Support All Schools, Don't Divide-And-Conquer

By Betsy Richter and Roger Devine of Portland, Oregon. Betsy's kids attend Fernwood and Buckman schools, while Roger's son attends Creative Science School in Southeast Portland. Their families live on opposite sides of the Willamette, but share similar views about Portland's public schools.

Last month, Kari Chisholm asked What does "school" mean?.

If there's a well-functioning community of teachers, staff, parents, and students -- why do we assume that they won't be just as well-functioning in another physical location? Why do we fetishize the building, instead of recognizing that it's the people that make the difference?

We read the 68 comments (and counting), as parents came out in force to defend and support their local neighborhood schools. Many of those parents belong to a grassroots coalition – the Neighborhood Schools Alliance. They've been a very vocal group of late – they're frequently quoted in news stories, interviewed by television crews, or rallying the troops to comment on blogs around town. And you might assume, given the media attention, that this grassroots coalition speaks for the majority of PPS parents.

In fact, we assert there's a relatively silent majority of PPS parents out there – parents who recognize the district needs to make changes in order to survive as a viable whole long-term, parents who have carved out neighborhoods and communities defined not by geographic boundaries, but by choice. Parents who are also weary of change, and tired of the continual fight for resources - but committed nonetheless to helping support and grow a strong public school system.

One of us – Betsy - has two children in PPS. One child walks to our neighborhood middle school, the other takes the bus to a magnet school. There's no appreciable difference in the two school communities; Betsy's able to walk her child (plus a few others) to the bus stop each morning. Roger's family has chosen to drive their child across town each day in order to give him a learning environment best suited to his educational needs, and Roger gives generously of his time and energy to help grow and sustain that school community.

And while we support wholeheartedly the goal of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance to protect and strengthen neighborhood schools in all of Portland's neighborhoods, we disagree strongly with the rhetorical tactic of disparaging the special focus programs in our district in their Comments on the Superintendent's Closure/Reconfiguration Proposals.

The NSA response reads, in part:

"The district has plenty of small focus option programs that aren't held to the same size standard. They are creating many small high school programs. If we can no longer "afford" smaller schools, then why not close down the boutique focus options? The District says "it wouldn't want to change what is working"-why does this logic apply to focus options, but not to neighborhood schools? Since the boutique schools aren't available for all Portland children, wouldn't it be more fair and logical to preserve and improve what's accessible to every child: his or her neighborhood school?"

We have three problems with this argument: first, the statement that focus options "aren't available for all Portland children" is simply false. Access to all focus options is available on a lottery basis to any family living within the Portland Public School District. Admissions is not dependent on any test or economic factor, other than that the lottery is very slightly weighted to favor students who qualify for free- or reduced- lunch. This blind lottery system also applies to all neighborhood schools in the district, allowing parents to move their children from the school in their "catchment" to another, higher-performing neighborhood school if they wish. This does, of course, lead to the rise of some neighborhood schools that each year have a high demand for few slots. Would the NSA label these as "not available to all Portland children"?

The second problem, of course, is that many families have already chosen to support options other than their local neighborhood school. Today, 1 in 3 students (and their families) make the choice not to attend neighborhood schools, in fact - they attend schools elsewhere in the district. (The number increases to 40% in high school.) One could argue that these are children we're keeping in the district by giving their families a choice (where we might otherwise lose them to private schools or other out-of-district options.)

When we mention Irvington School, for example, what picture comes to mind? Affluent school community, involved volunteer parents, children of a predominant ethnicity. But those assumptions would be incorrect. The reality here is that Irvington's transfer in rate has varied over the past several years in the 40-50% range; its current school enrollment includes 45% African American students, for example, with close to 35% of their students receiving free or reduced meals. In fact, families choosing to transfer in often cited the diversity of the school population as a motivating factor.

Irvington's situation isn't a unique one – we would argue that the PPS transfer policy actually creates diversity and a less homogenized school culture than you'd suppose. We invite you to take a look at the statistics (available on the PPS web site) on a school by school basis and you might discover that your perceptions about certain school communities aren't borne out by the actual enrollment data. Should we be telling families transferring into schools like Irvington that they 'ought' to be supporting their own neighborhood school instead? No more so than we can legally prevent families from taking advantage of No Child Left Behind to leave their underperforming neighborhood school behind.

