Leading with grace, even in a crisis

Associate Professor Deborah Peterson details her recent publication. PSU file photo

By Jillian Daley

Being a good school administrator during a crisis is not just about how to balance the budget or find the right resources, but about how to treat one’s employees.

That’s the concept Portland State Associate Professor Deborah Peterson explores in her recent publication in School Administrator, Leading with Care and Compassion in Times of Crisis.

“Extending grace and care and compassion is at the core of my values as a school leader, a parent, a colleague, a friend,” says Peterson, a tenured faculty member in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department in the College of Education. “I know we don’t get to change these times, but we do get to choose how we respond to these times. Writing helps remind me of the infinite possibility of each unique and precious person, when we create the conditions for each one of us to thrive.”

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PSU’s Maika Yeigh featured in podcast on the public education challenges of COVID-19

Assistant Professor Maika Yeigh was featured on a recent national public education podcast. Photo by Jillian Daley

By Jillian Daley

Portland State Assistant Professor Maika Yeigh was interviewed on the national public education podcast, BustED Pencils, last month to discuss the COVID-19 issue for the Northwest Journal of Teacher Education

The podcast’s hosts wanted to chat with Yeigh and Washington State Professor Richard Sawyer as Yeigh and Sawyer were co-editors of a special fall issue called Teacher Education for Social Justice During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Loss, Hope & New Directions. For their COVID-19 issue, Yeigh and Sawyer sent out a call for submissions just three months into the quarantine, tapping into a critical pedagogical analysis of the unique situation from educators spanning Southwest Canada and Northwest United States. 

In the issue’s introduction, the authors note that submissions had covered an array of topics, including how to shift to an online platform and ways to address the inequities of online schooling for students from traditionally marginalized communities. A common theme among the entries was a desire to ensure the wellbeing of students.

Yeigh says she was invited to the podcast because the co-editors published an article by Washington State Professor Johnny Lupinacci, a colleague of Sawyer’s, in the COVID-19 issue. Lupinacci explained that he has appeared on the BustED Pencils podcast with host Tim Slekar. 

Lupinacci then extended an invitation to Yeigh and Sawyer to discuss the challenges with remote instruction that they explored in the special issue. Sawyer wanted to go on the show, but he is a bit introverted, so he asked the not-so-introverted Yeigh if she would support him.

“He said if I did it, he would too,” Yeigh says. “I thought it would be a fun way to connect. Both Johnny Lupinacci and Tim Slekar, by the way, are educational activists focused on equity in schools, against privatization of public education, scripted curriculum, repressive assessment practices, etc.”

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Where They Are Now: Spotlight on Zinnia Un

Portland State’s Zinnia Un, the new director of equity and inclusion for Tigard-Tualatin School District says advocating for equity is her greatest passion. Submitted photo

By Jillian Daley

Zinnia Un, a Portland State doctoral student, recently became the Tigard-Tualatin School District’s director of equity and inclusion. 

Un plans to earn her Doctor of Education in Equity and Special Education in 2021 from the College of Education (COE). She also graduated from PSU with her Master of Science in Special Education and Teaching and Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences. 

In addition Un, a Portland resident for 17 years, completed an endorsement in special education and another as a reading specialist while a master’s student in the COE.

She entered the teaching field as an instructional assistant in 2003 before pursuing a position as a learning specialist/equity coordinator at Twality Middle School in Tigard. Un became the Tigard-Tualatin School District’s equity coordinator before obtaining her current position.

Her career path seems intentional, but Un says she hadn’t always planned to pursue equity work. She just believed in it so passionately that she kept finding herself drawn to equity-focused leadership roles.

This Q&A with Un is the latest installation of the College of Education series, Where They Are Now (answers edited for length):

How do you feel about your new job?

What’s interesting is when you’ve been doing a lot of equity work and you know the depth of work that needs to happen, it’s not one that you’re really super excited about because you’re really talking about the weight of the job, the task. And it does come at a cost, especially as a person of color. This is probably not what I have expected to do, but have always wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily plan to be the director of equity and inclusion, but I always will and be someone advocating for equity in the schools. 

Can you tell me more about the weight of this work?

