a harbinger of the next. As you read our histories, take the quiz, read the stories of alumni and the decade-by-decade timeline of what our school has accomplished over many years, I urge you to think about Catlin Gabel’s future, the 21st-century education that we provide, and the continuing civic engagement of anyone who is touched by the values of this institution.

Lark Palma and parent Katrina Pointer, Rummage cashiers

Tuition and affordability survey results

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by Lark P. Palma, head of school

The response rate to our online survey about tuition affordability, which we conducted in November and early December, was overwhelming, with 481 people replying. Catlin Gabel has approximately 540 families enrolled, so this census-level return is a significant sampling. Clearly, rising tuition rates and school expenses are topics that matter deeply to parents. Thank you to all of you who completed the survey.

We will study the results, compare with our benchmark schools, and review PNAIS recommendations before taking action. In the meantime, I want to share our findings, which are quite interesting.

Responses were equally divided between families who have been at Catlin Gabel for five or more years and fewer than five years. Slightly more than one-third of respondents have more than one child at Catlin Gabel.

Public perception that Catlin Gabel is a school of the super-rich is off the mark. The data reveals that more than one-quarter of our families earn less than $100,000 per year, and nearly two-thirds earn less than $200,000, with only 19 percent of our families earning more than $300,000. Within our community, there is wider income distribution than we expected. Relative to the Portland metropolitan area, however, where 84 percent of households earn under $100,000 per year, our school community is affluent. While the definition of Catlin Gabel’s middle class may be in the $100,000 to $250,000 range, Portland’s 2007 median household income for a family of four was $42,800 (PDC website).

For those who prefer statistics in visual form, scroll to the bottom of the page.

The survey results disclose the financial challenges of paying tuition, even for people many would consider high-income earners. The upshot is that the majority of Catlin Gabel families – all the way up to the $300,000 income level – say they make financial trade-offs to afford our tuition. While we expect pressure to afford tuition in lower-income families, the level of pressure felt by families in the $200,000 to $300,000 range is a bit surprising.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicate that they have considered leaving Catlin Gabel due to the cost. The financial pressures that people feel cannot be minimized. Each respondent’s perception of sacrifice must be heard and considered. Given Portland metropolitan area income demographics, housing prices, the cost of living, our tuition rate, and our current limited ability to award financial aid, we must ask: Who will be able to attend Catlin Gabel in the future?

Even though a considerable majority says paying tuition is a challenge, 86 percent feel Catlin Gabel is worth the expense.

Most – 84 percent – Catlin Gabel families pay tuition out of their annual income. One-quarter of respondents say grandparents or trust funds provide a portion of their tuition payments. In families with income less than $200,000, nearly one-fourth receive assistance from grandparents. Families in the $200,000 to $300,000 range rely most heavily on annual income, with the least amount of support from grandparents and trusts. About 7 percent of respondents rely on debt, such as home equity loans, to pay for tuition.

As a community we value economic diversity: 80 percent of respondents indicated that attending a school with an economically diverse community is important to their family.

Comments about how to cut expenses were interesting and inconclusive. We did not expect conclusive results from the open-ended questions, and there was no consensus about specific ways to decrease tuition. Suggestions ranged from increasing class sizes to decreasing programs and reducing maintenance costs. Our community knows that excellent education is an expensive proposition. But the passion parents showed in their comments indicate a need for us to get serious about cost control.

We constantly seek ways to provide the best teachers and programs for our children, and to ensure that our teachers are paid appropriately. The financial sustainability committee is analyzing data, raising questions, and developing principles of good practice for making financially sustainable decisions. The results of this survey will most certainly inform their work as they assess trends and make recommendations to improve the school’s financial position and to attract and retain students.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. We will be equally thoughtful in our deliberations about Catlin Gabel’s tuition and affordability.

Global citizenship is good for business

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by Lark P. Palma, Ph.D.

Recently, I enjoyed speaking to the Oregon Forum, a group of local entrepreneurs interested in social change. They asked me to reflect on global citizenship.

I considered several questions: What is global citizenship? How do we teach it in schools? How could businesses that must have employees with global understanding partner with us to ensure that students graduate from secondary schools and colleges with these competencies?

In order to move forward we must redefine citizenship beyond our own borders; adopt positive dispositions toward cultural differences; speak, understand, and think in languages other than our native tongues; gain deep knowledge of world history and geography; grasp the global implications of health care, climate change, and economic policies; and understand the process of globalization itself.

How are we doing nationally? Things are changing slowly, but as a nation we fail to foster global citizens. A thorough study from the Committee for Economic Development on Global Leadership cites alarming gaps in children’s learning. The No Child Left Behind Act, adopted in 2002, holds states accountable for student achievement in reading, science, and math. Unfortunately, as schools devote more time to these subjects we see a reduction in foreign language classes and social studies classes where global issues are explored. Only one-third of 7th to 12th grade students, and fewer than one in ten college students, study a foreign language. Seventy percent of students in secondary schools who are enrolled in a language class study Spanish, and only a small percentage go beyond two years of study. Few students in high school or college gain proficiency in any second language, and very few students learn the lan-guages that the State Department believes crucial to national security—Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Farsi, Russian, and Turkish.

State high school graduation requirements call for minimal coursework, if any, in international studies, world history, geography, political science, or area studies. Only one percent of college undergraduates study abroad. Teacher educa-tion programs provide few classes in teaching global topics. The media’s coverage of international affairs, trends, and issues is minimal. During her trial, over fifty minutes daily was devoted to Martha Stewart on most networks, and less than three minutes to the conflict in Darfur. We ought to worry about where students gain information about their world.

