After rallying with many others in Parkrose to support education funding across Oregon, Alisa Sherman kindly welcomed me to her home in Parkrose Heights where she’s lived since 2012 with her husband Troy. Her children Kai, Noe, and Luka are in 5th, 2nd, and kindergarten at Sacramento Elementary School. Alisa and I traded stories of mutual friends since our friend James Helms suggested we connect. He’s the neighborhood coffee dealer and will drop freshly roasted coffee at your door! Alisa has been a parent at Sacramento for 6 years, on the parent group for 3, and been the co-chair for the last 2 years. She has recently been featured on KGW’s Classrooms in Crisis (March 13 & May 2).
Bryan: What have you learned about Parkrose School District from being involved in the Sacramento PTO?
Alisa: It takes a community to make things happen. For our school, what I’ve found is a lot of parents because they’re from very diverse nations, many of them are not used to actually stepping foot into a public school. They send their kids off, wave them goodbye, and then that’s it. There’s no more connection. We realized that we needed to start doing more creative outlets to bring in the parents to be more involved and actually have a voice. Sacramento has been great at rallying around getting parents ideas, and one thing we did last year was – we just had it with the whole P.E. You know there’s no P.E. at our school. I think Russell’s the only one with one day of P.E. [per week]. This district just needs to have P.E. back in our schools. We rallied together a bunch of our parents from Sacramento, and we grabbed our kids and we marched down to the board. We sat there, and you know they were surprised to see this big parent group come in, and they argued about how much time, “Should we let them have three minutes or should we let them speak for one minute.?” We just sat there and let our kids be loud, and we’re like, “We demand to have voices here to speak out. This school is for our children, and we need to have a say.” So finally they listened to us and we said however we do it, even if it’s creative resources to bring P.E., grants, however, we want to bring it back. After that, Michael Lopes-Serrao starting talking about it, and it’s become now one of the top priorities for Parkrose School District. That was just a bunch of passionate parents who were like, “What we don’t have P.E.? That’s not okay. Let’s do something about it.” I feel like that’s been one of the most inspiring parts of working with our Sacramento parent group.
As a board member, what would you like to contribute?
I have a huge heart that I think parents should have more involvement in education. I think they should know what’s happening at the schools. The first thing we did with the whole P.E. thing was walking around getting parents’ signatures even after school was let out just to say, “Hey, did you know we don’t have P.E. in school, and do you want to sign here saying we’d like to bring back P.E. to the district?” Most of the parents had no idea that we didn’t have P.E. They don’t know actually what happens in our schools. I just feel like we’re missing a point of connectivity when our parents aren’t quite sure what’s happening in our school system. Even with behavioral issues, I feel like a lot of that could be addressed if parents had certain tools that teachers who are working with kids who are having behavioral issues, that if they have the same tools in their belt, we could then be working together and kind of creating a closed circle of involvement regarding our children’s learning process.
What’s one way you’d hope to bridge the gap between parents not being involved and not being aware of what’s going on?
I think always starting with communication is huge, but I think the best thing to do is celebrate diversity within our community. The cultures that go to my school are ones I’ve actually worked with oversees. I’ve lived in Africa, I’ve lived in Western Samoa, I’ve lived in Thailand. I’ve lived where most of my neighbors come from, and something that I know they love to do is just have their tradition and celebration—and it’s around food and community. I feel like if we could tap into doing some of the same things here at our local level, the school being the heart of the community, invite them to come in and feel very at home and feel very welcomed. I think that could be an easy bridge into building relationship. Then also just communicating, “You have a say in your child’s education,” and getting them to come in and volunteer and just let them know that it’s very easy to come in and help your school teacher. Their hand needs to held a little bit to get into this process so they know how it works. And to be honest, when I started volunteering, I didn’t know what was expected either. It’s very unfamiliar, and teachers don’t have a lot of time in coaching you how to do it. I think that would be a great place to start, “Hey can you go in and sharpen pencils for this teacher? Can you make some photocopies? We can teach you how to do that.” That creates just a better relationship all the way around.
