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A Conversation with Matt Dubel

Matt Dubel is the new Executive Director of Portland ConnectED. Portland ConnectED works to bring together organizational leaders who are committed to creating an infrastructure and culture that supports Portland’s youth, Portland’s families, and for the community at large. Starting Strong is involved in the early-age component of ConnectED’s mission.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you arrive at this role?

My passion has always been for helping schools connect with their communities. I feel that schools do better when they’re drawing on the resources in their community, and the community does better when its engaged with its school. I’ve done work in early childhood, I was an elementary and middle-school teacher, I’ve worked with high-school students, with college students and faculty. When I learned about ConnectED and the way that it brings together all the community partners that care about kids’ education…it was like my dream project to be able to make it happen. 

What are the priorities of ConnectED in the year to come?

We target four things that are crucial milestones for young peoples’ success. One is being ready to enter school. Second is being able to read at grade level by third grade. Third is to graduate from high school, and fourth is to complete some sort of post-secondary or certificate degree program, because we know that 90% of all jobs are going to require that kind of training. The big focus in the year to come will be to identify how we can help the school system do what they’re aspiring to do. We also want to tell the story of our city-wide efforts, Cradle to Career, and to tell some of our success stories, like Starting Strong. There’s a city-wide effort to address education across young people’s careers, and people should be aware of ways they might join in.

Why do you think the work Portland ConnectED does is important?

Over 45% of the adults in Portland have a bachelor’s degree or higher. But there are huge disparities, like you see everywhere, and we’re in a position where we can address those disparities. What I think is important is to zoom in on those inequities and look at how we can support literally every student. It takes not being afraid to talk about the disparities, to say, “Look: Not all kids and not all families are doing as well in this system.” I’m lucky to come in while things have some momentum and see how we can bolster what has been successful and add some strategies we haven’t tried.  

How can members of the community, both individuals and organizations, get engaged with the mission of ConnectED?

As individuals, there are periodic volunteer opportunities. Summer Reading is a great example of this, where we’ve got volunteers around the community who are participating in various reading sites. There are opportunities like that throughout the year. The place where organizations can get involved, especially if they’re a new organization that hasn’t been involved before, is with one of our working groups. When we identify a need, the committee can start to plan how they’ll work together to address that, so that it can become a concrete place for organizations to get involved.

How are you hoping to connect the work of, as well as develop the partnership between, ConnectED and Starting Strong?

To some degree, the partnership is there because the organizations that helped to launch Starting Strong are the organizations ConnectED is partners with. Then, there’s a wider circle of partners that are involved with either the Starting Strong leadership team or support groups. What we’ll do is continue to build those relationships. The other thing we want to do, again, is work with our partners to tell their stories because all the individual partners are doing phenomenal work, but that shared work has an extra layer of resonance that makes it something really compelling to share with the community.

Above all, what is one aspect you would want others to know about ConnectED?

We’re not trying to do the work of the public-school system, or the work of any of the great non-profits that help kids and families. We’re trying to help those organizations align so that, together, we’re doing more than any of them could do by themselves. We’re not competing with them, we’re not trying to direct what they do. We’re trying to bring them together to help find that common purpose, then to help fuel strategies and resources to help pursue that common purpose on behalf of kids.