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|
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.
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.
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.
“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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In late March we will resume campus construction and continue work on the Upper School facilities. The campus will be enhanced in many ways by the planned remodel of the Dant House, the humanities building, and the science building. The need for renovating these three buildings was identified when the concept of an Upper School village with a central quad was articulated.
The number of Upper School students has increased from approximately 240 in 1994 to 285 today. The increase provides an infusion of new students, allows for greater diversity, and expands our course offerings. We have boosted the number of teaching positions so that class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios have remained constant. Now it is time to complete the building expansions to better serve the curriculum and learners.
The Dant House is Catlin Gabel’s original defining building. Renovating this beloved and historic building will restore the house to its earlier beauty and make the spaces more accessible, useful, and environmentally responsible. Plans include retaining the original woodwork, fireplaces, and other historic features. The office area will be opened up to make it visible from the entrance, and new faculty offices will be created. Some of the walls, fire doors, and open sprinkler pipes that were required by old fire codes will be removed. The original plumbing, which is 60 years old and no longer functions properly, will be replaced. The oil-fired boiler will be retired and the building will be connected to the library’s efficient and environmentally friendly heating system. In fact, underground pipes were laid between the library and the Dant House, as well as the humanities building, in 2002 in preparation for this project. New weatherproof windows will further decrease energy usage.
Legendary Portland architect John Storrs designed the humanities building, which served as the Upper School library for over 30 years. John Storrs’ work, which includes the Oregon College of Art and Craft campus and Salishan resort, is historically significant. The architects and builders involved in previous remodeling projects all agree that the humanities building is a Portland treasure. The remodel will retain the architectural character of the building, while completing the structural transformation it needs to go from a library building to a classroom building. The classrooms will have improved sound insulation, and the learning center will be expanded. The addition of an outdoor deck provides a new outdoor space for the community. Like the Dant House project, the humanities building project includes new windows and a heating system linked by underground pipes to the library’s heating system. This project benefits the Middle School as well as the Upper School because the humanities building houses two Middle School classrooms and the Middle and Upper School learning center.
We are adding a new teaching lab to the west side of the science building. The addition of a new faculty office will create a courtyard linking the math and science buildings. Planned upgrades to the science building include removal of the unattractive and unsuccessful grey accordion partitions. Glass walls that allow for natural light from the central clerestory windows to shine in all the classrooms will replace the partitions. A new exit from the center of the science building will lead to the new math and science courtyard.
Funding for the Dant House, humanities, and science-math remodels comes from the school’s working capital funds and contributions made to the projects.
Making the move
Students and teachers need not move from the math and science buildings this spring. However, the Dant House and humanities building must be vacated before renovations begin. Students, teachers, lockers, and furniture will relocate to one of the indoor tennis courts and temporary trailer classrooms. We elected to start the renovations in spring so they will be complete by the time school opens in the fall. As the spring weather takes hold, the problem of temporarily losing student hang-out space will diminish when kids gravitate to the outdoors.
In order to make time for moving out of the affected buildings and into temporary digs, we are extending spring break only for Upper School students to include Friday, March 23, and Monday, April 2. The teachers will use those two days to move out of their current classrooms and offices and into temporary classrooms and offices. The students did not complain about this schedule alteration when we announced the plan in early January.
We recognize that the temporary disruptions cause some hardship, but our students and teachers have proven themselves resilient time and time again. This year’s seniors will no doubt complain that their final months at Catlin Gabel are disrupted, but I can imagine them at their 10-year reunion remembering the glory of ending their high school careers in temporary classrooms. Surely the class of 2007 understands that others before them withstood campus construction projects so that today’s seniors could benefit from a new Middle School building, a glorious track and field, a remodeled gymnasium, and vastly improved Upper School facilities. By next fall students and teachers will undoubtedly overlook this temporary inconvenience when they move into beautifully remodeled and expanded facilities.
We take every precaution to ensure student safety during construction. Most of the work scheduled for April and May will occur indoors. Exterior work will take place during summer vacation. Construction sites will be tightly fenced. We are working once again with Walsh Construction, which has a proven safety record on our campus. Their crews are particularly respectful of our students and teachers.
Facilities are an important factor in learning. Ambience, relationship with outdoor spaces, and quality of classrooms enhance learning. When we plan for facilities improvements we always look to school founder Ruth Catlin for guidance. In her philosophy statement Miss Catlin included the learning environment as an essential ingredient: “To maintain a school with the most enlightened ideals of education...in healthful, comfortable, cultural, simple and beautiful surroundings.” Our goal is to respect the inspiration of the architects who have come before and the historical memories of alumni while renewing and adapting to meet the needs of emerging generations of students.
