High school closure talk starts… with Benson

11:10 pm

Make no mistake, talk of converting Benson High School to a two-year, part-time CTE (Career Technical Education) center means that Benson is the first of Portland’s ten high schools to go on the chopping block.

District leaders have broadly hinted that they will close two high schools. If they convert Benson to a CTE center, would they only need to close one cluster school? Or are they considering closing two schools in addition to the Benson conversion? Any guesses which remaining high schools they would close or “merge”?

Logic, demographics and building conditions may indicate Lincoln and Wilson merging in a new facility. East side schools could rebuild or remodel, but continue to serve their neighborhoods (and be in place for the expected population boom coming in the next 15-20 years).

More likely, of course, they’re eyeballing east-side schools like Marshall and Madison for closures and mergers. Or Roosevelt and Jefferson. And rebuilding Wilson and Lincoln to the satisfaction of the west-side elites, of course, perhaps moving Lincoln and giving the land to Homer Williams in the process.

Get ready to fight for your high school, Portlanders.

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

filed under: Benson High, Demographics, Facilities, High Schools, School Closures

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22 Responses

  1. Comment from Schoolmarm:

    What about Franklin? Hasn’t that campus already been designated a property to sell? Enrollment is down, NCLB sanctions looming, it looks like it could go on the block.

  2. Comment from morrow10:

    Benson should not be closed because it is successful. That is why the PPS doesn’t like it. Makes the rest of the schools look poor in comparison except Lincoln. I think Benson’s alumni association will have something to say about any major changes there. If they get up in arms the school district will lose a lot of monetary support and the school board will be voted out one by one. My daughter MAXed 45 minutes to go the Benson a few years back and it was the best decision we ever made.

  3. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Benson’s demise is at the very top of the PPS School Board’s screw ups. At one point it was the great hope for many children to climb out of a cycle of poverty. Guess not many of Stand for Children’s member’s children went there. So what the heck.

    And one other thing; in the newspaper they were talking educational research as being one of the reasons for considering the change. …so there was another technological high school that was nationally known for a fine educational program with a one and a half percent dropout rate in a city with identical demographics as Portland and a similar school district that was changed to a CTE and the dropout rate went even lower than one and a half percent and the students in the new CTE went off to college and into more wonderful jobs than when the outstanding technological high school was operating. Oh, I forgot, since it is “research” there were several of these types of situations throughout the country and scientists carefully equalized all the variables to allow them to carefully study the results.

    Oh, this is not the case? Then take your supposed “research” and get out of my face.

  4. Comment from Zarwen:

    Looking at how the powers-that-be have sabotaged our school district over the past 15 years, the only logical conclusion to draw is that they do not want families and children living in inner Portland. In the near future, it will be a city for dog-lovers only.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    Quote from the Oregonian article:

    “District leaders say they must redesign the high school system because of mixed academic results, unequal access to rigorous classes and declining enrollment.”

    An excellent description of the results of all the past “redesigns.” This is a case study of what happens when you fix things that aren’t broken! Is anyone listening out there?????

  6. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    Do you really think merging Lincoln and Wilson is feasible with all the talk of smaller schools? If you combine both as it stands right now and you’re pushing 3000 kids. This would instantly make it one of the largest high schools in the state. I realize that there are transfers in from outside each cluster but it can’t be that large.

    I know there’s a fixation here with taking whacks at the West Side “elites” that is also mixed with a heavy dose of devils advocate-ism but I really don’t think combining these 2 schools is smart. Have you looked at the boundary map lately?


    These 2 clusters the largest geographical area don’t they? (I guess this is skewed by the Skyline/Forest Park area). Traveling to a centralized high school in these combined clusters would be onerous.

    Unfortunately what is already started is we are all going to start pointing fingers and say: “Close that school”. “Close their school”. “Don’t Close MY school”. It’s too bad that the district has moved so slowly (and late) on this. The population growth isn’t supposed to hit the schools until 2011, so we really haven’t hit bottom yet in terms of school population. Until then we’ll be fighting over scraps and blaming each other–SAD.

