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  • Robert Lathers

International Delegation from Singapore visits Portland’s Westwood and Oakwood Schools to learn abou

Instead of another snow day, there was a two-hour delay for the start of school in Portland on Monday. That was just fine with the staff and students of Portland’s Westwood and Oakwood Elementary Schools because it was a day they had been preparing to show-off their Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) to leaders from the Michigan Department of Education and to Grace Orchard School staff from Singapore.

The Singapore school had sent a contingency of their staff to the four-day International Association of Positive Behavioral Support Conference in Washington D.C. But, before they returned home, they wanted to visit a program, in the United States that was successfully using the PBIS model. They were directed to look at Michigan since it is a required Michigan Department of Education initiative that is in place in about 24% of Michigan schools including Portland. When the request came to Steve Goodman at the Michigan Department of Education, he did not hesitate to identify Portland Schools as the place Grace School should visit due to the amazing success of the program here.

Simone Margraf, who coordinates PBIS locally, has been with Portland Schools for 28 years starting out as a kindergarten teacher, reports that two of the main goals of the program is to increase the reading level of all students and to reduce school behavioral interventions. Over the past three years of the program’s existence, elementary student reading levels has increased from 58% of students reading at or above grade level, to 79% reading at or above grade level. That kind of improvement is something that Steve Goodman of the Department of Education reports as “remarkable”. “In order for PBIS, which is part of a larger program Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), to work there has to be a commitment to improve the quality of the institution for all students. It includes a commitment from administration to staff. It is a commitment to implement training to create a culture that everyone be competent”.

Chris Kenroy, Westwood Principal, says that the impact of PBIS can be observed throughout the school. In the three short years since it has been implemented, behavioral issues have been significantly reduced. Only about 1% of Westwood’s 450 students experience ongoing behavioral issues that need significant interventions. “99% of our students have zero to one intervention during the school year. Because of this we can focus more on classroom engagement for all student and then give specialized attention to the four of five students who have greater needs for social and behavioral interventions”.

Will Heath, Portland Schools Superintendent, hosted the event and beamed with pride at a program that he said, “Was in the beginning phase when I started as Superintendent”. Heath readily gives credit for the program’s success to Margraf, Kenroy, and Oakwood Principal, Elizabeth Findlay, and their staffs.

Superintendent Heath invited Portland Mayor, Jim Barnes, to have lunch with the Singapore visitors. Heath told the visitors, “In our community what happens in our schools affect the community and what happens in the community affects our schools”. Following their Portland visit the Grace Orchard staff returned to Detroit for a flight to Washington D.C. and to their connecting 22-hour flight to Singapore. There is no snow in Singapore where the weather as described by the Grace Orchard staff is a year-round 65-70 degrees.

Westwood 5th Grade students Veda Smith and Vander Nye join Principal Chris Kenroy in welcoming teachers from Grace Orchard School in Singapore as they arrived for a visit on Monday to learn about Westwood’s reading and behavioral success.

Portland Mayor James Barnes welcomes Singapore visitors to Portland.

Westwood fifth graders Veda Smith and Sophie Robbe present a slide show, about the Raider Pride program, to a delegation of teachers from Singapore on Monday.

Mayor Barnes poses with Singapore’s Grace Orchard School staff at Portland Westwood School on Monday. Pictured are Weng Rong, Jocelyn Teng, Evelyn Chew, Shirley Folloso, Esther Tan, Jessica Chen and Principal Lisa Goh.

Superintendent Will Heath, Principal ChrisKenroy and Simone Margraf, Portland’s PBIS Coordinator.

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