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The View From Here: Answer the call and help teachers change lives

Lakeridge High senior Lucas Friedman never knew Max Berkowitz, but something Lucas said at last week’s Lake Oswego Schools Foundation luncheon reminded me of the man who played a major role in shaping my life.

"Something I’m really thankful for at Lakeridge,” Lucas said, “are the teachers who are able to recognize qualities in you that you did not know you possessed.”

Max Berkowitz recognized those qualities in me.

Mr. Berkowitz was the journalism instructor and student newspaper adviser at Birmingham High School in Southern California. He’s the one who read the first story I ever wrote. He’s the one who plucked me out of typing class — yes, back then it was typing, not “keyboarding” — and asked if I wanted to work on the school paper.

And he’s the one who encouraged me to attend a two-week journalism workshop in San Luis Obispo, where I not only met my future wife but also the professional journalists who would help launch my career.

Max Berkowitz changed my life. Teachers at Lakeridge High have changed Lucas’s life. And every day, at every school in the Lake Oswego School District, dedicated teachers are helping to inspire our children by recognizing in them the qualities that will change their lives.

But now they need our help.

Since Measure 5 passed in 1990, local school districts throughout Oregon have lost the ability to set their own budgets and have been forced to depend on per-pupil funding from Salem, where economic realities and the whims of lawmakers have often resulted in dramatic cutbacks.

When 80 percent of a school district’s budget pays for salaries, those cutbacks usually mean fewer teachers. Twice in the last few years, Lake Oswego voters have passed local option levies to shore up the district’s finances. But those funds help to pay for a wide variety of expenses; they do not necessarily translate directly into more classroom teachers.

That’s where the Foundation comes in.

First launched in 1986, the nonprofit organization originally funded small grants for teachers. But with guidance from former Superintendent Bill Korach, its role expanded and it has now raised nearly $24 million to provide yearly funding for teachers who work at all grade levels and in all schools across the district.

Last year, the group raised more than $1.7 million — enough to cover the salaries of two teachers at every elementary school and additional staff at secondary schools who teach courses in math, science, PE, band, health, English, social studies, language arts, ecology and marketing.

This is not some abstract concept. There is no waffling about where the money will go. Ninety-four percent of the money donated to the Foundation goes directly to the district to put teachers in classrooms.

Where they are changing the lives of our children.

Foundation funding means lower class sizes. It means greater access to music, theater, fine arts, sports and a wealth of other educational opportunities. It means test scores that consistently rank among the highest in the state and schools that, by almost any measure, are among the best in the country.

Most importantly, it means that the new residents who move to Lake Oswego because of its reputation for a commitment to world-class schools will find classrooms filled with teachers like Rollin Dickinson, who inspired Lucas Friedman to follow his dreams.

Or Cole Blume, who gave Lake Oswego High senior Clayton Dirkse the confidence to pursue a career in music.

Or Lindsay Kopacek, who showed Lake Oswego Junior High eighth-grader Brooke Baker the wonders of meteorology. “I’m glad to have her in my life,” Brooke said at last week’s Foundation luncheon, and the truth is that we are all lucky to have these educators in our midst.

Next week, we have a chance to make sure that our luck holds.

On Wednesday and Thursday, volunteers will reach out in the first of two community-wide phonathons. Answer their call, and contribute what you can toward this year’s goal of $2 million.

You can also donate by phone by calling 503-534-2106 between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Or you can give online by visiting losfoundation.org.

Before I sign my check, I’m going to write “For Max” on the memo line, because I will be forever grateful that a dedicated teacher took the time to care about me. To inspire me. And to change my life.

I’m paying it forward for Mr. Berkowitz. I hope you’ll join me.

Gary M. Stein is editor of The Lake Oswego Review.

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