Category: Facilities

Portland’s Crush

PPS

Seattle School District

If people have any doubts about the direction that PPS is heading, they only need to head north 175 miles.  PPS and the Seattle School District have so much in common.

Seattle School District converted some K-5 and 6-8 schools to K-8s.  PPS followed (sort of…it’s half-assed and still in limbo).  Both districts have parents and staff complaining about lack of support in the transitions.

The Seattle School District closed and consolidated schools.  Portland followed.

The Seattle School District contracted with DeJong to develop enrollment projections.  Those projections were met with skepticism by parents and board members.

In Portland, DeJong partnered with Magellan Consulting to complete a facilities assessment for PPS.  More skepticism.

Both Seattle and Portland love to hire Broad graduates.  They pop up like new Starbucks.  Broad graduates are supposedly hired for their business expertise.  That expertise has played out to be disastrous for public education.

In 2009, the Seattle School District developed a Student Assignment Plan which changed attendance boundaries and the way in which students were assigned to schools.  Portland is in the middle of a high school redesign plan which also affects boundaries and student enrollment.

The Seattle School District closed several schools in 2009 due to declining enrollment.  They expected to save $3 million per year.   Just one year later they find themselves in need of buildings.  The cost to reopen 5 of the recently closed buildings is $47.8 million.  Not only was it a foolish financial decision but it disrupted the education of children.

Will PPS follow?

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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PPS Conflict of Interests

I’ve never forgotten my first visit to Whitaker Middle School in June 2001.  It was shortly after Willamette Week broke the story  The Poisoning of Whitaker.  The Willamette Week story exposed a long history of radon poisoning along with other indoor air quality concerns at the school.  For about 10 years, PPS administrators failed to adequately address building conditions or to inform staff or students of the health hazards.

The first thing I noticed when entering Whitaker School (Pictured in the Cheating in Class banner) was that the cove base had been removed from along the bottom of the walls exposing mold.  There was a solid, thick, black line that ran parallel to the walls.  I realized as I got closer that it was a trail of dead ants which ran the full length of the hallway.  It looked as if someone had sprayed for ants but didn’t bother to clean up the dead ants.

It was during that visit that a staff member gave me a sample of what appeared to be a mushroom scraped from the wall in a special education classroom.  The building smelled awful.  I later learned that the smell was probably coming from a squirrel that had died in the basement.

I am not an environmental health and safety expert.  I’m a mom.  A mom who recognizes mold when I see it.  Whitaker clearly had a mold problem.

Still, PBS Engineering and Environmental who had been on contract with PPS for years, had produced report after report stating that there wasn’t an indoor air or mold problem.  They even produced a report the same month of my visit saying that “ventilation of the spaces tested appears to be adequate with respect to the ventilation parameters monitored and the particulate identified in the laboratory reports.”

In July 2001, Whitaker was vacated and later determined to be too toxic to renovate.  After spending $700,000 on maintenance for the vacant building over the next few years, PPS administrators decided to demolish the building.

The PPS board voted to borrow $2.1 million for the demolition in August 2006.

Well PBS may have missed the boat on the mold problem but they weren’t going to miss out on their share of the demolition dollars.  PBS oversaw the decommissioning of several underground storage tanks, hydraulic lifts and water wells.  They also developed erosion control and grading plans.

According to the PBS Engineering and Environmental project website:

“The Whitaker School project is a good example of how PBS incorporates their multi-disciplinary structure into a successful project.  Led by the Sustainable Design Group, all four PBS service areas - Engineering, Environmental, Health and Safety, and Natural Resources – brought this project to successful completion.”  It sure did!

You’d think that PBS would count their winnings and move on but no…they’re still providing services to PPS.  Their annual contract was amended on 10/12/09.  They continue to receive about $450,000 annually.

The Whitaker situation raises a question about potential conflicts of interest.  But that’s not new for PPS.

In 1998, PPS contracted with KPMG to conduct a comprehensive performance audit.  At that time, the district claimed to have solicited four firms to submit bids to perform the audit but only two firms responded.  KPMG’s proposal was incomplete.  The only mention of costs was a handwritten note at the bottom of a letter.  The note estimated costs at $300,000 – $350,000 with formal cost estimates to be sent at a later time.  The district didn’t follow their own Request for Proposals policy.

KPMG came up with 230 audit recommendations.  The most controversial being the recommendation to close 13 schools.  An Oregonian analysis conducted shortly after the audit found KPMG’s numbers to be inflated.  Many of KPMG’s findings are still in dispute today.

Research into KPMG’s background suggests that KPMG might have been motivated by their desire to profit from PPS closures.  KPMG was a partner in a for-profit education management company.  They used public school system audits to gain entry into schools.

