Oh yeah, Jefferson High

10:03 pm

At least Mayor Potter and superintendent Smith had the courtesy to follow up on the Mayor’s January week in residence at Jefferson High School. The school board — who met at Jefferson that same week, and heard testimony from the same students and same community members about the same issues — seem to have lost interest as soon as the TV trucks packed up and left.

It’s worth taking a look at the progress Potter claims in light of the flier circulated by Jefferson students complaining about cuts to curriculum and lack of academic rigor. These things are not directly within the city government’s power to fix, but the Mayor brought a strong sense of hope and possibility when he moved his office to the school.

According to the Oregonian, Potter announced that the city and TriMet would provide free transit passes to all PPS 6-12 graders. That’s great news, but doesn’t address the inequities Jefferson students face.

It was also announced that “Sam Adams’ office is helping provide instruments and new uniforms to Jefferson’s defunct band program.” But the district has not announced any plans to rebuild the music program at Jefferson. Uniforms and instruments for a defunct band program don’t help Jefferson students.

The Tribune notes that Potter takes credit for having the city “address safety issues at the crosswalk next to Jefferson’s Young Women’s Academy.” In fact, PDOT came out, nearly got hit by a car themselves, said it would be too expensive to fix, and left. Every school day, children continue to risk life and limb crossing that street.

Out of ten actions the mayor claims have happened since his January visit, it is difficult to identify one that actually improves the lot of Jefferson students, or makes Jefferson High more likely to attract the kind of enrollment that could sustain it as a viable neighborhood school.

Of course, the mayor’s people are quick to point out there’s only so much they can do, since they have no direct control over the school board.

So what has the school board done? So far, all we’ve heard about are more cuts to programs. The announced merger of the two main high school academies announced during the mayor’s week in January is evidently proceeding, but there has been no announced progress on any other “proof points” the superintendent’s staff requested in late 2007.

The recently approved budget for the coming school year cuts 4.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions from Jefferson. But due to declining high school enrollment, there are internal shifts of FTE from Jefferson High School to the middle school students at the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Academies. I don’t begrudge the middle schoolers for getting these needed positions — the deserve far better, too — but this means real cuts in excess of 4.5 FTE to an already bare-bones high school curriculum.

It’s up to the school board and superintendent to step up, but so far there’s no evidence that Jefferson’s even on their radar anymore. Perhaps distracted by the PK-8 crisis and the looming facilities bond (already questioned by the Oregonian and Tribune), they’re suffering a little compassion fatigue about Jefferson.

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: High Schools, Jefferson High, Media

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12 Responses

  1. Comment from Nicole:

    Steve, you say that “The announced merger of the two main high school academies announced during the mayor’s week in January is evidently proceeding.”

    What concrete evidence do you have that the merger is actually happening?

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Maybe I should have written “purportedly” instead of “evidently.”

    I have not, in fact, seen any concrete evidence, but I am taking the district at their word.

    They gain nothing by keeping the school split, and effectively gain FTE for free by merging.

  3. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I am beginning to believe the administration is now in lock step with the school board, meaning they are overwhelmed by the problems. They are so overwhelmed they can’t respond to anything. There is a big show about listening. The Jeff fiasco is a great example. Big show with the Mayor out and the school board out and what is the result? Nothing. Move on to listening to another crisis and more problems. K-8’s? Surprise they don’t work. School maintainance has been spotty at best. Well, maybe we shouldn’t have fired all those long-time custodians who knew the buildings and in fact, maybe we should have let them do some maintainance themselves which they have been asking to do for years. Transfer process askew? Geez, what another surprise. School closures not well thought out? Whoops, should have asked someone in the community. Teacher transfer policy improvements? Well, son of a gun, they don’t work. Drop out rate gone crazy — wow, maybe the testing and the rotten middle grade schooling isn’t so attractive in keeping the modern student in school. Lots of kids are incredibly overweight and getting weight related illnesses. Darn, maybe eliminating recess and P.E. wasn’t such a good idea. Libraries a mess? Oh, should we have been paying attention to that? Oh, let’t throw them $45,000 out of our $400,000,000 + budget.

    Since they are overwhelmed and have no plan, they move from crisis to crisis. Listen. Say, we need to do something. Then move on to the next crisis. Listen, say we need to do something. Then move on to the next crisis. It is like the press is playing ping pong and the administration/school board has to return every shot, but can’t ever put one away.

    My suggestion is they first come up with a plan of what constitutes a good education. Then they spell out the needed improvements that are needed to meet the plan. Then they prioritize those improvements and begin working on them in a determined manner with concrete solutions which get done.

    They also need to put someone in charge of areas they know nothing about with the authority to straighten the mess out i.e. maintainance. Libraries. P.E. Music. Art. T.A.G., special Ed. etc.

    This district is falling apart and guess what, The Portland Schools Foundation, Stand for Children, and The Oregonian Editorial Board and their disciples are the people who have created the mess. And they have no idea how to get out of it.

  4. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    I hear through the grapevine that Jefferson principal Cynthia Harris has secured a donation earmarked for a band director position at Jefferson.

    This would make an interesting “bookend” to the same thing that happened this year at Lincoln where donations paid for the instructor and new instruments.

    Is anyone else troubled by the implications of this trend? That if you want a music program you’ll have to fund someone with deep pockets to fund it for you. As great as this is for Jefferson (and Lincoln) this lets the district off the hook. The district can continue to shirk it’s responsibility to the arts.

