Edging away from PK8 crisis mode

At the PK8 Action Team meeting last night, district staff had at least some good news for parents and concerned community members.

The biggest news was a commitment to provide age-appropriate library materials for all PK8 libraries, and staff over the summer to enter the books into the catalog system and put them on the shelves. But we still have eight schools without library staff.

It was also announced that each school would have two computer labs by one year from now.

Age-appropriate library materials and technology were two critical items identified in a petition published earlier this week, and it is gratifying to no longer have to fight for them.

But the lack of library staff at eight of our 30 PK8 schools means that a large number of students will continue to be denied basic educational resources. Until this gap is funded, the PK8 transition remains in crisis.

Adding to the confusion, the PK8 Action Team still hasn’t provided a comprehensive accounting of the funding gap. It is rumored that many of the facilities issues (restrooms, etc.) will be addressed, but there were many operational funding gaps presented at the last meeting that have not been categorized as “one-time” or “ongoing,” and there has not been a comprehensive, school-by-school list of needs.

In order to provide this accounting, the district must first define what constitutes a minimally adequate educational environment for middle schoolers. I requested this at the meeting last night, but I’m not entirely optimistic that we will get it.

This is, of course, a district-wide issue, not just PK8. But until we can define and guarantee a minimum level, we will continue to see gross inequities across our district.

Now that we seem to be edging away from crisis mode in the PK8 transition, perhaps we can talk about the looming strategic issues. I’m still not convinced that the district is fully committed to making PK8 work, or that we have an economically sustainable and educationally adequate model for our middle schoolers, especially at our smaller schools.

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


Petition for PK8 funding gap

In April, the PPS PK8 Action Team presented a lengthy list of unfunded operational needs for the ongoing PK8 transition.* These needs range from critical educational resources like age-appropriate library materials and staff and computer labs, to basic facilities infrastructure like age-appropriate rest rooms and classroom furniture.

If left unfunded, PPS will embark on the third year of the PK8 transition without a commitment to minimally adequate funding, and a full cycle of middle schoolers will have been short-changed.

Parents, teachers and community members from all over Portland have expressed concern for our middle school students. The district, having embarked on this transition, has a moral and ethical responsibility to fully commit to basic operational funding.

Several ideas for filling this gap have been floated with the district, including:

  • Cap administrative wages for one year. (All non-represented district level and principals etc.) Savings: $1.18 million
  • Reallocate Non-Instructional Personal Professional Services Fund. Savings up to $3.63 million.
  • Reallocate to spend Internal Services Contingency Fund. Savings up to $3 million.
  • Local option levy
  • Postpone curriculum adoption
  • spend more of the levy this year
  • Spend from the reserve.

These suggestions have been met with varying degrees of coolness from district administration, the budget office and school board members. But the fact remains that we have money in the budget that could be moved on a one-time, emergency basis to cover this critical gap.

Please join me in signing a petition (download and print a hard copy [111KB PDF], or sign electronically online) with the following wording:

  • Petition summary and background: Portland Public Schools (PPS) middle school students in PK-8 schools are facing their third year of critical operational budget shortfalls. PPS has committed to providing science labs and algebra for all students for 2008-09, but still has a budget gap of more than a million dollars to provide age-appropriate libraries, computer labs, and basic facilities support for our adolescent students.
  • Action petitioned for: We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our Portland Public Schools leaders to act now to fully and immediately fund the critical operational budget shortfall for the PK-8 transition. This should include age-appropriate library materials and staff, restroom facilities, computer labs, white boards, and furniture for all students in grades 6-8, regardless of the type of location of their school.

Phone calls, e-mails and letters to school board members and the superintendent’s office, as well as citizen testimony at school board meetings are always helpful, too.

Update, May 27, 4:50 pm: By popular demand, the petition is now available online as well as the hard copy linked above.

Update, May 30, 7:30 am: Some of the critical issues on this petition have been addressed, but library staffing remains critical. Nearly a third of our PK8 schools — eight of 30 — have no budget for library staff for 2008-09.