Finally, we're convinced that this "divide-and-conquer" strategy – where you disparage one group of successful schools in order to promote or protect other successful schools, or use inflammatory words like 'boutique' - is a bad one. We agree that the district's high-performing, successful schools should be assets that the district promotes and nurtures, rather than targets for cuts. But we also believe that approach should include ALL of the district's high-performing, successful schools if at all possible, even while we recognize that we live in an environment where shrinking resources and enrollment may not always support that goal. As parents, we should be advocating the preservation of every school within our district that works, and then finding ways to bring the rest of the schools up to a high level of performance – even if that means consolidation or reconfiguration, even if it requires a level of personal sacrifice to sustain a greater good. (Betsy's family – most importantly, her middle school son – is still skeptical about the proposed changes to Fernwood Middle School , for example.)

As for the NSA's comments concerning the Creative Science School; we find it strange to label a program "elitist" that draws heavily from its neighborhood (the same neighborhood that, when applied to the Bridger neighborhood program, provides a large percentage of lower-income and minority children), is open to students from all neighborhoods throughout the city, and has a high percentage of students eligible for free- or reduced- lunch. The program does have a high percentage of parental involvement, like many focus option programs - but then again, so does Rieke and many other neighborhood schools.

We can support much of what the NSA says in their response, and we have a great respect for their mission of advocating for neighborhood schools. However, we're concerned why they're choosing to conduct that mission by denigrating other successful, high-performing programs, or by alienating parents who have chosen schools other than their own neighborhood schools. Like Rieke, Hollyrood and the other examples the NSA likes to point to, the focus programs are also successful programs, and help keep PPS vibrant. Giving families choices helps keep those families and students enrolled in PPS. And our community benefits from the contributions these 'non-neighborhood' school communities offer up as well.

It is very likely that we'll all have a job to do this fall as we persuade voters that PPS needs a local option levy to provide the financial stability we've learned we cannot rely on from our state government. It is also true that the district needs much more input from parents and community members as it refines its operational plans in the weeks to come. Pitting parents and school communities against each other will only weaken both of those valuable efforts, and do our children little good.

Comments

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    There is nothing wrong with choosing a focus option. But when the focus options prevent other parents from choosing their neighborhood school because that school is closed down, then the focus options have to share in some of that grief. There is absolutely no reason to protect focus options from closures. If neighborhood schools have to be evaluated according to a "business model" so should focus option schools. If neighborhood schools have to close because they don't have 400-500 students, so should focus options that don't have the same enrollement prerequisite. This is known as e-q-u-i-t-y!

    The real solution is for you focus option parents to unite with us to stop all closures until a thoughful, comprehensive model for PPS is completed with participation and consent of the full community. Otherwise the "business model" simply means will will conduct a dog-eat-dog process where politics prevails, not the best interest of EVERY child!

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    Just remember. The lottery system means there are "losers" as well as "winners'. Why should a child become a loser through no fault of his/her own? Why should some kids be left out of the focus curriculum because their parents can't Why not integrate focus options into neighbor hood schools as dual tracks. Of course this would require more money to build a better school currculum - and that is the real solution.

    I keep hearing that the school systems "must live within it means". This is wrong minded because we don't have the means to educate all our kids, and thus many will be "losers". We must instead create the "means" that we can live with. School expeditures are investments in the future. We hear how a trillion dollars spent on Iraq is an "investment" in our country's security, yet we deny adequate funds for our domestic successes because it relies upon finacial support. A doolar spent now on education saves about three dollards in social costs. Look up the Rand study. Let us hve no more losers by lot.

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)
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    The tensions between "choice"/focus options and neighborhood programs have been simmering for years. It's good to get the debate out in the open, so thanks Roger& Betsy, and thanks to Kari for providing the forum.

    First off, a clarification. NSA is emphatically NOT about supporting only "high performing" schools like Hollyrood or Rieke. The bulk of our time and efforts over the past year have been spent in the Jefferson cluster, where a top-down reconfiguration has been underway and is not working (at least thus far--I hope it can still be salvaged). That is another whole blog post, but suffice it to say we are about equity for all students, not just those whose socioeconomics produce high test scores.

    We've heard from many parents the argument that if it weren't for "choice" they would have left PPS for private school. That likely is true. We know it's true that many people choose a neighborhood school other than their own. The "choice" culture in PPS, along with No Child Left Behind, and the inequity in quality between schools, all feed into this.