  7. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Here are the 2007-2008 high school attendance area populations:

    Marshall:  1640
    Jefferson: 1603
    Wilson:    1601
    Grant:     1512
    Franklin:  1431
    Cleveland: 1426
    Madison:   1394
    Roosevelt: 1396
    Lincoln:   1375

    Any merger will dictate redrawing attendance areas district-wide to avoid a mega-school.

    Note that Lincoln has the smallest population, despite having the largest geographic area.

    Also note that the two largest schools by attendance area population are among our smallest schools by attendance.

    I repeat what I wrote in March:

    1. Siting of schools must be based on where students live, not where they’ve transfered.
    2. Comprehensive highs must be the centerpiece of our high school strategy. This is key to equity. These schools must be available to all students, in the neighborhoods where they live. Special focus options should be centrally located, like Benson, and as is done in districts like Beaverton. They should not be co-located with neighborhood programs, and definitely not substitute for comprehensive schools in poor neighborhoods.
    3. The “liberal transfer policy” must be examined in light of equalizing programming across the district.
    4. Siting must not be influenced in any way by the commercial value of the land of existing facilities.
  8. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The attendance area figures argue against the closing of any high schools. The mess has not been caused by having less students it is because PPS has consistently made poor decisions which have deteriorated the poor neighborhood schools.

    Whitebuffalo, good to have you on this site giving a more balanced viewpoint. Don’t forget though — the upper middle class activists have controlled the school board while the schools in the poor neighborhoods have been (sometimes systematically) destroyed. It is not taking shots at the West Hills etc. — it is taking shots at a policy of neglect orchestrated by these activists who refuse to acknowledge it has taken place. Everyone who writes on this site that I know wants the best possible education for all children. That is what so many people don’t get.

  9. Comment from middle school mum:

    Zarwen – a city for dog owners AND bikers only!

    The Benson options just make me want to cry. Benson was one of the best academic schools in the city, and it meant something to be a Benson

    We cannot sit by and let the continued dismantling of our schools occur. Not that anyone HERE is doing that!

  10. Comment from Whitebuffalo:


    That chart plays into the hands of the close Benson crowd doesn’t it?

    Wouldn’t it be best have a two-prong approach? Eliminate (or severely restrict) the transfer policy while at the same time instituting curricular consistency for all schools? Too logical? This would take vision, money, and forgive my French, balls. We don’t have any of the three in our district leadership. [I mean “intestinal fortitude” “guts” when I say balls not men per se.]


    Thanks for saying so. It’s hard on this site to advocate for the seemingly well off schools. I’m more familiar with Wilson than Lincoln (Lincoln not at all really–only by reputation and stereotype) so I can say that Wilson is pretty middle class. Are there more well off folks? Sure, but there are in Grant and Cleveland too (just try and buy an affordable house in Sellwood, I dare you). There are also kids that are living a not so comfortable life too in our “richer” schools, of course it’s much worse in other schools. When people ask me, “how is it with the rich kids?” I say, “couldn’t tell you” because they aren’t rich. Not Lake O. or West Linn rich. Not even close. (Lakeridge HS where it’s $150 for student parking PER SEMESTER!).

    I’m usually the one to root for the underdog so it’s odd for me to be advocating for the “haves” here. I guess I’d like to see us build everyone up and not tear down those that are perceived to be doing ok. Speak truth to power? Absolutely. Challenge hypocrisy? Yep. But let’s do this city-wide and not start a class war in the process.

  11. Comment from Steve R.:

    Re. class war, I’m afraid it’s already started. The white middle class has made certain to preserve some semblance (I’m not saying it’s anywhere close to ideal) of comprehensive education for themselves at the expense of the rest of Portland.

    Seriously, you don’t have to scratch much below the surface to hear the attitude of “we might not be able to afford equity,” or, in other words, “we’ve got ours, and we ain’t sharing.”

