Imagining Our Future

Powerful Learning, Focused Innovation

A great education doesn’t just happen. It requires a coordinated effort between students, teachers, and family members – the circle of support that guides a child’s journey. It’s a complex process built on theory and practice, and one that is evolving constantly to meet students when and where they are ready to learn.

We focus on providing every student with a top-tier academic education.

Catlin Gabel does this better than almost any school in the nation. And central to our success is a commitment to principles of progressive education. We focus on providing every student with a top-tier academic education, and lessons in character and integrity that they carry with them throughout their lives.

Our plan is to maintain and build upon this excellence for generations to come. We’ll accomplish this by concentrating on improvement, rather than focusing merely on change.

Our year-long Strategic Planning process revealed our remarkable capacity to be bold, and our potential for the future. The effort brought together many voices in our community to help us define the “best” of what we are, and to imagine what our students will need from us in the years ahead.

A Collective Understanding of What is Working Well

  • Students are thriving at Catlin Gabel. They’re learning in a diverse and inclusive community characterized by warmth and respect. Kindness is the norm. They’re encouraged in their interests, and highly engaged in their educational journey. This level of success should be a source of pride for anyone associated with Catlin Gabel.
  • Families are embraced as partners. They are highly satisfied with their child’s experience at Catlin Gabel, and deeply committed to supporting the school.
  • Teachers and staff are dedicated. The school attracts talented, ambitious educators who grow in their profession, and a highly skilled staff who partner with them.
  • The school is flourishing. Our fiscal health exceeds peer school benchmarks, with a consistently balanced budget and healthy endowment. Demand for admission is high.
  • Programs are dynamic. Distinctive signature programs take students beyond the classroom, where they learn by exploring the city, the region, and the world.
  • We provide a strong grounding in academic disciplines. This continues to be central to a Catlin Gabel education, delivered with teaching methods that reflect the best practices of an evolving profession.
  • Character development is an educational component. A long-standing school ethos, we teach respect for oneself, and for the ideas, feelings, and experiences of others. Increasingly, these ethics and morals extend to online identity as well.
  • The campus is an oasis. As city life intensifies, the campus remains peaceful and pastoral, a natural setting for students to explore. Facilities are impeccably maintained.
  • The school epitomizes excellence. Catlin Gabel is recognized as one of the nation’s finest schools. Our students develop into global citizens who value learning, diversity, social responsibility, and achievement.
  • Alumni are citizens of the world. The empathy and interest they’ve gained at Catlin Gabel lead them to responsible action, and to make positive contributions to society.

This level of success should be a source of pride for anyone associated with Catlin Gabel. But recognizing our current qualities and outcomes is only the start.

The World in Which Our Students Will Live

As the world changes, so should the nature of formal education. And yet, the work of educating young people – in terms of both curriculum and method – has changed very little over the years. Students need and deserve an educational experience that reflects their time and place.


Success requires creative thinking, an ability to recognize and initiate opportuniites, and a flexibility concept of “career.”


Inidividual choice drives the experience of learning and the ways content is designed, accessed, and absorbed.


Data analysis skills grow in importance as access to information expands, and communities are increasingly defined by members’ online identities.


The trend toward urbanization poses engineering and resource challenges, and a disconnection from the natural world.


Communities become less isolated, and success in life is increasingly tied to one’s active interest in diversity and the celebration of differences.


The interconnectedness of society requires that leaders embrace multiple challenges, including equity, the environment, politics, and resources.

What Our Students Need - and What We Can Deliver

Our students require new sets of skills, and new ways of understanding the world through experience. Their success depends on the school’s commitment to recognize these realities, and to respond.

Two older students walk in the woods on campus, with text stating 'Appreciation for beauty, nature, life. Providing a grounding for a life of purpose and contribution.'

Three students in elementary school use chalk to write on the sidewalk. Text overlay states: 'Adaptive Thinking. Critical thinking skills, inquiry mindset, resourceful, resilient.

Two male high school students collaborate on a science experiment in a lab. The text overlay reads: 'Collaborative Skills. Self-knowledge, lead and follow, responsibility, openness.

A kindergarten student moves a building block on a table.

A group of Middle School students write and point on a map on the floor. The text image reads: 'Cross-Cultural Skills. Empathy, listening, curiosity, agreeableness.

Two high school students discussing a topic in class while using a laptop. Text on the image reads: 'Network Thinking. Making creative connections across people, subjects, experiences.'

Two elementary age boys are on the floor looking at an iPad together.  Image text reads: "Communication skills, oral, written, digital, multimedia, publishing, and posting."

Where are We Going - Our Aspirations

The educational model of Catlin Gabel is enormously effective and advancing our institution begins by acknowledging this fact. Our approach to teaching and learning has inspired generations of independent thinkers and lifelong learners. We will inspire many more.