From a business and economic perspective, the challenges to our economy are enormous. The international workforce needs language competencies beyond English because most United States growth potential lies in overseas markets. In 2004, 58 percent of our growth earnings were from overseas. For example, 70 percent of Coca Cola’s profits are generated outside the United States. Studying languages and acquiring cultural competency are clearly eco-nomic necessities if Americans hope to compete on the international stage. A European business executive speaks an average of 3.9 languages, and an American executive speaks an average of only 1.5. Business decisions are made quickly, and the number of people involved in making wise business decisions must include teams of people who are multinational and multilingual.

American businesses lose an average of $2 billion per year because their employees are provided with inadequate cross-cultural guidance. For example, Microsoft Windows 95 displayed Kashmir outside the boundaries of India. Mi-crosoft had to recall 200,000 copies of the product. In a software package marketed in Turkey, Kurdistan is listed as a Turkish state, although it is a crime to even talk about Kurdistan in Turkey. An American-made video game mar-keted to Saudis included violent scenes accompanied by chanting from the Koran. Business loss is a direct result of these cultural gaffes. Moreover, America’s reputation is damaged when we are perceived as negligent and indifferent to other cultures.

The Rand Corporation surveyed 16 global corporations, which rated job applicants from American universities as the graduates with the least developed international skills. An executive from a top global corporation told Rand that American graduates are, “Strong technically, but short-changed in cross-cultural experience and linguistically de-prived. If I wanted to recruit people who are both technically skilled and culturally aware, I would not waste time looking for them on U.S. college campuses.”

The statistics about our students’ and work force’s global citizenship are discouraging, but there are many things schools and businesses can do to improve the situation by working together. Here are several suggestions:

  • Harness the expertise of bilingual and non-English speaking employees currently in our work force. Non-English speakers and multinational people hold 48 percent of both management and professional service jobs in the United States. Let’s learn from their experience about how to become competent in other cultures.
  • Business leaders need to pressure school boards to include international content at all levels of curriculum. The No Child Left Behind requirements can be addressed by incorporating cultural topics into reading pro-grams.
  • Press colleges and universities to form partnerships with elementary and secondary schools to provide teacher professional development in global education. Colleges and universities could tap their international students and professors to work in elementary and secondary schools.
  • Business leaders should insist that teacher education programs, as well as college programs, have strong inter-national components.
  • Corporations should play an active role in supporting educational initiatives that will produce graduates with cross-cultural competencies.
  • Expand the training pipeline at every level to increase the number of Americans fluent in foreign languages, especially Arabic and Chinese.

Catlin Gabel is working to foster global citizenship, and we are excited to be part of the local, national, and interna-tional dialogue on creating global citizens.


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by Lark P. Palma, Ph.D.

Traditions connect us to each other in ways that last forever. Common experiences bond our current students to generations of students that came before, and those who will follow. Celebrating our 50th anniversary as Catlin Gabel School invites a look into where some of our school traditions originated.

When the Gabel Country Day and Catlin Hillside Schools became one, many traditions and educational values were preserved. In some ways it was easy to combine the schools because of their many shared qualities. For example, shop class (formerly called manual training) was an important component of both schools. It was unusual to find girls in shop classes in most schools, but both the Gabel and the Catlin Hillside Schools taught shop without regard to gender.

Theater, music, and drama were also prominent programs in both schools. Holiday pageants and tableaux hold important memories for alumni of the Gabel School. Similarly, the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas evoke nostalgia for Catlin Hillside alumni. Community service was an essential aspect of school life on both campuses -- as true today as it was in the war-torn 1940s.

Some traditions unique to each school were brought to the newly merged school and continue today. Pet Day, carried on by the Lower School, and Campus Day are Gabel traditions that are important today. The annual production of St. George and the Dragon, now performed by eighth graders, and the Maypole dance, a first grade rite of passage, are rituals we inherited from Catlin Hillside School. New customs have been added to the old, giving Catlin Gabel School a culture of its own, a culture rich in tradition.

Catlin Gabel people bring alive those traditions as we live them. Alumni tell me that their warmest memories are most often about people – teachers and classmates – and adventures and traditions such as school trips, performances, and Rummage contests. Everyone who has ever worked or shopped at the Rummage Sale, for example, has a favorite story about a kooky customer, a great purchase, or finding a long-lost favorite tie among the bargains.

Mention of the annual 8th grade Gilbert and Sullivan musical provokes comparisons of which Modern Major General in Pirates of Penzance sang the fastest, or which Katisha in The Mikado generated the most revulsion. Likewise, current students look forward to finding out which first grader is Wee Willie Winkie in the winter Revels concert, whose dog will win the funniest prize on Pet Day. It is fun to imagine which first, third, or sixth grader will play St. George in eigth grade, or which of the freshmen will read the school chapter when they graduate.

This time of year makes us think about the people in our lives. When I think about my mom, I’m awed by what a great person she is and what an influential parent she was, organizing softball teams, and Girl Scouts, and many parts of our lives. Now that I’m a grandmother I think about what kind of mother she is, and what kind of grandmother she is, and now about her role as a great-grandmother.

Our school represents that sort of multigenerational resonance. We can still hear stories about how somebody’s mother ran Rummage, or their father helped build the Barn, or they lived in the Dant House before we moved here. These are deep connections. Our school traditions serve as a reminder of the power of a school community that is larger than any one of us. They humble and inspire us with an understanding that Catlin Gabel will continue to be a vibrant part of children’s lives long after we leave.

Continual Improvement

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by Lark P. Palma, Ph.D.

