Arbor School 30th Year Evaluation

In 2018 - 19, Arbor’s 30th school year, we plan to train the spotlight on our founding principles -- the cultivation of intellect, character and creativity. We will so do daily in classrooms, as ever we have, through our traditional community gatherings, and in a more broadly illuminating way, through the process of our third decadal self-evaluation. This fall we will be asking our school community, past and present students, parents, and teachers to respond to questionnaires designed to get at the clarity of Arbor’s mission, to measure the perception of our efficacy in working toward stated goals, and to reveal areas of needed growth and development.

After aggregating the community’s feedback, in April we will welcome a team of educators to analyze the results of our self-study and to spend time on campus observing and formulating both commendations and recommendations that will guide us as we navigate the next decade: Sara Salvi (St. Mary’s English Dept Chair), Kip Ault (Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education, Emeritus), George Thompson (HS Counselor at Catlin Gabel School) and Margot Thompson (working artist) (both founders of Neskowin Valley School), and Shauna Adams (college lecturer in culturally responsive practice).

Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Arbor 2018

Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Arbor 2018

While naturally a time for reflection and assessment, our 30th year is also very much a cause for celebration and will be marked by several special events:

  • The Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined us on September 6 to help us close the first day of school for all students with a second-line parade around the campus and a presentation in the Gathering Center.

  • Maggie Rudy (Sam ‘03, Toby ‘06,) joined us as an artist in residence to lead K-8 students in turning recycled plastic into beautiful translucent sea creatures. This installation will welcome visitors to the Gathering Center.

  • Manoush Zomorodi, host of the podcast “Note to Self” and author of the recently published Bored and Brilliant, will join us in February to spend time on campus and to speak to the greater community at an evening event.

  • We will close the year with a 30th Birthday Party to celebrate with alumni, alumni parents, and the parents of our current students.

What are we looking for?  

In Arbor School’s 30th year, we engage in our decadal evaluation via two central questions:  What shall we keep constant as the school moves forward in time? Where should we focus our effort and attention to grow stronger and change as an institution?

In part, these two questions come from the notion that a healthy school is one that continues to examine, articulate, and stay true to its central mission.  At the same time, a healthy school evolves in response to the needs of students whom we hope to help make ready to contribute positively to a broader society that is changing over time.

In order both to strengthen our core values and also to adapt and improve, we ask all our constituents to share considered perspectives through two different surveys—one that we’ve used during each 10 year evaluation and one grounded in the two questions above.

Those two surveys will be forthcoming.

What follows is a list of some principles that have been endorsed as elements to keep constant by the Friends of Arbor School Advisory Board, and two matters that we believe represent needed areas of change.

At the time of its 30th anniversary, Arbor School reaffirms its commitment to continue to be a school in which:

Diverse students and families can find an educational home

From the start Arbor School has sought  to embrace a great diversity of students and families in our community - with diversity of religious belief, physical realities, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, socio-economic status, family structure, geographic location, learning profiles, intellectual enthusiasms and background all present historically and currently.  In our 30th year we restate our commitment to joining with our families in providing the soil in which a wide range of children can flourish and to reaching out to diverse communities across the Portland area.

Devotion to student growth in Intellect, Character, and Creativity is paramount

Our fundamental goal is to engage children’s minds actively within the context of a supportive, stimulating environment. We teach academic skills and content as interrelated disciplines rather than as fragmented lessons. Basic skills are learned in a meaningful context and become a means for understanding the world, not an end in themselves. By creating an atmosphere that values and celebrates individual and cultural diversity, Arbor School provides a seedbed for each student to develop a strong sense of self-worth and sensitivity to others. We support children’s emerging capacities for positive social action: cooperation, empathy, and responsibility. We value creativity and recognize its many forms, whether it is conveyed through artistic expression, practical ingenuity, or the synthesis of ideas. We provide a climate of trust that fosters creative thought and expression.

