Pioneer questions persist

Note:The author and her son were featured in a recent story in Willamette Week by Beth Slovic. –Ed.

I am a parent of a son who supposedly graduated from Pioneer this year. I have tried for years to advocate for the students at Pioneer by letters, e-mails and being on several PPS committees. It has been very difficult to get any response. Over a year and a half ago a dozen or so Pioneer parents wrote a very nice four page letter expressing some concerns about Pioneer. We got no response. I followed it a week or so later with an e-mail and the letter as an attachment. We got no response. Since then several of us have e-mailed the superintendent and the board with no response. I had always thought there was some sort of legal requirement for district officials to respond, but apparently not.

As our son moved toward graduation last spring I asked the vice principal of the Holladay Annex if he would go over our son’s credits with me as they where not posted on his eSIS diploma page the way they usually are for PPS students. As the vice principal fumbled around trying to explain how our son could have gotten credits, two things were clear. One, the vice principal had no written record of our son’s credits as they align with the credits needed to graduate with a modified diploma as listed on the PPS website & the ODE website. And two, the vice principal had no idea what the required credits for graduating with a modified diploma even were. Since that day my husband and I have gone up and down the hierarchy ladder of PPS asking for someone to explain our son’s credits. Here it is now almost October and we still don’t have any documentation of his credits and how they align with the state requirements. The last we heard about it was from the new Chief Academic Officer Xavier Botana telling us that by e-mail that “We expect to be looking at all of (his) needs as part of the IEP development”. So we’re being told to wait for an IEP meeting to find out if my son has his credits to have graduated from high school this last school year.

So, I have been asking for someone to explain my son graduating credits to me since early June and have yet to have anyone explain them to me. Even his eSIS diploma page still says he is missing credits.

To be truthful, I know why they do not want to talk to me. In my looking into diploma requirements I kept coming across the OARs and other laws that confirmed what I had already thought about how the district was neglecting the education of the students placed at Pioneer. Two weeks prior to my son’s graduation I sent a letter to many of the PPS officials that had refused to discuss credits with us. I have also sent the letter to the School Board with, of course, no response. I believe that these are extremely serious questions. This doesn’t just affect our son; this is how the district has been neglecting the education of Pioneer students for years.

In the letter I asked PPS, from the school vice principal on up to the superintendent and the school board, these eleven questions on July 24th and have yet to receive any answer:

  1. If Pioneer isn’t a school, what “school” is our son graduating from? (The Director of Special Education, Joanne Mabbott, informed me earlier that Pioneer did not get all the same things as other schools because it isn’t a “school”, it’s a “program”.)
  2. If Pioneer isn’t an accredited school, how can they give out credits?
  3. If Pioneer can’t give out credits, how can they give out diplomas?
  4. Oregon law states that core curriculum needs to be taught by a “highly qualified “teacher for students to be able to receive credits for a modified and/or a standard diploma. How can Pioneer students receive credits when the teachers are SPED teachers?
  5. How has our son earned his required credits for graduation when he hasn’t had access to the required courses?
  6. Why hasn’t our son had access to many courses, Pathways included, even though there is nothing in his IEP that states that the courses would need to be modified or deleted? (required by law)
  7. Why have the courses that our son has taken not followed the PPS curriculum or aligned with the PPS grade level standards? (required by law)
  8. Why wasn’t our son able to take three electives within this Pathways choice as required for graduation? (Pioneer has no electives at all! Graduating with a modified diploma he should have had twelve electives.)
  9. Why has our son received no career or Pathways counseling? (required by law)
  10. Why has our son received no help to write and implement an Education Plan; not to be confused with an IEP? (required by law) (And, yes, we know that an IEP can be used as an Education Plan, but it would need to have all the components of an Education Plan written within to qualify. Our son’s IEP does not qualify as an Education Plan.)
  11. Why didn’t our son get any career experience or career learning in his areas of interest? (required by law)

Joanne Mabbott had promised another parent and me back in June that there would be a Pioneer Community Forum Meeting so Pioneer parents could voice their concerns about problems at Pioneer near the end of August. Now we are being told that there will be no meeting and Pioneer parents could come to the Special Education Audit Stakeholders meeting instead.

The Pioneer Staff also recently asked to speak with district administrators and Joanne Mabbott refused to speak with them.

How do we get the district to respond?

Polly Zagone is a PPS parent.


This week in PPS: Rob Ingram

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Rob Ingram
Rob Ingram: “I’m one of those guys who believes that actors and musicians and athletes are a little over-paid, and our teachers and social workers are way under-paid.” (photo by Steve Rawley)

This week in PPS, we begin a new series I’m calling “Difference Makers,” interviews with people making a difference in the lives of youth.  This week, I talked with Rob Ingram, director of the City of Portland’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention. We had a broad ranging talk touching on the Million Father March, Black Men Working, the success of students involved with SEI, the PPS high school redesign, and the over-representation of black men in Oregon’s criminal justice system. I caught up with Rob at his office in Northeast Portland.


