A Call to Action: Oregon Needs YOUR Help Tonight

To the almost 25,000 champions for physical and health education who follow the PHYSEDagogy community, I have a very personal ask of you tonight.  Oregon students need your help in advocating for quality physical education. The state’s largest district, Portland Public Schools, announced a proposed budget on Monday, June 8th that falls on the backs of elementary physical education. Here is the relevant slide from their presentation:


This is a 16% reduction of their entire PE staff district wide and all of the cuts would be at the elementary level.

Also, you won’t find in the slide, but the proposal includes cutting their entire Adapted Physical Education program. All 8 teachers and a 100% cut.

At the same time, they will be hiring FTE and have a 20 million dollar increase in their budget from last school year.

I have written an open letter to the Portland Public School District and Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, but it is not enough.

I need to ask you to step up and help Oregon students tonight as a favor for all the times PHYSEDagogy has helped you improve your teaching practice.

You may not live in Oregon, so this is what I want you to share. Portland Public Schools seem to have trouble understanding what high-quality physical education looks and sounds like. They seem to have a hard time understanding how high-quality physical education is inclusive and addresses social and emotional learning. They seem to have a hard time understanding that high-quality physical education is a means to achieving equity and social justice. Prove them wrong. Be professional. Be Passionate. Show them what high-quality physical education looks, sounds, and feels like.

Write a letter like me, post on Facebook, but most importantly send a tweet if you could. I know for certain they pay attention to what they are tagged in on Twitter.

As a return for the favor, I will give my open letter to you and feel free to use its thoughts to inspire something you can use locally to advocate for physical education. Consider it a give one, get one.  But, please, time is of the essence. Please consider doing this tonight.

Here is the relevant contact information:

E-mail: budget2021@pps.net

Twitter: Portland Public Schools — @PPSConnect

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero — @super_gguerrero

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Kregg Cuellar — @DS_PPS1

Deputy Superintendent Claire Hertz — @clairehertz
Executive Chief of Staff Stephanie Soden — @pdxsoden
Chief Academic Office Dr. Luis Valentino — @edchatter
Senior Advisor Racial Equity and Social Justice Dani Ledezma — @DaniLPDX
Chief Engagement Officer Jonathan Garcia — @JonGarc1a
Chief of Student Support Services Brenda Martinek — @bjmartinek
Regional Superintendent Dr. Keeley Simpson — @KSimpson518
Chief of Systems Performance Dr. Russell Brown — @russellcbrown
Interim General Counsel Liz Large — @lizjmlarge
Save Portland PE: @SavePortlandPE

School Board Twitter accounts
Board Chair Amy Kohnstamm: @akohnstamm
Vice Chair Rita Moore: @_RitaMoore
Julia Brim-Edwards (champion for PE): @BrimJulia
Eilidh Lowery: @EilidhPdx
Michelle DePass: @depassforpps

Facebook: Save Portland PE — https://www.facebook.com/saveportlandpe/

My open letter to Portland Public Schools LINK

Dear Budget Committee, members of the School Board, and Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero: 

My name is Adam Howell. You may not have been familiar with my name until last night when I was using my Twitter account to send tweets regarding Portland Public Schools proposed budget that would include a $1.3M reduction in Elementary Physical Education. Your district had two incredibly courageous champions for physical education testify. Both Julia Stevens and Jenny Withycombe spoke from their heart and their mind and were incredibly thoughtful, passionate, professional, and diplomatic. Last night, I was much angrier and certainly more provocational. I do not apologize. I think this dialogue needs to be provocative and it is time to be angry. I am angry because this proposed reduction in physical education is an utter failure to the students of Portland Public Schools and is not aligned with Mr. Guerrero’s core set of beliefs about public education as published on your website.

I come from a family of educators. My grandfather was a principal. My mother was a teacher. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, and received my public education there. The four most important things I learned in my K-12 educational journey was how to read, communicate, create music, and how to access a physically healthy lifestyle. I competed on the varsity football and baseball teams, was a prolific french horn player in our orchestra, took advanced classes, and participated in theater. I had a well-rounded education. Why does this personal history matter? Because I believe Superintendent Guerrero will be able to connect that experience to his own personal life. Especially knowing I attended my first college on a baseball and music scholarship. 

I have taught for 12 years at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in three different districts in Oregon. I received my Master’s in Educational Leadership at Portland State University. I currently serve as the Past-President of the Oregon Society of Health and Physical Educators (Oregon SHAPE). I have been in the room in Salem as a part of workgroups for the implementation of Senate Bill 4. At one point in my career, I was actively pursuing becoming a school administrator. I have always been a tireless advocate for physical education. For 12 years, I have had to speak up on behalf of students constantly navigating a sea of cuts to physical education programming. I have been RIF’d myself. I take great pride in having always done this in a professional way. It has gotten me nothing but lip service, false promises, and comments like, “Nobody in this room today is here to devalue Physical Education…BUT.” There is ALWAYS the inevitable BUT. 

