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Looking Ahead to Summer: Gail Cressey and Portland Public Schools

Gail Cressey works for Portland Public Schools (PPS) as Director of Intervention, where she ensures children in the district receive the necessary services to prevent them from falling through the cracks. Gail’s drive to truly see this through could not be more evident when observing her work and conversations. She credits this passion to the start of her career teaching High School math where she felt a profound realization that students are a product of two things: their home life and their school life. Responsibility, therefore, could not fall only on the student for poor behaviors or struggling academic achievements but on the district as well. She says “this made me really passionate that there are so many kids in need of something beyond your average day at school.” And now, as the Director of Intervention, Gail ensures the school system provides the necessary support to best care for students in need.

Portland Public Schools especially finds interest and opportunity in regards to the economic gap students experience which leads to inequities. In the district, new energy is being focused around socioeconomic inequities which has led to a re-tooling of goals and resources. Gail notes that through it all what deeply energizes her “is the connection to community partners because there is so much goodwill in the city towards helping youth and families.” This interest is displayed through her participation in Starting Strong’s (STST) Summer Literacy workgroup. Similar to PPS’s focus, this workgroup currently focuses on the gap in supports that low-income students experience during the summer which often causes them to fall behind academically. Mapping all summer programs by neighborhood against demographics, the group works to identify which areas need access to, but lack quality programs that would best meet family needs and help students achieve.

The work excites Gail as she explains “in my early days with the group I got hooked on this idea that every kid in PPS has something meaningful to do in the summer, whether through a paid camp, a scholarship to camp, a school based experience, or a low-cost community experience. And to get to that place where we know that information, it’s exciting.”

Gail offers a unique view of the growth of Starting Strong because she has participated in the partnership since day one. Without STST, Gail notes the same work will still exist, but now through collaboration, agencies are able to really work together, have common goals, connect each other’s staff, and feel less isolated in the work.

When asked about the result of Starting Strong, Gail elegantly notes that with the partnership, “the weight of educating a beautifully diverse population doesn’t feel solely owned by the school district, it really feels like there is a community behind us. That’s the result.”

Starting Strong is thankful to have Portland Public Schools as a partner working relentlessly both in and out of the school day to support children!