“Flexible, adaptive, and productive organizations will excel in a rapidly changing world.”

—Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and senior lecturer at MIT

Building a shared vision for change is an important aspect of Catlin Gabel’s organizational growth and continuing relevance. How do we make decisions about change? How do we inform our practice?


We constantly rethink what it means to be educated because we never believe we have achieved the apex of perfection. It is imperative for us to continue to grow and change and make sure Catlin Gabel provides a 21st century education for every student, every year. Each class, with its different character, depends on our careful scrutiny of what we teach, how we teach, and how we allocate our resources.

As a progressive school, we look for ways to enhance learning for our students. We continually assess how we’re doing based on student and faculty evaluations, and parent feedback. We look to current research, educational innovators, other schools, national standards, and professional councils to guide decisions about changing and improving our curriculum. The independent school accreditation process calls for reflection and requires that we ask ourselves if we are truly serving our students the way we intend. Through these multiple evaluative processes, decisions to change curriculum or add programs are born out of sound philosophical and pedagogical principles.

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, for example, has standards of good practice. We made sure we considered those standards when adjusting our math curriculum not long ago. When we examined our program, we recognized that math teaching could be improved to reach a wider span of student interests and abilities. We asked a consultant to work with us on what is termed extensions. The consultant worked specifically with third and fifth grade teachers to help us better reach the wide range of mathematical abilities in a given classroom. The teachers learned techniques for going deeper with students who are grasping mathematical concepts quickly, while serving students who require a slower pace to fully understand complex concepts.

Our global education initiative, born out of the Imagine 2020 conference in 2006, is another area where we are improving on what we do. We determined that to best serve students in the 21st century, Catlin Gabel should expand global experiences for our students through travel, exchange programs, and curriculum. We formed a leadership committee composed of teachers from across divisions, staff members, and trustees, evaluated our current program, researched what other schools do, and invited Peter Tacy to campus to work with us. Peter is an educator and author of Ideals at Work: Education for Stewardship in the Round Square Schools. (Round Square is an international network of high schools that shares values of leadership, environmental stewardship, service and global education.) Currently, we are in the early stages of evolving into a more comprehensive program. The Upper School trip to Turkey last summer is an example of our moving beyond our language-based trips, to a more multidisciplinary exploration of culture, politics, archaeology, and history.

“Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs.” —Peter Senge

Conferences and workshops provide a steady source of information about current pedagogy and innovations. Teacher growth depends on constant learning and exposure to ideas from breakthroughs in brain research and learning styles to integrating technology. We also gain a great deal from sharing what we do with others. Throughout the year we host visitors from other schools who are interested in seeing Catlin Gabel in action. In mid-October, two school heads visited to explore how we teach math and writing. When we explain how we do what we do, and why, we further our own understanding of teaching and learning. I am delighted that 21 Catlin Gabel teachers and staff members presented at the October All Schools Conference. Sharing ideas sprouts new and better ideas. (Five audio presentations from the All Schools Conference are available on the website's Campus Life section.)

Operating Practices

Decisions about our operating practices such as tuition rates, class sizes, fundraising goals, salaries, and numbers of staff members are made by comparing Catlin Gabel to similar schools.

Catlin Gabel is a member of the Mid-Sized School Benchmark Project along with 26 schools nationwide that enroll approximately 700 students in preschool through high school day programs. Among the member schools are Bush School in Seattle, Wilmington Friends School in Delaware, Friends Academy in New York, and the Wheeler School in Providence.

We look at our peer schools to gain as much information as we can to see how we fit into the big picture. The information is adjusted to the cost of living in each school’s community, and the numbers are calibrated for an accurate comparison. The comparative analyses examine everything from SAT scores, to student grades, admission inquiries, development expenses, faculty workload, and endowment. We look at the results of the Mid-Sized School Benchmark Project as data points that inform our decisions about operations. Beyond our benchmark schools, we look to local public schools for salary benchmarking and to other NAIS and PNAIS schools with national reputations for excellence for additional information.

Our core decisions about managing resources, adjusting curriculum, and introducing change are carefully considered. We hold ourselves accountable through the accreditation process, continually educating ourselves, benchmarking, surveying parents, students, and alumni, and looking to other exceptional educators.

I hope our founder, Ruth Catlin, would have been pleased to know that we maintain her progressive vision 80 years after she described her philosophy: “To maintain a school with the most enlightened ideals of education . . . To contribute to the community and its schools an educational laboratory, free to utilize the knowledge and wisdom of leading educators.” Catlin Gabel will continue to be a leader in progressive education as we change for the better and for the future.

Fifty years of fun facts

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by Lark P. Palma, Ph.D.

This year marks Catlin Gabel’s golden anniversary. Fifty years ago Catlin Hillside and Gabel Country Day schools merged to become Catlin Gabel School. Our wonderful history, combined with today’s outstanding program, provides a deep reservoir of fun facts. Here are just a few:

When Catlin Hillside and Gabel Country Day Schools merged in 1957, grades one through five were housed on the former Gabel campus in Raleigh Hills, and grades six through twelve used the Catlin Hillside campus on Culpepper Terrace in Northwest Portland.

The student body numbered around 300 at the time of the merger.

The merged school was named Portland Country Day, but that lasted only a few months. An outcry from alumni and students convinced the trustees to adopt Catlin Gabel instead.

The Barnes Road campus, which the school acquired from Jack and Mary Dant in 1958, was surrounded by dirt roads and open spaces. The property was called Honey Hollow Farm, and the Barn housed sheep and horses.

