I met with Ashley Brassea and her husband Aaron at their home in Maywood Park where they’ve lived since 2008. They now have four children, two at Prescott Elementary: Cora (2nd grade), Marlowe (kindergarten), Emmie (2), and Desmond (10 months). Here’s a snip of our conversation.
Bryan: The first time I came across your name was when Alonzo Chadwick endorsed you on Facebook.
Ashley: Alonzo is a fantastic leader in our community. His endorsement literally brought me to tears. It was just so much more than I expected. I am humbled. He’s the most honest, truth-speaking, and loud-speaking advocate for kids that I know. He is magical. I love him very much, and he can sing the roof off the building.
School districts receive their funding based on the number of enrolled students, but the other issue we typically hear about in schools is overcrowding of classrooms. How do you think the declining student population is affecting Parkrose?
I just met with Jake Dorr who’s the case manager for the occupational skills special education class at the high school, and he was saying out of their 7 educational assistants, they’re losing 3. It’s a legislature issue, and that’s partly why the Academic Success Act should go through.
I’ve been able to write testimony, and it has been used once. But I’m just one parent out of the whole district. I just happen to be running for school board. I’m just doing something because I noticed no one else was doing it. My kids are going to be affected, but my kids aren’t the most important kids in the district. My kids are just a part of it. Our whole district is losing out. I’m really frustrated with what’s going on in Salem. If that passes, according to Representative Barbara Smith Warner, we’re not going to see those funds for at least another year.
The budget committee, school board, Michael Lopes-Serrao have done really amazing things with the budget. I’ve been able to plug into the meetings since I decided to run. They are funding what they can that’s important and are being creative with the rest. I know Sharie Lewis is trying to get a grant or funding to keep our schools at a Title 1 lunch funding. Sharie is looking into how we can continue to feed the students in our school who aren’t labeled as Title 1 anymore. There’s enough kids in our district that need their lunch paid for, and there’s a $11,800 deficit that we are on the bill for lunch. Things like that are really affecting the students in our district. If students can’t get food, how are they supposed to do well in the classroom? And they don’t have their educational assistants and all the other resources that our school normally provides.
You mentioned Michael. Are you pretty impressed with him?
He is well-educated on what’s going on in our district. He was a teacher [in Beaverton] for years. He was the principal at Prescott for many, many years, and I think he’s doing the absolute best that he can for our kids, and I really appreciate him so much.
Ashley detailed her education experience to me. She earned a bachelor’s degree in church ministry from Tennessee Temple University, which is now closed. She described it as a legalistic environment where questioning was discouraged, and even though she grew not to agree with some of the principals or aspects of the school’s culture, she finished her program and “came out as this person who questioned and was, like Jesus, a rebel.”
Now as the Children’s Director at Imago Dei Eastside Gathering, Ashley says, “we fight against the stereotype of what Christians have been in Portland specifically, I think, but all over.”
Ashley: I don’t like to just go with things—I like to question. As I’ve figured out what the school board does, I think that’s an asset. I think if we’re keeping the district accountable and making sure the funds are going to the right places, someone in that role has to question and ask, “Does this align with our values?” Not that they’re not doing it, but we can’t just go along with it. We have to advocate for the students.
What experiences as a leader in children’s ministry will help you serve on the board?
As far as setting up classroom space, we’ve had some kids with higher needs come into our church ministry, and we’re trying to figure out, “How do we welcome these kids into this space? How do we include them in what we’re doing? How do we most help their families, come alongside of them, and love them? How do we not see this child as a trouble maker? How do we see them as just as valuable as a kid who’s sitting still and quiet and listening?” We don’t have a rule that you have to sit down and listen to the story. We don’t have a rule that you have to fall in line. We have certain volunteers who work in schools for special education, so we’ve leaned into them and said, “What are the protocols? What are the systems we can put in place that will set those kids up for success?” We trained our volunteers on special education needs. We’ve resourced our classrooms with bouncy chairs or fidgety things and visuals like when they can’t go towards a certain space, there’s a big red stop sign for those kids who can’t communicate but need the visuals. We’ve crafted policies that create equity.
When I first came in, there was a really tight ratio. I didn’t want the parents who were scrambling to get there to miss out. I tried to take away the ratios, but apparently that wasn’t good with the elder board. So what we did was expanded the ratios so we could have more children in our classrooms, and that seemed to solve the problem.
Ashley told me about her respect for Eric Knox who lives in the Parkrose Heights neighborhood, pastors Imago Dei Eastside, is the Founder & Executive Director of HOLLA Mentors, and coaches the girls basketball team at Benson. She explained how Eric has developed a culture that allows questioning and participation in their church.
