A Chance to Change Destiny
Capable, Interested, Motivated—Absolute Buy-In Required at De La Salle North High School
By Bridget Barton
“To make a change in your life, you’ve got to commit. It’s all about hard work,” says Tim
Hennessy, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at De La Salle North Catholic High
School. “There are three words in our mission statement—you’ve got to be capable, interested,
And for those who meet those three qualifications, the school offers an outstanding academic
experience supported by a unique Corporate Internship Program (CIP). “Teams of four kids work
with a client,” explains Hennessy. “Firms such as Stoel Rives law firm in Portland pay $18,500
per year for those four kids. The difference between the cost to educate, less what the student
earns at their CIP job is the balance, and it’s about $2,200. That’s what we call tuition. Of that
$2,200, about one third of our parents can pay that, one third can pay about half, and one third
pay a minimum.
“But everybody has to contribute—to get an absolute buy-in to this concept,” Hennessy says.
“And we believe that the parents have to be motivated as well, so $5 a month is the minimum
Hennessy tells how De La Salle got started. Back in 1999, Matt Powell had an idea for a high
school that would serve low-income Portland students, a high school that would produce
academic excellence, a high school where kids would graduate prepared for both college and
work. Powell flew to Chicago to look at the highly successfully Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
that serves immigrant families from Chicago’s west side.
He saw the school, liked it and got underway not knowing how the school would be funded. But
because they had been trying to get a school operating in Northeast Portland, the Christian
Brothers, who also run LaSalle High School in Southeast Portland, soon pledged about $1.6
million over five years.
This year the Cristo Rey network has 11 schools, and Portland’s De La Salle is part of that
network. The Chicago model started nine years ago, but it was not replicated until five years ago.
At about the same time as Powell visited Chicago, a venture capitalist from the Bay Area, B. J.
Cassin, also found out about Christo Rey. “Cassin went to see the Chicago school, said I love
this, I want to replicate it, I’ll put in $9 million to replicate it in cities around the country,” says
Hennessy. “In classic venture capitalist mindset, Cassin said he wouldn’t give money to schools
for year-to-year operations; he would give them seed money, and they’d have to develop the
model and make it work. So he gave money on a year-by-year declining basis, forcing schools to
create self-sustaining models.
“So Cassin said, ‘I’ll give you money. Doesn’t anyone want to replicate this?’ In Chicago, Father
Foley, the principal of Cristo Rey, said that there was some crazy guy in Portland (Powell) who came to visit. He thinks he wants to do it. So Powell and Cassin connected and next thing they
knew they were starting the school,” says Hennessy.
“Then Bill Gates found out about it through a Cristo Rey school in Denver. Gates said he would
give money to our network, in fact he would match Cassin’s gift. So between them, $18 million
came into the network to set up schools.”
Now Matt Powell sits on the board of the Christo Rey Network. Model schools have opened in
Tucson, Santa Fe, Waukegan, two in Ohio, two in the Boston area, and two in New York,
including one opening this fall in East Harlem. Powell has been a part of that process.
A Way That Works
Thus was born one of Oregon’s most unique and entrepreneurial high schools. Every student
attends classes four days a week, and on the fifth day students take their place in the world of
coats and ties, suits and high heels—the professional adult work world.
“It worked out well,” says Hennessy. “As money decreases, corporate sponsorships and
enrollment should be at the self-sustaining point. We have 38 corporate sponsors this year.
Xerox, in Wilsonville, took four teams of kids. They’re new, and Cisco Foods next door is also
new. Seventy percent of our operating budget is covered by student work.”
“The program gives low income kids a chance,” says Corporate Internship Program Director
Michael Jacobson. “The professional world is foreign to them. We take for granted having
parents that worked. Not them. But this is the future work force.”
But work is not the primary focus at this model Northeast Portland high school. “The real focus
from the teachers and staff is a commitment to helping these underserved kids make a change,”
says Hennessy. “What we’ve got for them here is a pretty rigorous college-prep education in a
faith-based environment. It’s small—it’s what the Christian Brothers have been preaching
forever—with direct interaction between the student and the teacher. That’s what De La Salle is
founded on. There will never be more than 300 kids, and our maximum is 20 students per class.
“The engine behind this whole thing is the work program. It provides incredible life skills; it
provides monetary means for these kids to go to school; it provides an opportunity for sponsors
to reach out and touch their community. We bring the community right to them. It’s all about the
education, but our corporate internship program is the engine that drives it.
“There are some kids that aren’t ready for corporate, professional jobs but they’re working too,”
says Hennessy, “at places like Assumption Village, where the kids help with day to day care of
seniors, or the Red Cross or the Humane Society. Those sponsors don’t pay, but we still place
kids there and they’re learning skills. We have kids with heavy ADD, but we want them to get
some life skills. They’re kids, and some aren’t ready. No student doesn’t work.”