Let him daily tell or write or sing or dance or act or paint
all that he has seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted. —Priscilla Gabel, founder
I am writing just before winter break when the campus is bustling in many arenas, most particularly in the arts. We celebrate the season with an array of musical, dramatic, and artistic presentations. I am impressed by the devotion of our arts teachers and inspired by our students’ talent. Every time an actor or musician steps on stage, a theater technician cues a sound effect, or an artist exhibits a painting, I know he or she broadens learning beyond the ordinary.
Catlin Gabel celebrates the arts throughout the year. We launch the school year with a faculty–staff art exhibition in the Cabell Center foyer. Faculty and staff representing all divisions and departments, not just the arts, demonstrate their remarkable creativity. Annually, I look forward to seeing my colleagues’ artistic expressions, and I appreciate how they extend themselves to the entire community. It is wonderful for students to see aspects of their teachers they might not otherwise get to know. By sharing our artistic accomplishments with students we model lifelong learning
and creative pursuits.
As the school year continues, students in each division have their opportunity to display artwork in the Cabell Center foyer. The Lower School art exhibition, currently in the Cabell Center, amuses, delights, and awes. The variety of work and depth of beauty is something to behold. Student art is not confined to the Cabell Center. Paintings, drawings, and sculptures can be found all over campus – wooden sculptures in the Middle School, student photography in the Upper School library, displays in the art studios and ceramic studios, murals on classroom walls. Performing arts take center stage during the weeks before winter break. For over six decades the eighth grade’s annual performance of St. George and the Dragon has delighted young and old alike. Upper School students look back and remember the roles they played in years gone by (and are convinced their version had higher production value). The little ones look forward to seeing St. George battle the dragon in a choreographed sword fight and imagine themselves as eighth graders.
The award-winning Upper School choir and instrumentalists inspire us with their power and talent. This winter’s concert celebrating the anniversary of Mozart’s birth was nothing short of breathtaking. Our students’ musical sophistication is phenomenal. The joy and wonder of Revels is reflected in the faces of the children on stage. Each and every first through fifth grader sings and dances, and the older children play instruments. This annual celebration of international music serves to remind us that we are truly educating children for cultural literacy by helping them fall in love with music and movement at an early age.
Throughout the year I am thankful to the artists, actors, and musicians, who pass on their craft to children and young adults. The arts faculty does so much for our students. And they do it in some substandard facilities. Our splendid arts program deserves commensurate facilities. Enhanced and new arts studios are high on our priority list for capital improvements.
With the exception of the beautiful Lower School Art Barn, our art studios are small and lack storage space. As a result, our excellent art curriculum cannot expand beyond current offerings.
Fantastic student work is created daily, but most of us do not see it because we have insufficient display space. The Cabell Center Theater cannot accommodate our numerous drama classes and performances. As a result, at any given time many student actors perform and rehearse in spaces adapted but not completely suitable for theater. Our music classes are taught in classrooms that are old and drafty, or hot, loud, and acoustically unfit. We make do. Celebrate our amazing arts programs. Thank the music, art, and drama teachers for their work. And put your thinking caps on for how we can improve the campus to better serve the budding artist in every child.
I recently attended a conference for independent school heads and deans at Harvard University. The conference, “Leading and Managing the Independent School of the Future,” explored how American schools can best deliver relevant teaching and learning.
I was particularly intrigued and gratified by the presentation by David Perkins, senior professor of education at Harvard University, because so much of what he said validated what we do at Catlin Gabel. Armed with a doctorate in mathematics and artificial intelligence from MIT, David Perkins has turned his attention to research and development in teaching and learning for understanding, creativity, problem-solving, and reasoning in the arts, sciences, and everyday life.
David Perkins makes a clear distinction between rote learning for tests and meaningful learning, which he calls knowledge arts. As he describes it, knowledge arts include “communicating strategically, insightfully, and effectively, thinking critically and creatively, and putting school knowledge to work out in what educators sometimes humbly call the ‘real world.’ The knowledge arts bundle together deep reading, compelling writing, strong problem-solving and decision-making, and the strategic and spirited self-management of learning itself, within and across the disciplines.” Sounds like Catlin Gabel, doesn’t it?
He talked about how schools underserve students when they focus on test results and mechanical learning rather than on teaching kids how to think, analyze, and apply their knowledge. He summarizes his appraisal of most American schools by dividing teaching into that which is “taught a lot, but matters not,” and that which is “not taught, but matters a lot.”
The concept of teaching what matters speaks to the national conversation about testing. Catlin Gabel and other progressive schools resist the trend toward teaching that which matters not by eschewing Advanced Placement classes. By definition AP classes teach to the test. After hearing David Perkins, I am more convinced than ever that we are doing what’s best for students by avoiding the rigid AP curriculum.