Before Jack and Mary Dant, Marvelle and Tom Autzen owned the property. Architect Ernest Tucker, father of woodshop teacher Tom Tucker ’66, built the farmhouse for the Autzens. We call the house the Dant House.

Upper School science students will dissect 17 sheep eyes this year.

A rare yellowwood tree (Cladrastis lutea), native to Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, was planted near the present-day track and field about 80 years ago.

There have been 10 heads of the combined Catlin Gabel School: Esther Dayman Strong, E. Kimbark MacColl, Ed-ward Blair, Manvel “Schauff” Schauffler, Steven Prigohzy, Clint Darling (interim) John Whatley, Jim Scott, Andrew Beyer (interim), and Lark Palma.

Approximately 40 percent of all students during the early 1960s received financial aid, which attracted qualified stu-dents to the relatively new school. The Rummage Sale helped to underwrite the financial aid program, just as it does today.

The Rummage Sale, now in its 62nd year, attracts 12,000 shoppers during the four-day sale.

Teacher salaries in the mid-1950s reportedly averaged $2,200 per year. Adjusting for inflation that is $17,400. Teacher salaries average $54,800 per year in 2007-08.

Former Portland Mayor Vera Katz taught modern dance in the Barn before becoming a state legislator.

Today, 730 students attend Catlin Gabel. The annual budget is $16 million, and our endowment is $22 million.

Number of computers including laptops: 600

The Middle School robotics lab has about 40,000 Lego pieces.

Preschool and kindergarten students, teachers, and parents have come together for 777 Beehive Sings since 1978.

Number of field trips and overnights Lower School students spend away from campus in one year: 60-plus

Lower School students have identified 43 bird species on campus.

The Upper School Chamber Choir has sung in 13 languages in the last 10 years including Latin, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Estonian, Latvian, Russian, Afrikaans, Hebrew, Korean, and Japanese.

64 Middle School students in the past four years have traveled to Costa Rica.

Approximately 8,000 crickets are fed to two bearded dragon lizards in the sixth grade science classroom each year.

Upper School students organized 37 clubs this year, focusing on pursuits that include chess, community service, in-ternational affairs, and mock trial.

We have six international students in the Upper School from Botswana, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Spain, and South Korea.

184 Upper School and 115 Middle School students participated in 32 athletic teams last year.

Catlin Gabel, including our predecessor schools, has 4,787 living alumni representing 44 countries.

The barn served 24,750 meals last year.

Catlin Gabel community members made 2,319 financial contributions last fiscal year.

As we go to press, the Beginning and Lower School library has 1,147 books in circulation.

There is much more to discover about Catlin Gabel. I invite everyone to tour the campus and visit classes. Check in with the division administrative assistant for directions and schedules. If your son or daughter entered the school af-ter sixth grade you will really enjoy peering in on the Beginning and Lower Schools. If you are looking ahead to your child’s Middle or Upper School years you will benefit from knowing what’s ahead. Checking out buildings and seeing classes in action will further your education about what makes our Catlin Gabel remarkable, beyond these amazing numbers.

Plans for 2007-08 and beyond

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by Lark P. Palma, Ph.D.

Every September I have the same thought – I am privileged to be the head of this school. This is the beginning of my 13th year as head of Catlin Gabel, and I know I will be here for at least five more years, thanks to a vote of confidence from the board of trustees. As I buy my school supplies and outfit for the first day of school (a tradition since I was in first grade) I think, too, of the next five years and what I hope to accomplish. Here are six areas of focus.

Global education

Our students deserve programs that are consistent with our mission as a progressive laboratory school, and speak to their needs as 21st-century global citizens. I traveled to Turkey this summer with 25 inquisitive and bold students and three enthusiastic teachers. The trip confirmed for me the vital importance of international experiences for our older students, as well as a continually broadened curriculum that links younger students with the wide world. As I watched our students in Turkey dance, draw, and converse with their host students at school and in Turkish homes, I saw perceptions change and views of Islamic culture recalibrated. Indelible images of an elderly rag-clad woman foraging in a dumpster strengthened our resolve to work toward ending poverty and disparity at home and abroad. We grew to understand that Turkey is much like the United States — a melting pot democracy composed of people from many ethnic groups who are fiercely proud to be Turks.

We will strive for providing all Upper School students and some Middle School students with global education experiences like the Turkey trip, which moved beyond language immersion. Paul Andrichuk, Middle School head, leads our global education work. Paul and others will work to define what makes Catlin Gabel’s global education program distinct. I am certain if you asked any one of the students who met with members of the Turkish parliament, had tea in Muslim homes, played with local children in the park, and enjoyed homestays in Istanbul, they would tell you the trip was life-changing and powerful.

All Kinds of Minds

All Kinds of Minds refers to the work of renowned pediatrician Dr. Mel Levine, who translates current brain research on how children learn into practical teaching methods. Roughly half of our teachers have completed the weeklong All Kinds of Minds workshop and many are engaged in the yearlong follow-up practicum. Our goal is for all Catlin Gabel teachers to take the All Kinds of Minds course. The training elevates our teaching by strengthening our understanding of diverse learning styles. We want our students to evaluate their own balance sheet of strengths and weaknesses so they advocate for their individual learning styles and needs. Pam McComas, Beginning School head, leads the effort. Each division will form a committee of teachers to customize and guide the work in their division. Our plan is to incorporate the exciting research results into our own brand of progressive education.

