Listening first on education

Earlier this year, Meyer Memorial Trust surveyed Oregonians to share their experiences with and concerns about public education in this state. The response was overwhelming. Over 900 people shared enthusiastic, innovative visions for education and sobering stories about its challenges. Their feedback will help to shape Meyer’s new Equitable Education portfolio.

From educators to nonprofit leaders, from parents to lawmakers, their insights reflect a deeply committed, thoughtful community.

We found a similarly invested community during five listening sessions this summer, in Hermiston, Medford, Redmond, Salem and Portland. Our hosts were gracious and kind, sparking incisive, compelling dialogues about the state of education in Oregon.

Our primary takeaway from the discussions: Oregonians want their voices to be heard on education. They reminded us that too many communities, particularly those that are underserved and experience the greatest disparities, have been absent from statewide conversations on education. People we surveyed asked Meyer to play a unique role in partnering with community organizations to activate, amplify and elevate these voices into unified action toward meaningful and equitable education.

Respondents pressed Meyer to center our efforts on those communities that experience the greatest disparities in both access and opportunity. Reducing equity-related barriers in school and district policies, practices and culture emerged as most in need of improvement.

A vision for a statewide, youth-centered education system also emerged. We heard real passion for students to be able to successfully navigate through school, with full access to tools and supports they need. And there was consensus on the notion that students deserved to leave the education system with positive self-identities intact, ready to flourish and contribute to Oregon’s future.

Getting there will take work.

Participants highlighted a lack of wraparound services to support vulnerable students and families. Although schools are often seen as natural community centers, the absence of supporting services — from housing to mental health and from culturally specific enrichment to education transition — was widely seen as a missed opportunity to minimize barriers and increase overall well-being.

People told us they hope Meyer’s investments in equitable education result in youths building stronger connections to educators and finding relevance in their education experience. And they made clear their expectations of improved outcomes, such as smaller achievement gaps and increased graduation rates.

For many Oregonians, college preparation and access are crucial. For others, readiness to enter the workforce, via apprenticeship or certification programs, is essential to securing a family-wage job. We heard that both paths are necessary for Oregon to flourish, and both require innovative approaches focused on equity and inclusion.

We listened to understand. And what we learned made us thankful to serve a state so deeply committed to its future.

Meyer is grateful for the time and thoughtful insights we heard from survey and listening session participants. I’ve shared just a small portion of what we discovered: Every challenge and opportunity offered up has become another step toward our new, shared vision for equitable education in Oregon. As we work toward launching our Equitable Education portfolio in early 2017, we plan to keep listening and fine-tuning our collective vision.

I hope you’ll find the final survey and listening session report for the Equitable Education portfolio to be informative and thought-provoking.

— Matt