February 12, 2010
I’ve heard from teachers and central office office staff that Superintendent Smith stays behind closed doors and only her “team” is allowed access to her. The superintendent is invisible to most people. When the Superintendent appears at public meetings, she’s always reading from a script. She presents and announces but she doesn’t just talk.
Last night I decided to write Superintendent Smith to share my concerns about the high school redesign. I discovered that the Superintendent is also difficult to find on the PPS website. It used to be that you could find the Superintendent’s link attached to many of her statements. Now, they all link to the Communications office.
Below is my note to the Superintendent and the response that I received from Sarah Carlin Ames (PPS Public Affairs representative) less than an hour after I sent my email:
I’m helping Carole respond to some of her many e-mails.
You are absolutely right that it’s going to take a multi-faceted effort to truly confront our achievement gap. We know that effective teachers, excellent curriculum and support are all critical, along with a structure that better meets student needs.
We need to keep moving on all of these fronts. I am cc’ing Xavier Botana, our chief academic officer, because I know that he agrees. We have not resolved how to meet the needs of English Language Learners to the standards we should, at any level. We are continuing our equity work and engaging in “courageous conversations” about race, and working to change our institutional practices that fail to educate so many of our students and which consign too many students of color to special education and define too many as discipline issues.
The community school program we have described is important, however. It allows all students better access to challenging courses, IB and AP, no matter where they live — opportunity we have denied many. It commits every community school to offer programs such as AVID, and to offer on-line credit recovery, credit by proficiency and other support to help students keep up and catch up. It increases the counselor services (not enough, but a start) and commits to working with community partners to offer other wrap-around services on-site. We also plan to incorporate lessons (and perhaps staff and programs) from our small schools into our focus school strategy — so that our focus schools truly meet the needs of different learners, and don’t become boutique schools for a self-selected elite.
There is no one silver bullet in closing the achievement gap — but by offering a community comprehensive school with a broad range of challenge and support in every neighborhood, along with well-designed focus schools, should be a positive step forward in a multi-pronged approach.
Sarah Carlin Ames
PPS Public Affairs
>>> “Carrie Adams” 02/10/10 9:39 PM >>>
Dear Superintendent Smith,
Your introduction to the resolution states:
“Let’s look at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson , our largest schools, and the ones that routinely post the highest aggregate test scores. At those four schools together, 70 percent of white students enter 10th grade on track to graduate. But only half as many - 36 percent - of their black students are on track.”
If those schools have the resources that we’re now saying all of our schools should have and yet black students are not doing well in those schools, maybe there’s a different kind of problem.
Has the district identified why black students at those schools are not doing as well as white students? What is the high school redesign team’s plan to address that?
How does the proposed high school system design address the district’s decades long failure to serve ELL students?
What’s in the high school design to address the over-representation of black and hispanic student discipline rates?
What’s in the high school design plan to close the achievement gap?
Sarah Carlin Ames deserves credit for her responsiveness and for working 24/7 but as you can see, my questions still haven’t been answered.
So why is the Superintendent being shielded from the public? Why doesn’t she speak for herself? Does the board have so little confidence in her ability to lead the district that they allow the Communications department to speak for her?
Note: I originally published this post with a different title. After second thoughts, I feel it was a mistake. The point of the posting remains….the public needs to hear from the Superintendent in her own words. We’ve heard enough canned public relations speeches to last for years. Parents are long overdue for some candor, honesty, integrity and sincerity.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
July 27, 2009
The Urban League of Portland has issued a State of Black Oregon report, with troubling statistics for black students.
The dropout rate for black students is twice as high as for white students, and black students face expulsion and suspension at twice the rate of white students.
The study paints a broad picture of black Oregonians “at the bottom of every meaningful social and economic measure,” according to an Urban League press release. “African Americans in Oregon have significantly higher infant mortality rates, are more likely to live in poverty, have higher levels of unemployment, are half as likely to own their own homes and are far more likely to die of diseases such as diabetes than their white counterparts.”
Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.
July 7, 2009
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.
May 12, 2009
I attended the school board meeting this evening where they discussed the new discipline policy. Apparently this policy has not been updated since 1977 with the exception of the the drug/alcohol policy. This draft policy is a significantly different and far more uplifting and proactive than the current policy. I believe in positive behavior supports and this is stated in the wording of the policy several times and I could not be happier. I would like to note that Ruth Adkins publicly addressed the use of the word disruptive in the current policy as being a racial code word and also the fact that the data shows inequitable discipline practices. Ruth noted that this draft policy includes the tools and resources that the staff have been requesting.
Public comment will open on this tomorrow and I will post a link in the comments section when it opens. There are only 21 days to comment and then policy will be adopted I believe June 8th.
Some positive highlights of this draft policy:
- Discipline should be equitable, timely, fair, developmentally appropriate, and match the severity of the student’s misbehavior. (Behavior consultants call this “reasonable response”)
- A positive, respectful, and inclusive school climate is the mutual responsibility of district staff, who are expected to create and environment for student success using principles of positive behavior support and cultural competency in managing student conduct. It goes on to also include the student, family, and community.
Another board member brought up a point about principals having discretion to make decisions in unique situations. I will comment on needing more clarity here because I do not agree with a principal making decisions that are counter to policy because I believe this is too much of a slippery slope. Positive behavior supports covers unique situations and I am concerned that there are any loopholes that may allow for actions that are questionable or abusive.
Once I post the link be sure to get your comments in and also comment on discipline and behavior in general.
Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.