Urban leadership

We are continuing to explore the concept of an urban leadership program for Upper School students, which is an idea that emerged during the Imagine 2020 conference in spring 2006. A small group of faculty and staff members met throughout last year to consider options for this new idea. This year, the entire Upper School faculty will advance the conversation about how our program can be enriched by using Portland as a learning laboratory. We want students to benefit from Portland’s traditions of environmental awareness, participatory government, social responsibility, enlightened public transportation, and civic and arts activism. Michael Heath, Upper School head, will pick up where former Upper School head Emily Jones left off in leading this discussion of how to involve our students in Portland’s civic life. The urban leadership concept is an exciting and creative approach to renewing the Upper School’s experiential and progressive traditions.


Our sustainability efforts relate to the schoolwide culture, curriculum, and campus operations. Vicki Swartz Roscoe, Lower School head, leads the curriculum component, which is designed to teach students, preschool through grade 12, to be leaders in sustainability and stewards of the environment. Eric Shawn, facilities director, leads the operations side of our sustainability program. Our short-term goal is to integrate environmental considerations into Catlin Gabel’s decisions and daily operations. Our ultimate goal is zero waste by the year 2012. Community commitment to reducing our use of paper and plastics is already paying off. By shifting to reusable and away from disposable products, we have already seen a 7 percent reduction in waste between last year and the previous year. Education efforts are under way to help all of us distinguish recyclables and compost from waste. We appreciate everyone’s willingness to read newsletters like this online, forgo bottled drinking water, wrap lunches and snacks in reusable tubs, carpool, and ride the TriMet or Catlin Gabel buses. Forty-five community members, including staff members, faculty, students, parents, and alumni have been trained in the Natural Step process, which guides and inspires organizations to work together to build a sustainable society.

Financial sustainability

With increased emphasis on deepening our program, we must manage costs and plan prudently. Several board and staff members have sharpened their pencils and adopted a financial planning process created by the National Association of Independent Schools. The financial sustainability group will analyze data, raise questions, and develop principles of good practice for making financially sustainable decisions. We are benchmarking Catlin Gabel’s income and expenses, fundraising levels, costs per student, and employee workload against those of comparable schools. Assessing trends and making policy choices to improve the school’s financial position assures that we can reasonably fund our important initiatives well into the future.

Learning spaces

Our extraordinary curriculum benefits from attractive classroom facilities. Students learn best with proper ventilation, lighting, room to collaborate, and appealing classrooms. Construction crews and facilities staff members worked steadily to make certain the Upper School renovations were completed for the start of the school year. I am delighted and grateful that students and teachers can start the year in the gorgeously refurbished Dant House and Jean Vollum Humanities Center. You are most welcome to walk around the Upper School and visit the remodeled buildings. Students and teachers can tell you all about the before-and-after contrasts. Additionally, the Barn kitchen was remodeled to ease congestion during lunchtime and to better accommodate the daily meal, beverage, and snack service. The board’s buildings and grounds committee and key staff members are focusing their attention on the deteriorating and limited space for the Middle and Upper School visual and performing arts. We are making plans to improve the conditions for programs that are central to our mission.

I will further expand on each of our initiatives as the school year progresses. As I begin my 13th year as head of school, I remain inspired by our dedicated and creative teachers and staff members, delighted by our intelligent and imaginative students, and appreciative of our involved and generous parents. I hope you have a terrific 2007-08 year at Catlin Gabel.

"Coloring Our Maps: Professional Development and Global Vision"

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Article by Lark Palma in Independent Schools magazine

Salute to Emily Jones and Susan Sowles

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by Lark Palma, head of school

I take this opportunity to share with you my enormous respect and appreciation for Emily Jones, departing Upper School head, who came to Catlin Gabel in fall 1999.

Emily’s leadership has had a profound effect on the entire school. She is utterly honest, highly ethical, deeply intel-ligent, truly caring, and incredibly engaged in her work as an educator.

Each year Emily tells students to take risks within the safety of their Upper School experience. She has encouraged teachers, staff members, and trustees to do the same.

She has been a vital voice in articulating the need for enhancing the Upper School area of the campus. The benefits for students and learning were always at the forefront of her conversations, which led to constructing the new library and modern languages building, and renovating the Dant House, humanities, and science buildings. Emily imagined a distinct Upper School campus where adolescents and their teachers would study and hang out together. Isn’t it ironic that Emily finishes her tenure at Catlin Gabel in an unattractive office in a double-wide trailer while her vision for the Upper School reaches completion?

Emily promoted the Upper School laptop program in spring 2002. Skeptics questioned the wisdom of this plan, but Emily had done exhaustive research and defended the notion with great care and sensitivity. Just five years later, our high school students and teachers cannot imagine academic life without laptops.

We have made great strides in globalizing Catlin Gabel through student exchanges, trips abroad, and curriculum im-provements. Emily, who is a world traveler, has championed the cause. She has encouraged an increasing number of juniors to spend a year abroad (four this year and last). Likewise, she has welcomed students from across the globe to come study at Catlin Gabel. Her experience teaching in Botswana and Thailand has benefited us all. She was an early voice in support of adding Chinese to our modern languages program.

Emily is a font of knowledge about teenagers and how to help them mature into responsible adults. Her sensible views on child-rearing have benefited countless teachers, parents, and children. So often after parent meetings with Emily, I hear from families who credit Emily with giving them advice that changed their family dynamics for the better.

Emily’s focus is on students. At the same time she supports the faculty and recognizes the strengths of each teacher. She is masterful at identifying people’s talents and positioning them for everyone’s benefit. She has developed a “kid team,” a group of adults charged with thinking about the whole child. Emily has hired excellent new teachers, while honoring and learning from the teachers who have long histories with Catlin Gabel.

