Abby Myers M.A.T. ’99 Show Me the Data
June 16, 2003
With the panache of a savvy CEO, Principal Abby Myers is transforming education at Applegate Elementary, a high-risk, high-need school near north Portland’s industrial corridor.
“We are a business, and we produce a product called student learning,” says Myers. “If our product is faulty, we can’t scrap it. Instead, we have to modify, adapt, and change our methods.”
Vital to Myers’ mission are communication and data.
By teaching traditional values such as safety, respect, and personal responsibility and by adopting Total Quality Management—a strategy first used by statistician W. Edwards Deming to retool Japan’s auto industry—Myers has unified her 25-member staff and significantly raised students’ test scores and their self-esteem.
In 1999, the community-based Education Crisis Team identified Applegate as one of 14 “crisis” schools in Portland Public Schools. Today, only one of its 215 students tests very low in math, none test very low in reading, and many excel in these subjects. Quarterly spreadsheets and a conference-room display provide a quick snapshot of students’ most recent test scores.
“We are a no-fault, no-blame organization. When a teaching method doesn’t produce desired results, we ask why and make changes,” says Myers, who is currently enrolled in the educational administration program at Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education.
Myers frequently phones parents or meets them at their homes to discuss what their kids are doing. “Often, parents and students at lower socioeconomic levels aren’t getting the information they need to make informed decisions,” says Myers. “I feel it is my charge to make sure parents are connected to their child’s school.”
To fulfill the Portland Board of Education’s strategic plan for crisis schools, Myers encourages her staff to cultivate leadership skills and broaden their areas of expertise. For example, one teacher now divides her time between the classroom and consulting on curriculum and instruction.
With a clear vision, Myers is positioning Applegate for its future as a niche school focusing on arts and technology. SERA Architects of Portland has drafted architectural renderings of a $4-million to $5-million remodeling project to respond to expected changes in the neighborhood’s demographics. Though the project is far from a reality, Myers recognizes the need to dream, especially during Oregon’s current budget crisis.
“We’re on the interstate corridor. Buyers will soon be bidding for our 900-square-foot cottages,” says Myers. “We will need to reinvent ourselves to remain viable in our community.”
—by Pattie Pace