We talked with the new president of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) about Portland’s state of public education and her thoughts on student success.

Courtesy Angela Bonilla

In September, Angela Bonilla will become PAT’s new president. Originally from the Bronx in New York, Bonilla began working with Portland Public Schools in 2015 and was most recently a bilingual instructional coach. Bonilla sat down with PDX Parent to discuss the future of public education throughout the Portland area and why advocating for teachers and their students has lasting impacts. 

PDX Parent: Going into the new school year, what are the biggest needs for our students and how will teachers provide them? 

Angela Bonilla: What we have heard from educators varies from school to school, but some themes are consistent across the district. Students need consistency, safety and connection. What educators need to provide that support is more trained adults in buildings and time to do the work well. This includes time within our work year and work day for training, communicating with parents and guardians, and collaboration.

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PDX: What are the biggest challenges Portland (and Oregon) teachers face?

AB: We need consistent, collaborative leadership. Without that, any gains made at a school or district level fall to the wayside as someone new comes in and unveils a new set of initiatives that derails or undoes work we have already done. 

PDX: What policies or practices would you like to see instituted in our local public education system?

AB: We need sustainable funding and resources to execute the six research-based community school strategies that allow for greater student-centered learning, community investment and engagement, and school environments squarely focused on teaching and learning. Those are: Curricula that are engaging, culturally relevant, and challenging; an emphasis on high-quality teaching; wrap-around supports; positive discipline practices; authentic parent and community engagement; and inclusive school leadership.

PDX: How should we measure success in our schools and how should we align the incentives of teachers and administrators to promote that success?

AB: I think we need to reevaluate how we determine success in students, educators and administrators. These past years under COVID have me convinced that if we want to change entrenched systems at the drop of a dime, we can. I know this because we did. … It wasn’t perfect, but it showed the dedication and resilience of our workforce. If we want a better public education system, we can and must create it. Our kids deserve nothing less.

PDX: What would you like parents — and the public in general — to understand about education right now?

AB: The kids are not OK. They have it harder than we did, and we need to listen to them so we can help them. Often this means slowing down, creating space for student voice, lessons that engage what they are grappling with and what is going on in the world.

PDX: How do you think the pandemic is changing education in the long term?

AB: I think we will have to move toward more project-based learning that provides flexibility in instruction while still aligning to our state standards. It will allow us, however, the ability to move on different timelines for different students based on their attendance, developmental and instructional needs.

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PDX: What is PAT hoping to accomplish during the upcoming Oregon legislative session?

AB: We will continue to work with legislators and local officials to promote a fully funded quality education model. We are one of the only states that has a model for what quality education looks like and a projection for how much that costs. We have seen record profits for corporations across the country during the pandemic. I cannot believe that that much wealth exists and yet we cannot find the money to fully fund our education system. 

— As told to Tiffany Hill

Tiffany Hill

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