HS Redesign resolution: a few suggestions

9:40 am

Here is the body of a letter to the Superintendent, School Board and Redesign Team.  This version contains a few more points and questions that I wish I had thought to include in the original.  My thanks to others out there whose research helped me write this.

First, thank you for the work you are doing to improve our local high schools.  It is both urgent and long overdue.

The Resolution that Supt. Smith unveiled on Feb. 8 is a start.  From here, it looks as if it is undergoing some revisions.  I would like to propose a few more:

1) Strike the language about focus option schools. It is unnecessary anyway, as this issue is already covered in the Board Policies. Those focus options that are thriving in the District have done so because community members came to the Board and pushed to get those programs, not the other way around. If there is community demand for a particular focus option, then it makes no sense to use a building with a capacity for 1500 to serve only 200-400; I seem to recall that was the rationale for so many of the elementary closures over the past 10 years. Focus options can be either co-housed within neighborhood high schools OR set up in the smaller, unused buildings—although I would be very careful about choosing the latter, as we now have many overcrowded K-8s that would benefit from the reopening of some of those buildings such as Rose City Park and Kellogg.

2) Strike the language about closing high schools. It is causing a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety to Eastside families that have already lost their elementary and/or middle schools and are still dealing with the fallout from that. Furthermore, it is a highly polarizing strategy that, in and of itself, will solve nothing. Also, the increasing numbers of children in the primary grades will be high school age in only 8 years and, according to every population forecast, no matter how conservative, more are coming. Seattle School District found out the hard way that it costs more to close buildings and reopen them later than to keep the buildings open and running. Should we follow their example, or should we be smart about this?

3)   Work on the language concerning transfers.  If every high school really does have 1100 or more students within its attendance area, then closures are unnecessary.  Franklin HS has already shown us that a robust curriculum can be offered with a student body of only 1000.  PPS also posted a document on their website less than three months ago that shows 1100 as the “magic number.”

4)   Work on your budgeting process.  If is it true that only $4.5 million is necessary to provide equity of curriculum across the district (and I am VERY curious about where that number came from), then it is time to stop throwing money away on expensive consultants and put it into the schools, where it belongs.  Even if the amount needed is actually higher, it would be worth the time and effort to research exactly what the necessary amount is and how it could be accomplished.  For example, taking advantage of efficiencies such as sharing faculty between buildings would reduce the overall number of FTE (and therefore $) needed to meet the goal and would also be a much “greener” choice than bussing children across town.  Another idea would be to overhaul the Portland Schools Foundation and restore its original mission: balancing resources between rich and poor neighborhood schools.  (If anyone is curious about my ideas on this one, I would be happy to address the issue in a separate post.)

5)   OR, set this whole thing aside and turn your attention to the K-8s, where it is also long overdue.  If the problems in those schools aren’t fixed, then anything you do to the high schools will fail anyway because the children arriving in 9th grade will be too unprepared.  Calling a meeting once every two years to hear parents air their grievances is a pointless exercise unless someone in the District has specific responsibility for following up.  After four years, we haven’t seen a whole lotta follow-up.

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Zarwen is a parent, taxpayer, former teacher, and frequent commenter on education blogs.

filed under: High Schools, K-8 Transistion

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156 Responses

  1. Comment from Susan:

    It’s hard to believe there are four scenarios being considered for Roosevelt. If Roosevelt closes, the district doesn’t get the money, does it? The hs redesign has planned to eliminate most of the small schools. If Roosevelt is going to become a special focus or charter, then how could that be implemented for the 2010-2011 school year? A new special focus/charter couldn’t keep the neighborhood catchment one year and then disburse everyone to a neighborhood school the next with access to the special focus through the lottery.

    Or redraw boundaries before the beginning of the school year? Yeah, it would seem like the lottery would have to be a do-over.

    Hard to pass up $6 million, but come on, PPS, it’s obvious there’s a plan in place for Roosevelt.

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    AND everywhere else. They’ll tell us all about it come June.

  3. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Just to clarify I meant “uninformed” decisions.

    Two board members were smart enough not to make the high school redesign resolution a uniform decision.

  4. Comment from Rita:

    I’ve heard a couple of reports on OPB about a study that was just published that analyzes small high schools over the last 5 years. But I didn’t catch who released it and can’t find any reference to it anywhere. Anybody else heard about this?

  5. Comment from Neisha:

    Rita — I think that probably refers to an ECONorthwest study of small high schools in Oregon. A couple of people from ECONorthwest presented their findings at the PPS Board work session on Focus Options. However, I can’t find the report on the ECONorthwest website.

  6. Comment from Rita:

    Thanks, Neisha. I got the cite from OPB. It’s a study sponsored by the Employers for Education Excellence group, conducted by EcoNorthwest. You can find it at:

    I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.