*Unfortunately, the list of unfunded operational needs was incomplete (not all schools have been inventoried), and items were not categorized as ongoing or one-time. A more rigorous, detailed accounting of the gap was requested in mid-May, but has not yet been produced. With current information from the district, it is impossible to know the full extent of the funding gap. Estimates of the gap range from $2 million to $6 million.

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

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Another parent on cuts at Ockley Green

Here’s another letter from an Ockley Green parent regarding cuts at the school for next year. –ed.

I am an Ockley Green parent. I have two children at the school.

Ockley is an outstanding, wonderful school that has done a remarkable job, thanks to Mr. Malone and his staff. My children are flourishing, even though they have vastly different needs. My daughter is on an IEP, and at Ockley she has an experienced, dedicated staff. My son is very bright. At Ockley his gifts have been recognized and challenged. This is a school where 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

These cuts are unconscionable. Higher income schools may be able to make up for such cuts in private fundraising but this is not true for Ockley. School choice is a facade and has created a serious situation of segregation. Low-income families can’t afford the transportation and lack the savvy to play the system. The result is a city where white and wealthier families take their resources into schools outside their neighborhood while minority and poor students remain in schools facing the impossible challenge of higher costs and budget cuts.

My son’s track meet this morning was an illustration of this fact. The Ockley and King teams were almost exclusively African-American and poor. Schools like Chapman were almost all white and wealthier. This segregation carried to the bleachers, and will carry on for the better part of these children’s lives, as white children benefit from educational opportunities denied to minority children through a program disguised as school “choice.” Sitting in the bleachers I reflected how I could have been living in the deep south for the clear color lines our schools perpetuate. But this Portland, Oregon. We are supposed to be progressive and equal opportunity.

The cuts being made demonstrate, once again, that this is not true. Our children deserve better.

Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfeld is a writer and parent of two Ockley Green students.


Transfer Inequity

It’s been some time since a deep audit of the School Choice and Transfer Policy revealed glaring inequity and segregation. Yet nothing has been spoken of, as to how to start repairing this system. I like to think that the district has some long term idea to deal with this. But perhaps we could come up with some low cost/no cost mends today.

My initial idea would help parents not chosen by the transfer lottery still have some choice. The School board should recommend that after the lottery is awarded, up till the First week of School, transfers will be available, on a first come first served basis, to any schools that have room for more enrollment. Not only would this add choice it would help the schools transfered to increase enrollment before Add Back FTE time.

Anyone else have ideas that can be submitted to the School Board as short term free fixes?

Nicole Leggett is a Peninsula K-8 Parent.


Ockley Green parent letter

The following is a letter sent from Ockley Green parent Sia to Superintendent Carole Smith. The letter referenced in the first paragraph decries cuts at Ockley for 08-09, including the digital media program, one P.E. teacher, and two of four eighth grade teachers. –ed.

Dear Superintendent Smith:

I have read the letter from Jamie Malloy. It’s ironic, because yesterday I was talking a Jefferson parent that was trying to convince us that we could stay in Portland Public Schools for high school. At great expense to our low-income family, my daughter will be attending a private Catholic high school.

It is clear to me and many other parents that the district plans to continue the benign neglect of Jefferson Cluster schools. It is also clear that District will continue to practice de facto segregation through the school transfer policy. I just learned that students who participate in the Jefferson Dancers will NOT be required to attend Jefferson high school in the 2008-09 school year, as had been previously reported. PPS continues to cater to families with the wherewithal to participate in the school choice program. Families that can afford to transport children across town and away from their neighborhood schools. The environmental impact of this policy on this city, with regard to traffic congestion, pollution is “not okay”. The pitting of families against one another for “lottery winnings” as one parenting blog calls it is “not okay”. Continuing to give children in schools that are primarily attended by children of color, the short end of the stick regarding resources and programming is unconscionable.

Finding a supportive learning environment for my bright, stubborn, talented Afro-Latina daughter, has been a challenge at Portland Public School since we moved here in 1st grade. We have tried the school choice policy, but found that the policy is inherently flawed. The school choice program has become about middle-class and upper class parents choosing to have more resources and less economic and/or ethnic “diversity” for their children. Children of color are not always welcomed and supported in these environments. Meanwhile, parents of children of color that are low-income are selecting to forego basic needs and paying for school. Holy Redeemer draws from the Jefferson cluster and one-third of its students are on free and reduced lunch. My daughter, attended HRCS for 4th and 5th grade until I could no longer afford it. After a disastrous year at a focus option middle school, we were blessed to find Ockley Green.

