A Proposed Inquiry and Community-Based K-8 Charter School for Portland Public Schools

What we are about:

Our mission is to provide students and educators with an inquiry and community-based educational program that will build on children’s natural desire to investigate the world. Children are intelligent, creative, and resourceful, and we aim to foster their innate scientific explorations.

Under this approach, Emerald Charter School students actively participate in the learning process, connecting the community with their educational experiences and bridging the link between children as contributing members of society. Teachers encourage children to ask authentic questions and to develop and pursue meaningful, real-world investigations. Teachers assist students in linking knowledge with their new ideas and information. Reading, writing, math, social studies and art are integral to the children’s experiences as they cycle through the scientific method.

The Emerald Charter School is based on four core values:

Community Building – We value and believe that each person, student, staff, and family are a resource to contribute to our community, building a foundation where each person is respected for who they are, what they believe in and what they can contribute to better our society, making it more sustainable and attempting to address environmental issues that surround us in Portland.

Respect and Nurture - We will build a community of learners, comprising students, staff, and families that respect each other, our environment and the world. We aim to nurture all of these members and create an environment in which respect is the foundation of every interaction and experience in our school.

Excellence – We commit ourselves to success through continual improvement. We will provide the resources, support and skills necessary for every student to achieve measurable success and reach their highest individual potential.

Diversity – We believe that within the world, our society, and our community of learners that diversity plays an invaluable role in the educational experience for all involved. Diversity strengthens our community; we must value and appreciate what each of us bring, who we are, where we come from, and our experiences to the community. Diversity will be recognized, respected, and encouraged.

Who we are and how we got started:

A group of parents and educators wanted to create an environment that fosters the connection between school and community, learning from real world experiences, based on the educational interests of the students.

The process first began with the notion of increasing student learning and achievement at our neighborhood schools. We asked ourselves: How can we support the school district and support the needs and interests of children in our community?

We thought the charter model could address our concerns and bigger picture goals with two main goals at heart throughout the process.

  1. By looking at how children learn effectively, one must consider current teaching practices. Are we teaching students how to learn, or are we giving them a series of rote exercises to get them through the next series of tests? We feel that we can better serve our children, and they can better serve our community and our world if experiencing the information through hands-on investigations and through expressions of art, such as painting, clay and drawing.

    The teacher and the student are co-researchers in the process of learning. By making connections with children-what they know, where they live and what they can contribute-they grasp a deeper understanding of the world and how it works. Learning is at the heart of these connections and the inquiry/community model can foster learning strategies that will last a lifetime.

  2. By Providing professional development to other educators throughout the district through the use of this model of learning and teaching.

Where we plan to be located:

We plan on locating in inner North or Northeast Portland.

School Details:

We will open the first year with 80 total students, 20 multi-age students per class. The school will have four classes educating children grades K-3. The school will eventually serve students in grades K-8.

How to get involved:

We need all of you to make this happen-ask yourselves the following questions: Are the current practices sustainable? Where will our children fit in the world as independent, creative, problem solving humans when they are lacking the process and ability to think, comprehend, understand and create their own meaning?

Join us in creating this change for our children and our community.

  • Contact us at outreach.emerald@gmail.com
    We are looking for letters of support, survey participants and volunteers to help us with our outreach efforts. Please email us for more information about how you can get involved.

  • Attend a focus group. Contact us for the upcoming dates.

Please take our new survey (even if you filled out the old one) here

Please copy and print out our letter of support (or download and print out copy from here
) and email it to us at emeraldcharterschool@gmail.com

Dear PPS School Board:

Re: Emerald Charter School

I am writing to express my support and interest in the Emerald Charter School. I encourage and value a school that demonstrates Emerald’s Mission: To provide students and educators with an inquiry- and community-based educational program that will build on children’s natural desire to investigate the world. Children are intelligent, creative, and resourceful, and we aim to foster their innate scientific explorations.

This is an important and valuable educational option for our family and others within our community.



Signature Date


Name (print full name)


Street Address

_______________ _____________________________________

Zip Code Email Address


Neighborhood School


Phone (optional)


Demographic information (This information is optional. Please consider answering as it will help us to ensure that we reach a diverse population.) Demographic information will be kept confidential.