A strong advocate for keeping pace with new research, Emily has supported the faculty in attending brain research conferences and passing along their new understanding to colleagues school wide. Teaching in classrooms across the divisions now reflects the latest information about how people learn.

The Upper School is in great shape. Emily has made sure of that. Her successor, Michael Heath, has an excellent foundation upon which to build. Thank you, Emily. The Catlin Gabel community will miss you.

Susan Sowles

After 39 years in the Upper School, it is hard to imagine Susan Sowles not teaching art at Catlin Gabel. Generations of students have benefited from her quiet grace, constant support, and wealth of knowledge. Alumni in the arts point to Susan and her influence when they remember their journeys to becoming artists. Susan has led the art department as longtime department chair, taught art history, weaving, ceramics, painting, watercolor, and calligraphy, and served as yearbook advisor. Her elegant calligraphy has bejeweled diplomas for as long as anyone can remember. Susan’s contributions to Catlin Gabel go far beyond the arts department. She chaired the faculty professional development committee, giving voice to the concept of furthering everyone’s educations at Catlin Gabel. She has worked tire-lessly on behalf of independent schools by planning two major PNAIS conferences on our campus. And she has made certain Catlin Gabel is evaluated in the best light, leading us through two self-studies for accreditation. Thank you, Susan, for your lifetime of dedication to Catlin Gabel. I wish you all the best in your well-deserved retirement.


Congratulations to the Class of 2007. You will be missed! Read a summary of the senior panel discussion with the PFA in the Campus Life section of the website.

Class of 2007 college admissions

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by Lark Palma, head of school

This is the bittersweet time of year when we prepare for our seniors to graduate. As their final weeks of high school wane, the class of 2007 is engaged in the life of the school and year-end traditions. At the same time, they are clearly ready to begin their next adventures. Most seniors have decided where they will attend college next year, some are deferring for one year but have determined which college they will attend the following year, and several are postponing their final decisions until they receive wait-list news or financial aid offers.

How did our seniors fare in this year’s instensely competitive college admission environment? Beautifully! I congratulate the class of 2007 on their admission to a variety of outstanding colleges. The list is impressive (and will be published in the fall Caller). Further, I am proud of the support the students have shown each other during the anxiety-producing process, which, unfortunately, includes rejection as well as acceptance letters. The students have remained positive and focused on the goal: being well educated.

As you have probably read in publications including the New York Times, LA Times, and Business Week, this has been a record-setting year for college applications for four reasons: the Echo Boomers (children born between 1982 and 1995) represent a population bulge. More high school graduates are attending college than previous generations. The number of international students applying to American colleges has increased. Students apply to more colleges due to amplified competition and the ease of filing online with common applications.

What are some of the numbers the class of 2007 confronted? According to the LA Times “Acceptance rates for Stanford, Yale, and Columbia were 10.3 percent, 9.6 percent, and 8.9 percent respectively. That means thousands of valedictorians and people with grade-point averages of 4.0 or higher were passed over in favor of whatever form of superhuman DNA now constitutes a worthy Ivy Leaguer. Of course, as admissions officers are quick to point out, you can be an infinitely worthy candidate and still get a no.”

The pressure on our students is enormous, and the stress is compounded when parents have unreasonable expectations. Suppose you had a nine percent chance of getting a job. Would you apply for it? An optimist might, but certainly would not put all her eggs in one basket. The idea of setting your heart on one or two first-choice colleges is an obsolete notion.

We must broaden our minds when we think of good colleges. The big-name colleges represent a small fraction of the excellent schools scattered throughout the country. Great academics and first-rate faculties are characteristics of many colleges and universities with which you may not be familiar. Illustrating this point, Newsweek dubbed 25 lesser-known schools the New Ivies. Their list includes Bowdoin, Emory, Kenyon, Pomona, Reed, Rice, Skidmore, Tufts, and Vanderbilt. Hundreds of colleges and universities that are not household names offer excellent opportunities for our graduates.

Our college counselors, Kate Grant and John Keyes, are knowledgeable about institutions of higher learning nationwide, and make it their business to enlighten colleges about Catlin Gabel. They visit campuses, correspond with college admissions offices, attend conferences, and compare notes with counselors at other high schools. They also communicate with our alumni to gain the inside scoop on colleges from California to Maine. Kate and John are dedicated to building relationships with the students they counsel. They work with juniors to identify the students’ interests and strengths. Early in the senior year, each student meets regularly with either Kate or John to establish a list of good-fit colleges, prepare essays, and line up teacher recommendations. Parents often participate in the process, but we encourage students to take the lead. The personalized attention our students receive from the entire faculty throughout the college application process is extraordinary.

More stats

Talking about grades makes us uncomfortable because we deemphasize grades in favor of non-competitive learning for the sake of gaining knowledge and skills. However, we understand the best way to dispel myths is to address misperceptions directly.

The prevailing rumor that the Upper School’s uninflated grades prevent our students from competing does not bear out. While some high schools hand out 4.0 GPAs like candy on Halloween, Catlin Gabel reserves the highest grades for exceptional students. Currently—and we don’t expect this to change at the end of the year—the majority of this year’s seniors have between 3.0 and 3.5 GPAs. Twelve students have GPAs of 3.5 or more. The average GPA for 2005, 2006, and 2007 has been 3.113, 3.175, and 3.157 respectively.

