Making School the Heartbeat of the Community

By Liz Thorne, VP of Policy and Programs

I had been anticipating the grand opening of Faubion K-8 School, in Portland Oregon, this Fall for both personal and professional reasons. Most importantly, it is our neighborhood school. My daughter will be starting kindergarten there next year. As someone who works in school health and public health, the opening of Faubion also embodies so many of the practices we know are effective in supporting the health and academic achievement of young people.


A bit of background. Faubion is physically located right next to Concordia University, a private liberal arts college. Concordia has a school of education, and for years they have partnered with Faubion to provide student-teachers with experience in the classroom.

Out of this partnership grew 3 to PhD. The first of it’s kind in the nation, the model aims to create safer, healthier and more educated communities from early learning through Pursuing one’s Highest Dreams (PhD).  In 2012 a Portland Public School bond was approved that included a rebuild of Faubion because of the strong partnership with Concordia and the 3 to PhD program.


The new Faubion + Concordia building houses Faubion K-8 classrooms and Concordia’s school of education. It includes:

  • An early childhood education center for up to 120 children,
  • A 2,500 square foot Kaiser Permanente 3 to PhD Wellness center serving Faubion students and Concordia students;
  • Wraparound mental and behavioral health services by Trillium Family Services;
  • And a food club with healthy, organic foods by basics.

At the grand opening I heard District, City and State leaders and parents stand up at the podium and speak about the importance of health for students to succeed. I heard them say that if we are to close the achievement gap we need to address the needs of the student, family, and community. This is returning the school as the heartbeat of the community.

Partnership. Addressing the needs of the whole child. Involving community partners (parents, business, higher education, health care providers). Preparing the new generation of educators and education leaders to look beyond curriculum and teaching strategies to educate our young people. These are things experts in school health consistently site as the factors that lead to institutionalizing health in education.

So while the new building is truly amazing (the playground! It has a zip line!) it’s these other factors that inspire and excite me, as a professional, parent, and community member.


What Last Week's Election Means to Our Work

Liz Thorne is new to Cairn Guidance as the VP of Policy and Programs. She will be regularly posting on this blog.

I started writing my introductory post many times over the last several weeks. Then, after last Tuesday, I had to start over. Don’t worry—this isn’t another politically charged exposition that has been flooding your inbox and social media feed. But it would be disingenuous of me to ignore the fact that a lot of folks across this country are worried about what the future might hold for them and their families, as evidenced by the increase in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other crisis lines around the country after the election. But this week has also crystalized the importance of our work at Cairn Guidance, and why I am so honored to join Jess and Samantha in the mission of creating healthy school environments where students, staff and communities can reach their full potential. I keep coming back to the following actions:

We need to focus on systems change strategies so all youth can reach their full potential. In public health, we talk a lot about the social determinants of health.  The ways in which social forces, like trauma and systemic racism,  “get under our skin” to create disparities in health and other outcomes (like graduation rates, suspension and expulsion, incarceration, etc.).  The American Public Health Association has been leading a national conversation on ways to dismantle systemic racism. We have to put it on the agenda; identify how the system (policies, procedures, etc) impact populations; and facilitate the conversation to address the problems and move forward. Cairn Guidance has been a leader in facilitating the Systems Thinking, Systems Changing™ and supporting communities to work through the systems change process.

Relationships matter. We know from youth development science that having a connection to a supportive adult can help buffer youth against risk and is associated with better health and better education outcomes. This can be a parent, mentor, coach, teacher or community member. We need to equip teachers and school staff with the resources, skills and supports to create school environments that show every student matters.

Building soft skills. Critical thinking. Empathy. Communication. Working in a team. Seeing both sides of an issue. Typically referred to as soft skills, these are the critical skills young people need for employment, but also engagement as citizens. You see it in schools as students advocating for school policy change based on an experiential learning opportunity like action research; involvement in mentorship programs or community service; or learning to negotiate condom use in health education. These are the skills necessary to build an engaged and aware citizenry.