Please circle the option(s) that best describes your ethnicity:

Caucasian African American Hispanic Asian Other:

Please circle your household family income:

$20,000 and under $20,001-35,000 $35,001-45,000

$45,001-55,000 $55,001-70,000 $70,001-85,000

$85,001-100,000 $100,001-125,000 $125,001 or more

Are you interested in volunteering? Y or N

I would consider enrolling my child / children in Emerald. Y or N

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Emerald Charter School?

Emerald Charter School will offer science focused inquiry-based education, a learning approach that focuses on children's natural curiosity. Instead of having children memorize facts, inquiry education encourages students to ask questions and think critically as they develop and conduct real scientific investigations. In addition, Emerald will use the surrounding community to bring enrichment programs to classrooms, to conduct real world investigations, and to build strong ties with neighbors, local businesses, and organizations. Emerald plans to open in 2010 (pending state approval) in North/Northeast Portland with kindergarten through third grades. Each year, Emerald will add additional grade levels until it reaches full size with grades K-8.

Will Emerald have a special focus?

Yes, Emerald will focus on the sciences: Since children naturally want to explore the world around them, we will use this curiosity to direct the rest of their learning experiences. We will encourage these talents around daily activities, lessons and experiences, guiding them to ask questions and form hypotheses, design and conduct experiments, collect, analyze and summarize data verbally and in writing, draw conclusions and formulate opinions.

The focus on science will draw the children into the other basic educational subjects, as well as teach them the skills that will make them “learners” throughout their lives.

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that receives public funds under a written agreement – a charter – that outlines student performance goals and educational services the public charter school will provide.

Do charter schools charge tuition?

Charter schools are tuition free public schools. They cannot charge tuition.

How does a student get accepted to a charter school?

Enrollment is voluntary. Any student living in the district in which the charter is located may enroll. If applications from resident students exceed the school’s capacity by program, class, grade level or building capacity, the charter must select students through an equitable lottery process.

Additionally, students from any district in Oregon are eligible to enroll in any charter school in Oregon without the need for an administrative transfer (a complicated process for students transferring from one district school to one outside of their district).

Can charter schools deny admission to low performing or “at risk” students?

No. Charter schools are not allowed to have any academic requirements for admission. They cannot deny admission to students who need TAG, ELL or Special Ed services. They cannot deny a student admission because of an IEP or 504 plan. In fact, many students with special needs and English Language Learners find that they thrive in charter schools because of the smaller environment and more individual attention in smaller classes.

A public charter school may not limit student admission based on ethnicity, national origin, race, religion, disability, gender, income level, proficiency in the English language or athletic ability, but may limit admission to students within a given age group or grade level.

Can a charter school turn away some students?

Charter schools are only able to make decisions on a case by case basis if a student has been expelled from another school. All other students (with the exception of sibling preference) must be admitted on first come first served basis, until the school reaches student capacity. All applications after that point must be entered into a blind lottery.

What is sibling preference?

Once a student is admitted into a charter school through the open admission/lottery system, in the following year their siblings can be admitted without having to enter the lottery.

How will Emerald Charter School add grades?

Emerald Charter school plans to open in 2010-2011 with Kindergarten through third grade classes. The classes will be multiage classrooms starting with K-1 and 2-3 classes and adding an additional grade each year. In the second year, there will be 1-2 and 3-4 grade classes and there will be a single grade kindergarten. Each year after the first, one grade will be added to accommodate the aging students until the school reaches full capacity K-8 for the 2017-2018 school year.

What is inquiry-based education and what are the benefits for students?

Inquiry-based education is a learning approach that focuses on children's natural curiosity. Instead of having children memorize facts, inquiry education encourages students to ask questions and think critically as they develop and conduct real scientific investigations. Teachers plan project-based, hands-on lessons that help students to consider what they already know, take part in research to add new information and then ask questions to help them to combine the new information with the old. This method of teaching teaches students how to learn, making them more successful throughout their education.

What does the research say about inquiry-based education?

In December 1995, the National Research Council (NRC) released the National Science Education Standards, which, as stated in the "Call to Action" at the beginning of the Standards, spells out "a vision of science education that will make scientific literacy for all a reality in the 21st century." The release of the Standards was the culmination of an extensive process of consensus-building. The research and understandings of the NRC are summarized below and we are considering the research as finding for success of inquiry-based education, its practices and uses to date.