Mr. Malone, Dr. Matier and Ms. Scheetz before her, have created an environment for our children that is loving, supportive and holds them accountable. My daughter has blossomed at Ockley Green. She has been making sure that she will receive high school credit for the algebra class. She didn’t even like math before now. She believes in herself and so does her school. As the parent of a middle schooler, there are days where you’re not sure how it will turn-out. Mr. Malone and his staff have demonstrated confidence in these children, when we parents sometimes have had our doubts. As a parent, I do everything I can to make our support staff, teachers and administrators know how special and precious these past two years have been. Ockley Green is the best school we have attended in Portland Public Schools. We tried the Family Cooperative School, Beach Neighborhood School and daVinci Arts Middle. My daughter was treated so poorly at some of those schools that I worried that she would lose her love for school that she brought to Portland.

I can’t even list the wonderful ways that the many Ockley staff that have reached out to our family. It is so special and unusual in your school system. I am so bitter about the cuts.

I am angry, hurt and pretty despondent that you continue to decimate the only school that is actually trying to accomplish what the mission of the District is supposed to be. I wish I could properly articulate how horrible what you have decided to perpetuate is, but language fails me. Much like you and the School Board continue to fail our children.



Sia is the parent of an Ockley Green graduate.


Oh yeah, Jefferson High

At least Mayor Potter and superintendent Smith had the courtesy to follow up on the Mayor’s January week in residence at Jefferson High School. The school board — who met at Jefferson that same week, and heard testimony from the same students and same community members about the same issues — seem to have lost interest as soon as the TV trucks packed up and left.

It’s worth taking a look at the progress Potter claims in light of the flier circulated by Jefferson students complaining about cuts to curriculum and lack of academic rigor. These things are not directly within the city government’s power to fix, but the Mayor brought a strong sense of hope and possibility when he moved his office to the school.

According to the Oregonian, Potter announced that the city and TriMet would provide free transit passes to all PPS 6-12 graders. That’s great news, but doesn’t address the inequities Jefferson students face.

It was also announced that “Sam Adams’ office is helping provide instruments and new uniforms to Jefferson’s defunct band program.” But the district has not announced any plans to rebuild the music program at Jefferson. Uniforms and instruments for a defunct band program don’t help Jefferson students.

The Tribune notes that Potter takes credit for having the city “address safety issues at the crosswalk next to Jefferson’s Young Women’s Academy.” In fact, PDOT came out, nearly got hit by a car themselves, said it would be too expensive to fix, and left. Every school day, children continue to risk life and limb crossing that street.

Out of ten actions the mayor claims have happened since his January visit, it is difficult to identify one that actually improves the lot of Jefferson students, or makes Jefferson High more likely to attract the kind of enrollment that could sustain it as a viable neighborhood school.

Of course, the mayor’s people are quick to point out there’s only so much they can do, since they have no direct control over the school board.

So what has the school board done? So far, all we’ve heard about are more cuts to programs. The announced merger of the two main high school academies announced during the mayor’s week in January is evidently proceeding, but there has been no announced progress on any other “proof points” the superintendent’s staff requested in late 2007.

The recently approved budget for the coming school year cuts 4.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions from Jefferson. But due to declining high school enrollment, there are internal shifts of FTE from Jefferson High School to the middle school students at the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Academies. I don’t begrudge the middle schoolers for getting these needed positions — the deserve far better, too — but this means real cuts in excess of 4.5 FTE to an already bare-bones high school curriculum.

It’s up to the school board and superintendent to step up, but so far there’s no evidence that Jefferson’s even on their radar anymore. Perhaps distracted by the PK-8 crisis and the looming facilities bond (already questioned by the Oregonian and Tribune), they’re suffering a little compassion fatigue about Jefferson.