When I point out that Federal Education Law (ESSA) no longer uses “core subject” and considers all subject areas equal under a well-rounded education, I am told, “Yes, BUT…”

When I present research that there is NO evidence that demonstrates a decrease in academic achievement in districts that have mandated daily physical education, I am told, “Yes, BUT…”

When I present research that has indicated that daily physical education has shown improved outcomes in academic achievement (in reading and math), decreased behavior referrals, and increased attendance which are key indicators of success for our neediest students, I am told, “Yes, BUT…”

When I point out The American Heart Association, SHAPE America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Education, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Oregon LEGISLATION ALL support the need for physical activity for youth and for effective physical education in schools, I am told, “Yes, BUT…”

When I share survey data that includes many positive perceptions of physical education by the general public including 91 percent of parents nationally feeling that there should be more physical education in schools, particularly for addressing obesity, I am told, “Yes, BUT…” I can keep going with this information. Yes, I most certainly can. BUT…

When I was previously pursuing principal jobs, I was working as a TOSA in my district managing a state Collaboration Grant through ODE and the Chalkboard Project. My immediate supervisor was a central office administrator. I will never forget a conversation I had one day that served as a tipping point for me. I was pulled aside and it was given to me as honest advice, but I was told, “Adam, you need to stop making such a big deal about the need for physical education if you get into administration. It will hold you back because it’s such a small niche thing and doesn’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of education. You need to be able to see the bigger picture.” Another day and another excuse and it was that moment that I realized I needed to go back into the classroom and lead from there.

I am tired of the excuses educational leaders make about why cutting physical education is necessary when we fall into difficult economic times. The excuses are a facade to distract us from the real issue at hand. Educational leaders have shown little interest in physical education and what quality physical education looks and sounds like. For being supposed, “instructional leaders,” I have known few administrators in my career who knew a darn thing about quality physical education. After an observation (if they even visit at all), you will hear things like “All the students were active, looked great.” It is absolutely rare for a physical educator to get any meaningful feedback from their supervisor. Further, our protocols for identifying and recruiting high-quality physical educators are severely lacking. How many high schools in Oregon have an athletic director serving as a vice principal who is in charge of evaluating the physical education department yet knows nothing about what quality PE looks like? Or worse yet, evaluates a poor physical educator as proficient or exemplary because of their ability to coach a varsity sports team at the school. Educational leaders’ lack of interest in high-quality physical education in their schools is a travesty, a mockery of public education, and a disservice to every single student they serve. Yesterday, during the budget hearing, PPS touted its mission to invest in people. What are you doing to invest in high-quality physical education?

This shouldn’t have to be so darn hard. Physical Education is completely nonpartisan. I fail to see how it does not align with targeted universalism. It was explicitly stated last night that the proposed budget aligned with the beliefs and the values you have of your students and decisions on proposed reductions were made on things that were outside your strategic plan. The entire world witnessed this on YouTube (just before the 40:00 mark). I am appalled that a city as progressive as Portland, Oregon where many of your constituents probably feel strongly about universal access to health care, that the absolute best preventative medicine a public school can offer is not of the highest consideration. If students leave your school system with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to be able to access healthy, physically active lives, you are a champion in your ability to empower student agency while continuing to blow the doors off of oppression and inequity. Maybe you don’t believe in universal access to health care, but you believe in a strong America with a strong military. Well, then why would you want students to leave your school system completely unprepared physically to be able to serve our country?

To Mr. Guerrero, I ask you to reflect long and hard about your core values on public education. For the sake of brevity (since this letter is not), I will not go point by point. I do want to draw your attention to three things you say you believe:

  • All students should have equitable access to enriched opportunities in school.
  • School communities should support healthy, positive development of students and help them grow their unique gifts and talents.
  • The district should always try to be better.

I personally challenge you to explain why Physical Education programming does not align with your core beliefs. You cannot start your explanation with, “Yes, BUT” because I would be letting you off the hook. We are in the middle of a global pandemic and are experiencing an unprecedented budget shortfall nationwide. This is the only reason I am not advocating for an increase in programming next year. However, proposing a reduction in Physical Education is an archaic, easy way out. There are examples of Superintendents across the country demonstrating moral courage to do the opposite. Those who recognize that when we come back to school, our children will need the arts, music, and physical education more than ever. It’s not about trying, you can be better than this.


Adam P Howell

Physical Education Teacher | Past President of Oregon SHAPE

R.E. Jewell Elementary | Bend, Oregon | @adamphowell

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