Inquiry focuses on a scientifically-oriented question, problem, or phenomenon, beginning with what the learner knows and actively engaging him or her in the search for answers and explanations (Findings 2, 3). This search involves gathering and analyzing information, making inferences and predictions, and actively creating, modifying, and discarding some explanations (Finding 3). As students work together to discuss the evidence, compare results, and, with teacher guidance, connect their results with scientific knowledge, their understanding broadens (Findings 3, 4). As they develop their abilities to question, reason, and think critically about scientific phenomena, they take increasing control of their own learning (Finding 5). They can use their broadened science knowledge and inquiry abilities to address other questions and problems and to develop or test explanations for other phenomena of interest (Finding 6). In this way, effective learning involves the reorganization of the deep structure of one's thought processes. The learner comes to own a new idea or new way of thinking. Without this, learning becomes a transitory experience with little application to future thought and action.

What are multiage and looping classrooms and what are the benefits?

Multiage classrooms blend two grade levels in one class, such as kindergarten and first grade. Looping classrooms are classes where the teacher moves up with the students for two or more years.

There are many social and academic benefits to multiage classrooms. Educational researchers have shown that cooperative and positive social behaviors such as sharing, turn taking and helping are significantly more evident in mixed-age classrooms. Students tend to be less socially isolated because they can form friendships with older students if they are more socially mature and younger students if they tend to be less socially mature. This is especially beneficial for students who are academically advanced but less emotionally mature. Aggressive and inappropriate behaviors are significantly less likely to occur in multiage classrooms. When children are given consistent opportunities to provide leadership with younger children they improve their own behavior.

In looping classrooms teachers gain extra teaching time. “Getting-to-know-you” time becomes virtually unnecessary during the second year. Teacher knowledge about a child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses increases in a way that is impossible to achieve in a single year. Students are less nervous about the new school year and the new teacher after the first year.

What are the benefits of multiage and looping classrooms for TAG, ELL and low-achieving students?

Academically low achieving, special education, ELL and TAG students will all benefit from a smaller school and smaller class size, as well as blending and looping. Students learn better when they are able to build strong relationships with their teachers and when teachers are able to design learning tasks based on a deep knowledge of their unique learners. These students will also have higher rates of achievement than traditional classes because Emerald will have blended age classrooms and the students will loop with their teachers for a minimum of two years.

How does inquiry-based education help TAG students?

Gifted, or TAG-identified, students at Emerald will be challenged by the inquiry-based classroom because they will be required to provide high levels of thinking when asking and answering open-ended questions. They will be encouraged to pursue their own research and will be actively involved in discovering the answers to their own questions. They will also be involved in community-based projects that will connect their own research to their community, further validating their own educational experiences.

How does inquiry-based education help English Language Learners (ELL students)?

ELL students benefit from inquiry-based education because of the nature of instruction in inquiry-based science; it is considered a good approach for English learners, regardless of classroom type. The use of real materials that students can explore, the ability to do some work independently but also work in small groups, and whole classroom activities provide a diversity of approaches that can benefit students who learn linguistically in different ways.

The time provided for students to share their experiences and findings orally gives English learners great opportunities to use expressive skills for academic language. An integration of science and language learning is viewed as one way to enhance overall skills of ELL students. Inquiry-based education allows ELL students to connect vocabulary with knowledge adding to the context for what they learn. The use of physical exploration is a much more concrete exercise than when a student merely reads about it, so there is a greater context provided for the lesson.

How will achievement be tracked and measured at Emerald?

Oregon charter schools participate in all state testing and reporting in which non-chartered public schools participate. Additionally, each charter school produces annual, in-depth reports for its sponsoring district and the State Board of Education. Constituents (i.e., students, parents, and staff) participate in annual state surveys. Emerald Charter School will participate in a comprehensive accountability plan that includes all of these elements. Yearly analysis of progress will be the basis for a school-wide improvement plan with new goals for each upcoming year.

How can I get involved or enroll my student(s) at Emerald?

Emerald has submitted a sponsorship application to the Oregon Department of Education. Once we are approved we will begin accepting applications. However, if you are interested in having your student(s) attend Emerald, the best way to stay informed is to provide a letter of interest. As soon as we are approved to open our doors we will let you know that it is time to fill out an application.

We can always use your help to recruit students and spread the word about Emerald. Please email outreach.emerald@gmail.com