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

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A tale of two cities, continued: last year’s PSF contributors

When school communities raise money to hire certified teachers for their own children, they are required to contribute a portion to a district-wide “equity fund.” The first $10,000 they raise is exempt, but for every dollar above that amount, they must contribute 30 cents. (Money raised and spent for other purposes, like field trips, books, athletics, speakers, after-school enrichment, capital improvements, and non-certified staff is fully exempt.)

Under new rules of the Portland Schools Foundation (PSF), the equity fund is then distributed to schools that lack direct fund-raising capacity, and, as of the current school year, these schools are able use the money to hire certified teachers.

PPS Equity has acquired a list of last year’s contributors to the equity fund, which is to say schools with communities wealthy enough to raise money to pay for extra teaching staff. Here is the list, ordered by level of contribution, highest first:

  1. Lincoln High School
  2. West Sylvan Middle School
  3. Ainsworth Elementary School
  4. Bridlemile Elementary School
  5. Chapman Elementary School
  6. Alameda Elementary School
  7. Laurelhurst K-7 School
  8. StephensonElementary School
  9. Rieke Elementary School
  10. Beverly Cleary K-8 School
  11. Skyline K-8 School
  12. Richmond Elementary School
  13. Glencoe Elementary School
  14. Buckman Elementary School
  15. Cleveland High School
  16. Abernethy Elementary School
  17. Mt. Tabor Middle School
  18. Atkinson Elementary School
  19. Grant High School
  20. Sellwood Middle School
  21. Roseway Heights K-8 School
  22. Llewellyn Elementary School
  23. Maplewood Elementary School
  24. Hosford Middle School
  25. Gray Middle School
  26. Wilson High School
  27. Beaumont Middle School
  28. Duniway Elementary School
  29. Capitol Hill Elementary School
  30. Forest Park Elementary School

Not surprisingly, most of these schools are within the Cleveland, Franklin, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters.

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


This Week in PPS #2

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On the Calendar:

  • The school board’s Finance, Audit and Operations committee meets Tuesday at 4pm in the Willamette Conference Room at BESC, 501 N. Dixon St.
  • The PPS Parent Union meets 6:30 Thursday evening at the library at Concordia University, NE Dekum and 27th. Parent Union organizers are preparing for their kickoff press conference October 9 at the Mallory Avenue Community Enrichment Center and information fair October 10 at the Curious Comedy Club.

In the News:

  • Lincoln High’s head football coach and one of his assistants pleaded guilty to interfering with police and have been placed on paid leave by PPS pending a review of the situation. Maxine Bernstein writes in The Oregonian that Chad Carlson and Kyle Fairfax were ordered to do eight hours of community service by Tuesday in exchange for having their records wiped clean. Kim Melton reports in Saturday’s Oregonian that this case triggers the first use the districts new conduct code for coaches. District administrators will decide the fate of Carlson and Fairfax, as well as two other coaches present at the time of the incident. Before the code of conduct was instituted, principals had almost sole discretion in meting out discipline.
  • The ranks of homeless students in Oregon’s schools have swelled by nearly 14% over last year. According to a report released by the Oregon Department of Education Friday, 3.8% of students in PPS were considered homeless, writes Amanda Ingram for Willamette Week.
  • Beth Slovic covers last week’s school board meeting, and the board’s reaction to high school redesign plans presented by staff. David Wynde complained that questions he had about the process in June all remain unanswered in September.

On the PPS Equity blog:

  • Bonnie Robb, winner of last year’s prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, writes about how Portland schools serving students with high rates of poverty struggle to fund the most basic curriculum enrichment, and how teachers frequently spend their own time writing grants  “so [their] disadvantaged students can experience a world outside of their neighborhood.” Even with all the extra effort, students affected by poverty get far less of this kind of enrichment than students at wealthier schools.
  • Last week’s report on late opening for professional development drew conversation from readers, including parent Rose, whose children reported low attendance on the first early opening day. She writes that “a lot of parents left kids the whole day with relatives, or worse, left them home alone all day because there was no transportation to school.” The conversation began with district spokesman Matt Shelby pointing out that the late openings amount to an increase in instructional time and a reduction of professional development. Veteran teacher and former school board member Steve Buel argued for the abolition of even more professional development time in favor of instructional time, and Susan notes that the two hour professional development days will make it difficult for staff to attend training outside of their buildings.

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


Money buys enrichment

I am a teacher at Harrison Park Elementary (formally Clark K-8 @ Binnsmead). Our demographics include a wonderfully diverse population with students from over 20 countries. I have seven languages represented in my room alone. We also have 80% of our families receiving free or reduced lunch benefits, which places us in the top 15% highest poverty schools in the district. At least 50% of our parents speak a language other than English. I am beginning my ninth year working with our wonderful families.