Alisa gave me a rundown of her work with The Freedom Project, which is an anti human trafficking organization in Eastern Europe and Russia, and the many ways she volunteers including at Sacramento Elementary, being a respite foster care parent, and at Shepherd’s Door serving women in addiction recovery.
How will your volunteer experiences set you up well for serving on the board?
Something I’m interested in talking more about in this district is safe technology practices. I sit on the task force for human trafficking in Portland, and human trafficking is a huge issue in our city. A lot of the kids in our schools are very vulnerable, and one reason is because of technology. It has become a huge issue with cell phones being given to very young children, and they don’t know that there needs to be safety awareness around that. They will give out their names and schools to strangers, and it just makes them so vulnerable. I just feel that’s something that I could start talking to the school district about—a free resource working with our counselors, an awareness program where they come in and they teach safe technology practices starting at a very young age, and of course it’s age appropriate. I just think it would be so beneficial for awareness in our city.
is Parkrose’s most unique attribute?
Of course the diversity. I remember just after we moved in, we heard President Obama was in town, and we’re sitting at our house, and we see so many police cars sitting outside on San Rafael St. We’re like, “What’s going on?” My husband assumed it was a shooting because we had had a few of those, so he told us to get down on the floor. So we get down on the floor preparing ourselves, and then all the sudden he’s like, “It’s the president of the United States driving down our street!” And of course he came to Parkrose because it’s known as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Portland, so we absolutely love that. I love that it’s small—everyone takes care of each other. If you know your neighbors, you know you’re taken care of. If we’re going somewhere, we can just tell a few neighbors, and they will look after us. I know we’re super close to the city and the big city feel, but I love that. That’s a way we feel very small and committed to each other.
Didn’t Obama also go to Gateway Breakfast House?
He did, and that is so fun! I was just out there today rallying on the streets with all the Parkrose teachers and all the other candidates. I know that we all have a huge heart for these kids, and that’s what I was so proud of. We’re fighting together for the same things, and that’s cool. We said goodbye to the teachers, but then us moms? We went to Gateway Breakfast House and all sat there and waved at each other as we fed our kids happy face pancakes that they make in there. That’s the small-town feeling that I love—that after a school rally you can hang out with other candidates and be like, “Hey!” and “Have a good day!”
What is going on with the rally and school funding?
Funding is a crisis. I work in the classrooms, and I see the little resources that teachers work with. It breaks my heart, but one thing I have to give credit to this district for is that they’re creative. That’s what inspired me to be like, “Wow, I wonder if I could actually be of help sitting on the board.” With such little financial resources, they were able to spread and do as much as they can for this next year. We just had the budget meeting a couple weeks ago, so we heard what’s going to be taking place.
A part of my heart is seeing that with a lack of resources, I still believe that you can do so much and still have a good, balanced, healthy, educational system. It just takes more creativity, but I also think it takes community involvement. I say this, but if the heart of your community is your school, then everyone should be involved.
We’re planning a cleanup of all the schools at the end of summer through a community solutions group I sit on, and I love it. We just talk about solutions for our neighborhood and our community, and we thought, “Hey, what a good opportunity to beautify our schools.” We need the extra help, but if you have the schools cleaned up and looking nice, it just makes for a more welcoming and warm environment. Schools are not just for people who send their kids there for education. A lot of our schools have free play days for moms that have little ones. They give food, and there’s laundry resources at a lot of schools. So there’s stuff in the schools that’s for the broader community, but I just think that not everyone knows that. So I feel like doing stuff like this where we involve more of the community, “Hey cleanup our schools, and then we’ll have a big barbecue afterwards down at the middle school,” creates this platform for building relationships. Neighbors who know each other and care for each other make for an awesome community.
How can people get involved who aren’t already connected?
