A ‘Russell Rocket’ of School Reform
Each and every school day, students at the K-5 Russell Academy of Academic Achievement, part of the Parkrose School District in Portland, stand up and make this pledge: “I believe I can achieve and succeed. I know today will influence what I become tomorrow. I will be a good listener. I will be respectful of my classmates, because we are here to learn. It’s my decision. I will be safe. I will be kind. I will be a learner. I am smart. I have potential. I am unique. I am a Russell Rocket!”
They come to school dressed in simple uniforms: white shirts; navy slacks, shorts, or skirts; and navy or gray sweaters, sweatshirts, and vests.
“We all dress for our jobs,” says Principal Jeff Rose, who collaboratively with the staff initiated the pledge and dress code, with little opposition, as part of a larger school reform plan. “Learning is the most important job in a student’s life.”
Rose began his career teaching fourth and fifth graders in the West Linn/Wilsonville School District. His natural leadership abilities quickly emerged, and Rose’s principal encouraged him to pursue school administration. In fall 2000, after earning his administrative credentials at Lewis & Clark, Rose jumped at the opportunity to head what was then called Russell Elementary in the Parkrose School District.
“The student body was culturally diverse, the staff was dedicated, and the district was in favor of strong site-based leadership,” says Rose. “It was the perfect complement to my energy, enthusiasm, and optimism about what I believe is possible in schools.”
After a year of getting acquainted, he and his staff committed to improving basic reading and math comprehension in all grades. Although they saw some initial results, they thought they could do better. After an open, honest self-assessment, they graded Russell a “B” school and immediately set their sights on earning an A+, even incorporating that grade into the school’s logo.
Rose joined forces with parents and staff and initiated a six-part plan dubbed “The Russell Package.” Together they worked to align the curriculum, provide after-school learning opportunities, lower adult-to-child ratios during reading and math instruction, improve the school’s social climate, initiate a code of dress, and change the school’s name to reflect their shared vision.
Since the school introduced “The Russell Package” in 2002, its state rating has risen from “satisfactory” to “exceptional.” Russell Academy received an Oregon Celebrating Student Success Award in 2005.
Despite his trademark optimism, Rose says he has occasional off days when pressures nip at his heels. He laments the disconnect between educators and lawmakers, whose punitive response to schools’ less-than-perfect performance often hinders those in the field rather than helping or inspiring them. Yet he rarely dwells on such topics.
“Ultimately, the answers lie within us,” he says. “Learning is a collaborative process. By embracing a climate of creative communication, we can start to share our knowledge and together invent stellar solutions.”
–by Pattie Pace