17630 SE Main Street, Portland, OR 97233 • Phone 503-762-3202 • Fax 503-760-1651

Centennial Park School

A place to belong. A way to achieve. - Centennial School District

The Best Little School in Portland? Yes! Admittedly, I am a bit biased…

By Conrad Schumacher


When our current Principal Ajai Huja began his work here, he tasked us as individuals with responding to this:  What will make us the best little school in Portland?


I was looking back at what I had written in response to this and thought I might share some excerpts (FYI I wrote this from the point of view of looking back from the year 2020 which is now just around the corner!) Here are a few of my thoughts:


Thinking and forward planning…it is 2020 and CPS has just been given the Best Little School in America award. Here is how it happened…

“We do what we do for the good opinions of our students and our communities.”***

(*** US Senator Ajai Huja in a Commencement speech before the 2019 graduating class at CPS)

It did not start with me nor will it end with me, but as always in an institution here I am- on an island-and yet at the same time not…I begin by recognizing the basic truths of the system I and my colleagues exist in…this is taken from years of experience and thinking-

1) There are no reluctant learners, only reluctant “schoolers”

2) We can have power over our students or share power with them (substitute students with teachers, citizens)

3) We don’t believe really that every child has potential

4) We have institutionalized in our schools the very real behaviors that are at the roots of racism, classism, sexism, violence and overall inequality

5) We promote and reward the values of judgment,
exclusivity, competition and selfishness

6) What’s best for the best has never been best for everyone

7) Schools are not places of dignity or trust or reason or respect (for the most part) and they never really have been

8) Schools are not places that lift, encourage and build the spirit

9) We believe in and promote a class based (sorting) competitive in an unhealthy way and exclusive military based mind set in our schools

10) If we look at our educational system as a sort of microcosm for our society as a whole then we can should and will need to make some changes

11) We need to embrace a different model(s) of education

12) Mentorship begins in the cradle and ends in the grave

13) Education is a journey not a destination!

As a staff we embraced these truths and worked with our students to be the agents of the changes we wanted to see. I know there is a little Gandhi there and yes a little Marx as well-the way to change an institution is from the inside out.

Starting in 2018 we noticed more and more of our students working in our community to give back as much and often times more than they had been given by CPS and their education in general. We began to see the impact they were having in a positive and proactive way on our community and our school as one of the community hubs it has become. We noticed more of a sense of social responsibility and connectedness in our students, ourselves and our neighborhood-what some call interdependence as opposed to independence.


We still have much to do as we always will-but we are responding and will continue to response to the world with a new way of thinking about change, with new metaphors for ourselves and for our students.

What those are for now mean moving away from the thought that the only thing that changes is change itself-to-the only constant is change. Away from war, salvation and medical metaphors of education to more natural ones like that of the tide-pool.

To paraphrase Mark Twain when he was asked what was worth living for, and to go back to the beginning*** aha so this is where he got all that good stuff!!!- (think teaching and learning for as well) he responded, “The good opinion of our neighbors.”


CPS –like any institution– is far from perfect, and like all schools we are attempting to “fix the airplane as it is flying through the air.” I am blessed to work here with such passionate and talented students and colleagues! In my humble opinion we are “flying” towards being the best little school anywhere!