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The Center for Student Success
The Center for Student Success

It was at a press conference in December that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, surrounded by a group of children, announced that it was his intent to see that each and every child in the room with him would graduate. The Governor’s announcement was part of a statewide Achievement Compact, the “40-40-20 Goal,” approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2011 in Senate Bill 253, which aims to graduate 100 percent of Oregon students from high school by 2025, while seeing that 80 percent of those students received some form of higher education. SB 253, along with SB 290, also passed in 2011 to improve the way teachers and administrators are evaluated, are indicative of the way Oregon is working to reform and improve public education. In order to implement these reforms and see that they have their intended effects, organizations from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors will need to come together to ask the right questions, collect the best data, and do the kind of thorough analysis that will be necessary to evaluate programs, projects, and educators to ensure that Oregon’s students have everything they need to succeed in the classroom and after graduation. One such organization that may prove integral to this process is the Center for Student Success (CSS) in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University.

The Center for Student Success was created in 2003 to provide expert and technical services to assist K-12 schools, districts, and nonprofit organizations working to increase student success and to bridge the achievement gap. In order to meet the needs of organizations like Portland Public Schools and other Metro region school districts, the Chalkboard Project/Foundations for a Better Oregon, and All Hands Raised (formerly the Portland Schools Foundation) CSS offers a variety of services, some of which include: research, grant and program evaluations, charter school evaluations, professional development design and implementation, evaluations of online learning options, and conflict resolution. CSS also offers professional development related to Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) that support student learning through teacher collaboration and can be tailored to individual, school, or district goals. Behind each of these services are experts and consultants with extensive backgrounds in public education, in evaluation practices, in survey development and data analysis, and state and federal education standards.

Linda Jessell, Director of CSS since 2008, is one such expert. Director Jessell has over 40 years of experience in public education and has been a teacher, administrator, and university faculty member, and she brings extensive knowledge in the fields of program evaluation, charter school evaluation, professional training and leadership development among others to the Center.

“Our mission at the Center,” Director Jessell recently said, “is to use the tools and resources of higher education to coordinate and deliver services to K-12 schools, districts, and nonprofits whose energies and efforts are directed toward schools. But kids and their success in school is really the motivation behind everything we do here in the Center.”

“For instance,” Jessell went on, “we’ve worked with the Chalkboard Project over the last five years to evaluate their Creative Leadership Achieves Student Success (CLASS) education initiative. Recently, we also worked with schools in Multnomah County that were implementing a national program called ‘Restorative Justice,’ an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders. We have a client partnership with All Hands Raised to provide them with extensive data and analysis that they use in reports to the community in order to communicate progress on Multnomah County’s Cradle to Career initiative.”

While CSS has the tools and resources available to offer services to large organizations such as All Hands Raised and the Chalkboard Project, the Center also offers services to smaller programs and rural schools, districts, and nonprofits. In the past the Center has contracted expert consultants to aid with the evaluation of English Language Learner (ELL) programs, to prepare and analyze teacher surveys, and just recently to conduct teacher and administrator evaluation training workshops for six small school districts on the Oregon coast.

“Training workshops like these,” Jessell noted, “are one way the Center can directly affect the student sitting in the classroom. We help teachers and administrators by working with them to improve their teaching techniques in the classroom, help them conduct more effective classroom observations, and to collect and analyze data from classroom observations to make positive changes in their teaching practices.”

With SB290 requiring teacher and administrator evaluations as an indicator of state standards aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning in Oregon, services such as the training workshops, program evaluation, and teacher/administrator evaluation professional development offered by CSS will be of great value to schools and students across the state.

“The legislation of the past few years is really directed toward improving Oregon’s student learning by improving Oregon’s teachers,” Jessell said. “We hope the services we offer will help educators achieve that goal, but there are other issues facing Oregon’s students as well. Class sizes are too big. The achievement gap is critical. We hope our services can help educators address these issues as well.”

If you are an educator or a member of an education-focused nonprofit interested in learning more about the services offered by the Center for Student Success, you can visit the Center’s webpage, or contact the Center directly at centerforsuccess@pdx.edu