The reason why I say that is because there’s a lot of hardship that comes with this work. It’s not just about the position or the power. People have the perception that, when you’re a director, there is this power of it. But the whole purpose of equity and inclusion is to dismantle structures of power, so the way that I look at this role really is I’m doing what I had previously been doing as an equity and inclusion coordinator or facilitator. 

I think, more than not, what I do is support the learning of equity literacy, supporting people to solve complex problems together. The goal is to create enough space for all those perspectives to be present or work as a collective and collaboratively ensure that whatever decisions you make are inclusive from the beginning. I think that’s what supports sustainability and that’s what I’m looking for because those who do the work know that the advocacy for justice and the dismantling of injustice takes all of us, all of the time to attain equity, and to also ensure equitable outcomes.

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PSU alumna to start college president role in 2021

Former PSU administrator and PSU alumna Melanie Dixon is going to lead California-based American River College as president in 2021. Photo courtesy of American River College

By Jillian Daley

Portland State University alumna and former award-winning PSU administrator Melanie Dixon has been selected as the president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based American River College (ARC), which enrolls more than 30,000 students annually. Dixon starts her new leadership role January 1. 

“I feel scared; I am excited; obviously, I’m incredibly humbled to lead a college the size of ARC and in a very large Community College system,” she says. “That’s very exciting to me and a great opportunity to transform lives, so I’m really looking forward to working with the faculty, the classified professionals and the students and seeing what kind of magic we can make together.”

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Recent PSU grad joins endeavor to support students during pandemic

PSU alumnus Matt Koharchick is a teacher and a scholar who believes in equitable access to education. But his proudest role is as a family man. He is shown here with his almost-3-year-old Theodore. Photo courtesy of Koharchick

By Jillian Daley

Matthew Koharchick had mixed emotions after graduating from Portland State with his Master of Education in June 2020.

On the one hand, Koharchick was thrilled to have earned his degree after studying secondary education as a member of the Graduate Teacher Education Program in the College of Education (COE). On the other hand … he was graduating in the historic 2020 pandemic. 

“COVID really threw me a left hook,” says Koharchick, who also earned his Bachelor of Science in Social Studies at PSU.

An intense empathy for students struggling in the pandemic, especially underprivileged children, inspired him to pursue a tutoring position with Equal Ground School. The school offers free tutoring in an outdoor educational space in Northeast Portland. Tutors supplement learning for any Portland Public Schools student in grade levels 7 to 12. 

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No limits: Believing in the dreams of people with disabilities

PSU doctoral student Sara Koyano’s daughter, Carly, was featured in “Dreams Without Limits: Changing Perceptions About People With Disabilities.”

Story by Jillian Daley | Photography by Jon Christopher Meyers

A Portland State University College of Education (COE) doctoral student’s family was featured in a pioneering work offering a realistic and inclusive portrayal of the lives of people with disabilities.

Sara Koyano, who is pursuing an EdD in Educational Leadership in the COE, says “Dreams Without Limits: Changing Perceptions About People With Disabilities” stands out as a page-turner that inspires tears and laughter. The book is filled with the profiles of 39 people with disabilities who are connected to The Arc Lane County, including Koyano’s 10-year-old daughter, Carly. (Koyano is now a Damascus resident living in Clackamas County, but she previously lived and worked in Eugene in Lane County.) 

Author Laura Dahill, the director of marketing and communications for The Arc Lane County, spent five years developing the book and crafting the stories. The Arc’s mission is to promote and protect the human rights of people with disabilities and to support their full inclusion in the community. Photographer Jon Christopher Meyers snapped the portraits, including the three shots of Carly when she was just 5 years old.

Photographer Jon Christopher Meyers also designed the cover for “Dreams Without Limits.”

“This book is a good representation of people with disabilities, which the community doesn’t see often enough,” says Koyano, an educator who graduated from PSU with a Master of Science in Inclusive Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Teaching.

Koyano says this book combats a negative attitude toward people with disabilities that is far too common and can be damaging in the classroom. She says she has been battling other people’s ignorant behavior and invalidating messages in educational settings ever since Carly was diagnosed with Down syndrome. 

“When Carly was born, we started getting negative messages going forward on all the things she wouldn’t do,” Koyano says. “When it was time for preschool, there were barriers to getting her in and staying in.”

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