    The downside of "choice" is that it encourages a shop-around mentality (the culmination of which is the "school celebration" aka meat market at the convention center). Instead of working to make sure the school where they live provides the best education for all, the "cream" of PPS parents flock to the hottest focus options. Kids are disconnected from their community and the neighborhood schools often go into a death spiral.

    Ultimately, my fear is that we will become a two-tier city--a network of focus options with families (largely those who have the means to do so) drive across town to get to. And the newly consolidated larger schools that everyone else (an ever-shrinking number) is bused into.

    I am sure that families create a special community at their focus option, but it is not the same as the community based on walking to school-- all the things that were discussed so eloquently in the previous post about "what makes a school" and that affect the quality of life for all as well as the strength and livability of our neighborhoods.

    It is good to know that Bridger draws heavily from the largely lower-income and minority neighborhood. But, the proposal as I understand it, for those who are not in the CSS is to be sent out of their neighborhood school, across 82nd to a consolidated program at Binnsmead.

    Also, the fact that not one focus option is ever closed, on the rationale that "we wouldn't want to change something that's working" really, really rubs us the wrong way. How about Humboldt-- a high poverty school in NE Portland that emphatically IS working, with 91% of its 3rd graders meeting/exceeding benchmarks this year, up from 56% last year. A new affordable housing development is going in 2 blocks away. How is closing this school a good idea either educationally or in terms of long-term planning?

    Are focus options told that unless they are 400-600 in size they are "too small" and we just can't afford to keep them open any longer? Why is one-size-fits-all okay for neighborhood programs, but "small is great" for focus options? It's the double standard that we are objecting to.

    Neighborhood schools, by law, must admit every child who lives in their attendance area. No lotteries. If every part of town had equally high quality schools, we wouldn't need "choice." And sure, some of them might have an arts focus or an immersion focus, but not this business of a special program that is "co-located" and then cannibalizes the neighborhood program.

    The pattern has been that a focus option is placed in a building with a neighborhood school and drives it into extinction. This was done with CSS, Winterhaven, Japanese Immersion, Odyssey, and others. I don't blame parents for this, but PPS. Even they admit now that plopping a focus option in the same building creates huge tensions and does not work. (Buckman is one good exception where the neighborhood program and the magnet are one so the same cannibalization effect doesn't take place.)

    Sorry to go on at such length... thanks for the debate.

  • Terry (unverified)
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    Endlessly repeating something so patently and demonstrably false as "PPS transfer policy actually creates diversity" does not make it true. All one must do is look at the data on the PPS website that Betsy is so fond of in order to rebut such hogwash.

    I did just that in this post:

    "First, the four high schools -Jefferson, Roosevelt, Madison, and Marshall- with the greatest recent enrollment losses are also the four with the highest poverty rates. And, with the exception of Benson, the fewest number of white students. If diversity were the goal, you'd think the enrollment at these schools would not have plummeted so dramatically.

    "The same is true of neighborhood elementary schools. On the Eastside of Portland, for example, the schools in the wealthiest areas -Duniway, Laurelhurst, Alameda- remain overwhelmingly white and well-attended. The poorest elementary school, King, on the other hand, has lost 214 students since 2001.

    One can rationalize all day long about the wisdom of Portland's school choice system. It may well suit the needs and desires of some. But the way I see it, schools choice leads to an inevitable degradation of Portland's once proud- and effective- network of neighborhood schools. And that's not a good thing for the vast majority of Portland's students."

  • Betsy Richter (unverified)
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    My understanding about CSS/Bridger (and Roger can correct me if I'm wrong - he's the one more knowledgeable about CSS) is that their enrollment has been restricted due to space constraints at Bridger, even as neighborhood enrollment has declined - thus the mandate that they grow to 350 students in a two year period once they have room to expand.

    Are there other focus programs that are underenrolled and/or performing below expectations? If so, I'd like to hear more about them - from what I know, the focus programs that have room to expand have done so beyond expectations (Sunnyside Environmental is an example here.)

    It has not at all been my experience that only the 'cream' families or those of a certain socioeconomic status are primarily the ones to take advantage of PPS's transfer policy - in fact, Terry's own facts re. Jefferson, Roosevelt, Madison, and Marshall might very well reinforce my position here if you look at just how well those four schools capture their own neighborhood populations and were to track just where those students ended up. In fact, I took my daughter to school last year via TriMet bus since I don't own an automobile to chauffeur her to school; I encountered many other parents and students taking public transportation to their schools of choice. I'd also bet from my own experiences alone that if you tracked transfer students who also were recipients of free or reduced lunch aid, there'd be more of an overlap than either Ruth or Terry might suggest.