Changing the direction of the school or developing unrelated new programs will not improve the Catlin Gabel experience, but committing fully to our progressive principles will. We will benefit our students by both building on our strengths and focusing on our aspirations:

  • Engage our students in deeper and more meaningful learning by expanding opportunities for experiential learning on campus and in the wider world.
  • Attract and develop the most talented progressive educators by ensuring that Catlin Gabel is always a top choice for the nations’ best teachers.
  • Bring a disciplined approach to innovation and success by simultaneously building on our strengths and practicing the laboratory approach.
  • Inspire educational innovation reform nationally by sharing our thought leadership and educational model.

Our success in achieving these aspirations depends on our ability to focus in the coming years on two key strategic priorities.

Experiential Learning for Every Student

Experiential learning – learning by doing – is a powerful way to engage a student intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. It’s an approach that develops adaptable and resilient learners, provides context and relevance, and integrates academic knowledge with real-world experience.

Learning by experience is a Catlin Gabel tradition, but our Strategic Plan expands these experiences with a new aspiration: to connect students to their community in practical, authentic ways. With cultural competence, students can lead responsibly, and explore the world with empathy and understanding.

We Will Embed Experiential Learning Across All Grades and Subjects

  • Define the role experiential learning plays in progressive education
  • Integrate experiential learning into curriculum, and track results
  • Adjust school schedule and calendar to support unique learning opportunities

We Will Create Interdisciplinary Learning Experiences in Varied Environments

  • Support teacher initiatives that expose students to unfamiliar ideas, cultures, and environments
  • Rethink structures of school to support creative teaching and learning
  • Reevaluate concepts of classroom and homework

Connect students to their community in practical, authentic ways.

We Will Develop a Network of Community Partners

  • Work directly with community leaders to develop cross-organizational educational opportunities
  • Invite students to hear a variety of perspectives, and encourage their curiosity to learn more
  • Help students to appreciate differences and the power of collaboration

We Will Engage Students in Portland-based Initiatives That Have Positive Social Impact

  • Encourage students to understand their own responsibility in the greater Portland community
  • Provide opportunities for students to explore community-based sustainability issues
  • Help students to explore, understand, and engage in the city’s social issues

We Will Encourage Appreciation For and Understanding of the Natural World

  • Teach sustainability and provide students with opportunities to practice this concept
  • Connect students to nature with learning opportunities on campus and throughout the region
  • Pair appreciation for the natural world with an understanding of stewardship

Establish Catlin Gabel as an unrivaled educational laboratory

Extraordinary teaching and institutional focus will enable us to achieve our strategic goals, and to further the school’s standing as an educational leader. We will grow as an educational laboratory for learning and innovation, both within our classrooms and as institution.

Students will benefit from a more collaborative teacher approach to improving classroom practice, and from a more disciplined institutional approach to developing new ideas and assessing value. They will benefit as well from a unified “one school” approach to creating new programs, hiring employees, and making resource decisions.

We Will Reinforce Principles of Progressive Education

  • Support leading edge teaching in the classroom and beyond
  • Develop students who are more engaged and prepared for their next steps in education and in life
  • Improve our professional expertise to ensure that our students benefit from continuous improvement and the nation’s most talented educators

We Will Use Evidence of Student Learning to Improve the Educational Experience

  • Develop, test, and implement educational innovation
  • Share findings and insights with the educational community
  • Use classroom research to design innovative professional development

Commit our resources in the most promising directions.

We Will Foster Disciplined Innovation in Curriculum and Operations

  • Use our mission and principles to make program decisions
  • Employ a strategic decision-making process
  • Analyze and realign resources

We Will Measure Institutional Outcomes and Define Success

  • Determine outcomes that are both realistic and ambitious
  • Collect, analyze, and utilize data, and communicate value
  • Define outcomes to ensure we commit our resources in the most promising directions

We Will Inspire Innovative Education Reform Locally and Nationally

  • Establish Catlin Gabel as a leading voice for innovative education
  • Reach across boundaries to create educational opportunities that reflect the world in which we live
  • Present, publish, and promote our laboratory approach, our curricular innovations, and our results

Next Steps

With our Strategic Plan, Catlin Gabel teachers, staff, parents, and school leaders were challenged to do precisely what we encourage of our students: to be bold and principled, embrace change, take risks, and be prepared to learn from our mistakes.

Our plan will succeed because of this approach. We know that achieving long-term goals requires us to be flexible and adaptable, and to learn as we proceed. In this realm, Catlin Gabel has always excelled.

As in all laboratory models, results drive further exploration, and this is true for all aspects of our Strategic Plan, from the creation of innovative programs to the allocation of resources. We will learn and evolve as we deepen our commitment to diversity and inclusion, for example, and as we make decisions around campus infrastructure, enrollment planning, and financial planning.

Every part of our Strategic Plan provides an opportunity for the school to evolve and improve. As we work towards creating a better educational experience for our students, we ask our school community to stay engaged. Visit the webpage regularly for updates, and share your thoughts directly by emailing