  12. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    Again, we’re fighting for scraps aren’t we? I want to hold out enough hope that there is enough “pie” to go around. Maybe I’m naive and that this is all the “pie” there is and what you’re saying is exactly what’s going on. If true, then a Robin Hood approach is a normal reaction. I would hope that an appeal to a higher power (the state) is in order. (Wow, I AM naive.) The state funding mechanism has been broken for decades, huh?

  13. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    There is enough pie to go around. Look at Beaverton, with similar demographics and state funding.

    I just wrote a new post about the topic.

  14. Comment from 4mykids:

    Hm, I grew up in unincorporated Aloha, much has now been annexed by Beaverton. Aloha high school is a shell of what it once was. All the new high schools went (have been built) where the money is. Kids (at Aloha) can’t afford the exorbanate cost to play sports, band and much of the comprehensive extras cost extra that the parents can’t afford. Kids do transfer; their schools aren’t perfect. Perhaps better, but certainly not perfect. Bus systems aren’t nearly as great as Portland so it makes transportation harder if you want to transfer (thus limiting this option for many).
    I don’t have any easy solutions; but I can say that it does not make economic sense to run several schools with low attendance when the infrastructure itself costs so much. Is there a way to create new boundaries, perhaps move/consolidate some schools and close some schools and offer a comprehensive education in all of PPS(k-12)?
    I know that closing schools is a difficult topic, but if it isn’t working, no one is attending, and the building is crumbling, then what other options are there?
    I don’t know much about Benson, but I had heard (from other parents) that it isn’t doing well anymore. If this isn’t true then what would the intent by in converting it?

  15. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    When my family was considering a move to Beaverton, many people told us Aloha High was the “worst” high school in Beaverton.

    But if it were in Portland, it would stand out for its breadth and depth of curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

    Beaverton is not perfect, but they have a core curriculum that is guaranteed at every neighborhood school. You can walk into any K5, middle school or high school in Beaverton and find the same basic programs, including library, music, art and PE.

    In PPS schools, particularly in neighborhoods that are not predominantly white and middle class, you’re lucky if you find one or two of these four things, which we are now told are not core, but “enrichment.”

    PPS refuses to define a base-level core curriculum and guarantee it at every school, which has led to a demonstrably separate and unequal system.

  16. Comment from Zarwen:

    It’s hard not to think that PPS has declared war on black families. First they dismantle Jefferson (and its feeders). Now they are targeting Benson. And what high school has most of the kids from the Jefferson catchment area? You guessed it–Benson!

    I thought the laws prohibiting black people from living here had been repealed? Guess the powers-that-be can’t force them to leave, but not educating their children is being tested as a tool to drive them out.

    Or am I missing something?

  17. Comment from Lakeitha:

    Middle School Mum, first of all, congrats on being a “middle School Mum”. So glad that you have access to a middle school option for your child. We don’t have that option in the neighborhood that I am from.
    As for your sadness about the Benson situation, “The Benson options just make me want to cry. Benson was one of the best academic schools in the city, and it meant something to be a Benson
    I too want to cry and on occasion have because there was a time when Jefferson was one of the best comprehensive high schools in the city( academic, art, automotive, dynamic bands and sports teams) and it meant something to be a Jefferson Alumni.
    Now being a Jefferson Alumni probably means that you have had three different principals during your 4 years of high school, been a part of 2 reconfigurations of your school, lost several great teachers and a college counselor.
    We need to look at a comprehensive reform of the transfer policy and get rid of the “Good School/ Bad School” mentality in Portland” and come to a place where it really means something to graduate from any of our schools.