    (I also need to clarify something here for Terry - I've never stated that diversity was a 'goal' of the transfer program, but can often be an unexpected side benefit, as was the case with Irvington. Can that diversity side effect be proven consistently across the board district-wide? Sadly, no - but it doesn't negate the effect in schools where a transfer policy has, in fact, fostered diversity.)

    I have a strong appreciation for neighborhood schools, remember fondly my own days of walking to my neighborhood school, and was lucky enough to live within three blocks of my son's elementary school. And I've advocated in the past to 'fix what you have, rather than look for the next best thing.'

    But it was my daughter's kindergarten teacher at our neighborhood school, ironically enough, who planted the seed to look at a different educational opportunity for her. After investigating magnet options with a heavy heart and hearing that we'd been accepted at Buckman, I slunk in to our principal's office to announce that we were leaving - only to hear nothing but positive words about the gift we were giving her by moving her to an environment much better suited for her talents and interests.

    I still support our neighborhood school - even though I no longer have children attending it. And I'd assert that at the end of the day, parents will make decisions that best benefit their own families -and we're all better off if we recognize that, accept it, and work to restructure a school district for the 21st century.

  • christopher (unverified)
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    As a teacher at a PPS neighborhood elementary school, I appreciate the passion that all the participants bring to this discussion. But it is also hard for me not to picture a cackling right wing standing by, delighted to see school advocates going at each other.

    My belief is that magnet programs and school choice have become central to the identity of PPS. My eldest son attends Mount Tabor Middle School in the Japanese Magnet Program, but my two younger children attend our neighborhood school.

    I don't turn a blind eye to the imperfections of magnet programs. But providing the additional orientation and/or focus to learning has an undeniable appeal to a diverse community. We remain one of the most successful urban districts in the nation despite 15 years of slow starvation, largely due to dedicated teachers and parents.

    In the short term, there are more painful choices. If we fight hard now (4 House seats), our medium and long term prospects look much brighter. Let us turn our hands, hearts, and wallets to victory in November so that we can make decisions solely in the best interests of the children of Oregon.

  • paul (unverified)
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    I looked at the data also, and Irvington does seem to be an outlier.

    The whole school closure plan will affect my local cluster--Duniway/Sellwood/Cleveland--in a really odd way. It will make Duniway far more homogenous, not less. It will basically restrict this school to the Eastmoreland neighborhood, from K-8. What little "diversity" my children experience (if Sellwood, at 82% white and 25% reduced/free lunch can be called diverse) will disappear.

    Now, hey, I can't say that I particularly object in a Nimby way to PPS creating an overwhelmingly white and privileged K-8 program in my neighborhood, but something tells me this isn't the right educational model.

  • Terry (unverified)
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    Please explain to me, Betsy, how the 21st century differs so profoundly from the last century. You know, the one we all went to school in. To our neighborhood schools, most likely. Those schools served us well then, and with with adequate funding, they'd serve us equally well today.

  • marco (unverified)
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    Christopher-I like your thinking about preserving our great school system.

    I'll feel better about that when our Democratic reps in Salem start showing that they have a little fight in them. I seem to remember Kate Brown beginning the conversation last session by saying that more money for schools was DOA.

    With friends like that, who needs nutjob voucher ideologues? Our (by our, I mean "Portland D") legislative leadership is cowardly and out of touch. They convinced themselves that moderation is the only answer. Meanwhile, this gem of a school system, the pride of Portland and of the country, now faces impossible choices.

    There is nothing in the middle of the road but roadkill, right? I'd love to see Kate Brown and her supporting team ditch the mealy mouth, psuedo-sophisticate rhetoric about what's possible, and actually lead us to our potential.

    Without that, winning the house means an incremental win of a percentage point or two on school funding. Big deal. Where is the legislator who feels the power of schools in their bones?

    We need new blood down there. Jesse Cornett and Ben Cannon and those kind of folks.

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Y'know, tonight at Bridger we had a really amazing community meeting with Kathy Mincberg and a couple of the board members, and parents from Bridger, CSS, Binnsmead, and (I think) a couple of members of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance.

    There was a lot of feedback, much of it cautionary. Many many great points. A lot of arguing for and against (mostly against) the current proposal.

