In the news: board wrestles with high school redesign

8:59 pm

Kim Melton reports in The Oregonian today that school board members are starting to debate and discuss specifics of the high school system redesign.

Bobbie Regan is quoted questioning staff assumptions about curtailing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers and the size (and by extension, number) of high schools to close. “I’m not clear that those are the board’s assumptions,” said Regan.

Board co-chair Trudy Sargent worries about closing “successful” schools, while David Wynde and co-chair Ruth Adkins warn about labeling schools as “successful” and “unsuccessful.”

As we get down to brass tacks, battle lines are being drawn, with a split board possible on student transfer policy changes.

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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, Media, School Board, Transfer Policy

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19 Responses

  1. Comment from Zarwen:

    Hmmm. Didn’t we have a split board on the K-8 “reconfigurations”?

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Dilafruz Williams, along with former board members Dan Ryan and Sonja Henning, voted against the conversion to K-8s.

  3. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Well, good, about time the board members began seriously questioning the ‘next new thing’ that comes along, instead of rubber-stamping it! The discussion and debate will be welcome, and let’s at least put some thought into PLANNING AND EXECUTION HERE!

    What I am wondering–where are the teachers on all this–has P.A.T. taken any stand, or have they been consulted? Haven’t read anything on what folks on the front line are thinking, since they will be the ones moving around the district and having to switch gears if their school closes or a program moves. Teacher input, anyone?

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Agreed, it’s great for democracy that the school board actually wants to discuss the important policy changes necessary to see through a change back to neighborhood-based attendance.

    As far as PAT goes, when I talked to Rebecca Levison in November, they seemed to question the wisdom of pushing through with HS redesign while the K-8 situation remains largely unresolved. (This is where I am, too, since a student’s success in 9th grade depends so heavily on their middle school experience.)

    As far as rank and file teachers go, I think you’ll find as much variety of opinion as you find in the general parent population. But mainly what I hear from all quarters — teachers, parents and school board — is that we don’t enough details about how this overhaul would be executed to really know what to think.

  5. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Maybe that’s why they’re asking for RFPs already. They’re hoping someone has a plan they can use.

  6. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I read this all a bit differently. I see the beginnings of making sure Lincoln, Grant, Wilson, and Cleveland keep their advantage.
    “Don’t fix what’s broken”, there are only a few transfer spots anyway (never mind the slots are already pretty much all taken up), if you change the boundaries or have students attend schools in their own neighborhoods then people will just move, the high school plan we put forth may change anyway, let’s not do the high schools until we do the k-8′s (never mind there is not a plan in the works to attack this problem), we don’t want to start a class war etc.

    Where is the outrage about the inequities kids have undergone for years, the resolve to truly fix this horrible situation, the will to make sure kids have decent schools near their homes, and the backbone to make schools work for all kids?

    If you make underlying assumptions which undercut the solutions or make educational decisions on such a weak base as test scores then you will make sure the problem remains unsolvable. And PPS will remain as it has become — the more money your folks make, the better education you get.

  7. Comment from Steve Buel:

    P.S. Did PPS think the parents and community members in Cleveland, Wilson, Grant, and Lincoln would just say, “of course, the other schools need to have good educational programs also” and then say, “of course, we are willing to sacrifice our kids’ education so someone else’s kids can have a decent education.” No way.

  8. Comment from Zarwen:

    Mention of the ongoing problems in the K-8s brings me to voice aloud something I have been ruminating on for a while: maybe the whole purpose of the sudden urgency last year to tackle high school issues was simply to create an EXCUSE for PPS not to deal with the K-8s.

    For years, PPS has been treating every issue like a disease-of-the-week and never resolving/improving anything. This whole “High School Redesign” mess really looks, sounds and smells like more of the same.

  9. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Steve B. I hear you there. I am tired of the talking points and distractions. Where is the community outrage and how can people sleep at night by simply saying, “Well PPS just needs to fund those programs appropriately but take nothing from my school to do it.” It is this accumulation of attitudes and clone-think in this so-called “progressive” city that keeps these inequities alive. Keep Portland weird my @ss.
    I want to find out how many transfer slots push out kids in self-contained classrooms. As I mentioned in a previous post it came to my attention that one of the reasons that kids in special education classrooms move around the district so much is because they are pushed out for transfers. A friend told me that a fight is brewing at her school as they are proposing moving special education classrooms because of “space” issues. Is it test scores? I would think that kids who get sped services bring in more money to the school.

