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What does a Portland high school principal do all day long? Turns out: plenty.

TRUBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Franklin High School principal Chris Frazier checks in with senior Jeremy London during a teacher evaluation.It's 8:15 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18.

By lunch, Franklin High School Principal Chris Frazier will have overseen an earthquake drill, counseled a teen in crisis, answered calls from parents, evaluated six of his 104 teachers, fielded a programming request, interfaced with three members of the public and greeted countless numbers of his 1,865 students.

But for now, Frazier is explaining to a student journalist at The Franklin Post that he's still the same guy he was before he became principal this year — just, maybe, a little busier.

"I really see education as more than a job. It's a calling," Frazier says later. "I fell in love with education and couldn't see doing anything else."

The 13-year veteran of the Portland education system says he never planned to follow in his family's footsteps — his father was a longtime PPS educator and his grandmother was also a teacher. But while volunteering with the Bridge Builders (an organization promoting African-American achievement in schools) — he realized how much he liked mentoring young people.

"I enjoyed this," the former businessman says, adding with a laugh, "And I was doing it for free."

Frazier started teaching at De La Salle North Catholic High School before becoming a vice principal at Franklin High in 2014. He succeeded Juanita Valder, who retired as principal in June.

As vice principal, Frazier led the behavior/school climate team at Franklin and he still feels that creating the right school culture is what has the biggest impact in student success.

The culture Frazier has helped create is instilled in a motto — Franklin Strong — which stands for Strive to be Thoughtful, Respectful, Organized, Neighborly and Generous. TRUBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Principal Chris Frazier talks about the values important to the administration of Franklin High School.

Franklin Strong is more than just a catchphrase. The acronym is expanded into a school handbook with expectations for students — and staff — spelled out with quotes from those who participated in the process.

The motto, and new logo developed by Nike, adorns T-shirts and posters lining the hallways.

"A lot of time and energy went into that to decide who we are and what we value," Frazier said.

The ABCs

Another acronym is driving the work behind the scenes.

An early warning system developed by Johns Hopkins University tells educators to mind their ABCs: attendance, behavior and course performance. Students struggling in any of those areas are at risk of dropping out.

So, each of Franklin's three vice principals is in charge of one of those areas and Frazier is hopeful that the new model will start to have a bigger impact now that the dust has settled on the school's bond work.

Franklin was displaced to the Marshall campus in Southeast Portland for two years before it moved back into its modernized facility last year.

The displacement is perhaps one reason why the school's graduation rates and test scores are slipping. Franklin juniors — those tested by the state — dropped 4 percentage points in English, 7 percentage points in math and 10 percentage points in science last year. The graduation rate also fell 3 percentage points from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

Special education teacher Mercedes Munoz has a caseload of about 30 to 35 at-risk youth — students with disabilities and behavior problems. She volunteers her Sundays at the Oregon State Penitentiary, where, unfortunately, she comes across former students. The six-year employee says about two of her kids per year leave Franklin and go directly into the criminal justice system.

As part of her efforts to try to break the "school-to-prison pipeline," Munoz asks Frazier if she can take a few of her current students to Salem in January to participate in a program to meet inmates and walk the "mile of choices" — a 1.6 mile walk from Oregon State Penitentiary to Willamette University.

An alumni of Willamette University himself, Frazier says he finds the concept touching and commits to sifting through whatever bureaucratic red tape is needed to make it happen.

Engagement

Schools have to teach a wide array of learners these days and serve students with a broad range of home conditions.

So, Frazier believes, creating a whole-school culture becomes the foundation for school success.

When students feel comfortable with their environment, the other metrics — attendance, course completion, graduation, etc. — "They happen naturally," he says.

If students are engaged, Frazier argues, they show up and do the work.

So, Frazier takes a few minutes to complete some Student Engagement Walkthrough Protocol worksheets. The quick teacher evaluations give instant feedback on what the principal sees going on in the classroom — what he enjoys seeing, and what he is "wondering about."

In one U.S. History class of about 20 students, about half are on Individual Education Programs, meaning they have a documented disability. To support the general education teacher, there is a second teacher in the room who specializes in special education techniques. Frazier sees this "push-in" model of scaffolding of instruction is a good thing.

"Schools have evolved," Frazier says, noting the array of grading techniques, such as projects and speeches. "There are a lot of ways that we can evaluate students. It doesn't have to be tests."

But Frazier is grading the teachers, not the students, and the short, positively-worded form makes it easier for him to provide quick, regular feedback.

Not all of the teacher evaluations are short and sweet, though. Later in the morning, he will do a deeper dive for one teacher for one of her semi-annual goal-setting meetings.

'Branch of vulnerability'

Dana Vinger started as a drama teacher but has taught English at Franklin for a long time.

"She's a very experienced and beloved teacher," Frazier says.

As Vinger and her boss go through the formal goal-setting process for the year, she is frank and self-deprecating. She wonders how to make The Odyssey more relelvant and has made various lists of names of students to follow up with.

Under the Portland Association of Teachers contract, Frazier says, administrators are not allowed to give teachers professional development goals, but they can suggest them — and Vinger is taking the advice. She has agreed to do student evaluations this year — though she jokes that she isn't sure she wants to hear the feedback.

About a third of the teachers at Franklin are new this year — the churn means more work for Frazier, but also new opportunities for team-building. Vinger says she is loving the new ideas from her peers and wants more chances to talk curriculum.

The principal will also let Vinger choose what class he comes to formally evaluate her on, but he encourages her to pick one that she is struggling with.

"Don't be afraid of going out on the branch of vulnerability," Frazier tells her. She won't be judged harshly if she asks for help on a lesson plan or student she is having trouble with, he says. "Actually, it's a sign of strength."

As the goal-setting meeting continues, Vinger confesses that, much like a parent, she feels "a lot of guilt" as a teacher — such as when her students don't perform well or when, as is the case this year, a student is skipping only her class.

"Sometimes you go home and you're like: 'Man, that sucked,'" she tells Frazier. "And then, there's a new day and you get to try again."


About this article

Our reporter Shasta Kearns Moore was invited to participate in Principal for Almost a Day, a program run by All Hands Raised. The county-wide education nonprofit created the event 18 years ago to provide community members — and potential donors — more insight into modern schools' daily life.

Among the 110 participants were Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who spent time at Floyd Light Middle School in David Douglas School District, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who went to Sitton Elementary School in North Portland.

Click on the picture below to see a thread of tweets that happened in real time during Principal for Almost a Day.




Shasta Kearns Moore
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