We have always had to limit our extra activities, such as field trips, with our students. We received some money ($75-$100) for each class for field trips each year, and our school budget helped cover some overages. Of course, buses are $200 each in addition to admission to events, so we still had to ask parents for contributions for field trips, although no child was denied a field trip due to lack of funds. We usually had to ask for less than five dollars per child, and most could contribute that much. These field trips were memorable, and for some of my first graders, the first time they had crossed a bridge over the Willamette River.

We recently were reminded by the district that we cannot require students to contribute to field trip costs, and we have to make sure the parents know this. Also, our school no longer has a PTA to raise funds for the school. Basically, there is no money for field trips from the school or PTA. Our district has not helped with field trip costs for years.

I have written/applied for many grants to help enrich my classroom, last year supplying the funds for a $900 field trip through a Donors Choose grant. Many of our teachers go the extra mile (and take personal time, thank you) to write/apply for grants so our disadvantaged students can experience a world outside of their neighborhood.

It is a fact that more affluent schools have PTAs and fund raising mechanisms in place to provide money to their teachers for class field trips, visitors and supplies. It is great that the parents at these schools have the money and time to supplement their child’s educational experience. As far as I am aware, our district perceives no problem with this status quo.

However, this district is charged to provide an equal education to all. Our leadership tries to do this with a canned curriculum, but when students who already come to school with a wealth of experience and opportunities continue to receive more of these rich experiences at school (due to luck of birth or the location of their home) the gap of equity widens. Children in poverty enter school at least two years behind in skills and language development. Rich curriculum and real experiences can help with that gap, but when there is no money for extra-curricular activities unless they can be raised by the families they benefit, our poor children stagnate, our rich children grow. Once again, families that can afford more, and already do more, get more for their children in our “free and public” educational system.

Is there a solution to this problem? Perhaps if all students do not have an opportunity for field trips, no students should. If our students cannot raise money for field trips, perhaps none should be able to raise money. Maybe the district could pay one administrator 10k less and pay for one field trip a year for each class in a poverty school. Well, I am sure that will not happen, so I will go ahead and try to write more grants so my students can attempt to have an educational experience equal to their more affluent peers. They deserve nothing less.

Bonnie Robb teaches at Harrison Park Elementary. She is a recent recipient of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.


PPS Parent Union on the air

PPS Parent Union founder Sheila Warren is joining forces with Elijah Muhammed to present “Focus on the Black Families” this Friday, September 18 on Portland Community Media.

The first hour of the show will be broadcast on cable channel 23, and the second hour on cable channel 11.

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

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This Week in PPS #1

Note: This the first episode in a new series, This Week in PPS. This will be a weekly podcast featuring news and events of interest to the greater PPS community. –Ed.

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School starts two hours late on Wednesday, and the school board holds a regular meeting. That plus a review of last week’s news on: This Week in PPS.

The school board has a regular meeting tonight (PDF). They will hear an update on the high school redesign process and vote on a resolution to support the free transit pass program for all high school students. They will also consider a business agenda which includes a contract for $51,000 in on-site graphic design work, and slightly less (25K) for mobile computer labs for K8 students. There is also a $200,000 amendment to an $800,000 contract with Broadway Cab for taxi services, and a $12,000 amendment for construction of modular classrooms at Laurelhurst and Rieke K8 schools. The board meets at 7pm at BESC, 500 N. Dixon St. Meetings are televised live on cable channel 28 and rebroadcast throughout the week.

School starts two hours late this Wednesday, the first of eight such late openings. Schools will open two hours late on the third Wednesday of each month except November and June this year to integrate staff training days with instructional days. Please check with your school about drop-off times and breakfast. If anybody has information to share, please comment on the blog!

Last week in PPS, our first week of school, parents were alarmed by the district’s handling of an incident involving erratic behavior by a school bus driver and a bus load of kids. Kim Melton reports in The Oregonian that parents were frustrated with how they were informed of the incident. All students made it home safely, many picked up by parents before replacement buses arrived, and the driver is suspended from duty pending an investigation.

Also last week, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Load covered school equity on their Tuesday show, specifically with regards to the new PPS high school plan. The show featured PPS’s John Wilhelmi and me discussing elements of the plan, along with Jefferson High students and Principal Cynthia Harris. On-demand audio of the show may be accessed at

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


Fathers: take your kids to school!

Be part of the national movement of fathers taking their children to school. Rob Ingram is asking local fathers of all backgrounds to take part.mfm

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

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On the air

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s morning talk show Think out loud is covering school equity on the first day of school (Tuesday, September 8), with a focus on the PPS high school redesign. Guests include yours truly, Jefferson principal Cynthia Harris, and John Wilhelmi, who headed up the high school redesign effort for PPS.

The show airs live 9-10 a.m. and is rebroadcast at 9 p.m. the same day. You can also listen online or download podcasts after the show has been broadcast.

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

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