KPMG was actively involved in pushing charter school legislation, vouchers and privatization.  It makes you wonder why the PPS board would have approved a contract with a company hostile to public education.

Now we have Magellan.  The Magellan website states:

Magellan K-12 is a specialty consulting firm providing services to education clients nationwide.  The firm is focused solely on the K-12 marketplace and provides Educational Adequacy and Suitability Assessments.  The firm develops educational standards and specifications, architectural programs, site selections, enrollment projections, geographic information systems, economic models, bond programs, and construction implementation plans.

Once again…one stop shopping.  Magellan can identify problems with PPS facilities, make recommendations about renovations and new construction, and manage all projects.

Not surprisingly many of the PPS staffers involved in today’s questionable contracts are the same people who brought us PBS Engineering and Environmental and KPMG.

I agree with the little girl.  There’s a fungus among us.  What do you think?

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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High School closure rumors continue

Rumors of Franklin High School’s possible closure have begun in advance of a community meeting on high school redesign there, with legitimacy conferred by a neighborhood newspaper which does not cite any district sources, and then picked up, also without confirmation, by the Mercury.

Similar rumors made there way around e-mail lists and blogs in advance of meetings at Grant, Cleveland and Jefferson High Schools. Portland Public Schools administrators have consistently denied that any schools have already been slated for closure.

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

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In the news: fire safety

Beth Slovic reports in today’s Willamette Week that there are serious concerns for life safety in our schools. Carrie Adams pointed out the district has facilities reports available for all schools, including life and fire safety.

Take a look. I notice my kids’ school has “Fire Alarm is Missing or Inadequate” for over 25,000 square feet.

The district has just ten employees testing and maintaining fire alarms at its approximately 100 sites.

Back at the central office, there are twelve people listed as working in “Community Involvment and Public Affairs.” Maybe one of them can write us a press release explaining why our children’s lives are being put at such risk and why it’s so important to write, design, print and mail a large, full-color, glossy advertising flier to every residence in the district each year.

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

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Just drops in the bucket

Amidst unstable funding for education and a lingering recession, Portland Public School teachers like me are stuck in the middle of contentious contract negotiations, one year overdue. Much information that is available to the public is filtered through Portland administrators, namely Carole Smith, who seems very much out of touch with the day-to-day workings of most teachers.

As news stories broke about $500,000 spent on Blackberries for “higher ups”, and $80,000 spent on hotel meetings for the same, one starts to wonder how much more is being spent on “non-classroom” items. One such story saw Matt Shelby, district spokesperson, say something to the effect that these items were very minor compared to the overall budget. And this got me wondering, “If these items were just “drops in the bucket” so to speak, how many drops in the bucket do there need to be, before the bucket gets filled, and people get mad?”

Drops in the bucket. There are 80+ schools in the Portland district. If each of these schools received $1,000, then that $80,000 spent on hotels takes on greater significance. I have had to scrounge for materials each and every year I have taught. $1,000 to buy the novel sets I desperately need to teach 7th grade. Wow, what a luxury. How many drops is that $80,000 now?

Not to mention $500,000. As I think about the computer lab our school was promised, but then denied, because we didn’t have the room, I wonder. Would half a million buy a lab? Or how about an addition to our cramped, “only suitable for elementary students but made to serve middle school students as well” library? A place to house our nurse and counselor and special ed. teachers, who currently have to share small quarters? This would not go far to fix all of our K-8s that are sorely lacking in facilities and resources. But, what if even one school got the treatment it deserved? How many drops in the bucket is that worth?

As we see the district move forward with its grand high school redesign, one cannot help but wonder what happened to the K-8 redesign. Did we miss it? And can we really trust a district that feels as if several hundred thousand dollars are just drops in the bucket?

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

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K-8s from a teacher’s perspective

Everyone’s a critic, it’s true. It is easy to point fingers, but try to fix something? This takes more effort than most people can muster.

I have been a witness, for the last four years, to Portland Public Schools’ fiasco known as K-8 schools. I have tried to shed light on the problems created by this policy and had hoped to, as they say, be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The district has a history of not accepting blame when it is due, continuing with programs proven not to work, and trying to spin it all in a positive light. As PPS entrenches itself deeper into this hole it has dug itself, I cannot help but throw in my two cents, both as a K-8 teacher in PPS, and as a parent to two children in a K-8 school.

Perhaps the most obvious problem with K-8s is that the facilities housing them are woefully inadequate. My school this year, as of June 12, is losing its staff room to a classroom and the nurse will be in the hall. We were promised a brand new computer lab, but alas will have to settle for a mobile cart of computers to be wheeled from classroom to classroom. There is no science lab, our library is extremely small, and the counselor has to share a room with several other programs. Already, there is a portable on the playground. It is true that some schools have enough space, but many do not.

