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Celebrating 50 years of homegrown education


At the annual David Douglas Education Foundation Auction and dinner, incoming superintendent Don Grotting poses with outgoing superintendent Barbara Rommel. Grotting, superintendent of the Nyssa School District in eastern Oregon since 2000, was credited with helping transform his district into a statewide model for student achievement.
In attendance at the celebration dinner was David Douglas alumni and National Football League star Claxton Welch, from left, with his mother Cornelia Welch Richardson and Marv Hiebert. Welch made his professional football debut in 1969 as a running back with the Dallas Cowboys. Over the course of his career he also played for the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. David Douglas High School once stood amongst a forest of Douglas fir trees and farmland in Mid-county.
A pair of high school sweethearts with deep Mid-county roots: From left, Barbara Kienle and husband Greg graduated from David Douglas in 1977. Barbara is the David Douglas School District director of student services. Abby McNeil and husband David graduated from Parkrose High School in 1998. Abby is the school improvement coordinator at Mill Park Elementary School, also in the David Douglas School District.
Mid-county trivia: Who is the David Douglas School District named for and why?

Anyone who attended the district's 50-year anniversary party produced by the David Douglas Educational Foundation on April 24 at the Persimmon Country Club could probably tell you. It's a piece of history - some say legend - shared by a community and not necessarily covered in textbooks or filmed in documentaries, but passed down orally and commemorated in events like this one held last month. Its significance may reach “Did you know?” status and nothing more, but those who banded together in 1954 to build a a high school in the farmland outskirts of Portland, then demanded a school district of their own in 1959, share its namesake's pioneering spirit.

Prior to that, children who attended Gilbert, Powellhurst and Russelville elementary schools found themselves bussed into Portland or out to more populated suburbs for high school, so in 1959 local leaders rallied to keep their teens closer to home. Though Portland slowly encroached and eventually enveloped it, the residents of this district have retained pride in their accomplishments, most conspicuously exemplified by the philanthropic efforts of the David Douglas Educational Foundation.

Established in 1990, this nonprofit, all-volunteer foundation has annually thrown a spring fundraiser to raise money in support of their mission to ensure success for all David Douglas students. Whether distributing grants to support educational programs not covered in the district budget, providing scholarships to high-achieving low-income students, helping children in need gain the tools necessary to participate effectively in class, or creating community partnerships with schools, the educational foundation has proved itself an active advocate for the district's children.

This spring event differs from past galas in that the foundation has partnered with an anniversary committee comprised of district staff. Together they have organized an anniversary celebration recognizing the district's history while raising funds for the foundation, and thus, David Douglas students.
In the year leading up to the April soiree, the district has acknowledged the anniversary in newsletters, and teachers have discussed its significance in class. High school art students participated by composing a traveling display of art projects, drawings and sculptures inspired by different eras over the last 50 years. Each district school will receive the completed exhibit for a period of time. The district also held an art contest to design note cards recognizing the history of the district. The anniversary planning committee has selected 12 winners across all age groups.

While the traveling art exhibit was featured at the anniversary dinner, its creators were not. Planners expect the adult-only affair to attract staff, parents, community members, alumni, former staff members, vendors, community business partners and basically anyone eager to support the district and foundation.

The planners worked hard to ensure that each seat would induce high demand. Along with the traditional words from superintendents past, present and future, and a video presentation recognizing the day's historic significance, other highlights on the docket include fun fundraising activities, like a gift basket raffle, and a “wall of wine,” which committee member and David Douglas School District's communication's specialist Dan McCue admitted, is actually “an idea we stole from Mt. Hood Community College from their fundraiser.” For the uninitiated, attendees buy tickets to select random bottles of wine from an arranged library. The wines differ in value but have their labels disguised. Select bottles will also fetch bonus prizes.

Organizers hoped the generous gift baskets, provided by David Douglas teachers and staff members, would spark a raffle ticket sell-off. Items found in the “sports” basket alone included Blazer, Seahawks, Mariners, Ducks, Beavers and Winterhawk tickets as well as a guided fishing trip and more. Such bounty clearly puts Harry & David to shame.

“We wanted to make them big, really worthy of having,” commented McCue. Other gift basket categories include a spa package, a golf package, and getaways to Bend, Las Vegas and the Oregon coast.

Attendees hobnobbed with some celebrity alumni. Notable alums committed to attend at press time include Oregon State Representative Nick Kahl, MLB All-Star baseball player John Jaha, NFL football player Claxton Welch, drummer and 2008 inductee to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame Carlton Jackson, professional golfer and first recipient of the Charlie Sifford PGA Tour exemption Vincent Johnson, LPGA golfer Allison Hanna, and University of Oregon Education Professor Rob Horner. Senator Jeff Merkley, while not available to attend in person, plans to record a brief video greeting for the event. Actor Sam Elliot and members of the band The Kingsmen were invited, but unable to attend.

Though the event spotlighted the accomplishments of notable alumni and the dedication of staff members such as outgoing superintendent Barbara Rommel who has worked with the district for 37 years, and deputy superintendent Mike Stout who, after attending David Douglas schools since kindergarten, spent his entire career there, recognition also goes to all attendees and every community member who carries the flame to the next generation.

McCue noted that the “people who lived out here for generations still have a small-town tight-knit community feeling around David Douglas as a school district so we want to celebrate that.”

This “small-town” community now rallies around the 13th largest district in the state. Since its founding in 1959, David Douglas has grown from four schools to 15, with the high school the largest in Oregon and an alternative high school, Fir Ridge Campus, affording at-risk students individual attention. Good reasons to celebrate.

Now for the answer to the trivia question: As the legend goes, due to the propensity of Douglas fir trees on the site of the new high school, the name Douglas High School seemed a perfect fit. Coincidentally, Douglas County in southern Oregon also constructed a high school at the same time, naming it, naturally, Douglas High School. David Douglas School District then proved its educational aptitude by taking the name to the source, the Scottish botanist who gave the famous tree his name. David Douglas himself died at the age of 35. His tribute, however, has lasted longer, carried out in the lessons it vests to its students, to learn today for living tomorrow.
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