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Hillsdale Schools Now in Session

[Posted Friday, September 2, 2022]

Students returned this week to Portland Jewish Academy, Rieke, Robert Gray, and Ida B. Wells. Read on for updates.

Rieke Elementary School

The grounds, and the roofs, at Rieke have been taken over by contractors, building supplies and construction equipment in recent weeks, leading neighbors to wonder if Rieke would be ready to open by the August 30 start date. Yes, said principal Jon Jeans a few days before the start of the new school year, the doors would open on time. The complete roof tear-off was held up by supply chain delays (“who knew,” he said, “that metal roof screws would be so hard to find?”) that will keep the contractors working evenings through the end of September. When finished, the work will have addressed leaks and water damage that have plagued the building since 2015, resulting in a new and improved look for the school.

A few dozen adults and students turned out on a recent Saturday for the annual back-to-school clean-up of outdoor areas, where Jon told the Hillsdale News that this year will be the closest to normal since the pandemic began. As with all schools in the Portland Public Schools district, masks will be optional for students, staff, and volunteers, and the school will be open to (vaccinated) volunteers. Rieke will keep one thing from the pandemic, though: students will continue to line up outside each morning by classroom and be led into the building as a group by their teacher.

Enrollment in kindergarten and first grade is down across the district, and Rieke is no exception. Families of young children found other options during the pandemic, as PPS resorted to a long period of virtual instruction, and many are choosing to stay away. At the other end of the grade range, last year’s fifth grade was exceptionally large. In the normal course of events, that group graduated, leading to decreased numbers in this year’s upper grades. Enrollment is expected to be around 320 this year, with two classrooms at each grade level.

Because of the reduction in student numbers, two teaching positions were eliminated and PE staffing reduced from five days a week to four. Students and parents mounted a successful campaign, bolstered by funds raised by the school’s Foundation, to reverse an earlier PPS decision to cut the art teacher position back to half-time. One teaching position was vacated by the retirement last spring of long-time kindergarten teacher and Rieke institution Laura Nelsen.

Jon said, “We are trying to get families back after the pandemic, especially in kindergarten and first grade. We have an amazing program here at Rieke–and it’s all free!” He emphasized some of the programs that he thinks make Rieke a good deal for families: PE, wellness, counseling (1.5 positions, funded in part by the Student Success Act), art, a student garden, and, “an incredible teaching staff.” He’s also excited about the district’s new literacy adoption, Wit & Wisdom, which integrates reading and writing in the context of social studies.

Robert Gray Middle School

Robert Gray Middle School Principal Lisa Newlyn reported: “We had a smooth launch to the year, starting with a successful ‘Jump Start to Sixth Grade’ on Tuesday. Welcoming parents into the building has made a big difference in our relationships all around. We'll keep that good vibe going on Back-to-School Night, which will be an in-person event on September 29 with a catered family-style meal hosted by our PTA and the Cider Mill Restaurant.

RGMS is looking fabulous for its 70th year—over the summer the exterior was completely repainted, remaining asbestos tiles were abated and replaced, and the campus got a great makeover on Community Care Day.”

Sixth-graders started back on August 30, joined by seventh- and eighth-graders on August 31.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School

From Principal Filip Hristiç: “This year we continue to use the amazing legacy of our namesake to inspire and educate our young people to become the leaders and scholars of today and tomorrow. Several teachers joined forces this summer to develop an engaging curriculum about Ida B. Wells that we will incorporate in various courses. We will continue to build a school culture that promotes equity and inclusion, and we will use our new mascot, the Guardians, to remind us all to take care of each other and our communities. Please join us in honoring our namesake by using her full name, Ida B. Wells, when referring to our school and by engaging in personal learning, too, about her remarkable life.”

PPS requires that all staff and volunteers be vaccinated and is continuing to provide free Covid testing options.

Portland Jewish Academy

Pre-K students in the Early Childhood program started back on August 29. K-8 and afterschool programs started on August 30. Enrollment is up this year in infant/toddler and preschool programs and slightly lower than last year in K-8 classrooms. The largest increase is in the afterschool program, which serves students at PJA as well as students from several PPS elementary schools in SW Portland. PJA also runs afterschool programs onsite in several PPS schools.

PJA has openings for new students in every grade, mostly kindergarten and sixth grade.

Like all schools in Oregon, PJA has been able to relax many of the COVID-related requirements that have been in place in recent years, and is now "mask optional." The State of Oregon continues to require that all school employees, contractors, and volunteers be fully vaccinated against COVID, and PJA also requires that all K-8 students be fully vaccinated against COVID.

—Valeurie Friedman


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