I know there will be challenges, but I also know that there is amazing work being done across the country. I am thrilled to support and elevate that in my role at Cairn Guidance.

School Staff Meetings as Professional Development Opportunities

I keep hearing over and over that staff meetings are boring. That many principals stand up front and give information that could be communicated in different ways. As I hear this, I cringe. I mean, school principals were teachers at one point. How come that hour long staff meeting that occurs regularly isn't being used as an opportunity? 

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"Smoking is Killing Kentucky, Literally and Fiscally."

I moved to Kentucky over a year ago from Portland, Oregon.  Regularly, people ask me what I notice are the biggest differences. I have observed two major things... how overweight people are and how many people smoke. I have been exposed to more secondhand smoke than I have in my life. When I lived in Louisville this past year (I now reside in Morehead, KY), I used to run downtown 2-3 times a week to the waterfront.

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Leadership Lou; Best of Leadership Summit Reflections

As a business owner and someone completely immersed in the school health field, I find myself straddling two incredibly different worlds. K-12 schools are a completely different beast as compared to the business community, but both are incredibly important to the work I do. 

-The core of a great city are its citizens and there's nothing more vital than education." -Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer

-The core of a great city are its citizens and there's nothing more vital than education." -Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer

Nine years ago, as I found myself starting a business with a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, I realized I had a lot to learn in order to run a business. And, over the years I've learned an incredible amount about running a business, leadership, managing people and growing with intention. Nine years later, I've sustained a business in a world where most schools still don't prioritize the health and well-being of their students. But, I'd say we are making progress. 

Designed to replicate the energy and commitment to community that happens through our programs, the Best of Leadership Summit is a one-of-a-kind event offering professional and personal leadership development for all who attend. If you want to be on the pulse of current issues, reconnect with the region’s most dedicated and influential trustees, plan now to join us at the Best of Leadership Summit.

I attended an event by Leadership Louisville, an organization I heard about within my first week moving to the city. Yesterday's event was the first ever Best of Leadership Summit. It fulfilled my needs in many ways. Surprising to me, the event addressed both the education and business fields. Education came up in most of the presentations I viewed. I guess it's difficult to talk about our vision for Louisville and a thriving community without addressing education. I was thrilled to be introduced (by Mayor Fischer) to Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Donna Hargens and have an opportunity to not only share what I do and what I can bring to her school community but also advocated that healthy kids learn better. She said, "I agree." I commended her support of the JCPS Health Committee that I sit on and I'm happy to see that a value under the district's mission statement includes, 'partnerships among schools, families, and community are important for the health and well being of our students'.

We have to focus on educating the mother first.
— Family Scholar House, Cathe Dykstra

I had the opportunity to present "Do Something Extraordinary", a presentation around my 4,197 mile solo bicycle journey across the US this past summer and lessons learned that relate to being a strong leader. It appeared to be well received and many seemed inspired by what I said. 

In education, we have to invest in new teachings.
— JCPS Board Member, David Jones, Jr.

I left feeling inspired by leaders, educators and champions that live locally. I gained knowledge of what is going on in my new community (and why) and met amazing people from all different organizations, government agencies and businesses. From the technology world to media to venture capitalists to politicians. I ran into people I've met over my 5 months here, allowing that feeling of community I so want to be a part of my life. I commend Leadership Louisville for a fabulous event AND creating opportunities in a one-day conference for networking by scheduling 30 minute breaks throughout the day. What an idea! Bravo!

One of the most rewarding parts of the day was the post- celebratory/continuing the conversation meet up after the event at Sidebar with 6 of us. We had deep, meaningful conversations, literal handshakes across fries and drinks to collaborate on events, programs and local opportunities. A promise for UofL basketball game invitations next season and scheming on how to make this a stronger community; "The Best' as Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says!