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


Publishers vs. librarians: PPS chooses publishers

In an unsurprising vote Monday night, the PPS Board of Education moved to spend $1.2 million on middle school history materials, the first such adoption in over 20 years.

I differ with some of my activist cohorts on the degree to which standardization is necessary to ensure equity (I’m pleased the district is moving toward more standardization in general, though I have doubts about the kind of “canned” curriculum we’ve just committed to purchasing). But these differences aside, we can agree that something we’ve dealt with for twenty years, for better or worse, does not constitute a crisis for our middle school students.

Nearly half of our middle school students are in crisis, though. In recent conversations with parents from the Roosevelt, Madison, Jefferson and Grant clusters about the PK-8 conversion, it is clear that the lack of full funding for this transition is causing irreparable harm to an entire cycle of middle schoolers at PPS.

This is the emergency situation that needs the school board’s attention and funding, not the curriculum-in-a-box we just dropped $1.2 million on.

At the top of the list of unfunded operational needs are libraries. The budget, as approved two weeks ago, is short three to five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions for librarians, and does not provide for appropriate middle school materials in the elementary schools that now must serve middle schoolers.

It also does not provide funding to guarantee computer labs, age-appropriate restroom facilities, lockers or white boards, among other things.

Just to start filling these basic needs, based on documentation provided by the district, would cost around $1.6 million. (It will surely be more, as the district gets a better accounting of the state of all schools.) This does not even begin to address the lack of FTE budget to offer any kind of depth in electives, after school programs or arts education.

To fully address the immediate, critical PK-8 operational funding deficit would probably cost many times this amount (I guestimate $3-6 million, which would still not cover the FTE needed to provide real breadth and depth of curriculum in the smaller PK-8 schools), but we’ve got to start plugging these critical holes now.

When I addressed the school board Monday night, I asked them to postpone the 6-8 social studies curriculum adoption for one year, and instead use this $1.2 million to start closing the gap in PK-8 operational funding.

Nicole Leggett and Michele Schultz have together identified several other sources to fully fund the PK-8 transition:

  • Cap administrative wages for one year. (All non-represented district level and principals etc.) Savings: $1.18 million
  • Reallocate Non-Instructional Personal Professional Services Fund. Savings up to $3.63 million.
  • Reallocate to spend Internal Services Contingency Fund. Savings up to $3 million.
  • Spend from the reserve.

The point is that this constitutes a real emergency for our children. New text books, which we have lived without for 20 years, are not as critical as well-stocked, fully-staffed libraries and age-appropriate facilities.

In board discussion before the vote, it was suggested that adopting this new curriculum and staffing libraries can proceed on separate tracks. But we’re not proceeding with libraries, and we are proceeding with this text book adoption.

There is a real disconnect between the school board and the parents I’ve been conversing with. The board does not have a sense of urgency to get the PK-8 transition right. Carole Smith has assembled a smart, experienced team to plan and implement the transition (two years after it began, but that’s not her fault). But they can only do so much without full funding.

What I suspect is that the board is hedging until they are forced to acknowledge the obvious: those who supported the PK-8 transition are now in a minority on the board, and there is significant doubt as to whether this model can deliver a comprehensive middle school education in a cost-effective manner.

With most PK-8 schools having fewer than 100 middle school students, and the superintendent’s staff acknowledging a need for more like 180-200 students to do it right, it’s clear we’re on a collision course with reality.

As much as I’d like to take that strategic issue head-on, we’re not changing course for the coming school year. Meanwhile we have thousands of middle schoolers who will not have access to libraries, computer labs and age-appropriate restrooms in the coming school year.

It’s time to stop asking the children to pay for the mistakes of adults. Instead of sending $1.2 million to text book publishers, we should be using it to hire the librarians we need, and stock their libraries.

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


Common curriculum and equity

These are the remarks delivered by Chief Joseph parent Peter Campbell to the PPS Board of Education Monday, May 14, 2008. –ed.

The mantra behind the common curriculum adoption has been equity. A legitimate case was presented that schools have inequitable curricular offerings, i.e., “good”/rich schools have better curricular offerings than “bad”/poor schools. The solution? Mandate that every school offer the same books and materials to all students.