  10. Comment from Zarwen:

    Stephanie,

    As far as I know, the sped kids bring in more money to the DISTRICT, not the individual schools they attend. Although money is allocated on a per-student basis, with a “bonus” for things like ELL and special ed., once PPS gets the money from the state, they can pretty much spend it however they want.

    Which explains why there are so many outside consultant contracts.

  11. Comment from Zarwen:

    Also, I don’t know to which school your friend referred, but in the reconfigured K-8s, “space issues” are legitimate. 8th graders from Rigler and Scott had to be sent to Madison because those schools had no room for them. I think it was Irvington(?) that eliminated their preschool program to make space for grades 6-8. I have heard from a Laurelhurst parent that there is no place for them to put 8th-graders next year, either. (The school is K-7 this year.)

    These are the types of issues that the school board should have looked at BEFORE approving Hurricane Vicki’s radical overhauls.

    After reading Kim Melton’s article, I get the impression that the board is making some effort to do their due diligence regarding the high schools. What makes no sense to me is reading that “board members discussed for the first time enrollment projections and criteria. . . .” (my emphasis)

    If this process has been going on for two years, as the article says, then why are these discussions just getting started now? The article had a list of board members’ questions that are apparently still waiting for answers–after two years? And so their decisions will be postponed another month, or even two.

    Before we know it, June will be here, and another whole school year will have been spent on “workshops” and “community meetings” that imparted no information, accomplishing nothing except to occupy people’s time. IT’S ALL THEATER, FOLKS!

  12. Comment from Rita:

    Just a quick thought before I head off to the Board meeting tonight.

    I’m glad to see the Board finally asking questions; it’s more than a bit overdue. But I’m a little stunned what they’re asking about. We’re not talking about details at this point. We’re talking about the heart of the whole “redesign” — a full 7 months after it was announced.

    Frankly, in my view, there’s not a lot of innovation going on with the redesign plan. The essence of it is the apparently novel concept that all high school students should have access to a common core program. Forgive me, but that doesn’t strike me as revolutionary.

    But in order for that to work, the District has to create some mechanism to ensure a minimally sufficient enrollment in every school that remains standing. That means ending the transfer free-for-all that has wreaked havoc in so many schools. In my humble opinion, that is the ONLY novel feature of the whole plan. It is also its sine qua non: if they don’t do this, there is no plan. They might as well just dispense with the charade and close everything except Lincoln, Cleveland, and Grant. (Plus Benson, which will likely remain pretty much intact except without extracurriculars.)

    I hasten to add that I’m not in favor of that. I’m just saying that the plan is predicated on reasonably predictable, balanced enrollments divided among the schools left standing. If you continue to allow the hemorrhaging of students from schools that, rightly or wrongly, have a troubled reputation, then you won’t have the time or the resources to turn them around. And, I think it’s safe to say that in the midst of yet another reorganization, many people will opt for the Big 4 if given the chance, just to avoid the chaos, thereby exacerbating existing trends.

    So, questioning the change in the open transfer policy now, 7 months into the “planning,” is both puzzling and unhelpful.

    I mean, what, you couldn’t predict that the usual suspects would object? Did you really need the Oregonian editorial to clue you in? Or is this just another example of Board members pandering to certain well-financed and influential groups and completely abrogating their responsibility to act on behalf of ALL children in this District?

  13. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Zarwen in regards to space issues I was speaking strictly about pushing out kids with disabilities to make room for transfer in slots. I don’t want to share my friends school but it is a school that gets more transfers in than out and is also a K-5. It is a huge issue at least in the population of families that have kids in self-contained special ed classrooms that they get moved A LOT. This is outside of being moved due to behavior which I of course also object too unless the child and family agree or trigger the move.
    That makes sense about the sped money coming in to the district vs. the school offering no incentive to cater to families of kids with disabilities.