    One thing that stood out, especially this week, was the fact that the Bridger neighborhood teachers, who were among those protesting that this plan has been advanced too quickly, and the schools in question are not being given adequate time to plan, acknowledged that they had developed (over time) a great working relationship with the CSS teachers, and acknowledged that the CSS parents had done a lot to help all of the programs in the school, and that they did not want to cast the issue as focus-programs-vs.-neighborhood programs.

    And the CSS parents and community members who spoke (myself included) took pains to urge the district to strongly consider the issues raised by the neighborhood teahcers and parents, and suggested that perhaps the neighborhood program could stay in that building and that CSS kids and teachers and parents could be the ones to move to a different building, in order to allow both programs to grow to K-8.

    In other words, there seemed to arise (with no prior coordination) an agreement that promoting strong neighborhood schools does NOT have to involve active campaigning against focus programs. I spoke afterward with John Pioli, one of the Bridger neighborhood teachers who had spoken, and he agreed that the tack we all took tonight was heartening. I'm paraphrasing, but his comment was something like "we don't have to see this as a competition for the building."

    Christopher's comment above strikes me as right. I'd restate it in my own words this way: when those of us who really care about education fight with each other, the winners are those who don't care at all about our educational system.

    I'll say this: I like the fact that this proposal includes the fulfillment of a promise made to my kid's school several years ago, to let it grow to K-8. And generally, I'm in favor of K-8. But I remain skeptical about the prospects for the schools generally under this proposal, and I want the School Board to seriously listen to the people who are raising serious concerns about it before they vote. I would likely join the NSA in their effort, if they would stop spending so much effort identifying CSS, Winterhaven, Odyssey, Buckman, etc. and the efforts of the District to support choice, diversity in methods, and innovation, as part of the problem.

    Roger

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)
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    Thanks for the report from Bridger/CSS-- there was also a meeting tonight at Kellogg (slated for closure) with lots of great questions from parents, students and staff but not much in the way of answers from PPS.

    Roger, we do have lots of common ground as supporters of education, and of course there will always be a place for focus options and various types of programs in PPS. But we have a serious problem with the district's inequitable double standard of supporting and championing focus options while closing neighborhood schools.

    If there is "pain" and "hard choices" then that pain should be shared if not equally, with at least some semblance of equity. This is a policy and equity issue that we are fighting, and while I understand it may feel like a personal attack on the choices you and others have made (which of course you totally have the right to make)--realistically, are our complaints harming focus options? Are you in any danger of closure? No.

    In any case, it's not an active campaign against focus options--it's a campaign to get the district to swing the pendulum back toward a better balance of power in this district. Right now it feels to us like the focus options have all the power and the neighborhood schools have none.

    As for our speaking out giving aid and comfort to the right wing-- I think it is PPS who is doing that, with their misleading the general public (and encouraging the Judy Pepplers and Lars Larson types) by constantly spreading the canard that we are "overbuilt" and that closing schools is a big belt-tightener (@ $200K each, closure hardly makes a dent in the PPS budget, yet does permanent harm to our livability and neighborhoods). And that $24 million MORE in cuts to our schools are somehow "sustainable."

    On the larger funding issue--totally, 110% agree re: the utter lameness of our Senate D's and Kate Brown letting us down. How dare she go into the session not even pretending to try to increase school funding. I only wish I lived in her district so could vote her out. Woops, there I go being negative again! I hope we vote in some great D's this November.

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    and encouraging the Judy Pepplers and Lars Larson types

    Would someone please explain to me why anyone (ANYONE!) gives a damn what the local phone company executive thinks about schools?

    I've heard Judy Peppler's name come up again and again and again like she's some kind of obstacle to a school funding solution. Now, she might be actively doing bad things -- but why should anyone care what she thinks?

    She works for THE PHONE COMPANY!

  • hottamale (unverified)
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    Schools need more funds to survive?

    Raise taxes and pay for them.

    Can't do it? Then the community as a whole must not care enough.

    It's pretty simple. I used to live in a place where bonds issues, millage hikes (property tax levies) were rarely defeated. The community, even people who had no children, understood good schools were a priority.

    Portland citizens must not really care (except for activist parents).

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Ruth,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I'm going to pull out one quote:

    In any case, it's not an active campaign against focus options--it's a campaign to get the district to swing the pendulum back toward a better balance of power in this district.

