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For Our Students and Families: Rockwood Preparatory Academy’s (RPA) mission is to
provide excellence and justice in education by ensuring that ALL students (K-5) can demonstrate rock-solid reading, arithmetic, spelling, and writing skills necessary for success in middle school and beyond.  We provide a model of public elementary school (k-5) that dispels the myth that racial background and economic
status are determinative factors in a child’s ability to reach high levels of academic achievement.

For the Larger Public Education Community: Rockwood Preparatory Academy will become established as a regional development/demonstration site where educational leaders from throughout the Northwest can observe effective Direct Instruction,  receive professional development, and access technical assistance with DI adoptions.



The RPA family envisions a school community where:

  • Every child experiences success in a  rich, rigorous, and foundational curriculum,

  • Every child receives the appropriate amount of time and support for mastery of content,

  • Every child experiences a safe and consistent setting that calls for personal responsibility, and

  • All RPA families feel a unique and fulfilling sense of ownership and pride in their child’s education, school, and community.

A Message From The Executive Director

Thank you for taking a moment to learn more about our organization!   While our governing board is currently revisiting its mission, four key leadership priorities have emerged during deliberations: 1) academic excellence at Rockwood Preparatory Academy, 2) leadership in the surrounding Rockwood community, 3) restoration and preservation of the Historic Rockwood School Campus, and 4)  regional leadership in the dissemination and replication of Direct Instructional (DI) methodology.


American public education has been in crisis for generations.  In 2022, in the United States, 54% of adults have literacy below the sixth-grade level.    As a nation, the US ranks 125th for literacy rate among all countries.  This big-picture reality should be alarming for American leaders and policy-makers at every level. Remarkably, it is not.    

This failure of public education manifests most brutally in communities characterized by high levels of poverty.   Nowhere is this truer than in the East Multnomah County (Oregon) community of Rockwood.


For several decades, students served by public elementary schools in the Rockwood community have perennially underperformed on state testing when compared to peers in more affluent parts of our region. 

Realizing excellence, confidence, and pride in our public education systems will require that every public elementary school employee be personally and professionally committed to ensuring that ALL students can demonstrate mastery of grade-level (or better) language and arithmetic skills needed for favorable results in successive elementary grades, middle school, and beyond.   


Words are not enough!  After decades of failed high-minded reforms, this commitment must not be confined to the virtuous (and innocuous) rhetoric of educational and political leaders.  Instead, this commitment to elementary literacy must be immediate, deliberate, actionable, measurable, and sustainable.   Rockwood Preparatory Academy has been built solidly on this commitment.

The relative success of our RPA students is largely due to the school’s adoption (and continuous refinement) of Direct instruction (DI) practices and curricula.  For thirty-five years I’ve personally watched DI transform schools and save lives.   This research-validated approach has the power to transform American public elementary education.  To that end, RPA’s instructional team members are currently taking the initial steps in establishing RPA as a regional training center and leader in the dissemination of DI. 


Our sincere hope is that public school leaders, seeing the sustained successes of DI schools like RPA and Arthur Academies, will seek to replicate these successes on behalf of their communities by adopting and thoughtfully implementing DI curricula and pedagogy in their elementary school programs.

In the Summer of 2022,  we (KNOVA Learning Oregon) were able to purchase the Historic Rockwood School campus as a permanent home for RPA.   The six buildings and over 70,000 sqft of covered space were in very bad condition with deferred maintenance needs unmet for decades.  Rockwood lacks community services, meeting spaces, etc.    We intend to meet this need by restoring campus facilities to top condition and, subsequently, extending the campus facilities back to the community.


Finally, the Rockwood community itself provides the context in which our students and their families live their lives.   Historically rejected by both Portland and Gresham, Rockwood is a community that has never been fully embraced.  While infrastructural investments in recent years have planted fragile seeds of optimism, decades of mismanagement have left the community with several times the population density than that of surrounding neighborhoods, a lack of adequate services, and one of the highest crime rates in Oregon.   


We are committed to working directly with the Rockwood Neighborhood Association, local business leaders, non-profits, governmental entities, and political leadership to expand the services and resources available to Rockwood families.

Again, thank you for taking the time to learn more about our organization.  Feel free to email me your thoughts!


Sincerely in Service, John W. Nelsen

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