Students are helped to develop as individuals and as community members

At the same time that we are helping each individual flourish personally, we are tending the skills of community membership. Whether learning to share equipment with a classmate, practicing the art of collaborative decision-making for a shared project, becoming a member of a working team to create a performance, helping a classmate with a problem, or nurturing a younger student as an older Buddy, each child at Arbor meets with countless intentionally structured opportunities to use individual talents for the common good and to modulate pure self-interest in the pursuit of larger objectives.

It is clear that development and chronology are only loosely correlated with one another. That being the case, classrooms based on chronology are likely to miss meeting the individual needs of children at different stages of development. By widening the age-range in each, we create classrooms in which there is great flexibility for organizing instruction according to growing mastery, with more mature members of the group taking on the role of guide and helper, thereby reinforcing their own learning. Furthermore, such organization de-emphasizes some of the typical social hierarchies, with the tallest, fastest, or funniest, for instance, no longer being so when they become the youngest at a new class level. Furthermore in a small school, children have changing opportunities for friendship within the class, as half the children are new each year.

Mixed-age groupings form the class-level structure

Use what we have creatively; don’t buy it if we can make it with the students; welcome parent help; focus on simple and aesthetic solutions; take care of things so that they last; charge a modest tuition; keep administrative overhead low; create a planful budget; live within that budget; operate in the black; be relentless on behalf of those things that matter most.

Resourcefulness, simplicity, and restraint are evident across domains, from the fiscal to the material

From the start Arbor was founded on a different financial model than most independent schools in the country. The school’s operating budget is built on a modest tuition, with capital fund-raising efforts being targeted and rare. No teacher’s salary or materials supply ever depends on annual giving.

Tuition fully funds the operating budget

It is our conviction that one of the chief elements of the advantage Arbor offers to its students is the opportunity for each to be known well, to learn in a context in which it is possible for every voice to be heard, in which it is possible to become oneself with the long support of teachers who have watched students grow over time.

The student body remains under 200 students with two teachers in each class

In the course of its 30-year history, Arbor has worked hard in terms of both physical and financial planning to create a campus that will sustain the school for a long time to come, including meeting the statutory minimum requirement (20 acres of land) for the grandfathering of public and private schools, hospitals and churches in Clackamas County, should our current RRFF-5 zoning be altered by inclusion inside the Urban Growth Boundary. As we grew initially, we were able to fund the construction/ remodeling of all of our classroom buildings through tuition. As we added classroom spaces beyond those used to house an expanding student body, the generosity of grant-making organizations, past and current parents, and friends of the school made it possible for us to buy needed land and construct added facilities, from West Woods, which houses the Teacher Residents, to the Gathering Center.

The present 22-acre campus remains home

We attract, support, and retain excellent and collaborative teachers, promoting professional growth at all stages of a teacher’s career. Without a strong and committed faculty, none of our tenets is sustainable.

An excellent faculty

Beyond the undeniable impact of Arbor students on the world, ACT is one of the most powerful forms of self-renewal and outreach that we have developed as a school. We have been able to maintain the scale of the school while becoming influential in exposing others to our educational ideas through our teacher residency model, our efforts at assisting other schools with school leadership, and in publishing materials for students, teachers, and a wide array of those interested in education. ACT is the arm of the school that is constantly in contact with other schools, regional universities, and the larger educational community.

The Arbor Center for Teaching (ACT) plays an increasingly important role


In addition, the conversations of the past year have made it clear that two area for growth are:

Arbor will continue to work toward inviting a broad range of families and teachers into our community through targeted outreach, through the development of relationships with diverse communities, and through the development of programs in which a wide range of children will thrive.

Further advancing the diversity of Arbor’s staff and student body

Arbor faculty will review our K-8 science curriculum through the lens of integrating health education and human development such that Arbor students attain a clear and robust understanding of biological, psychological, social and societal health issues appropriate to their age and developmental level. This will mean highlighting curricular threads that currently address these issues as well as integrating new ones.

Reconsidering the scope and sequence of curricular attention to human development