    I'm ready to join a cause that says that closing Rieke, Hollyrood, Humboldt, and other neighborhood schools is a bad idea. But this other idea -- correcting an imbalance of power between programs within the district -- I'm not buying.

    Simply, it is a straw man. I cannot agree that the issue is "mom likes you better!"; it's that a) we are not funding our schools properly, and b) when there are hard choices to be made, the right choices do not close schools that have done a magnificent job meeting the goals set for schools. Why not simply and strongly argue FOR the programs we all want to see stay open? There are really strong arguments for keeping them open. Why drag into the rhetoric language that can only alienate other active parent groups? This choice of rhetoric, that can only serve to cleave off parents and school activists who support passionately the idea of choice in our district, is what is giving comfort to Lars, etc., not the simple fact that the NSA is "speaking out."

    In the very first comment in this thread, Richard Watson says:

    The real solution is for you focus option parents to unite with us to stop all closures until a thoughful, comprehensive model for PPS is completed with participation and consent of the full community.

    We very well might have, Richard. If you had not defined this as an issue of program inequity, and slinging charges of "elitism." As it is, I'll work on what I see are problems in the state's funding model and the district's plans on my own.

    Roger

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Great discussion.

    A lot of teachers get into the business because we think we know a lot and want to pass it on to the next generation.

    Then, we become teachers, get in the classrooms and realize how much we do -not- know. But we learn. Again.

    That said, after ten years in PPS, all I know is this: it takes years and years of back-breaking work by teachers, families and kids to create a successful neighborhood school like Edwards and Hollyrood and Rieke.

    And all it takes to close it down is a two-word e-mail after a couple of short meetings.

    Successful schools that are full and work should never, ever be closed for any reason.

    They should be celebrated. Daily.

    Now, back to Planet Reality where business runs the great state of Oregon and will do anything they can to maximize their profits and stock prices. BTW, Judy Peppler does not work for the phone company. Judy Peppler IS the phone company, QWEST CEO, and she is the conductor running the School Closure Express.

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    Roger,

    Nowhere in my post did I mention "elitism" You owe me an apology for that. Inequity exists all over PPS. Even among "non-elite" schools here in North Portland. Are you against equity in education? I believe we do have some common goals. At 60 years old, I don't even have school age kids, so my short-term self-interest should be to minimize taxes. However I am old enough and perhaps wise enough to recognize that public education is not an expense, it is an investment. However that investment should be meted out in a equitable way. That is why some of Portland's tax revenues go to rural schools. If you don't want to work to stop school closures, that certainly is your choice, but together we can make more of a difference.

  • Terry (unverified)
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    I'm clearly not as diplomatic as my NSA colleague Ruth Adkins, so at the risk of destroying the detente between neighborhood school activists and "passionate" school choicers like Roger and Betsy, let me offer these observations.

    At the Kellogg (now there's diverse school, Betsy) meeting last night, I heard the same nonsense about "successful" and "performing" schools that have crept into this discussion. Let's be clear about what that means.

    By district, state, and particularly NCLB standards, "successful" schools are those with students capable of getting good test scores on standardized reading and math tests. Those students are typically (and research backs this up) wealthy and white. So when I hear pleas for both sides in this debate to cooperate to keep "successful" programs open, what I hear is this: to hell with lower class schools, and to hell with the students who attend them!

    By any defintion, that's elitist and undemocratic, and it's antithetical to the vision of public common schools that has long served this country, and this city, well.

    Now that the horses of school choice are out of the barn, perhaps it IS too late to close the door. But it's not too late to tweak the district's open enrollment policy to ensure quality schools and equitable educational opportunities in EVERY neighborhood - and I mean geographical neighborhood - in this city.

    Let me add one parting shot. I firmly believe, as I have written on the NSA site, that unrestricted school choice is ultimately detrimental to neighborhood schools. And that a district full of magnet schools and focus options is "public" in name only. It's a short step from educational options to outright privatization.

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    My apologies. You're right: I have no way of knowing whether you were the person who wrote this headline in the NSA's original "Comments":

    Bridger building given to small, elite focus option, while neighborhood kids sent across 82nd.

    ...which is where I pulled the word (or a variant). Remember, this article was our response to those comments. And our main point is: dividing active parents is a bad strategy for the NSA. I am against inequity, but choose to fight for that by advocating for greater spending so that we can raise the level of achievement at all schools.

