New principal invites Portland community to help continue Riverton School turnaround

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PORTLAND — Riverton Elementary School has new leadership this year, as the small school on outer Forest Avenue works to meet state and federal benchmarks.

After more than half the school’s teachers were replaced over two years as part of a turnaround plan, Jeanne Malia is stepping into the principal’s job. She said she hopes to bring the passion and leadership the school needs to move into a more successful future.

Malia will be paid an annual salary of $94,800, plus benefits.

One of the first things Malia is doing: Hosting a barbecue before school starts for parents, students, teachers, residents, city personnel and others who live in the neighborhood.

The barbecue on Thursday, Sept. 1, from 5-7 p.m., is the first event in what Malia hopes will be an ongoing community outreach program. She and some of her staff also attended a recent meeting of the Riverton Park Tenants Association.

“I told them, ‘we’re partners. I need your help, I need you to come to the school, I need to see you,'” Malia said.

She even taught them her favorite phrase, borrowed from a famous leader, and already posted throughout the school, her office and, soon, she hopes, in her students’ minds: “Yes, we can! Yes, we will!”

Malia comes to the district from Los Angeles, where she worked for 14 years in several L.A. Unified School District schools, including two years as principal at the public Brentwood Science Magnet school. Before that, she taught special education in Portland, including time at the former Roosevelt and Jack elementary schools, as well as Longfellow Elementary. She was also a special education director in Falmouth.

“Children are children, no matter where they are,” Malia said.

She said that in LA, the schools were incredibly diverse.

“That’s what a school should be,” she said.

Malia said she worked closely with many Hispanic, Iranian and Russian English language learners at Brentwood and was tuned in to what those children needed to succeed.

“The whole focus is literacy,” she said. “It’s about leveling the playing field, no matter where they come from.”

Malia said she believes in being visible to her students. She will stand outside as the buses come in every morning, chat with them in the lunch line, and make sure to check in with everyone, even the kids who sometimes end up in her office after misbehaving in class.

“We focus on tomorrow,” she said. “Every day is a new day.”

Malia said she will be instituting a new program that invites parents into the school on a regular basis, perhaps once a month, for learning programs with their children, run by a variety of specialists. The programs will aim to teach parents practical ways to help their children succeed in school.

The school has also expanded its preschool offerings, so more families in the area can enroll their young children in early childhood education opportunities. Malia is also helping to roll out a recycling and composting program that aims to teach children social responsibility while cutting back the amount of solid waste the school creates.

The school will also have iPads for its kindergarten through second-graders this fall.

Malia said she has spoken to the principal who replaced her in Los Angeles and they are already planning conference calls so the students in both schools can meet each other via the new tablet computers.

“This school spoke to me,” Malia said. “It’s a small replica of what I had in L.A.”

She rejects the “failing school” label previously assigned to Riverton after student test scores failed to keep up with the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“The work of this school is not unlike the work of all schools,” Malia said. “Schools may have a designation, but we can turn that around.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

Sidebar Elements

New Principal Jeanne Malia stands near the entrance to Riverton Elementary School and the banner that highlights her favorite saying, “Yes we can! Yes, we will!” Malia comes to the district from Los Angeles and said she hopes the community will help her turn the school around.