Last month I wrote a response piece for The Head’s Letter, published by Educational Directions, on this topic. My article was published as an endorsement of a New York Times op-ed piece by Rodney LeBrecque, an educational consultant and former independent school dean at Choate Rosemary Hall and science department head at Milton Academy. Here is my response:
I applaud Rodney LaBrecque’s position on the Advanced Placement examinations. Catlin Gabel School has never taught AP courses, for the reasons Mr. LaBrecque cites. We have always felt that teachers need the freedom to create courses that meet the needs of the students and provide flexibility to make what’s happening now open for investigation. Students take the AP exams – in all subjects available to them – if they want to. Our median grades are 4 and 5.
A strong curriculum that emphasizes thinking skills, information management and interpretation, and that focuses on the skills of a discipline affords a student the necessary preparation for solid collegiate work. And Mr. LaBrecque did not mention that many colleges give their own placement tests in various disciplines.
NAIS and regional independent school associations should band together to take a strong stand against the AP culture. We threaten our own independence by AP-ing and IB-ing to such an extent that we might as well be under the thrall of No Child Left Behind. I do not believe that top students in public or private schools are well served by exam-directed classes: there’s no room for engagement with original ideas, and too much rote memorization.
For many independent schools, teaching beyond AP is a way to compete with other local choices. If we communicate that our curriculum exceeds the AP standard, we can counter AP proponents, while providing something much more substantive for our students.
Swimming upstream is not always easy, which is why I am so proud that Catlin Gabel has been in the vanguard of teaching what matters.
If there is one thing that keeps me awake at night, it is imagining the horror of a student suffering serious injury during a school activity. I wish our students could be encased in protective bubbles so they would never be at risk of motor vehicle accidents, natural disasters, or unforeseen mishaps.
What does the school do to protect our students? A lot! Schoolwide security and safety measures are in place for myriad potential problems. The faculty-staff safety committee meets monthly to review procedures and address new problems as they arise. We have given a great deal of thought to safety concerns and created numerous strategies over the years, which I will summarize here.
Every single teacher and staff member is required to attend the annual safety fair held just before school starts in September. We are trained to respond to a range of disasters including fire, earthquake, and chemical spills. We also are trained to deal with injuries, airborne pathogens, lockdown procedures, and 9-1-1 protocols.
In addition to the annual safety fair, each adult working at Catlin Gabel is required to take Red Cross first aid and CPR classes. We are fortunate that P.E. department chair Sheila Williams is certified to teach the Red Cross courses so we can offer the training and recertification classes on campus (thank you, Sheila).
We have a schoolwide alarm system tied to our telephone system so alerts can be initiated anywhere on campus. Maintenance staff members test this system monthly. We also have a public address system that can be heard campus-wide, which is tested during earthquake and lockdown drills. A parent at the October PFA meeting mentioned that she had no idea we had this system in place until she was on campus one day during a drill and was impressed by the loudspeaker’s range and force, and the students’ and teachers’ orderly response.
We have in place strict lockdown procedures. An expert from the Bush School in Seattle helped us develop these procedures to secure our students and faculty-staff in the event of an armed intruder or bomb threat.
We are all on high alert. Staff members routinely ask strangers their business on campus. Sometimes, the stranger is a guest looking for the soccer fields. Other times, it may be a not-so-desirable character. In all cases, we are trained to make sure the visitors are guided to their campus destination or escorted off campus, if that seems the prudent thing to do.
Fifty-five faculty and staff members on campus have two- way radios. Many of these 55 people and the entire grounds crew are trained in violence intervention. Incident reports are standard operating procedure at Catlin Gabel and are filed for all injuries, emergency calls, and thefts. The administrative leadership team tracks incident reports.
Campus maps with building locations and numbers are updated routinely. The maps show primary evacuation routes, alarm locations, fire sprinklers, and fire hydrants. American Security, who monitors our alarm systems, has this information on file.
Catlin Gabel has excellent relationships with local law enforcement and emergency personnel. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Tualatin Valley Fire Department respond incredibly quickly to our calls. They are even good humored about the occasional false alarm, which is a nuisance but is good practice for all concerned.
One thing all parents can do to help secure the safety of our students is to take great care in the parking lot. I do not wish to underestimate the fear surrounding violent intrusions or natural disasters. However, the odds favor automobile-related accidents, which is something we can all help mitigate.
We take excellent precautions and systematically review our policies and procedures. We observe and evaluate all drills. We know that the most important thing we can do is keep our children safe.
We are fortunate this year to welcome six exchange
students from four countries to the Upper School. I am
grateful to the generous families who are hosting exchange
students, and especially to the student hosts who will serve
as cultural guides and navigators this year.
Surely our exchange students will come away from their
year at Catlin Gabel with a better understanding of the
United States than they had before. They will learn about
our culture in general: Halloween, mid-term elections,
North American football. They also will come to know
Catlin Gabel’s culture: the Rummage Sale, calling teachers
by their first names, collaborative learning.
