CITY OF PORTLAND, OR
Mayor Vera Katz

THE NEW AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOLS:
CREATING AND SUSTAINING A POSITIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE

Background:

Located in a largely lower middle and working-class community, David Douglas High School (DDHS) is the single high school in its district, which is one of -five districts within the city boundaries of Portland. Since 1954, this comprehensive school has offered a broad array of academic and vocational classes at a facility that now looks more like a small college campus than a typical big school. The climate at DDHS has long, been positive for students and teachers, even as some other schools in Portland, the state, and the nation reported deteriorating safety and security.

The impetus for education reform at DDHS came with the state legislature's 1991 passage of the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century under the leadership of Vera Katz, presently the mayor of Portland. DDHS's school goals include achievement of rigorous academic standards and a school-to-work structure. All students participate in one of seven career clusters that incorporate a fully-integrated set of classroom, work-based, and career development activities. Every student must complete a significant career focused activity prior to graduation.

DDHS stands out as one of the nation's leaders in implementing school reform, attracting dozens of visitors each year from throughout the nation and the world. This record would have been impossible without a highly positive school climate supported by strong and effective policies to ensure high attendance, prohibit violent and illegal acts, and closely monitor student activities on the 50 acre campus.

Policies and Practices:

Improving school safety is one of the five annual district goals. DDHS takes a zero-tolerance approach. to infractions involving weapons, violent acts, and drug and alcohol possession. At the same time, students with first drug or alcohol violations are referred, along with their parents or guardians, to rehabilitation programs.

The school uses a wide variety of security measures to maintain a positive environment on the campus. Important among these are a visitor sign-in policy, a 20 year history of maintaining a closed campus, and 15 two-way radios in constant use across its large campus.

District and school administrators work closely with officials from the Portland Police Department. Two police officers are assigned to the David Douglas School District, spending most of their time at the high school. These officers monitor the campus and are frequent classroom speakers on many subjects including safety and security policies and practices.

The school has an extremely strong attendance/tardy policy and practices that make the policy clear to all students. The student handbook indicates that 10 un-excused absences may result in removal from class and loss of credit. A new in-school detention program keeps students on campus while addressing their attendance problems. The eight-period class schedule includes no independent study options, and the school has no commons area where students can "hang out." Students must have a legitimate reason for being in the hallways during class periods.

Three campus monitors play an important role in maintaining a positive environment. They monitor campus activities, but also serve as coaches. Their non-monitoring activities bring them into contact with students in a nondisciplinary role, which enhances their effectiveness as monitors.

The Results:

The number of suspensions has steadily declined in the last four years. Several years ago, the school had a problem with graffiti that has now been totally eliminated. Taking a zero-tolerance approach, maintenance personnel are responsible for removing graffiti before 8:00 each morning to ensure that it does not become an infectious activity. Administrators also aggressively attempt to identify perpetrators. Attendance rates have been high for a long time. However, recent efforts to improve them further have raised daily attendance to about 94 percent.

The local police commander has publicly stated that DDHS is one of the safest schools in Portland, and is a model for other schools to follow.

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