Madison High counselor tells his story
June 20, 2008 7:10 pm
Approximately 8 years ago Madison High School received a Carnegie Grant through the Portland Schools Foundation with the intent of exploring the promise of small schools.
When I was a counselor at Hosford Middle school I was witness to the success that Hosford had in their creation of three small school communities using the theories and research of Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier. The work they did in creating smaller learning communities was very compelling and held promise for high schools that struggle with getting a large percentage of their students to state benchmarks.
My positive experience at Hosford as well as my experience as a parent with a child at a private school set me on a mission to work with the administration and teachers to restructure Madison High School. I visited schools in Texas, New York City as well as local schools to experience first hand the impact that reform could have on schools and learning.
Monthly and bi-monthly meetings with a team of teachers and administrations led ultimately to the writing of the Gates grant to secure the funds to create smaller learning communities. There were many of us on the staff that felt that by going small we would see academic gains in our students.
Once Madison was awarded the Gates-Meyer Memorial Grant it became obvious that the administration had one vision and that many on the staff had another vision of what small learning communities would look like. It was apparent that structure was going to dictate curriculum and course offerings and that students were to be locked in to communities without access to electives or programs just down the hall.
There were not enough electives, and I found that students had holes in their schedules that could not be filled within the small learning community. Students asking to take a class such as advanced biology in another community were told no and it was suggested they take that that course at a local community college.
Administrators were going through schedules looking for unauthorized crossovers, and I was being written up for insubordination for filling a student’s schedule with something other than a teaching assistant in his or her community when they wanted an elective in another community. I went from having an administrator who had not evaluated me in 5 years to one that scrutinized my every move.
My new administrator is a woman who has never been a teacher, let alone an administrator, and who is long on scrutiny but short on practicality or reason. I went from not having a blemish in a long career to a plan of assistance that in truth was designed to shut me up and stop asking questions about the efficacy of how we were delivering the model for education in our community.
I have a lot of support in my building and the questions that got me in to trouble are being asked publicly and have even come out in the Oregonian. Small schools are supposed to about shared governance, teacher as leader.
Creating autonomous schools work for start up schools but not for conversion schools. Hybrid models, 9th and 10th grade academies, team teaching, project based learning, performance outcome based learning and a lot of collaboration and hard work will get students to parity with their peers on the west side of this city.
Show me one west side school that is embracing some of the notions that are being imposed on the less affluent east side schools. They don’t exist.
I have been screaming for equity for these kids and limiting their choices, taking their school away from them and their community is not serving anyone but the ideologues who are building a reputation on the backs of the students and the families least likely to have the ability to fight this approach or any other approach as they are just too busy making a living and trying to survive.
David Colton is a high school counselor and a former English and drama teacher.