Northwest Academy

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A Pretty Cool School

Performers onstage at 2010 Club Cabaret, an annual benefit gala for the Northwest Academy.
  • Q: Does the Northwest Academy make their students wear head scarves or nun habits?
  • A: Nope! The Northwest Academy has no dress code. Students are encouraged to wear what makes them feel comfortable, and apparel that allows them to express themselves.
  • Q: Do you have to be really good at art to go to the Northwest Academy?
  • A: No. As well as art, the Northwest Academy offers other core classes. In addition to "fun," rigorous academics and an interdisciplinary approach are NWA's primary hallmarks.
  • Q: How many students go to the Northwest Academy?
  • A: About 115.


The Northwest Academy is a private, liberal arts school that is located on 1130 SW Main St., only steps away from Starbucks, The Portland Art Museum, Powell's Books, Portland State University, and much more.

NWA's class sizes cap at eighteen students because NWA's teachers are committed to give each student the attention that he/she needs to succeed. The school's environment is relaxed, where students can call teachers by their first names, and be themselves in class. If a student has exhausted the NWA curriculum, they have the opportunity to take classes from nearby PSU. (Many students take math and language classes at PSU in high school, or if they're really a show-off, in middle school.)


NWA's students have the opportunity to visit Ashland, Oregon in the beginning of October to see Shakespeare and other famous plays. Most of the student body will also participate in annual spring performances called Club Cabaret (located in The Portland Art Museum), held in February, and Esprit (located at the Keller Auditorium), held in May. Club Cabaret is Northwest Academy's ultimate fundraiser for the school. The students sing, act, and dance. In February 2011 NWA students performed a radio show for Club Cabaret. The performance is always set in a different era and country. During this show, there is also a oral and silent auction. Esprit includes all student talents (dance, acting, singing, writing, etc.), and is a very fun, upbeat performance. This is where the creativity of the students really comes through.

Recognized by Oregonian

Oregon education reform bills aim to create more flexible, individualized public schools

Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011, 9:35 PM

Updated: Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 8:33 AM

By Bill Graves, The Oregonian

In the typical Oregon public school classroom, students of the same age work at achievement levels that often vary by two or three grades, sometimes more.

That didn't make sense to Mary Folberg. When she launched Northwest Academy, a private college preparatory school for grades 6-12 in downtown Portland, she grouped students the way she did as a dance instructor at Jefferson High, by proficiency rather than age.

That's the seismic shift Gov. John Kitzhaber wants to make in the state's public school system through a package of education bills passed by the Legislature last month.

At the heart of the package is one bill pushed by Kitzhaber to create paths from pre-school through college on which students advance at their own paces. The bill creates a 15-member Oregon Education Investment Board, chaired by the governor, to control the purse strings on all levels of education from preschool through college -- about $7.4 billion or half of the state general fund.

Kitzhaber envisions the board using financial incentives to shift the focus of public education from what he calls "seat time" to learning. The board might, for example, financially reward districts for each student, whether 15 or 18, who meets high school exit standards

This shift would make public schools more like Northwest Academy, where students advance based on what they know and can do rather than on how much time they spend in school.

Maya Caulfield, 11, for example, skipped fifth grade when she enrolled at the school after Folberg determined she was ready for sixth-grade work. Maya soon revealed so much talent in improvisation, she was placed in theater classes with high school students.

Academy students who top out in the school's math curriculum go to Portland State University for more advanced classes. Some students take three years to get through high school; others take five. But all 28 graduates in the last two years were ready for college and went, said Folberg.

Maya's mother, Dr. Yasodha Gopal, a pediatrician, said, "This is what education should be."

Northwest Academy student Maya Caulfield performs a monologue Northwest Academy student Maya Caulfield performs a monologue from "On the Eve of Friday Morning," which she once performed at Oregon Children's Theatre. Watch video Learning for the 21st Century A more individualized approach to education would be more efficient by allowing some students to advance faster while reducing needs for remediation, said Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council who is helping Kitzhaber design a budget based on outcomes. It also fits the growing diversity of Oregon's school population and suits learning for the 21st Century better than the current system rooted in the 19th Century, he said.

Other education legislation passed this session created more choice and flexibility in public education while giving the whole system, from preschool through college, more coherence:

  • It's easier to open charter schools and easier for students to change districts, take college-level courses in high school and transfer from community college to four-year universities.
  • A Higher Education Coordinating Commission will connect the policies of the state's 17 community colleges and seven public universities. The universities have more independence and control over how they raise and spend money.
  • Leaders also set a lofty goal: 40 percent of Oregon adults have a bachelor's degree or higher; 40 percent have an associate's or equivalent; and 20 percent have at least a high school diploma by 2025. No state has come close to those achievement levels.

Kitzhaber said the changes, particularly the investment board, mark the most ambitious reform in Oregon since a 1991 bill he helped pass with Rep. Vera Katz, who later became Portland's mayor.

Like his new plan, the Katz bill proposed a system based on academic standards rather than seat time or course credits.

That plan slowly dissolved over the last two decades as districts wrestled with resistance from teachers and parents and with money problems from property tax limits that shifted the burden of funding schools to the state. The resulting turmoil undermined energy and focus on reform.

The plan also failed, Kitzhaber said, because schools operate under a fragmented, century-old governance structure incapable of carrying out the changes.

Another shot at reform This time around, the state is changing the governance structure, too. The investment board will look at all levels of education as a single system and tie spending priorities to performance goals.

If a top priority is having all kids exit third grade as strong readers, for example, the investment board would spend money first on the best instructional practices for making that happen.

To help track and improve performance, the plan calls for a statewide student data system to quickly tell teachers what a student knows and needs to learn.

So far, however, the entire plan is a sketch outlined in a six-page bill. And change on the scale Kitzhaber envisions will take years.

The governor has teams working to present legislators with details in December. The investment board, yet to be appointed, should be ready by 2013 to begin pegging finances to goals, Wyse said.

The investment board also will decide whether to keep the state boards of education and higher education, and if so, what their roles should be.

An early childhood investment transition team already has recommended consolidating dozens of support programs for children under 5 into a more efficient system. Collectively, the programs cost about $1 billion.

The new structure would coordinate health, social and education services for about 70,000 disadvantaged children to prepare them for kindergarten and first-grade literacy -- goals that can be measured.

"We are going to be a national leader in explicitly changing the model for early childhood education and directly connecting that to the education system," Kitzhaber said.

School administrators welcome the reforms because they are so frustrated by money problems that seem to grow worse by the year, said Chuck Bennett, lobbyist for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. They want a change, he said.

Northwest Academy embraced change from its inception in 1996. Before creating her school, Folberg helped educators in Salem work on ways to carry out the 1991 plan. She incorporated performance standards to measure and determine student progress in the academy's design. Public schools should have done the same, she said.

"They missed the boat," she said. "It works so well for us."

Contact Northwest Academy



Telephone: (503) 223-3367

Address: 1130 Southwest Main Street Portland, OR 97205

External links