Indeed, some schools have scaled back their K-8 plans due to space constrictions. However, this policy is not applied consistently. Several times, in other K-8s I have taught, facilities people have gone on walk-throughs to plan for the upcoming years. Never have I seen staff asked for input. Indeed, I have seen several staff members give input, only to have it ignored. This resulted in configurations that then had to be changed once the school year started.

Even if facilities for K-8s were sufficient, the content taught and the approach to this content is not at all up to the standards of most middle schools. Many middle schools in K-8s are taught using a self-contained model. This means that one teacher teaches almost all subject matter. The problem with this is that the higher the grade level, the more complex the subjects become, and most teachers, no matter how gifted they are, cannot adequately teach every subject.

Most middle school teachers teach one or two subjects. They are experts in those subjects. As a parent, I want my children to learn from experts. Additionally, electives are taught, usually, by those same teachers. So, on top of teaching 4-5 academic subjects, middle school teachers in K-8s are required to teach an additional elective. Hence, lots of knitting, badminton, and study halls are offered. No music, no home economics or languages, as these would require actually hiring additional teachers.

Lastly, in addition to lacking satisfactory facilities and academic support, K-8s have no one steering the boat, so to speak. Most administrators are trained in elementary protocols and procedures, not middle school models. I have called several people in the district who were supposed to be “in charge” or helping those in charge, and have gotten nowhere.

The last phone call I made, on June 12, was to a facilities person. She got irritated with me asking “Why do we not have adequate room for our programs?” She then started asking me what my solutions were. I offered two or three, and she said each one had already been considered and thrown out. But it left me wondering. If you really wanted my opinion, as a teacher in a K-8, why didn’t you ask me four years ago?

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

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High school design press conference

Superintendent Carole Smith will announce her recommendation for the high school system redesign tomorrow, 10:30 am on the steps of Benson High School. Advance reports indicate the chosen design will be most similar to the “strong neighborhood schools” model (which was the strongest of the three proposed models), with school choice limited to district-wide magnet schools, charters, and alternative schools.

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

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Universal Design and Modified Curriculum

I have posted before and testified to the school board about the importance of a strong commitment to making schools ADA accessible so the policy that all PPS students have the right to go to their neighborhood school will actually be true.

When the city begins to make these changes it is going to be important to use a universal design approach to updating buildings, classrooms, and communities.

Universal design is a broad solution to accessibility issues where you modify buildings, products, and environments that everyone benefits from; not just people with disabilities. We already have a lot of examples of universal design in our city. The most common example is curb cuts in the sidewalk. People in wheelchairs benefit, cyclists, strollers, people with joint problems, young children, and joggers. Automatic doors are a great help for people with disabilities and nowadays we actually notice when a grocery store does not have an automatic door vs. when they do. Other examples: touch screen tests, closed captioning, books on CD, online classes, choice of languages on electronic equipment, low ramp busses, icons and noises at crosswalks. These things most of us take for granted but they help others a great deal.

Universal design in schools provides benefits for all learners and the modifications a student with a disability might need could also benefit a non-disabled student in other ways. The focus of universal design requires you to gather facts about your learners before you teach them. You will look at the content including academic and social goals of the lesson, the process and how the students engage in learning, how the students will demonstrate the learning, and then also within the process of instruction you will need to look at social, physical, and environmental supports. I will stop here for a moment to throw in a sidebar: Currently, what I feel may be more common is that a general education teacher does not have the academic flexibility to gather information about ANY of their learners much less consider how to apply principles of universal design. Special education departments are undertrained and understaffed and it is hard for a general education teacher and a special education teacher to collaborate in meaningful ways. In a perfect world, every classroom would have both a general education and special education teacher in the same room teaching all the students. An unsupported teacher gets between a rock and a hard place and modifying curriculum and environments is backburnered. The child with the disability is usually the one whose needs are considered last in the absence of resources for all. Disclaimer: I feel strongly that teachers are the salt of the earth and we don’t even know the half of what they do to educate our kids creatively with next to nothing in the way of resources. With that said, a few teachers just don’t want a kid with a disability in their class and will either purposely or with ignorant intent sabotage the experience so the child will be removed into a segregated setting more often during the day or completely into a new school or self-contained classroom. Some school are notorious for dumping kids into segregated placement for behavior they would not even blink at in the general education population. Unfortunately, we place above average expectations of behavior on children with disabilities but have low expectation about what we will teach them or allow them to experience.

