• Principal for Almost a Day gives business, school leaders a chance to share ideas on helping students

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     Madison High School Principal Petra Callin (left) and visiting principal for a day Emi Donis.

    Madison High School Principal Petra Callin (left) and visiting principal for a day Emi Donis listen as science teacher Monica Gray talks about her robotics program. Photograph by Mike Tokito.

    Petra Callin, Emi Donis and Nate Waas Shull had plenty of notes to compare.

    Callin, the principal of Madison High School, hosted Donis and Waas Shull on Thursday, Oct. 12, as part of the Principal for Almost a Day (PFAD) event. The program places business, government and civic leaders into public high schools in Multnomah County, including all 79 Portland Public Schools campuses.

    PFAD, run by All Hands Raised, seeks to build “understanding, awareness and partnerships between school and community leaders.”

    Donis, an attorney who had a long stint as chief compliance officer for Precision Castparts Corp., listened as Callin talked about the unique challenges of Madison, which has a diverse student body (in 2015-16, 34 percent White, 24 percent Hispanic/Latino, 16 percent African American), but lacks the deeper-pocketed families of other PPS high schools.

    Donis is heavily invested in PPS, with twins – a boy and girl – who attend Robert Gray Middle School after going through Rieke Elementary. In July she started her second go-round on the All Hands board (she served six years previously, then stepped away for two, as required by its bylaws). Thursday was her seventh time participating in PFAD. She said each time becomes a learning experience as gets a closer look at schools different from those in her Southwest Portland neighborhood.

    “I’d say I get a new awareness and a first-hand view of the challenges and opportunities that principals of PPS schools face every day,” she said.

    All Hands Raised was started in 1994 as the Portland Public Schools Foundation with the intention of advocating “for excellent and equitable education for all students.” It has branched out to cover six school districts in Multnomah County.

    Thursday’s participants came from a variety of industries, from government to sports (the Portland Timbers/Thorns embedded three executives at PPS schools), from dairy companies (Tillamook Cheese) to financial organizations (multiple banks were represented).

    Donis, who currently works for Senior Aerospace SSP, was joined Thursday by Waas Shull, a vice president of partnerships for All Hands. Callin took them on a campus tour, looking at the college and career center, library and robotics lab run by teacher Monica Gray. Along the way, they discussed strategies to help students.

    Donis recalled trying to have a student she met apply for a job at Precision Castparts, but realizing just how daunting the online application process was, even to an experienced attorney.

    “I’m like, I can’t even navigate this application process,” Donis said.

    She also recalled being told that during the job interview, the student talked a lot about video games.

    “Maybe we need to do a better job of teaching kids how to interview,” Callin said.

    Waas Shull used his visit to nudge Callin to set up meetings to help the school find unseen and creative ways to meet some of its needs. With a pending renovation that will see the school move for two years to the Marshall campus, the school also faces other planning challenges.

    At the career center, Donis requested copies of a recruiting flyer from a national company that was pinned to a bulletin board. She said she wanted to help Precision create a similar flyer that could be posted on the same board, adding that companies can do a lot more to tap the talent at PPS schools. It was part of what she and other PFAD participants brought to their visits.

    “I think they get from me a business perspective in our reaction to what we see,” she said. “We definitely did that today, talked about how businesses can help the schools, and at the same time help themselves, because they need the workers. It’s how we can work together as a partnership.”

    -Mike Tokito