Whitney Grubbs joined Chalkboard Project as executive director in May. We are thrilled to have her, not only does she hold vast education and policy expertise but she has a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh. We recently sat down with Whitney to learn more about her background as well as Chalkboard’s immediate priorities.
You were born and raised in Montana. How did you find your way to Oregon?
When you grow up in Montana, the closest big cities are Seattle and Portland, so if you dream of an urban experience it usually means going west.
I followed my big sister to Portland — she is 6 years older than me and had already started a family in Portland which gave me instant roots. She now lives 10 blocks from me and is my best friend. I am approaching 20 years as an Oregonian and it is home.
You are trained as a lawyer– how did you start working in public policy and specifically education?
While there were so many interesting things about practicing law, it never felt right to me. In 2004, an educator friend got a grant to develop a service learning program for high school students in North Clackamas, and asked if I wanted to develop the program. It was totally new to me, and a huge pay cut, but I jumped in with both feet and never looked back. I had so much fun developing the program, writing curriculum, and engaging with some incredible teenagers. I also started to learn more about the education system, policy, and tour great schools. Through that experience, I met an excellent educator named Nancy Golden! When Nancy was appointed to be Governor Kitzhaber’s education policy advisor in 2011, I joined her and have been focused on policy and community-based implementation ever since.
As you and the Chalkboard team plan for the upcoming year, what are you most excited about?
Chalkboard has been an independent voice focused on improving education outcomes for Oregonians, and has done so by working alongside districts, lifting up the voices of teachers, and advocating for state investments in the profession. We have an opportunity in the coming year to cement Chalkboard’s legacy in educator effectiveness by supporting the newly formed state Educator Advancement Council. Chalkboard also has a significant opportunity to build on its mission of improving education through authentic partnerships with culturally specific organizations, community-based partners, policymakers, and other advocates who are committed to rapidly reducing disparities for children of color and rural communities.
What would you say to Oregonians that feel overwhelmed about our state’s low graduation rates?
I think it is very natural to get overwhelmed by the scope and scale of the challenge but each of us need to lean in with compassion and commitment. No matter what community you live in, what sector you are from, whether you have children or don’t — our children’s success, and the success of our state, requires us to keep pushing.
Chalkboard does work all across the state, so you must spend a lot of time on the road. Can you recommend a podcast you have been listening to in your car?
I love Radio Lab. But honestly, my favorite thing to do when I’m driving is to sing along loudly with the radio. Or sometimes, I like to just drive in total silence, letting the beauty of Oregon refuel me.
- Teacher Leadership
- School Leadership
- Student Success
- Equity and Diversity
- Educator Workforce