- Photo by David F. Ashton, East Portland News
David Douglas High is the largest high school in the state. There are over 3,000 students at the school, which has grown and grown as Portland builds more of its affordable housing in East Portland. The city annexed East Portland 20 years ago. Since 1995, the percentage of students at David Douglas on free and reduced lunch has shot up from 40 to 75 percent.
"With annexation has come poverty, which is kind of an interesting thing," said Annette Mattson, a David Douglas school board member. "The area did not have as many challenges until we became part of the city."
David Douglas High was rated as "In Need of Improvement" for the 09-10 school year by the Oregon DOE, and it did not meet the standard for Adequate Yearly Progress—in particular, the economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, and other minority groups at the school did not achieve the AYP designation.
With the poverty, the struggle for academic success, the overcrowding—how did David Douglas schools earn national recognition this year as one of the Best Communities for Music Education in America?
The answer is in the school board. David Douglas has put their limited resources toward music programs. It's a tradition of the district and a major priority for the board; perhaps at the expense of other programs.
"We have elementary music for grades K-5, beginning 5th grade band, orchestra and choir. The high school has three full jazz bands, four concert bands, four orchestras, and six choirs," said Jennifer Brooks-Muller, director of Bands at David Douglas High School. "Without administrative support that wouldn't happen.
"We decided to opt for larger class sizes and have classroom assistants," said Mattson, "in order to maintain PE and music departments."
The music/class size tradeoff is one faced by other districts in Oregon. There's not enough budget to do everything.
"Music is essential. Whether it not supports a student in their career, it makes them a complete human being.", said Mattson. "And sometimes, it's what gets them to come to school."
The district provides rental programs and school-owned instruments for students who can't afford to buy their own.
"Our district has done an outstanding job of getting enough instruments for students who are interested in participating," said Brooks-Muller. "We don't charge the students a fee unless they damage the instruments. That's what the district has done really well. It is a very diverse program."
"The kids get such sense of pride and accomplishment," said Brooks-Muller. "That really transcends any socio-economic boundaries or diversity. When we go and play a good performance, nobody cares about any of that."