When colleges see our grade distribution, they understand our grading patterns. They know from experience and from word of mouth that Catlin Gabel students succeed in college. College admissions officers are skilled at matching students to their programs and consider factors beyond grades and test scores. During the last three years our students with grade point averages between 2.8 and 3.3 have been accepted to Colorado College, George Washington University, Macalester, Middlebury, Reed, Skidmore, St. Andrews, Smith, University of California- Davis, University of Chicago, University of Puget Sound, Washington University, and Whitman, to name a few. Carnegie-Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Oberlin, and University of Pennsylvania have accepted Catlin Gabel students with 3.3 to 3.5 GPAs. And Amherst, Brown, Harvey Mudd, Harvard, Haveford, MIT, Pomona, Princeton, Stanford, Swarthmore, and Yale have accepted our students with 3.5 to 4.0 GPAs.

The numbers and rankings are distractions from our most important goals of creating meaningful and relevant curriculum and educational experiences, and cultivating close student-teacher relationships. We prepare students for advanced learning, wherever their paths may lead, by offering seminar-style courses, engaging labs, myriad extracurricular clubs and activities, and personal attention. Our students know how to work cooperatively and creatively, and communicate effectively. Catlin Gabel’s college counselors and teachers know our students well, advocate for them, and help them select and pursue the best college matches. Our alumni report that they are academic achievers in college because they know how to approach professors, ask for help, manage their time, work with others, and direct their own learning. Members of the class of 2007, like their predecessors, are ready to fully engage in the next chapters in their lives. I wish them all the best.

Board retreat sets stage for next few years

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by Lark Palma, head of school

The board of trustees and administrative leadership are participating in a two-day planning retreat on April 13 and 14. The retreat provides an opportunity to clarify Catlin Gabel’s priorities and re-commit to innovation, diversity, and progressive education. The retreat is not a replication of the Imagine 2020 work. Rather, coming together for two days provides a way to make sure we are all on the same page with respect to how we move forward. Initiatives, strategic directions, and a five-year plan have already been laid out. The next steps involve prioritizing.

The board and administrative leadership must engage in philosophical discussion so that each person has a big-picture perspective and an informed appreciation for the nuances and interdependence of each part of the school. This perspective is essential for informed decision-making and effective governance as we evolve to meet the needs of 21st-century learners.

The trick is to balance our ambition with economic realities. We will wrestle with competing demands and trade-offs. Catlin Gabel must be intentional about our use of resources. We must ask what we should do that will make the most difference to the most students while staying true to important traditions. We must be nimble in meeting the future without forfeiting our legendary strengths. How school looks today is different from how school will look in the future. We must continually assess what we are doing to provide current and future students with the best possible education.

We are asking each trustee and staff member to come to the retreat prepared to explore the areas of the school that are essential to who we are as a community. For example, our baseline assumptions might include small student-teacher ratio, varied and rich educational programs, experiential learning, faculty professional development, and health benefits for employees. Each given carries a price tag. The question we hope to answer is which ideas are so central to Catlin Gabel that they are non-negotiable. In a similar exercise several years ago, the community approached the campus master plan by defining “sacred spaces.” The overwhelming consensus was the paddock and Fir Grove were off limits to building projects.

I am excited to report that Michael Heath, who becomes Upper School head on July 1, has agreed to join us on the retreat. The two-day meeting is a terrific opportunity for Michael to learn about Catlin Gabel in detail and to get to know the trustees and staff members with whom he will work closely.

In order to help retreat participants fully engage, Skip Kotkins, PNAIS and NAIS board member, and CEO of Skyway Luggage, will facilitate our two days together.

To inspire and inform us about recent trends in education we have invited two guest speakers. Peter Cookson, dean of the graduate school of education and counseling at Lewis & Clark College, will talk about education in the future. Meade Thayer, executive director of PNAIS and a former admission director, will address access and affordability in independent schools.

When this group of bright, dedicated people sets the stage for the next few years at Catlin Gabel, rejuvenation is an inevitable outcome. I look forward to continuing this conversation and refining our priorities with faculty-staff, alumni, and parents.

Experiential learning adds value to education

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by Lark Palma, head of school

One hallmark of progressive education at Catlin Gabel is experiential learning. Throughout the year students are engaged in participatory learning both inside and outside the classrooms. In February and March experiential learning takes the form of Winterim in the Upper School, Breakaway in the Middle School, and Experiential Days in the Lower School. In all three divisions students and teachers explore activities outside our normal settings. In the Upper School students plan and lead the Winterim offerings with faculty chaperones. I have written in the past about the tremendous value we place on this aspect of our curriculum. I thought it would be interesting for you to read what our students have to say about experiential learning. I asked seniors, who have recently completed their final Winterims, to answer a few questions about what they have gained from their experiences. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How have Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim added value to your education?

Peter Hatch (Catlin Gabel lifer): Experiential learning has added a lot to my education. Looking back, the times devoted to experiential learning (along with activities with similar formats, like class trips) have been the true highlights of my Catlin experience. These times have allowed me to interact with and get to know students and teachers I hadn’t previously known, and interact with people I already knew on a wholly different level.

Hannah Carr (Catlin Gabel lifer): Every trip I have been on has given me a fresh look about something I never knew about. I can still remember an Experiential Days about horses and watching a horse give birth.

Katie Meyers (Catlin Gabel since 9th grade): Winterim is a delight. Because they are student run (in the Upper School), they change every year, and you never know what is going to happen from year to year. It’s a nice break from the classroom and gives us a chance to learn a new skill in a hands-on manner. Because of Winterim I learned about investing in stocks vs. real estate, how to fuse glass, what makes British comedy funny, and the history behind Texan culture. Education shouldn’t only be about memorizing textbooks, it should be about creating a well-rounded individual, and Winterim allows that to happen.

Ethan Tucker (Catlin Gabel lifer): They have been an integral part of learning outside the classroom.

