Protesters and teachers met U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on her visit to McMinnville High School Wednesday.
DeVos said she wanted to visit the school because of its high achievement rates. She emerged from an Advanced Placement class toward the end of the high school day, smiling.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of observing the classrooms with the students actively engaged, and all of them also focused on learning 21st century skills as they anticipate entering the adult world," Devos said. "I’ve been extremely impressed with how have embraced this."
On the sidewalk along the sprawling high school campus, about 200 people lined up to protest DeVos’ visit. They held signs accusing her of prioritizing school choice options, such as private school vouchers and charter schools, rather than supporting public schools like McMinnville High.
Leaders of Oregon’s statewide teachers’ union and the Portland Association of Teachers were among the demonstrators. Chair of the Yamhill County Democrats Stephanie Findley said she had mixed feelings about DeVos’ visit, and the publicity it would bring to the local high school.
“Absolutely, should be recognized nationally for the work they’re doing,” Findley said. But she disagreed with other messages DeVos champions from her position as education secretary.
“We shouldn’t be talking about vouchers or charter schools, when we’re doing such good work in our public school system right now,” Findley argued.
A handful of Trump administration supporters stood on a corner near the high school cheering on DeVos’ visit. Several local police officers stood on yet another.
Inside, DeVos visited a teacher planning meeting, where administrators and teachers discussed what specific steps are working to help students. They talked about using “Socratic” techniques to get students to think about what they’re learning, and they shared a list of “2020 skills” that push beyond subjects like math and social studies, to include “negotiation” and “emotional intelligence.”
DeVos visited three classrooms inside the high school, including an AP literature class of about 30 students. She listened as students discussed poetry in small groups, each teenager with a laptop on their desk.
After her tour, DeVos attempted to answer critics, including the people gathered on the sidewalk outside. She disagreed with protesters who said she doesn’t support public education.
“I support great schools, great education and I want to see every single child in this country get an equal opportunity,” DeVos said.
But she also defended her belief that students and families should be allowed to choose the school situation that best suits them.
“Let’s talk more broadly about giving parents choices. The hope is that choices would be afforded to all parents so that they could have a school that would work for them,” DeVos said.
She said she viewed education as an “investment,” and that policy makers should focus more on what works for individual children, and less on supporting a specific type of school system.
DeVos disagreed that funding for school options would deprive public schools, like McMinnville High School.
“It would not impact a school like this,” DeVos said.
DeVos next heads to Milpitas, California, to visit a middle school Thursday. On Friday, she is scheduled to visit the Seattle area, where she has a fundraiser scheduled.