Roseway Heights Principal Honored for Commitment to Equity10/27/2023
Principal Phu Dao is many things to the students and staff of Roseway Heights Middle School: mentor, role model, champion, friend. Ask anyone who has learned from and worked with him and they will tell you that he has dedicated his entire career to advocating for students, families, and educators. And now he’s being honored for that dedication.
Courageous Conversation, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that works with individuals and institutions to address racial disparities through sustained, fruitful dialogue, has named Principal Dao this year’s recipient of the Dr. Charles Hopson Racial Equity Principal Leadership Award.
This honor, named for a former Portland Public Schools principal and district leader, recognizes excellence in brokering collaboration and meaningful conversation between community members and their schools. Principal Dao will officially be recognized at the Courageous Conversation Summit in Austin, Texas in early November.
According to Dr. Kehaulani Haupu, Courageous Conversation’s director of PreK-12 district partnerships, Principal Dao was a natural pick for the Charles Hopson Award, which is open to principals across the U.S. and Canada.
“Phu’s work exemplifies the leadership of a principal whose positive impact goes beyond the walls of his school and into the greater community,” she said. “There is genuinely no one more deserving.”
Principal Dao began his journey with Portland Public Schools as a student in 1989. Twenty-two years later, he became an Outreach Coordinator for the district. Then, in 2018, when his son was a Kindergarten at Rose City Park Elementary, he served on the Vietnamese Dual Language Advisory Group, a committee tasked primarily with launching the school’s Vietnamese immersion program.
During his tenure on the committee, he advocated for the immersion program, while at the same time serving as an invaluable bridge between the English- and Vietnamese-speaking communities.
“Phu was able to thoughtfully and intentionally diffuse the tension between those communities and steer the school in a positive direction,” Dr. Haupu said.
Principal Dao went on to serve as the assistant principal of Shahala Middle School in the Evergreen School District, where he prioritized racial equity-based staff professional development and challenged educators to center student voices, especially those of Black, Brown, and Indigenous students. He also facilitated student affinity spaces for young men of color and spearheaded a monthly district-wide Asian affinity group for parents and staff.
His experience includes time spent as the Student Success Coach Mentor/Supervisor for PPS’s Measure 98 funds. This program, first implemented in 2016, connects underserved students with racial and linguistically-specific wraparound services to help them successfully navigate high school.
Principal Dao was charged with guiding the district’s thirteen dedicated social workers as they supported students on their educational journey. The result was an unequivocal success. Racial disparity gaps in graduation rates closed as more and more students of color got the assistance they needed to achieve.
“Phu has always been an equity champion,” said Chris Frazier, PPS’s senior director of schools. “Everything he does is in service of supporting students and creating opportunities and an inclusive environment for everyone.”
As principal of Roseway Heights, Dao is continuing the essential work he started years ago as a parent engaged in community activism at the grassroots level.
“Phu has gone full-circle from being a member of a parent group where he engaged in crucial conversations about race and language and advocacy to serving as an administrator who makes every effort to listen to and elevate community voices,” said Dr. Haupu. “His is a story of effective and socially engaged leadership, and we’re proud to recognize the incredible contributions he’s made to every community he’s served.”