Organizing student schedules, working with employers, and getting each student assigned into
the internship program, and then delivered to and from their jobs is no easy feat. In 2000, when De La Salle first got underway, CIP Director Jacobson says that Cristo Rey’s principal in
Chicago actually came out to Portland to put together the first schedule.
On the Job
For Bernadette Miller, who used to attend Portsmouth Middle School, the switch last year to De
La Salle High School was kind of a family choice—her cousin who was a junior talked her into
it. Miller worked at Providence Radiology Group. “They don’t treat you like a kid—they treat
you like an adult. I file, do data entry, mail, mail claims, any jobs. Now that I’ve been through it,
I think I might want to work from 8-4:30. I used to babysit, but that’s all. But I matured, learned
how to be in an actual office.”
The money Miller earns, about $55 a day, pays 70 percent of her tuition. And Miller quickly
figured out that money she would earn last year over spring break would be hers to keep—a side
benefit, but definitely a real world incentive.
Briana Prom, a senior, who transferred last year from Central Catholic, also figured out quickly
how to convert her internship into summer savings. “I asked around Christmastime, months in
advance, if I could be hired over the summer because I knew there were other people working.
My supervisor said she’d talk to H. R. and I got hired. I was thinking of the future—money for
college. I come from a single parent family (her mom cares for five children at home). Money is
pretty tight. I was thinking ahead as far as applying for college and applying for grants. That’s
what I was thinking.”
Prom worked last year and was assigned again this year to Stoel Rives law firm in Portland. She
says, “You kind of have to step up to the bar. I work in the library of the law firm. That’s where
I’ve spent my internship. I’m treated well. Because I’ve worked there so long and I worked over
the summer, they’ve inch-by-inch given me more responsibility.”
Prom says that the firm has come to treat her like any other employee, relying on her ability to
get the job done, maybe even forgetting sometimes that she’s just a kid. “It’s a lot harder than it
was when I first started,” says Prom. “One time they gave me oodles and oodles of filing. But
they weren’t really asking too much of me, and I try not to complain. But I was kind of like, oh
gosh. I just stayed late so I could finish up my work. I think my age kind of slipped their mind on
that one. But it wasn’t too bad.”
And Prom will take with her some valuable lessons about work and career. “When kids are
younger they’re in such a hurry to grow up and they think everything’s going to be fun,” she
says. “I don’t always have fun. I’m around lawyers all day long. They do a lot of studying. I
didn’t know they did that much work.”
Over this past summer Prom worked two jobs—part time at K-Mart and part time at Stoel Rives.
“I was working longer hours at K-Mart,” says Prom, “but my checks were bigger at Stoel Rives.
I guess the whole money aspect of it pushes me to want to get a better job and a better
Rick Self, Administrative Services Supervisor, has been with Stoel Rives for 13 years, and often
supervises the De La Salle interns. “The school sends us good students and we plug them right
in,” he says. “We just treat them like any other employee, do on the job training, and turn them
loose and let them do their job. We expect the same thing from them as from any other
employee, and they have fulfilled our expectations.”
This year Self supervises several interns, including Sabrina Phillips, a sophomore. Until CIP
Director Jacobson introduced her to the upscale Portland law firm, Phillips had no job experience
other than babysitting and volunteering with her mom helping homeless women.
“I’m trying to get all the experience I can,” says Phillips. “The main thing I’m looking at now is
being an ObGyn, but I’m also interested in law. I’m trying to get experience in each field and see
what I like best. It was scary at first but after awhile you just fit in. Everybody treats you
normally and everybody’s nice. If there’s a problem they talk to you—not like a baby. They
come at you like you’re an adult.”
What’s it like being a kid in a grown up’s world?
“I usually meet with my friends who work around downtown to eat lunch—we find a place, or
we try out restaurants,” says Phillips. “And I still go out on the weekends and hang out with
friends and do my homework, so I think I’m getting the full experience of a teenager plus some
experience for when I’m an adult. I have a better expectation for when I go into jobs, and other
kids will be just starting out.”
On the job, Phillips says she keeps it businesslike–slacks, skirts, stockings. “I don’t really like
stockings. The dress code at the school is the dress code here. We practice at school and here for
when we get older.”
“She’s earning her money, but we’re getting our money’s worth too,” says Self. “It’s not like
giving money away. We’re getting a service in return. But yet we’re doing something with the
community and giving something back also. It’s a win-win. It makes the De La Salle program
really successful and different. They’re coming here to get work and practical experience, and
we expect them to do the job. We expect them to be here on time, follow our procedures, do the
work properly. We counsel them if it’s not working just like other employees.”