    You asked in your post for "you focus option parents to unite with us" (and I assumed that by "us" you meant the NSA: perhaps I was wrong in that assumption, too), and my response to that request is: not likely. Not while the NSA sees nothing wrong with slamming an excellent public school as a rhetorical tactic. EVERY excellent school in this district should be celebrated; every school in this district should be supported fully. When the district is actually doing the right thing, and supporting a school that is performing strongly, why on earth is the right tactic to take slamming them for that one good step? For the love of pete, let's encourage them to do that more often!

    In any case, I do apologize for assuming you were a member of the NSA and stood behind their public comments.

    Roger

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    Terry,

    The difference between 20th century and 21st century schools is that in the mid twentieth century when I went to school you basically had teachers, maybe a nurse, a principal, a custodial and drivers group.

    Their mission was to teach children to read, write, and spell. We also had at least one foreign language class, and some clerical related stuff like typing and bookkeeping as electives. We ahd "college entry" courses for those on a track to higher education. In addition to the basics, there was physical education, band, and chorus. Socialization occured, but was not specifically part of the mission statement.

    <hr/>

    In the 21st century, schools are about schools doing the parenting. Children are taught environmentalism, child rearing, self esteem, cultural diversity, celebration of a variety of ethnic benchmarks, some of which have been recently created out of whole cloth have been added to the mix. Children are fed, cared for after school, put on various career tracks with blue collar options relegated to those who can't cut it, and medical and psychological issues are addressed.

    Theater arts, with physical plants including elaborate stages, computer and lighting systems, are routine throughout the valley at least. Witness the 7 million plus spent on providing space for K-8 kids in Gresham to emote.

    In the old days that stuff happened in the multi-purpose room.

    Them Right wingers just don't get why the cost of schools continues to rise through good times and bad.

    In fact as near as I can tell, one of the few similarities between old and new is that learning how to balance a checkbook, deal with credit, buy a car, or generally live in the real world, have been mostly ignored in both eras.

    These days, of course, only 4% of african american youth go on to finish at least four years of college, and the average drop out rate for students of all ethnicities, has remained around 30% for over two decades. These are the kids that I'd like to see get uparmored for the Crony Capitalist system that they will face when they drop out at the end of their sophmore year.

    <hr/>

    Like Sid said, and I am happy to believe, most educators get into the game because they care. The parents that are on this board and show up at the meetings are also mostly both highly educated, and obviously very involved. Still, some very glaring stuff is being ignored, while other perhaps less important stuff takes the spotlight.

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Terry slipped. My last post was addressing Richard's.

    Roger

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    Actually I am a (proud) member of NSA and do stand behind their goals, but I think you are wrong in assuming we attack focus options on their merit or because they are "elitist". We attack them because they have been sheltered from the depth of staff reductions that occured last year. If your focus option school would have been targeted for closure next year you would probably be with us and probably one of the most vocal in stopping closures. Think about that.

    I tend to think of parents who get to send their kids to a school of choice under the present rules as "lucky", not elitist, but you have to admit some choose to do so for "elitist" reasons, or worse, because of racial bigotry.

    Wouldn't it be better to have these focus programs in neighborhood schools and thus make them available to a broader base of parents. But funding a mandarin immersion program while causing larger class sizes in basics serves the few at the expense of the many. Rather than solving the lack of funding to have it all, regretably PPS and its Super actively pits school against school. The competion then breeds "losers".

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Richard,

    I wasn't assuming anything regarding your motives, other than that the words that were used in the NSA comments represented them, at least somewhat. The word was there.

    I find it extremely hard to believe, given the statements about focus programs coming out of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance, that f my program had been targeted for closure, you would have welcomed me as an ally. The program my kid attends, after all, is NOT my neighborhood school. And I was "lucky" and possibly I chose to enroll him there in the first place for "elitist" reasons, and I am in favor of choice.

    I've been defined out of your organization. Perhaps the Superintendent and the District's policies "actively pit school against school", but the NSA certainly seems to be willing to play along with that tactic.

    Roger

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)
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    Kari said: Would someone please explain to me why anyone (ANYONE!) gives a damn what the local phone company executive thinks about schools? Kari, Judy Peppler made the comment at the recent mayor's summit on school funding to the effect that Qwest has had to close a lot of its call centers, and therefore PPS should have to expect to close schools. (And gossipy aside, I noticed her whispering in the corner with Lars!)

    Like Sid said--she is one of the big business folks that is driving the downsizing and corporatizing of PPS. She epitomizes the audience they are bending over backwards to please with the seemingly impressive display of "toughness" by closing schools (which in reality, saves little if any money, and will do permanent damage to our city.)