Ashley: I’ve come to understand leadership as just one role. We are all a part of a community. The gospel presents that we’re all part of one body. It just happens to be that we’re all different pieces. In a school board role, I’m just one school board member, and I can’t act unless we have all five agreeing. But we are advocating, and we know there are parents doing their jobs, teachers doing their jobs, so we are all working together. No one is more important than any other person. Looking at it from that point means that all people are valued. All people have a place at the table. All people have a valid, lived experience that the school board is responsible for listening to and including in their decisions.
What is Parkrose’s most unique attribute?
I think it’s the aspect of we’re small enough to be known but large enough to do big things. As I’ve met people like Mary Lu Baetkey on the board, Kate Lamb, and Michael Lopes-Serrao. They have always had their heart in Parkrose. I have a friend Katy Moyes who rented out their house here, moved, and just pined away for Parkrose. She spent all her time in California wishing she was here, and eventually she was able to transfer jobs and come back. I feel like Parkrose is small enough that you can truly put roots down but big enough that each school is doing amazing things on their own. Each school has their own identity. There’s a lot of parents, teachers, and staff who exemplify the Parkrose spirit of “Let’s get in and do the hard work together.” I grew up in a really small town, so as I’m meeting people, I’m waving at people at the grocery store. It brings back memories of this tight-knit community, and we’re in it together.
What would you say to parents who are considering whether to have their kids in private/charter school or the Parkrose district?
I think it’s important for families to understand that there are different types of success. There is a big movement for white families to leave diverse schools. The assumption is that they aren’t safe/white schools are better because there are more financial resources. The truth is that when my husband and I moved to Maywood Park, we looked at the Great Schools website, and we saw that Prescott was rated as a 1 [of 10]. But we saw all the posts from parents saying how great the community is, and even then, our kids weren’t in school yet, we knew what makes a school great is the community that empowers it. As we have grown into the public school system, Prescott has actually gained 2 or 3 points. But I haven’t checked on it because it doesn’t matter. My kids are getting an amazing well-rounded education even though the funds aren’t necessarily as high as other schools. There is a value in my children going to school with children who don’t have the same religious beliefs, kids who look different than them, who have different barriers. I think it would be a huge miss on our part if we chose to assume that our school was not better because of the lack of funding. We have the SUN Program. My youngest has done two years at the Prescott Teaching Preschool. All of those have been these amazing experiences where my children have learned how to make decisions, how to have social networks, how to use their creativity. Those are things that I consider successful. I want my children to make good grades. I want them to care about that, but ultimately there’s more to life than whether or not they get an “A” on a test.
If you were elected to the board, what would be your first priority?
I would put more focus on the special education classes. I think we need to focus more on what’s going on at the special education classes in all the schools. There are some wins, but if we’re paying attention to the marginalized in our community, we need to put the focus on where those kids are being missed. There are some trainings happening in August, and I’d love to see some special education focused in order to train teachers who are in the classroom when they don’t have an educational assistant to know how to do that. We want the kids who have disabilities to have a place in our neurotypical classroom. I mentioned the idea of success means neurotypical kids get an experience in how to care for children with disabilities, and children with disabilities get a chance to feel normalized in neurotypical classrooms. I think right now the teachers are struggling with juggling, and I think that could be handled in a better way if they were resourced.
How would you encourage parents or community member to plug in?
The schools do provide opportunities for volunteerism. There’s sports volunteers. there’s senior citizens who come to our classrooms to read with our students. The librarians need more assistants. There are opportunities to come to the budget meetings, the board meetings. They can come be on the budget committee.
I would also encourage them to decide what they’re passionate about, decide what their students are missing out on, and feel empowered to begin the process for them to be involved in that aspect of the school.
I know we have parents who English isn’t their first language, and that’s really close to my heart because it always hurts me when I know that there are people being excluded. I’ve been really encouraged to hear about the Latino Network. At the Parkrose-Argay Development Study meeting, there was a huge representation. I was like, “How do we get these families to feel like they’re safe to speak into our schools?” At least Prescott has a translator at every parent meeting. I would love to see that instituted like it’s just assumed that a translator is at every event, but I think that one of the biggest aspects is: What are the events that our schools are holding that draw families in? I know that music performances are one of those. Our school just had a Cinco de Mayo celebration, and there were Latino families there helping with the decorations because Michelle Braxton, the director of our SUN program, has those connections with them. I think it’s important that our schools create an atmosphere where parents can volunteer in what they’re passionate about, what they’re good at.
I love this article! Thank you, Brian, for writing it and Ashley, I love your focus on special education and serving kids who are chronically underserved by specialized training for their teachers. Good stuff!
Bryan Atkinson says
Thank you so much Jillana!
Ashley Brassea says
Thanks Jillana! We have incredible teachers and staff who care deeply for our students. The intent and passion is there, we just need to resource them.
Alonzo Chadwick says
Great Article Bryan! You are a man of many trades & talents I see! Thank you for sharing this. Ashley is amazing.
Bryan Atkinson says
Thank you Alonzo!