  18. Comment from Lovemycommunity...:

    We have a huge problem in Portland Public concerning equity issues and changes that only occur in schools that are primarily low income. Isn’t it funny that the low income schools have been made into smaller schools. If this is such a good idea, why not do it at Lincoln, Wilson and Grant. Much of the mass exodus to other schools from neighborhood schools stemmed from Leave No Child Behind and AYP (average yearly progress). I think we need to go back to having good neighborhood schools by providing excellent programs in all high schools….that means every high school offers the same opportunities to all students. This will stop the mass exodus and kids leaving our communities to seek a better education across the river. Students have no idea what there community offers anymore. Let’s begin this Sept. by not allowing students to seek schools outside their neighborhoods. It will cut down on the overcrowding that is happening at Lincoln and Grant. If those numbers are accurate (note from Steve R.above) about how many students should be attending their local high school….then we wouldn’t have such an imbalance that is occurring now. We wouldn’t have to close any high school. We would be more evenly dispersed. There would be no high schools on the Leave No Child Behind list. The schools would be more diverse and balanced academically.

  19. Comment from beth:

    I went to HS in east county in the late 70’s and had a great educational experience. I moved into the city for college and watched, through years of gentrification and tax levy failures and property tax limitations and everything else, as PPS schools slowly fell into the toilet. In the mid 80’s through mid-90’s I was a non-certified music specialist at four of the PIL high schools, all on the east side, with my longest tenure at Benson Tech. Through it all, the kids have toughed it out, suffering through one political fight after another. Their dedication and desire made it worthwhile.

    Today I no longer teach in PPS high schools. There are no music programs left for me to even donate my time to, much less teach for pay.

    I look at all that has happened in PPS and I see no solutions. Much of what has happened is based on demographic and economic disparities that are decades old, with no hope for real change in sight. All I can say these days is thank god I didn’t have children of my own to suffer through this mess.

  20. Comment from sean brown:

    i am a softmore at Benson and that means that if they decide to close it i would haft to go to another school for my senor year and many other people at Benson it is one of the most successful schools in the nation it would be the most stupid and alienated thing if it were to close down

  21. Comment from a.hs.reader:

    In my opinion, I think Benson should stay. I mean the career center thing sounds ok, but at the expense of benson high? I think not. It’s a good school because of that special focus it has on “tech” related things.

    It’s true that it isn’t as good as it once was, but it should not be the first school to “chop off the block”. Because it has no designated neighborhood area, it gives some students who are in an area in which their school doesn’t suit them, a chance to transfer. It can also set up students for a good path on their way to getting a good career with the “tech” things they have.

    I think one of the main reasons they want to get rid of it is because the land that benson owns, is very expensive and huge, and would produce a lot of money for PPS if they were to rent it out or sell it, but I think Benson should stay.

    Also, a Wilson/Lincoln merger would just be horrible. You would have a huge school, with it also being the only public school on the westside.

    Also, not to mention they would be a powerhouse in sports, and would likely dominate entirely in the PIL and take some limelight from Grant. It would just be too unbalanced if the merger were to happen. Also many kids may be deprived of sports at this hypothetical lincoln/wilson school because many of the best players would fill up the spots on teams with such huge enrollment.

    I think Jefferson may be an easy chop-off, but I’m not sure. Marshall may be going also, you dont hear much about them, and they’re not doing so well. A marshall/madison merger sounds not that bad though.

    Heck, while we’re at it, why dont we merge Grant, Lincoln, and Wilson and make a powerhouse mega school that would likely take state in every sport every single time! Yipee!!!!

    I was being sarcastic with that last bit.

  22. Comment from FormerFranklinStudent:

    All of these schools have school spirit that has and continue to have the pride of both former and present students. I know alot of former students from Benson, Cleveland (arch-rival of Franklin), James Madison, and of course, Franklin High School. First of all, what are going in the minds of PPS? They should all be committed to a psch ward. Second, crowded schools looks good on paper, but when they started to build some other schools in the district during the 70’s, it was because of overcrowding. Is that what Portland want for its students? I live in Virginia now and the schools have overcrowding. What is the end result, poor academics and higher dropout levels. So cool your jets PPS and rethink what you are doing. Consider all the factors for both the local economy that stay in business because of these schools; the neighborhoods; and above all, the students and the pride they have for their own schools!