What was your favorite Experiential Days, Breakaway, or Winterim? Why?

Cam McClure (Catlin Gabel since 9th grade): This was by far my favorite Winterim. I worked with a friend (Alix Vollum) to create a Winterim where we drank tea, learned tango, and knitted or crocheted. It was very mellow and we had a good mix of ages.

Andrea “Andy” Moerer (Catlin Gabel lifer): My favorite Winterim was the California College Search one because it really looked good on my college applications that I had already visited a lot of the colleges I applied to.

Rob Kaye (Catlin Gabel lifer): Flying to the Coast in 5th grade. Led by a parent and a teacher, we flew in a helicopter and then flew in a plane to the Oregon Coast. All that awesome plane stuff in 5th grade made it the best, and also the amount of freedom we had in exploring the Tillamook Air Museum. And a 2nd grader actually got to fly the helicopter.

Peter: I think my favorites have been the two whitewater rafting trips, in 7th and 9th grades. Both trips had about the same format (we even ran the same rivers) so returning to the experience in 9th grade was a lot of fun. I also loved the chance to get into the outdoors, and try something that I probably would not have wanted to do, or been able to afford, if the program had not come through school.

Katie: My favorite Winterim is a toss-up between Glass Fusion and Everything’s Bigger in Texas. I not only became closer with my peers on the “Glass” Winterim, but I met teachers in other parts of the school that I wouldn’t have otherwise been acquainted with. “Texas” was a blast because it was my last Winterim and the group was fantastic. We visited the Alamo and a mission outside of San Antonio, as well as a slew of museums to learn about the Spanish influence on Texas.

Ethan: My favorite was Habitat For Humanity because it allows students to learn a valuable skill while giving back to the community.

What was your least favorite Experiential Days, Breakaway, or Winterim? Why?

Cam: My least favorite Winterim was the one I chose based on friends rather than activity. Bad idea!

Andy: My least favorite Winterim was my freshman year because we were supposed to make a magazine, but all we did was go shopping and see movies.

Peter: I have had pretty good luck. Of course some were better than others, but I can’t recall a time when I have come away with an overall negative impression.

Hannah: My least favorite Breakaway was a cooking one. Although I did enjoy the cooking aspect, I learned that you couldn’t simply cook for three days straight and still keep an interest. However, I really liked one of the cooking classes we went to.

Cody Snell (Catlin Gabel since 6th grade): Writing at the beach; not enough activities.

Have you tried something new during Experiential Days, Breakaway, or Winterim that you continue to do or would like to do again?

Peter: Yes, I’d say the best example is probably a writing Breakaway in the Columbia Gorge in 6th grade. Although I had been interested in writing, I think that this really did a lot to encourage my fledgling interests into something I really prided myself in.

Hannah: My freshman year I did a glass fusion Winterim that I liked a lot. Although right now I don’t have time to continue making glass, I think in the future I would do it again. I loved being able to take something home that I had made and show it off to my parents.

Ethan: For Habitat for Humanity I have learned construction skills, and I am considering doing a project for AmeriCorps through Habitat.

Rob: White water rafting. I did rafting Breakaways twice, and then a Winterim. That summer I convinced my family to rent a guide and raft and do a day trip on the Deschutes. Great experience and introduced me to something new.

Were you ever assigned to an Experiential Days, Breakaway, or Winterim course that you expected to dislike and ended up liking? What were the reasons for your shift in attitude?

Peter: I wasn’t really looking forward to this year’s Exploring Portland’s Green Scene Winterim. It was much more interesting and informative than I had expected.

Ethan: Yes, sophomore year, my Habitat for Humanity Winterim didn’t sound like much fun, but I needed community service hours. I learned so much and had such a great group of leaders and upperclassmen that my opinion turned around quickly.

Cody: No, I always correctly predicted whether I would like a trip or not.

Do you have any advice for underclassmen about Experiential Days, Breakaway, or Winterim

Ethan: Pick something that you want to do and you think will be rewarding. Signing up with friends is nice, but meeting new people and making new connections is worth a few days without your best friends. Also, don’t hesitate to sign up for a Winterim that requires you to put some work into it. I have found that actually making a difference during Winterim is much better than having everything provided for you.

Cam: Create your own! If there’s something you’re interested in but can’t usually find the time to devote to it, Winterim is the perfect chance to concentrate on the activity and introduce new people to it!

Cody: This is one of the best ways to meet new people. Don’t sign up for an Experiential Days, Breakaway, or Winterim just because your friends are on it.

Katie: They shouldn’t be afraid to sign up for a Winterim that they are interested in, even if none of their friends sign up for it. You meet new people and have fun, even if you didn’t think you were going to. Also, don’t be afraid to create a Winterim. Students making Winterims out of a single idea or concept that they want to pursue is the heart of Winterim.

Middle and Lower School students and teachers look forward to Breakaway and Experiential Days in March. Among the varied Middle School offerings are trips to explore history and museums in Washington, D.C., art in New York City, sailing in Puget Sound, and theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Closer to home students can study dance, take cooking classes, and explore wood, steel, and stone sculpture. Lower School students can choose from trips to Eastern Oregon for fossil hunting or Mt. Bachelor for first-time skiers, or explore the wide world through photography, immersion into Japanese culture, or imagination-expanding fairy and gnome hunting in Portland’s parks and green spaces.

Catlin Gabel is committed to experiential learning. As we move forward, we are exploring ways in which experiential learning can dovetail with the global education and sustainability initiatives identified by Imagine 2020.

Thank you teachers, students, and parents for organizing and supporting experiential education opportunities. Learning by doing is always worthwhile.