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I find the lack of a PK-12 music curriculum incredibly frustrating. The notion that you can just hire a band instructor at the high school level, buy some instruments and — poof! — have a band really rubs me the wrong way, regardless of who’s paying for the instruments and the instructor.

    Contrast this to Beaverton, where every middle and high school student has access to courses in performing arts, for credit, taught by certified teachers.

    It’s not “enrichment,” it’s core curriculum.

  6. Comment from Whitebuffalo:


    I totally agree with you. As I speak with district folk they still bemoan the lack of “resources”. They either overtly or tacitly blame Measure 5 for this problem. I try to point out that that vote was 18 years ago and that almost every other metropolitan district has figured out how to have music be part of this core curriculum. I’m to the point where this excuse doesn’t hold water anymore–it’s a ruse. It’s a way to get away with neglecting the arts and still avoid the blame.

    I’ve mentioned it before elsewhere in these comments: It is very difficult to find a point person at the district office level whose job includes planning for music. Furthermore, I don’t believe that there is a document in that big, pink building that lists the HOPES for what music (or any of the arts) should look like in a perfect world. There is no vision for the arts at the district level. There isn’t an expressed hope of that they should look like. Maybe we should start there…

  7. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Absolutely. As Steve Buel keeps pointing out, we need to start by defining what a comprehensive education looks like. What’s the bare minimum PK-12 curriculum?

    I would argue that general music should be required through seventh grade, with a core curriculum (not purchased from a text book publisher, but ideally developed by staff) available at every school.

    Optional instrumental and vocal ensemble programs should start in fourth grade (strings) and fifth grade (winds and percussion), with credit courses (band, orchestra, chorus) and extra-curricular programs (jazz band, small ensembles, etc.) starting in sixth grade and continuing through graduation.

    Every student should have access to all of these things in their neighborhood school, regardless of what neighborhood they live in.

    Guess what — we already have some of this, if you’re lucky enough to live on the west side of town, or in certain select neighborhoods on the east side.

    PPS is currently suffering from a dearth of leadership vision. Carole Smith is too busy dealing with multiple crises in the wake of “Hurricane” Vicki Phillips to take the long view. And nobody on the board of education seems to have any vision for what our district will look like five, ten or fifteen years out.

    How many more schools do we need to close? How many high schools will we have? How many middle schools? Where will the middle schools be? Will we balance enrollment, or continue to shift tens of millions of dollars from our poorest neighborhoods to our wealthiest?

  8. Comment from Zarwen:

    Actually, Steve, the “vision” you describe for music DID exist in every neigbborhood school–back in the ’80’s. Measure 5 did initiate the first stages of dismantling, but it was the arrival of the PSF that started the snowball down the hill AND has actively prevented any of the district-level solutions being discussed here. As long as the rich have theirs, they will do nothing to help others.

  9. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    Steve, you have it exactly right. (You should be the district’s music coordinator!)

    I know it’s popular to pile on the West side as “having it easy” but I don’t think there is a single cluster that currently has a model music program. There are certainly areas in many parts of the city that have existing programs but to say that the “rich West Side” has it all is misleading at best and sets our sites too low. To cry, “We want what Lincoln, Wilson, or Grant have” would be great for Roosevelt or Jefferson as it stands right now but I know we can do MUCH better.

    How do we start a citywide parent letter writing campaign? Wouldn’t you think that if the district was flooded with heartfelt letters from parents with school age children demanding arts programs in every building that positive change could take place? I’ve always operated under the assumption that the schools were the clients of the parents and community (to some extent).

  10. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    The problem is that they’ve got us fighting over crumbs, just trying to make sure we have access to grade-appropriate math and science curriculum for our eighth graders, and libraries for all of our students.

    Then there’s the gross imbalance in enrollment, with half-empty high schools in our poorest neighborhoods, and the wealthier neighborhoods gaining economies of scale to offer the “extras.”

    Before we can realistically advocate for a comprehensive arts curriculum (which also has to include visual arts), we’ve got to get those other things straight.

    And the district — by design or accident; doesn’t matter — manages to appease the predominantly middle class neighborhoods with half decent programs.

    We may have a chance with shifting demographics to really start pressuring them for neighborhood curriculum equity.

  11. Comment from Steve Buel:

    In the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and much of the 60’s in the south schools were segregated racially. The whites controlled the school board and the administration of the school districts. The result was that the white people had much better schools than black people because the control was in the hands of whites and they, of course, naturally favored their schools. Because of the inequities of this system the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools.
    I can’t see where PPS is really any different from those southern segregated districts. Except we segregate based on economic conditions. Wealthier neighborhoods have better schools. poorer neighborhoods have worse schools. The quality of education in your school depends on the wealth of your neighborhood. The school board and administration are controlled by the upper middle class neighborhoods and make sure the best schools are in those neighborhoods. Heck if you had asked the white school boards in the south they would have told you they believed there should be good schools in black neighborhoods. But the quality was determined by the control just like it is in PPS. We even have our White Citizen Councils who make sure things remain the same — Stand for Children, Portland Schools Foundation, and the Oregonian editorial board. I don’t see where PPS is really much different than the Jim Crow south. We just segregate on a different basis — of course, when you segregate on wealth you also, in America, segregate to a large degree on race too.

    Purposeful economic segregation, racial segregation. Educationally it all plays out the same.

  12. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    When the school board met at Jefferson High in January, I drew the comparison to the old south.

    The fact that a liberal city like Portland allows this to continue speaks volumes about the range of concern of white Portland liberals, in my opinion. As long as they’ve got theirs, they’d just as soon sweep this under the carpet.