While that may seem like a practical solution, it fails to recognize how this solution actually gets implemented. Here are the key sticking points:

  1. A common materials adoption does not address the inequity that lies beneath the surface. Low-income kids wake up poor, go to school poor, and go home poor.
  2. Just because you tell teachers to use these materials does not mean they are going to use them. For example, there’s widespread evidence that the recent elementary literacy adoption — Scott Foresman’s “Reading Street” — is not being implemented in a uniform fashion. Some teachers are using some of it, some are using all of it, and some are using none of it.
  3. The fact that teachers choose not to use common materials is no blemish on teachers. Far from it. Most teachers are highly-trained professionals who exercise their professional judgement in selecting materials that match the needs and interests of the children they are paid to serve. In some cases, the common materials address these needs. But in others, they do not.
  4. Too often, a common materials adoption requires that teachers learn how to implement a program. For example, elementary teachers over this past school year have spent an inordinate amount of time learning how to teach Scott Foresman, not teach reading.

So instead of wasting tax-payer money on a feel-good solution that does nothing to address the underlying inequity, a solution that good teachers know when to use and when to reject and that often forces teachers to waste time learning how to implement a costly and ineffective program, I urge you instead to spend our precious resources on site-based professional development. As countless studies have shown, one of the best ways to address the inequities in curricular offerings is to make sure that teachers are getting the kind of ongoing support and training they need. So there’s uniformity in a commitment to high-quality training and support across the district. But leave it to the teachers and the building principals to figure out how to implement the goals of this professional development. In so doing, you’ll be targeting dollars where you get more bang for the buck instead of wasting money on expensive, canned, one-size-fits all materials that gather dust on the shelves.

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

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Remarks to the School Board re. curriculum adoption

These are the remarks delivered by Peninsula parent Nicole Leggett to the PPS Board of Education Monday, May 14, 2008. –ed.

Good Evening, School Board,

I’m Nicole Leggett of Peninsula School. It has come to my attention that schools across the district have need of access to books. But not through another multi-million dollar curriculum adoption. What we need for are librarians to input, shelve, and then be there to check out the vast collections of books, we have already spent valuable resources on. Really we need to put what we have to good use, before you adopt a Social Studies curriculum that lacks sufficient buy-in to prove it’s urgently needed.

In a District with 43% drop out rate, we need to think about proven strategies that work across the varied demographics we have. Access to a library and the additional attention found there works every time. As the Mound of Information submitted to you from the United Librarians supports. 43% drop out rate screams crisis to us parents. Slow this curriculum adoptions process. Or dig into the reserve or levy. Our children deserve to read that book, in the back room, that can’t be checked out or shelved though the new system by Willing Volunteers. Give us librarians to do their job. We can’t fix this gross waste of resource, but you can. Put the Social Studies adoption off for a year. Till you can show it is as supported by staff, parents, and students as the PE adoption seems to be.

The Local Option Levy was passed by the public for many reasons. Not just the new Text Books the District has focused these funds on. Diversify the public’s interest. Go with something we know works. Access to books! I urge you to postpone this adoption. To instead implement an Open Library Policy.

Also, Please explain what K-8 families can expect from Archon, Inc. for the $100,000 that is proposed tonight?

Thank you

Nicole Leggett is a Peninsula K-8 Parent.

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Rethinking Schools May 16: “Where’s the Equity?”

Please join Rethinking Schools colleagues from the Portland metro area to explore the tension between mandates and autonomy. What agreements need to be made so that ALL children receive a quality education? What systemic reforms put equity at the center of every decision? What agreements can teachers make to ensure that ALL students read writers from diverse backgrounds and write engaging assignments in all content areas? What systemic agreements ensure that teachers do not shoulder the burden of underfunded or misguided reforms?

When: Friday, May 16th, 4 pm – 6 pm

Where: Westminster Presbyterian Church, fireside room
1624 NE Hancock (2 blocks north of Broadway)

Please bring a friend or colleague or parent, and something to eat or drink to share.

Childcare available, but please call ahead: 503-282-6848.

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.


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