MCM_30th Anni LogoTo mark the Mid-county Memo’s 30th anniversary, we are sampling the paper’s first year of publishing and comparing those reports to today’s. In June 1985, the Memo published results of a Parkrose School district survey of parents.

In June 1985, parents said the biggest problems were, in order, use of drugs, lack of financial support, parents’ lack of interest and lack of discipline.

The article said that ten years earlier in 1975, lack of discipline followed by use of drugs, parents’ lack of interest and lack of financial support.

Without a survey to reference, to assess the district’s current state, we asked Parkrose Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray and Board of Education vice-chair Mary Lu Baetkey for a comparative analysis.


Mary Lu Baetkey 1985, I was teaching fifth grade at Shaver Elementary and had 24 students in my classroom. Governments hadn’t decided to mandate and direct local education yet. This was before equalization of school funding—meaning residents of Parkrose had voted to support our schools so we could have class sizes that were reasonable, classes to support special needs students, a variety of classes at the high school—[for instance,] we had three foreign language classes compared to just one in 2015.

In 1985, the economy was growing in a different manner than 2015.

If the district did a survey in 2015 similar to those done in 1975 and 10 years later in 1985, what would we find? In my opinion, the same four concerns would be there:

• Large class size, including the additional fees due to lack of funding

• Discipline

• Why some parents do most of the work supporting their children’s educational experience, while others do little

• Drugs and alcohol

• I would also add a fifth: Where is art and electives?

Now that I have moved into my sixth decade, I understand a few more realities. The world is smaller with technology. How does one deal without a cell phone, texting and Facebook?

That is a change; however, people are still the same. Children go through developmental stages all over the world. That hasn’t changed since the beginning of time; some go through [those stages] faster than others.

Parents learn from their home life as kids: they saw what their parents did and often try to duplicate it—or in some cases do it the direct opposite. In all my years in the classroom, I never met a parent that did not care about their child; some were overwhelmed, but all wanted to do well in parenting. Some needed to know that they were welcomed and accepted for all they were trying to do and be given an acknowledgement that school had not been their favorite place. My father taught and demonstrated how to respect and accept people. He would say that not everyone is comfortable out in front, so you need to find something they can do to be successful. Drugs have been here since kids went behind the barn; the issue must be dealt with, and schools need the help of parents. Yes, with the mandates from governments the classroom has changed, with much more data collection and less time for the things many remember doing. Classes are bigger in all grade levels, making it much harder to form relationships with students, particularly at the high school level.

Yes, I felt warm and fuzzy as I read the old article. I know the individuals mentioned. Best yet, I still get that warm and fuzzy feeling when I am with the students in Parkrose. I know the staff wants students to be successful, reaching their full potential. I still see the same dedication from the staff I saw when I was teaching and growing up in the Parkrose School System.

I’m still very proud to live, have grown up, have taught in Parkrose and now serve on the Board.


Karen Fischer Gray

The four items of concern in 1985 remain items of concern in 2015, although they have morphed and developed nuanced differences due to an ever changing socio-political landscape. Gentrification and involuntary displacement of families of color out of the central city to places east of 82nd avenue have changed the demographics of students and families in our schools and present new challenges and a tapestry of rich diversity across the area.

As to drugs and discipline, according to our collected data, 73 percent of our 40 total exclusions (exclusions being out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension and expulsions, of which there were 10) from school K-12 last year were due to some type of marijuana-related incident. For most students, it is possession or being under the influence. Marijuana is easily attainable. One of our countywide school district goals is to reduce or eliminate excluding students from school, especially our often-excluded students of color. Students of color are excluded from Multnomah County school districts at a rate 3 to 1 as compared with white counterparts, according to the data we are collecting in the All Hands Raised Collaborative on Eliminating Racial Disparities in Discipline. We firmly believe that kids need to be in class in order to learn, and excluding them is contrary to that goal. To that end, we are working with culturally specific community-based organizations, school district administrators and families on strategies such as Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports to reduce the number of exclusions of students from school. We are drafting new district policies and practices to actively keep kids in school and away from marijuana during school time.

As to lack of financial support from the state, nothing has changed. The percent of state funds set aside to support schools has steadily decreased over the last decade, resulting in losses in teachers, larger class size and loss of days of school for students. We continue to advocate each year, and each year our share of the state revenues decreases. I wish that the Oregon Legislature valued education more highly.

Finally, parent engagement. We continue to struggle to make families feel welcome in our schools. Despite how hard our principals have worked to invite parents and families into the fabric and daily life of the schools, many parents feel estranged and uncomfortable with our schools. This is another great area of work in our district. We have a particularly difficult time creating a homey, genuine and warm environment for our many families of color and families from different cultures and countries. Parkrose SD boasts 50 or more spoken languages, and we are about 70 percent non-white families. Nearly 75 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch. Nearly 20 percent speak English as a second language. We continue to make parent engagement a priority. Inviting our families to a 6 p.m. meeting only works for a tiny number of parents. How can we do this differently to meet the needs of our students and their families?

This is our work.