Our exchange students will learn a great deal from us
during their year at Catlin Gabel. At the same time, we
have so much to learn from them. We gain knowledge
from reading about world affairs and studying the history
of other countries, but nothing compares with sharing
firsthand stories. World affairs examined from personal
experience expands our points of view tremendously.
Briefly, I would like to introduce you to our students from
abroad. They hope to find ways to share some of their
experiences with teachers and students at all grade levels,
further benefiting our community.
Tumisang “Chop” Mothei, a senior, lives in Jwaneng,
Botswana, on the perimeter of the Kalahari Desert. He is
a member of the Mokgatla tribe and attends the Maru-a-
Pula International School, which is fashioned on the British
model. Chop loves music and has been a DJ at a local club.
Thanks to the Butman family for hosting Tumisang.
Dastan Salehi was born in Iraq to a Kurdish family who
fled to Turkey when he was a baby. Life in Turkey was
very hard for Dastan’s family, and they sought permission
to emigrate to Europe. They were given permission to
enter Denmark, where he has lived most of his life. When
the Danish public schools deteriorated and racism toward
dark-skinned people increased, Dastan’s family moved to
Valencia, Spain, where he was enrolled first in a British
school, then an American school. A self-described soccer
fanatic, Dastan, a sophomore, has been an awesome
addition to the varsity boys’ team. Our thanks go to Carla
Wentzel and Fred Miller, who met Dastan’s family in Spain
and are sponsoring his year in the United States.
Vivi Feng’s Chinese name is Yuan Feng. A junior, she
goes by Vivi in English because V is her favorite letter,
which, she says, “shows my personality: vivacious, vibrant,
and valiant.” Vivi is keen on art, especially calligraphy,
which she has studied since she was eight years old. She is
enjoying the opportunity to play several sports and plays
volleyball for the Eagles this fall. If only we had a Ping-
Pong team – she is very good at table tennis. Thanks to the
Roe family for hosting Vivi.
Cui Xialong and his family hosted current senior Andrew
Jones last year in China. We are so pleased that Andrew
and his family decided to reciprocate by inviting Xialong to
spend his senior year in Portland. Xialong is from Beijing,
where his favorite thing is the food. With 15 million people
in the city, it is not surprising that Xialong’s school has
2,000 students who study math, Chinese, English, physics,
chemistry, biology, and politics. His favorite subject is
math. He plays basketball and soccer and loves to sing.
Influenced by Andrew, Xialong’s favorite band is Green
Pia Hoppenberg, a junior, hails from Hiltrup, Germany,
a suburb of Münster, where she attends Kardinal-von-
Galen-Gymnasium, an Episcopal private school. She
enjoys studying languages and is adding Spanish this year
to her repertoire of German, French, and English. Pia plays
volleyball at CGS. Thanks to the Orban family for hosting
Fabian Weiss lives near Frankfurt in Hofheim, Germany,
where he plays soccer and tennis and studies piano. Fabian
speaks several languages including English, French, and
some Spanish. A junior this year, his favorite subjects
are history and biology. He plays soccer, is a fan of snow
skiing, and has a keen interest in acting and listening to
music (mostly Beatles and indie music). The Davies family
graciously hosts Fabian.
In addition to our six exchange students, junior Luke Jin
from South Korea and senior Lorenzo Rabello from Brazil
are in their second years at Catlin Gabel. Luke lives with
the Gross family, and Lorenzo lives with his older brother,
who works for Nike.
Increasing the scope of our exchange programs enriches
our community. This involves not only hosting exchange
students, but also sending our own students abroad during
their junior year. This year’s senior class includes four
students who studied abroad last year through the School
Year Abroad program (SYA). Evan Matsuda (Spain),
Colby Mills (Italy), Andrew Jones (China), and Stephanie
Roe (China) returned to Catlin Gabel this fall full of
stories, self-confidence, terrific second language skills, and
broadened outlooks. Their enthusiasm for their host
countries is infectious. Their classmates benefit from their
new perspectives on cultures, history, politics, and different
types of schooling. I encourage freshmen and sophomores
to talk to our exchange students and to the seniors who
lived abroad last year to find out if a year abroad suits their
sense of adventure and academic goals.
This year four juniors are studying abroad through SYA,
and Ele Wilson is spending the year attending school in
Greece and living with relatives. When Ele, Robert Bishop
(China), Kay Cadena (France), Emma Northcott (Spain),
and Angali Cadambi (Spain) return next year, our global
perspectives will be enhanced all the more.
Catlin Gabel is lively with young people who are reaching
out, learning from each other, and bringing the rest of us
along with them on their global adventures.
Bio information, provided by the exchange students, first
appeared in CatlinSpeak, the Upper School newspaper.