  14. Comment from Bonnie Robb:

    Another comment for the k-8 “space” issues. Our boundary in the Harrison Park area has not been addressed for years. I have watched 3 apartment complexes go up on 92nd alone! Our southern boundary is so far away from our school that students have to ride a bus for 40 minutes to get to school. The library that the Marysville students WALKED to after the fire is IN OUR BOUNDARY!!!

    We have 740 students and counting. We had 14 arrive on Monday last week. Our k-2 and 4th grade classrooms have three classes per grade with 28 in each class. We have no room to add a teacher because every room in our school is full. I can’t find any more desks. We have support staff (ESL, Reading) with 4-6 in a room. These overcrowding issues are completely ignored. We also house a 6-8 grade behavior program, even though we are so full.

    Some students count in this district. Others don’t. I don’t hold much hope that the high school redesign will be much better for the kids who need it most.

    The irony in this situation is that the kids at Lincoln/Wilson/Grant/Cleveland have parent support and home lives that (for the most part) give them advantages in life that those “other kids” can’t even dream of. The board SHOULD be putting the needs of those “other kids”, which are OUR kids first. The board SHOULD be making decisions to give disadvantaged students the most they can out of their high school experience. The students who do not have private tutoring for their SAT’s, private coaches for sports, piano lessons, computers and internet access at home, or even something simple like parents who speak English or a place to do homework.

    Those who need the most deserve the best. Board members, redraw the boundaries, provide equitable program options and stand up for the kids who need you!!! The parents with all this money and influence can either like it or lump it. There isn’t enough room for ALL of them to enroll at Catlin Gable. I am not trying to offend anyone, but it infuriates me that we continue to pander to the same parent groups that have benefited from the system for so many years. Or perhaps our board is pandering to those who funded their elections.

  15. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Bonnie, thank you. Your last paragraph says it all as far as I’m concerned.

    Speaking of pandering to those who pay for the elections, this analysis and map by Ken Libby after the last election may shed some light.

  16. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Steve, thanks for the link to Ken Libby’s post. His analysis covers campaign finance info and includes a link to the Oregon Elections campaign finance database.

    https://secure.sos.state.or.us/eim/jsp/CEMainPage.jsp?CONTENT_PAGE=ce/CNESearch.jsp

    When reviewing the campaign finance info for each candidate, everyone should be sure to click on the magnifying glass in the first column. It provides details (occupation, employer etc.) about the contributor.

    Pam Knowles contributor list looks a lot like the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) list of contributors. They clearly aren’t friends of public education. Why the involvement in her campaign?

    I couldn’t help but notice how many friends Pam has in construction and real estate. It could be a lucrative year for those fields in the next few years. Here’s one of Pam’s construction supporters:

    https://secure.sos.state.or.us/eim/transactionPubDetail.do?tranRsn=577871

  17. Comment from Zarwen:

    Carrie,

    For what it’s worth, Pam’s connections to the PBA go back quite a long time, which may explain the “involvement in her campaign.” Although, if you look at the resume of almost any school board member, you are likely to find similar connections.

    Sheds a lot of light on the decision-making, right?

  18. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    I’d say those businesses are double dipping. Not paying their fair share of taxes and getting district contracts.

  19. Comment from John B. Tang:

    The district receives 1 full extra FTE for Special Ed students and 1/2 extra FTE for ESL students. Special Ed budget is approximately $58 million. ESL budget is approximately $14 million. This is in addition to the $5,800 per student received from the State. Even though the monies are designated to serve these students, they go directly to the General Funds for the district to use in whatever way they see fit. So far, most of the designated monies have been spent on the students who bring them to the district. But the treatment of Special ed and ESL students have been horrible. Both programs are in shambles and need a great deal of fixing. Special Ed parents are more informed and there are specific laws protecting Special Ed students. ESL parents in general depend on the good graces of the district to educate their students so there is no strong advocacy on behalf of these students. FYI, the district has been out of compliance for the last 15 years. Even now, the district does not know how to provide a quality education to these students. OCR has been involved forever and most recently, the state is withholding $617,000 Title III money from the district and there is a danger that they might be withholding more if schools continue to be out of compliance. Now, finally the district is paying more attention and is attempting to do something about the problems. Unfortunately, it is like a huge elephant in the room and no one knows how to fix it. It is so sad.