The Learning Difference at Thomas Edison High

Thomas Edison High School

Founded in 1973, Thomas Edison High School in Southwest Portland is the only high school in our area dedicated to serving students with complex learning differences, including ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Pat Maguire is Edison High’s Director.

“I’m the Director, because I’m in charge of everything, which is good, bad and indifferent, I guess. I’ve been Director the last 13 years, but before that I was a teacher, then Assistant Director. I’ve been with the school many, many years just because I love these kids,” Maguire said.

Edison High’s mission is to empower students with learning differences to experience academic and personal growth, while preparing them for the future. Pat Maguire is obviously very proud when he talks about how Edison High School positively impacts the education of his students.

“About a third of our students go on to four-year schools. But, I’m equally proud of the two-thirds of our students who go on to two-year schools, work or usually a combination of the two. And I can also say almost 100 percent of our students graduate from Thomas Edison and I am proud of each and every one of them. Right now because of the need, we’ve grown from 65 to almost 85 students. So we continue to hope to grow in the future,” Maguire said.

With an 8-1 student teacher ratio — Edison High’s’ staff is able to individualize curriculum and provide extra personal attention. Mary Kate Fellows Russell knows all about that. She teaches English here. 17 years ago — she was a student.

“Edison was a huge step for me,” Fellows Russell said. “I was at Waldorf schools before this and I was just kind of masking my LD. I was just using my general work ethic to get through stuff, but I was never doing well and that was frustrating. I remember we’d take spelling tests every week and I would just always fail them.

I’d work really hard and always fail them. That was really hard. At Edison I felt like the kids were similar to me, the teachers were really involved, small classes — I loved it. I begged to get in. I was here for two years, then I went back East and then college, and then two Master’s. Now I’m back.

“Our kids are amazing. And I adore them. They’re great. I love my school. I feel it’s a gift to be able to go here and come back here and help kids like me. And I can help them in a unique way because I can say I know what it’s going to take for you to survive in college and even just in the world.”

When you talk to people about Thomas Edison High School in the community, what do you say?

“I say we’re a college prep school for LD kids because the transition from high school to eighth grade is tough. But the next step is even harder. So we want to make sure every kid leaves our school with a plan, whether it’s I’m taking three classes at PCC and I’m getting a job at my Dad’s lumber mill, I’m working with my Mom at the doctor’s office…Whatever. I’m taking a gap year, I’m going to a four-year school — we want to make sure that plan is set for them. And that is one of the things that makes us very unique. I love my job. I love my school and I would do anything for it,” Fellows Russell said.

Spencer Still is one of Thomas Edison’s many success stories. He’s quick to point out that this special high school changed his life.

“In my eighth grade year I was having trouble in school,” Still said. “So then it was time to start looking at high schools. We looked at my home school, which was Lincoln. All my friends went there, so obviously I wanted to go there to be with my friends. But, we knew with my learning difference, we decided to look at other schools. So we contacted a family friend whose son attended Jesuit and now attends TCU. And he told us about Thomas Edison.

“At first, I was a little apprehensive because I still wanted to go to Lincoln with all my friends. Then, when we got the phone call a couple months later that I was accepted, we were excited because we knew with all the small class sizes and the teachers with the one-on-one help, it would make me a more successful student and in my future — a successful human being.”

How do you think your life is different because you came here to Thomas Edison?

“I think it’s extremely different. I’ve made more friends. I’ve played on the Jesuit football team — that alone has made an incredible difference in my life. With public school homework hours, that alone would make me struggle, and I’d probably be just an average student, C’s and D’s and maybe even F’s, which would not get you into college.”

Sara Fitzpatrick is a junior at Edison High. Like all the students here, Sara has been diagnosed with a “learning difference.”

“When I was five, they had this weird, messed-up thing. They said I had ‘defiant parent syndrome.’ I just like I’m five, I do what I want! But I found out I have ADHD,” Fitzpatrick said.

When you think about Thomas Edison, and comparing it to other high schools in the area; to you what’s the difference?

“We’re a high school. We just learn the same curriculum differently, I guess. But, not necessarily too differently. We’re still learning all the same things. We’re learning math, English, history. I like history. It’s really a good place for…I don’t necessarily want to say people like us. But, our kind of group of learning differences. Yeah,” Fitzpatrick said.

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