Universal design encompasses both widespread structural changes but also creative solutions that are right under our nose.
Here are some examples of creative solutions that benefit all kids in the classroom:
Alpha-smarts are mini word processors that have helped a lot of kids who have a hard time with writing or getting homework in. Give the kid in the class that takes the best notes some carbon paper so the child that cannot both listen to the teacher and write at the same time can have notes. Have the kids sit on exercise balls at their desks so the kids with ADHD can wake up their butts and everyone has better posture. Use colored carpet squares so the kids with autism can have a defined space but everyone knows where they need to be. Have the kid with the wheelchair use his tray board as the desk for other kids to dissect their frogs on. Use station learning with different choices about how to convey the concepts based on multiple intelligences. Pair the kid who is best at math with the kid that needs help; the student as teacher will cement the learning in a new way and the student being helped will be able to learn from a peer model. Many teachers have found that the best way to figure out how to modify curriculum is to expose students in general education to students with disabilities and then ask the kids how they think they can help their peers learn the material.

Kids get it when we give them a chance.

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.

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On condos, schools, and social engineering

Monday night’s vote by the Portland Public Schools board of education to lease space in the Pearl condo district for a PK-2 school raises an interesting question: is it responsible public policy to use public schools as a tool to promote real estate development? Or, more cynically, why do we see the need to invest in a new school in anticipation of need, when so many existing neighborhoods, particularly those with high concentrations of poor and minority students, are currently underserved?

PPS administrators and school board members seem to want in on the dreamy social engineering mentality made popular by former city commissioner Eric Sten, in which public investment in the form of roads, parks, streetcars, and now schools, are used to subsidize commercial real estate developers. The brief history of this kind of development in Portland tells us that promises of affordable housing are rarely (if ever) met.

More importantly, if we wanted to use our precious education investment in this way, why get in on it when most of the housing in the Pearl is already built, and it is inadequate for growing families? Even worse, why enter the condo market craps game after the bottom has fallen out?

Ruth Adkins, in remarks at the school board meeting and in an e-mail to the “Get involved with Jefferson Schools” e-mail list, justifies the move: “We are trying to plan for and help shape future growth…” she writes. She also claims that this move will not distract the district from its other work.

But those of us following the K8 debacle know that PPS has a proven inability to walk and chew gum at the same time. There has been no public progress on the K8 transition for nearly a year, and, other than a mention from Ruth Adkins from time to time, there has been no serious talk of restoring a middle school option to the broad swath of Portland that lost it in the rushed and ill-conceived K8 transition.

More than anything, this move shows that PPS is inept at perception management. Even if the district were able to follow through on its other commitments, to approve a five-year, $1.5 million speculative gamble at a time when we’re seriously talking about cutting the school year for lack of money looks really, really insensitive.

It also sends an inconsistent message regarding small schools, as Martin Gonzalez pointed out in his dissenting comments Monday night. Sonja Henning also opposed the move, and gave a withering critique of the “exponential track” this project was put on. Henning remarked that connected people can “pick up the phone” and get this kind of project done, while other citizens have waited “10 or 15 years” and gotten nothing (a replacement for the razed Whittaker school comes to mind).

PPS Chief Operating Office Cathy Mincberg appeared shaken by Henning’s remarks, and jumped in to insist that the idea originated among district and city staff, an assertion contradicted by the fact that wealthy white Pearl residents have been advocating for a school for at least a year.

In an annual budget of half a billion dollars, a quarter million really isn’t much money. But given the fact that the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters — serving the poorest, least white parts of Portland — have had comprehensive secondary education virtually eliminated in recent years, spending any money trying to “shape future growth” in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white and wealthy indicates a serious problem with priorities.

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

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The numbers paint a picture

2008-2009 PPS student migration

 

Percentage of enrollment gained (or lost) due to student migration (compared to cluster population)

Student population vs. enrollment

Availability of comprehensive secondary schools correlated with race and poverty

cluster # comp. high schools # comp. middle schools % non-white by residences % free/reduced meals by residence
Jefferson 0 0 67.48% 61.39%
Roosevelt 0 1 67.6% 72.30%
Madison 0 0 61.95% 61.77%
Marshall 0 1 57.96% 72.79%
Wilson 1 2 24.57% 20.80%
Lincoln 1 1 21.60% 9.30%
Franklin 1 1 35.05% 38.52%
Grant 1 2 32.85% 23.17%
Cleveland 2 2 27.16% 30.15%

Note: teacher experience and student discipline rates also correlate highly to race and poverty; that is, average teacher experience is lower and discipline referral rates higher in schools serving high poverty, high minority populations. Data for the current school year are not yet available for these factors.

Data source: Portland Public Schools.

This report is available in PDF format (240KB).

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

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