top of page

Schools Update

[August 19, 2023; updated August 21, 2023]

Hillsdale Portland Public Schools Updates

Despite an overall decline in enrollment at Portland Public Schools (PPS) throughout the district, registrations at Rieke, Robert Gray, and Ida B. Wells for the 2023-2024 school year have increased from last year.

Fall athletics have already begun; schools are back in session on August 29 for grades 1-6, 9 and 12. Kindergarteners start September 6. All other students start on August 30.

Rieke Elementary School

First, a heartwarmer about the strength of community our schools bring to Hillsdale: Kindergarten teacher Raya Smith started her teaching career at Rieke in 2019, but her roots at the school go back. Way back to when she was a kindergartener in 1999, in fact.

Smith grew up in the neighborhood, attended Robert Gray Middle School and Wilson High School, followed by college at Concordia University. She knew she wanted to be an educator, and always thought how great it would be if she could go back to Rieke as a teacher one day.

That day came in 2019 when, after several years of substitute teaching at schools in the Portland area, she was offered a position at Rieke. Even better, she would be co-teaching with the woman who had been her kindergarten teacher back in 1999, Laura Nelsen. Although Smith loved the flexibility of being a substitute and had turned down offers of permanent posts at other schools, the Rieke job was too good to pass up.

Her old school and the Hillsdale neighborhood feels like home, even, or maybe especially, when she gets a nostalgic twinge of guilt upon opening drawers that were off-limits to her as a student in Mrs. Donnelly’s fifth-grade class. Now she gets to create the same sense of home and community for young children that she experienced growing up at Rieke.

In other Rieke news, Kindergarten enrollment this fall is higher than PPS projections, following an energetic outreach campaign by principal Jon Jeans and the Rieke PTA. Enrollment is still open, and Jeans hopes more students will enroll before the start of the year. The bump in enrollment is welcome sign of post-COVID recovery after a three-year slump.

After two summers of construction, the final segment of the new roof is reaching completion. The fencing and construction debris is scheduled to be removed by August 25.

Partnerships with students and staff at Wells and Gray continue. Wells students enrolled in an education elective course spend time weekly working in classrooms with Rieke teachers and students. A leadership class at Gray assists weekly in Rieke classrooms as well.

New playground games have been installed (triple toss) and a freshly redesigned gaga ball pit with a new rubberized surface is coming soon. (For those of us who haven't spent much time on a playground during recess lately, here's a quick update on gaga ball: A more friendly version of dodgeball, gaga is played in a circular enclosure called a "pit." Its origins are murky, but it may have been invented in Israel in the 20th century. In 2012 the New York Times declared that the playground sport had become a summer camp and school staple.) After school enrichment offerings for the coming year are filling up with LEGO engineering, Spanish, yoga, music classes, chess and more. Jeans invites parents of elementary-aged and pre-school kids to check out the school website at

Ida B. Wells High School

Following the departure of principal Filip Hristić for a job in PPS administration, Ayesha Coning has been appointed as the new principal at Wells. Coning served as a vice-principal at Wells (then Wilson) from 2012-2017, was principal at Cleveland High School in 2018, and then vice principal again at Wells from 2019 to the present.

In a letter to Wells families announcing Coning's appointment, PPS Chief of Schools Dr. Jon Franco described her as a passionate advocate for both students and teachers who, during her time at Wells, has prioritized professional development on diversity, equity, and inclusion with a focus on improving college and career pathways for historically underserved students.

Hristić, principal at Wells for the past four years, has been named Senior Director of Core Academics for Grades 9-12.

In other news at Ida B. Wells, Athletic Director Mike Nolan was named Athletic Director of the Year in April 2023 by the Oregon Athletic Directors Association. Nolan taught social studies teacher and coached girls' basketball at Wilson (now Wells) from 2001 until taking the athletic director job in 2017, where he has been ever since.

Nolan knows first-hand the positive impacts athletics can have on the youth who participate. As a student-athlete on his high school baseball and basketball teams growing up in Monroe, Oregon, Nolan learned important lessons and formed life-long bonds. “Winning was a goal but not our purpose,” he said. “Having had the opportunity to play high school athletics myself, I know what I need to do to make student athletes feel supported and championed.”

--Valeurie Friedman


Anything to add? Let us know.


bottom of page