Hello from the History Department –
The 2018–19 school year is quickly drawing to a close, so today we take a look at another of the teachers, Kate Drew, who made the Kennedy School special, back when it was an operating elementary school.
What a wonderful attitude Mrs. Drew had and passed along to her students: “Learning is fun! It’s fun for me, and I wanted it to be fun and real for the kids…. And if kids know you expect the best, and know that you’re going to help them be the best, I think wonderful things happen.”
Mrs. Kate Drew was a beloved teacher at Kennedy School from 1963 ‘til 1970. However, elementary education wasn’t her first career path. She started out as a professional operatic singer who performed all over California—with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, as a soprano in the theatrical piece Messiah and in gay nightclubs in San Francisco. But when she was awarded a teaching fellowship at San Francisco State, she decided to switch gears to get a teaching degree instead of a graduate degree in music. “I wanted a normal life,” she remembers.
She embarked on her new career as a teacher in the Mission District in San Francisco, which at the time was a poor neighborhood. She taught classes of up to 40 children, many of whom were at lower learning levels. So when her husband was transferred to the Pacific Northwest, Kate entered the Portland school system. Here, she encountered smaller classes in a welcoming environment.
After several years at a school in Southeast Portland, she landed at Kennedy School in 1963. It was “a fine community of people,” Mrs. Drew recalled. And the students in her classrooms? “All of them, darling.”
She was known for belting out show tunes from her classroom piano, and for reading stories to her kids in a very dramatic, engaging fashion. There were assemblies and Christmas pageants, riotous games of softball during recess, fantastic field trips into the Columbia River Gorge. Once she even allowed a boy to run around the classroom cracking jokes with the students until he ran out of steam. “And it was funny!” she recalled. “It was a time-out for the kids, to you know, relax, and then get back to things.”
In short, Mrs. Drew was the kind of teacher whom students loved and parents appreciated. She understood that kids needed to be kids, and she still managed to make learning fun. Her students “thought what I said was gospel,” so she had to watch what she said, she remembered with a laugh.
Toward the later stage of her career, the public school system was undergoing radical changes. Administration was afforded a greater role in determining what and how certain content should be taught to the students. Kate Drew had always been active in leadership roles involving parents, teachers and administration. But just a few short months after taking office as the president of Portland Association of Teachers, she resigned from her position. “We went from a professional organization of teachers to a union. And that didn’t satisfy a lot of us.”
Kate Drew decided one summer morning in 1970 that it was time to end her teaching career. “I retired at 58… I’ve always felt very strongly: If you can’t do it well anymore or if it isn’t fun anymore, or challenging, and you don’t wake up in the morning eager to get there, then that’s the time to leave.”
Well after her retirement, Mrs. Drew still kept up with many of her Kennedy School students—she helped one Portland Rose Festival Princess with her speech, attended another’s senior day at Oregon State University, exchanged Christmas cards with several others for years.
Through her creativity and commitment, Kate Drew instilled in her students the joy of learning, an invaluable gift and legacy.