Creative thinking for our public schools

Physically, Portland's schools are in terrible condition. They are wasting enormous amounts of energy, and their design no longer compliments the kind of learning that will ensure our children are competitive in tomorrow's global economy. Now is the time to get Portland's best creative thinking applied to our public school system. Creative thinking for the process, for the big ideas, for the master plan and for selling the plan. We have a national reputation as a Creative Capital, so what better place to prove it than where we need it most? Our school system has a lot of land, with a lot of buildings that are pretty much obsolete. A comprehensive plan for the entire school system is needed now. And, it needs to be done right, so it is well thought out and can be implemented. Step 1: Outreach. Hire a great consultant to make sure those that want to be heard are heard, and those with great ideas are included in the conversation. This is no easy task, there are many, many people and groups involved, but there are firms in Portland and elsewhere who are expert at building consensus and direction from well done outreach. Step 2: Big Ideas. From this outreach – seek out the intelligent big ideas. Let’s not get just get big ideas from the usuals – let’s ask our most creative business leaders and designers and real estate developers.


Let’s involve the City's top urban designers, the Bureau of Planning, Portland Development Commission, Bureau of Parks, City Hall, Metro, housing agencies and others. Step 3: the Master Plan should be a plan that not only is for Portland Public Schools, but is a plan that is in the City of Portland's best interest. It should be a cool, visionary plan, that is in keeping with our reputation as being a national leader in planning, creativity, sustainability and quality of life. The plan could, for instance, include 21st Century school models, laboratories for sustainability, excellent learning environments, schools woven into their communities. Maybe things that haven’t been tried before, that creative thinking will bring to the surface. The plans could also include housing next to and above the schools, maybe workplaces, maybe opportunities for mentoring. Step 4: Sell the Idea to Us, Portland's citizens. Portland Public Schools should hire a talented firm that is excellent at communicating an idea clearly, beautifully and compellingly, and show how it benefits our entire City. It should almost be like a political campaign with all the excitement and volunteerism. The story is there. If we really care about our children, and how K-12 education is vitally important to our City, we need to show it.




by Stuart Emmons

The Oregonian Blog, May 28, 2008