A lot of our schools have been a really great resource for doing kinds of training. This last year Sacramento had a women’s self-defense class. It’s open to anyone in the neighborhood. It’s an automatic easy way to meet people in the neighborhood. I’ve done art classes at the school that were open for people in the neighborhood. Communication is the area we could improve on. I was a little bit bummed to see the Mid-county Memo die because that was such a good way to link the neighborhood with what was going on. As much as everything is online now, I wouldn’t typically read online about some of the stuff as what I read in Memo about development plans and this and that. It’s been fun to have different groups like the whole development with Rossi Farms and hear and be part of what’s happening over there. As much as there’s communication with some of the project stuff, I guess the school district could form something that’s more neighborhood centered. We could bridge that. I’m hoping and see more communication go out and tell see what our schools can do for the community other than just kids who attend because there is a lot of great trainings, resources. There’s exercise programs up at the middle school, Zumba. There are food pantries. Our school has it every Friday, and it’s from New Seasons. The bread is amazing and there’s been so much; there’s so much to go around. It is a really great resource if we just get the communication out that the doors are open.
What is your dream for the Parkrose School District?
This group came to our community solutions last night, and their name is Ashoka. The four things they teach within a school district are empathy, leadership, and teamwork, in order to bring change. I was sitting there listening to them and, honestly, I got teary eyed because everything they said just resonated with what I have been dreaming about for Parkrose. I think that Parkrose has been just looking at ourselves and how can we rebuild, cleanup, mend some stuff that needs to be mended, just very self-focused. Rightly so, but I believe that if we can look to bigger needs of the world and look at other issues and try to bring change, a natural process is transformation in your own society. So they were using words like that they will make “changemakers,” that you have to have a “healthy eco-system” in order to make changemakers. They focus on different issues, and they work on relationships and creating radical trust with each other, how to teach kids empathy. But you can’t go home to a broken system and expect a kid to still learn empathy when they don’t see that at home. So they talked about how it’s gotta be community, again bringing parents in and teaching parents tools and how to deal with behavioral issues. It becomes this whole ecosystem, community transformation. But it’s all done by connecting to bigger issues in the world. And everything about that was just—yes! Michael said this is the way he wants the district to go and this is the year we’re going bring them in. “Let’s to do this!” And everyone at the table was just like, “Wow!”
They asked teachers what they think of the whole process, and teachers said it brought a sense of joy and a sense of purpose in the classroom. If I could do anything with education, those would be my exact same goals. School’s hard. It’s been hard this last year for my kids, lots of struggle. My youngest in kindergarten—it was not a positive year for him, and it just makes me sad because that was his first experience of education. He just had some real emotional drama, and I had to work hard with the teacher to figure out, “what’s going on?” He’s my third, so it’s new to me. This year was really hard on the kids. I know that education should be positive and can be positive, and that’s why I was out there rallying today with the teachers. I want to do things that will bring joy back to the classroom and give the kids and teachers a sense of purpose that this is our future so we need to being doing things creative. I really want P.E. to come back. All this behavior stuff is lack of movement. The big sensory issues that we need to focus on are movement, arts, music, all the things we’ve limited in our classrooms. So I’m like, “Of course we have behavioral issues. We’ve taken away the sensory things they need in order to calm themselves in order to sit and listen for 6-7 hours per day.
How they do things [where I lived in Africa] with what we would say is a lack of resources and funding, but you know what, they still have great education, and they still care for each other, help each other and celebrate with each other. They mourn with each other. We have a little bit of a different system, but community matters, and if you care about each other and have some of the same goals, you can accomplish great things.
Some things that I believe in are P.E., arts, music electives, safe technology practices. I still believe too—I know people will say, “All of that takes funding, funding, funding.” I agree that funding will help, but I don’t think it needs to limit us. You know my child is in 6th grade and has not had P.E. for six years. I have another one in kindergarten. I’m not going to sit here and say, “Is it going to take another six years?” No, I think that we can do stuff. We have a swimming pool in our district! We can come up with some creative ideas, you know, to bring in swim lessons with our schools or—there’s just so much out there that I think we can tap into.
I’ve got nowhere to go. I’m committed here.