Patricia Ortega-Cooper may be the new Hood River County School District equity and family partnerships director, but she’s no stranger to area schools.
New Series: Lanes to Learning
Patricia Ortega-Cooper’s equity program is just one way Hood River County School District is venturing into new ways to meet diverse student needs, retain and engage at-risk students, and prepare all students for career and educational choices beyond high school.
From expanded online opportunities to venues for hands-on learning, the district is going beyond brick-and-mortar instruction.
In coming months, look for these articles:
Workplace skill programs, including the career education “Fire House” program in the old Hood River fire department substation;
The new Hood River Options Academy, serving as consolidated base for district alternative high school and online learning programs;
Also: Graduation specialists, agricultural programs, and expanded Career and Technical Education services.
She began as a Spanish teacher at Hood River Middle School 20 years ago, moving to vice principal there before becoming vice principal at Wy’east Middle School. She left that position last summer to undertake the brand-new district position, which began July 1.
As equity and family partnership director, Ortega-Cooper is working on four main goals: To increase learning in all district school sites; to invite and elevate multiple perspectives and engage the Hispanic community; to increase racial diversity at school and district levels; and to create a “culture of college.”
“One of the main things is to bring a voice to under-represented populations in our district,” she said. “We’re creating space for people to talk about their experiences in our system.”
She’s also working with community partners for additional outreach “by being a part of several committees that are community based and able to reach students in a meaningful way,” she said. “We’re learning how Hood River can support its students.”
The position was created through a two-year grant awarded by the Meyer Memorial Trust with the goal of increasing post-secondary enrollment in all populations district-wide.
“I’ve been in this district 20 years, and we could predict at the elementary and middle school level, we could predict by a child’s race their success,” she said — whether that was graduating from high school or going to college.
“That should not happen. We are going to disrupt that predictability — who goes to high school, who finishes high school, who goes to college, who stays in college,” she said.
Ortega-Cooper is working with the district’s human resources department to find opportunities and ways to hire more staff “that looks like current student demographics,” she said, including bilingual staff.
It all has to do with looking at situations through what she calls an “equity lens”: Instead of wondering why a student isn’t thriving in a set environment, look instead at how the environment can increase the student’s opportunities for success.
“We’re looking in a mirror — what are WE doing to provide support (for parents and students),” she said. “… There’s a story behind every kid who might be struggling in school.”
She credits Superintendent Dan Goldman with making equity a priority on the school board and with staff.
“It’s not a new strategy, but a change in mindset,” Ortega-Cooper said. “This is a life change.”
Her position is the result of three years’ worth of work. The district first contracted with the National Equity Project, based in Oakland, to provide training and support for staff for one year. The next year, every principal invited staff members from their sites for another year of training. Now, Ortega-Cooper is providing the support that originated with NEP.
“District leadership and the central office leadership are invested,” she said. “They know it’s difficult, but they know it’s necessary … We are investing in the future of this country and the future is these kids. The kids that are here.”
ON RADIO TIERRA
Patricia Ortega-Cooper can be heard on Radio Tierra, where she co-hosts one show and hosts another.
The first is a weekly Wednesday show with Hood River Valley High School teacher Nan Noteboom, Habla HRV, from 4-4:30 p.m. On this bilingual program, the two talk about matters relevant to HRVHS.
The second is a bi-monthly show — also bilingual — that happens on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from noon to 1 p.m. (next program: Oct. 25). The scope of this program is district-wide.
“I’m really excited to have this opportunity to talk about important things to parents district-wide,” she said. “I’m looking forward to inviting people (to come on the show) from different schools.”