A middle grade fix to go with the high school plan

With the coming of the newly designed high schools it is even more imperative PPS fixes its middle grade education. Here is my proposal:

Put four 7th and 8th grade junior high schools, one each, into the Roosevelt, Madison, Jefferson, and Marshall attendance areas. If there are about 1400 students per high school in each attendance area that would be close to 700 students in each school. We leave the 6th graders in K-6s. Middle school for them is not much different than grade school anyway and society already pushes kids ahead too fast. Then let’s focus on making these schools attract and engage kids that age and use what we know about child development. I mean let’s really focus on it.

Art, band, electives (including hands-on shop and computer engineering, dance, and drama), PE every day, huge numbers of computers that are accessible, a comprehensive education in the social sciences, science, and health. A truly outstanding library. Advanced classes as well as a strong support system for struggling students. A no sugar, no junk food lunch program. Appropriate and extensive counseling. A yearbook. A school newspaper. Close ties to state, county, and city programs designed to help low-income families. Athletic and other programs such as debate and academic teams which compete against the other three schools with paid teacher coaches. A full intramural program at noon. Speakers, field trips, special programs with outside artists etc.

Then let’s couple a no nonsense discipline policy with an embracing of teen culture. Hats? Fine. Ipods? Fine. Cell phones? OK out of class. Xbox tournaments. A liberal dress code. But a take no prisoners class or program disruption discipline policy using a system which doesn’t eliminate the kid from school but holds them responsible for their actions.

Let’s free up teachers to be creative and add interest to their classes. Encourage and celebrate teaching that is dynamic and engages students, while understanding what we are trying to do is broaden the background of each child.

Expensive? Somewhat, but not as much as you might think. And with only four schools to focus on, PPS could really draw on community partners and grants for support.

It is time we stopped short-changing our most vulnerable students and perpetuating an economic and educational underclass n Portland. It is these kids’ turn.

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.