“Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
In 2011, U.S. Deputy Secretary Tony Miller spoke at the Church of God in Christ’s International AIM Convention in Houston, Texas about the nation’s staggering dropout rate. While the presidential cabinet received criticism over its aggressive “No child left behind” campaign, U.S. Deputy Secretary took note of the statistics. While more than1.2 million students dropout each year, that becomes seven thousand students dropping out each day, or more clearly, one student every 26 seconds “giving up” on their education.
The U.S. Deputy Secretary went on to convey his convictions and passions of education, and the value of it toward the individual’s economic prosperity as well as the country’s overall success. He stated, “Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Education is the one true path out of poverty. But for too many poor and minority students in our country, their schools aren’t putting them on the path to economic prosperity. When a child can’t escape poverty through determination and grit in the classroom, then what does that say about this nation? We’ve been told by the founders in our nation’s founding documents that in the United States of America, in the light of liberty to the world, there is no limit to what someone can do, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights. But children all across the country aren’t finding that to be true.This struggle isn’t about politics or money or power or fame. This is about something far more fundamental: the belief that poverty should not be destiny.”
In 2013, the high school graduation rate was reported to be the highest in U.S. history at a 78.2%. As this record identified the U.S. as the highest ranked country in college participation per capita, the college graduation rates remained low displaying the country’s true weakness; although students were graduating from high school, they were not being given adequate education to keep up with the studies and course load of a typically rigorous college education. Simply put, a high school diploma didn’t necessary guarantee our students to be “college ready.” And while a high school diploma is an achievement, it is merely a stepping stone to a college education that opens the doors to prosperous jobs and a thriving economy.
However shocking these statistics may sound, they are far from breaking news. Dr. Matthew Prophet, Jr. recalls when he accepted the position of Superintendent of the Portland Public School District in 1982. The dropout rates were at a 15.7% for American Indian, 14% for Hispanic American, 12.4% for African America, 8.8% for European American and 4.1% for Asian American; bringing the district average to a 9.1% total dropout rate. It was a large challenge ahead but definitely attainable, and for Matthew, it was all about the success and future of the children.
In a time where education was given a blind eye, Matthew was there to provide vision and action in hopes to create a prevailing school system where students could flourish in and out of the classroom. Putting student’s needs above his own and what was politically accepted, Matthew awoke at four each morning to work a sixteen hour day for thirty years. He researched and managed collaboration to assemble curriculum and educational programs that would not only address and inspire students to remain in school but to provoke their motivation in choosing their destinies through their studies and cultural appreciation.
An article written by the Oregonian, “Prophet garners top marks for school district leadership,” in March 1987, recognized Prophet for his educational leadership competencies and his ability to effectively analyze and address problems in the school system. For this, he was named among the top 100 outstanding school managers in North America by The Executive Educator magazine.
Although his visions and actions for the district were sometimes considered “radical,” Dr. Prophet was consistently recognized for his numbers-based achievements of the Portland Public School District’s overall student success. Because Matthew led with results, Board members entrusted in him the competency to manage large budgets with lots of wiggle room. In a nut shell, his visions were spot on and his actions produced the results to prove it!
However he didn’t get there by being a tyrant in the office. While teachers found him kind and approachable, students looked up to him as a role model. Prophet spent hours upon hours in his office researching and conceptualizing curriculum ideals with his counterparts, and during down time, he visited the schools. As the Oregonian stated numerous times, “He knew the schools better than anyone.”
George “Bing” Sheldon, the former co-chairmen of the Citizens Advisory Committee to whom participated in bringing Prophet in from his Superintendent position in Lansing, Michigan, told the Oregonian, “By his calm leadership, the district has been able to focus on solutions to resolve some of the issues, as opposed to being in a constant debate with the community on the appropriate action.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Prophet successfully synthesized the ultimate collaborative approach in utilizing any and all talents and academic partnerships to solve problems in the system and drive key results. He was never above asking for help nor did he attempt to take the credit for himself. He was just as successful as his counterparts and he not only gave recognition where it was due, he also honored and appreciated it.
As a boy growing up in segregated Okolona, Mississippi, who witnessed a burning cross in his front yard when his father attempted to vote. He later helped desegregate the U.S. Army during his twenty year career as an officer to then retire as a highly decorated Lieutenant Colonel. Preceding his military retirement, he worked diligently to desegregate the schools in Lansing, Michigan, a feat no one dared to take on but he volunteered to the task. Matthew’s southern upbringing of two devoted parents who valued education accompanied with his time in the military have all shaped his views on education and the world as a whole.
This blog presents the trials and tribulations and successes and pitfalls of the great educator that is Dr. Matthew Prophet, Jr. Like U.S. Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, Matthew believed a child’s destiny should never be written based on the zip code he or she was born in. Each and every child deserves a chance, a true chance to excel not just to high school graduation but to a college graduation as well.
While Dr. Prophet spent a significant part of his life studying education and addressing issues to overcome educational disparity, the work used to conceptualize such resolutions are displayed in the works ahead so that educators may use the wise words of the good doctor in teachings to come. For that reason, this site is dedicated to all educators who, like Matthew, are in the work for the children and a greater tomorrow.
Is ANYTHING in Portland named after this long serving, tremendous educator?
If not, why not?