Robyn Saryn, Director of Human Resources for Stoel Rives, says the firm started out doing some
legal work for De La Salle, but before long they were approached to be sponsors. First says
Saryn, “You sort of weigh, do you have openings, or not? You wonder what will happen. It
actually has worked really well. Now we’re doing it every year; we actually budget for those
openings. We hope to keep doing it year after year. We think it’s a great program for the kids,
and they do add value. They understand the business world by the time they graduate.
“They meet everybody—when they do the mail runs they get to know everyone. Our mail, our
records are important,” emphasizes Saryn, who is responsible for all employees in the firm’s
cities across the West. “Our files, do you know how important they are? These are jobs that take
responsibility and common sense.
“If I’m not happy, I go back to the school and they can talk to the student or replace them. But
they’re great kids. They want to be here, they understand that it’s a business. These are kids that
have a lot of potential and it gives them an opportunity to see what’s out there. The program at
the school gives them good orientation on how to dress, how to act, what to do if there’s an issue.
“It works for us,” says Saryn, “and we’ve been called by others thinking of doing the program.”
Back to School
Academics at De La Salle are top notch. Polly Waibel teaches American History, Civics, and
Freshman Social Justice, in which students examine neighborhood associations, citizenship and
politics—and their obligation to contribute to the world around them. One of Warble’s favorite
exercises is to have her students do a budget on minimum wage and then another budget on their
Waibel also has her students complete an interview of their business to find examples of how
that business gives back to the broader community and helps those in need. Service is a big part
of what De La Salle teaches its students. Students are given opportunities, and they are taught to
give back to others.
“The school is a place where any kid you meet can apply and go there,” says Hennessy. “Ninety
percent are from Northeast Portland, some from Vancouver, Scappoose and Sauvie Island. We
don’t turn kids away for financial reasons.
“This year will be the first graduating class, with kids in grades 9-12. Every student is considered
college bound. All take the PSATs. It’s a college prep curriculum. One of the things we’re most
proud of is that academic growth from entry to PSAT test was 10-15 percent.”
Despite time spent in downtown offices and corporate parks, students exceed the state seat time
requirement. But the school year does have an additional three weeks to make up for students’
Academics, work, extra-curricular activities—in that order—are the priorities at DLS, unlike
many other schools. But the school has built a steady list of extra offerings including student
leadership, service, drama, and athletics: volleyball, basketball, cross-country, football, baseball,
softball, swimming, track, golf, tennis.
The school uses gymnasium facilities at the University of Portland, Salvation Army, or nearby
Holy Cross School. And while they’re grateful for the space, says Hennessy, “We get the dregs
of gym time. We have a kid who gets up at 4 a.m. to iron his shirt, make breakfast for his brother
and sister, practice at 5 a.m., and then he goes to work. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Built on Trust
Five years ago, Matt Powell was a teacher at LaSalle High School in Milwaukie, and his good
friend Michael Jacobson worked at Wells Fargo Bank. “The school was a new idea that hadn’t
been tried here,” Hennessy explains, “so they went to their friends in the business world and
said, ‘Trust us.’
“I came from high tech,” Hennessy adds. “I was selling IBM and Hewlett-Packard. I’d known
Matt for years and he said, ‘Come and help me build a school.’ This job has been the best thing
I’ve ever done, by far.”
With no alumni, and no parents of means like schools such as Jesuit, St. Mary’s or LaSalle in
southeast Portland, De La Salle cannot rely on these typical sources for financial help.
Nevertheless, the school has embarked on a capital campaign to build and remodel the school
facilities. Phase one is a $5 million plan for an L-shaped two-story classroom and administrative
offices. The high school will break ground in June ’06 and hopes to complete construction by
December ’06. The second phase is a new $4 million gymnasium. Later De La Salle will add a
dining hall, chapel, and performing arts center. The total for all phases is $15 million.
Though definitely a “school that works,” it’s been tenuous at times, says Hennessy. “But
everything has been falling into place—several major foundations are in the process of grant
approval to support the capital campaign. Together, we’re giving these kids a choice and a
chance to change their destiny.”
Sidebar: De La Salle North High School Staff
Matt Powell President
Don Huelskamp Principal
Mike Jacobson Director CIP
Sidebar: 2004-2005 Corporate Internship Program Participating Sponsors
American Heart Association
American Red Cross
Archdiocese of Portland
Black United Fund of Oregon
Children’s Relief Nursery
Cosgrave Vergeer Kester
D Amore and Associates Doner Haus
Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette
Humane Society of Oregon
First Call Heating & Cooling
Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund
MKG Financial Group
Multnomah County District Attorney
Meyer and Wyse
NW Natural Gas
Oregon Steel Mills
Perkins Coie/Pitney Bowes
Police Activities League
Portland Teachers Credit Union
Portland Radiology Group
Providence Health System
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt
St. Anthony Village
The LIFE Center
University of Portland
Urban League of Portland
BrainstormNW - October 2004