‘Our Kids Can Achieve’

Retiring school leader on defying expectations

Zachary Senn | 7/11/2017, 4:45 p.m.
One of Portland’s most influential black educators has retired.
Lolenzo Poe is retiring as a longtime educational leader for equity in Portland Public Schools.

Poe says that addressing the district’s culture is essential to tackling the racial achievement gap.

“Part of the problem at PPS is that in spite of our rhetoric we don’t truly believe, across the board, that our kids can achieve,” Poe said.

Initiatives like the Courageous Conversation program have helped to inspire occasionally uncomfortable conversations among educators and students, however, that are challenging teachers to reevaluate the role that race may play in their own unconscious biases.

Following his retirement, Poe says that he has confidence that the district will continue moving in the right direction. He adds that community pressure on the district will continue to improve learning conditions and academic outcomes for students of color.

“We’ve said as a community that we want to see the achievement gap addressed,” said Poe. “I have to believe that the community won’t tolerate the district walking away from that.”

Despite his retirement, Poe plans to continue fighting for educational equity in his capacity as a community leader.

“I’ve been doing this professionally for 40 years,” Poe said. “I have grandchildren in this district. I’m going to stay involved, because this is my passion.”

Poe says that the community should recognize the problems facing the district, and continue to encourage it to seek out long-term solutions to racial disparities in Portland’s classrooms.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’ve done some good work,” he said. “We’ve got to be willing to criticize the district for its shortcomings, but we also have to be willing to acknowledge where we’re making gains.”