At our Spring Gala, BLOOM, we will be honoring three foundational faculty members who helped shape Portland Waldorf School from it’s very beginning. So many individuals have made PWS the school it is today. We are forever grateful to them all. This year we would like to recognize the contributions three particular people made to our beloved school and we look forward to honoring them on April 6th at this special event. Please join us in celebrating and thanking Cyndia Ashkar, Patricia Lynch and Diane Rowley.
Since 1982 when she helped form the original study group from which the school began, Cyndia Ashkar devoted herself to the life and health of PWS until June of 2017—a span of 30 years.
In 1982, when the first Kindergarten was formed, Cyndia took the role of assistant teacher, one of only three faculty. After the first year, Cyndia became the kindergarten lead teacher. As the school grew incrementally and a first College of Teachers was formed, Cyndia was a foundational member. When a Board of Trustees was formed, Cyndia became a member, serving for 9 years.
“I’m a make something out of nothing sort of person,” Cyndia says, and that skill was needed in the early years, as the growing school moved location frequently. At three different sites, she took the lead in developing safe and beautiful playgrounds where they were desperately needed, scrounging or buying materials herself much of the time, always with an eye on improving the experience of the youngest children.
When it came time to find a permanent home, Cyndia joined the Site Search Committee which eventually found us our current location in Milwaukie. Once we arrived, she volunteered on the Building and Grounds committee that oversaw its development. Later, when we learned of a plan to bring light rail to Milwaukie, Cyndia dove into researching mitigation of that project so that negative effects on the school would be minimized, pouring over arcane information about noise and vibrations, etc, and attending City Hall meetings.
Responding to other needs over the years, Cyndia spent time as a member of the Finance Committee and the Student Care Committee. As a member of the Marketing Committee, she put us on Google Maps, took the first photos for our website, and helped conduct outreach by performing puppet plays and giving talks on early childhood around the Portland area.
It is hard to think of an area of the school Cyndia didn’t touch. Yet she will be best remembered by parents and alumni as the beloved teacher of the Lily Kindergarten, where she reigned for so many years.
Patricia came to the school as a parent in 1982, the year the school started; she and her husband Owen were active parents, pitching in for all activities. In 1985 she became an assistant in the kindergarten, and she joined the Board of Trustees in 1986, staying on for most of the next 10 formative years.
In 1987, when the College of Teachers was established, Patricia was a founding member. She remained in service for 27 years committed to a strong College and one with continuity.
In 1988 Patricia became the school’s first handwork teacher, working to establish it as a full program. To train and increase her knowledge of Waldorf pedagogy, Patricia travelled every summer for ten years to the Rudolf Steiner Institute in Maine for three weeks of work with experts from around the US and Europe—a fabulous experience, the fruits of which she shared with students and colleagues alike.
In 1996, Patricia took a half-year sabbatical to finish a Master in Fine Arts at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
By then interest in establishing a High School was burgeoning. On Patricia’s return she was hired to do the groundwork in establishing that addition to our EC through Grade 8 programs. Patricia attended conferences, conducted research, and conferred with other Waldorf Schools. With this work and strong parent support, sufficient funds were raised to open the high school in 1999. Patricia was responsible for developing the initial academic program, working with parents to find and secure locations, overseeing the finances, hiring faculty, and creating schedules. For the first two years the High School was located in a church hall, the third year in a converted nightclub. With each move, Patricia helped to adapt and transform the environment to best serve the high school students.
In addition to basic Waldorf curriculum, a foreign exchange program was started immediately. For a high school, sports were crucial; a sports program was established. Traditions were instituted. And, of course, an art program was begun.
In 2001, PWS moved to its current site in Milwaukie, and the High School and Lower School were physically united for the first time. Work was required to link the two parts of the institution, coordinate policies, etc. Patricia continued as the High School Coordinator for those first crucial years of institution building.
After a few years, Patricia turned to teaching art full time in the high school, establishing fine arts as a strong component of the program, where she continued until retirement in 2014. The High School is her legacy; it’s hard to imagine how it could have come into existence without her creativity, passion, and years of devotion.
Diane came to the school as a parent in 1985, only a few years after the school had formed. She had previously run her own in-home preschool, and joined PWS in 1992 as a kindergarten co-teacher, then assistant, as she completed her Waldorf teacher training. She taught Parent-Child classes and preschool until 2002, with a one-year break.
For six years during that period she was a member of the College of Teachers. By 2002 she was Chair of the College, a two-year, rotating position, which, along with a Development Director and Business Manager comprised the school leadership. In her position, Diane was immersed in leading and implementing the move to our new site in Milwaukie and into the Milwaukie community, with its many challenges.
After Diane’s two years as College Chair, the College decided to make the College Chair a permanent position with ultimate responsibility, a step that couldn’t have been made if there hadn’t been immense trust in Diane. She took the position, and over time her job title became “School Chair.”
Diane served in this position for ten years, leading the community through many changes. As the school grew and matured from its earliest, more informal days, it needed to improve its functions as a business. Diane worked to see that processes and decisions were recorded and communicated; that clear job descriptions, equitable salary criteria, and evaluations for staff and faculty were established and accountability instituted; she established the first health insurance program and retirement fund; and she assisted in the development of a strong business office.
Diane was also involved in the effort to create a long-term vision, a Master Site Plan for the growth of the school in its new home over time.
Diane emphasized communication, strengthening relationships with the city of Milwaukie, and with parents and grandparents and worked to better support volunteers. The presence of the High School, still relatively new, shed light on our middle school program; Diane worked to see that the middle school academics strongly supported students going on to our High School.
She was also involved with ASWNA, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America as a delegate, helping link PWS to the wider Waldorf movement. She was also an active participant in DANA (Development and Administrative Network of AWSNA) and was a leader in forming PAWS, Portland Area Waldorf Schools, a linking of local area schools to increase communication and collaboration. Diane figures she spent a minimum of sixteen years on the PWS College of Teachers.
Challenges arose. Lead paint was discovered and mitigateds. A light rail system was proposed that would (and now does) run along the back of our property; many parents and faculty were concerned about possible adverse effects. Safety in our new space was a concern. Diane led us graciously through all these shoals, always collaboratively. She says, “I don’t feel I can take much credit, as so many colleagues were involved and we all worked together to make changes. I just saw it as my job to see that things got finished that were begun.”
That modesty and her deep commitment to collaboration were keys to her success and to the growth and prosperity of the school under her tutelage. She was key to the transformation of PWS from an informal organization that reflected its roots as a parent-initiated collective to an entity that could thrive in the increasingly complex and competitive environment that is now our world.