    Roger wrote: EVERY excellent school in this district should be celebrated; every school in this district should be supported fully.

    Exactly, that's our whole point. It's not happening right now, and it's at the expense of neighborhood schools. Have any focus options been closed? Have any focus options been threatened for being "too small"?

    Why not simply and strongly argue FOR the programs we all want to see stay open? There is no need to argue "for" focus options, since the entire system is set up to nurture and expand them. They don't need our support. Moreover, there needs to be an effort to address the systemic problems (such as, ensuring that there are no more "co-locations" and that any neighborhood schools where a focus program is added truly WANT that program).

    A larger issue is overall equity of resources. This applies to all schools, both neigh. and FOs. Right now the wealthier communities fundraise through PTA and Foundation to supplement the meager PPS budget. Foundation should be changed to ensure distribution of funds to schools without the means to fundraise. (Currently the 1/3 of Foundation money gets disbursed in grants, but any school can apply for grants, and guess which communities tend to be the most adept at grantwriting?)

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    Roger,

    Be assured that NSA is against all closures as announced (or leaked) this year. Hollyrood, while not really a focus school, is a special schhol for K-3. We oppose that closure with as much the others. No school should have to close next year.

    The point of the focus school example, however, is that if closures must happen, then all schools should be evaluated by the same criteria - that equity must prevail. It may be hard for you to see that. But without due dilligence, true analysis of impact, and a definition of what change trying to accomplish it is impossible to evaluate wheter a change is good or bad for kids. That makes the change arbitrary and capricious. You may be willing to stand by as schools are decimated by a flawed PPS policy, but believe me, under the current administration, one day YOUR school may face closure too.

    You say you are for choice, but you won't fight for the choice of parents to send their kids to a neighborhood school within walking distance. It sound like your choice is the only choice you are willing to fight for. If so you a guilty of the me-isms that you accuse NSA of having.

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Richard,

    Why on earth would you assume that I am not going to "fight for the choice of parents to send their kids to a neighborhood school within walking distance"? I said something to the contrary above, although I also said I would not do so with your organization. I think I'd be within my rights to ask for an apology here, if I wasn't sick of this thread already.

    I'll say this again: There is a substantial group of concerned, active parents in this district who could have been recruited to fight this fight alongside the NSA. At least two of them (and likely a whole lot more) were alienated instead by the language in the "Comments". We think it was a bad tactic, bad politics, a mistake. That's our point.

    Roger

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    Roger, you said:

    ...the statement that focus options "aren't available for all Portland children" is simply false. Access to all focus options is available on a lottery basis to any family living within the Portland Public School District. Admissions is not dependent on any test or economic factor, other than that the lottery is very slightly weighted to favor students who qualify for free- or reduced- lunch. This blind lottery system also applies to all neighborhood schools in the district, allowing parents to move their children from the school in their "catchment" to another, higher-performing neighborhood school if they wish. This does, of course, lead to the rise of some neighborhood schools that each year have a high demand for few slots. Would the NSA label these as "not available to all Portland children"?

    I don't speak for the NSA people but I personally would certainly label those schools as "not available to all Portland children". They are available to all Portland children in the same way that the Powerball jackpot is available to everyone who buys a ticket. You can't buy a house with a Powerball ticket and you can't get an education from theoretical availability. Schools with a limited enrollment where demand exceeds that supply are simply not available to all Portland children nor are schools that are beyond the means of some children to attend.

    The divide is there clear as day in your rhetoric:

    I'm ready to join a cause that says that closing Rieke, Hollyrood, Humboldt, and other neighborhood schools is a bad idea. But this other idea -- correcting an imbalance of power between programs within the district -- I'm not buying.

    Because what you care about is the prospect of closing your favorite "excellent" schools. As long as that doesn't happen, you're happy. The NSA people, more often than not, come from neighborhoods where the problem is much bigger than that. Their schools don't meet your definition of excellent and a lot of the children in those schools have parents who don't have the wherewithall to get their children into a school across town--the wherewithall including not only money but time and the ability to use the system to their kids benefit. Your focus is on keeping the excellent schools, the NSA people are focused on making sure the attention and resources are there to make those schools that aren't already so excellent better and making sure that there are local schools available where a school being local matters the most to people. They know full well that many parents whose kids are safely in excellent schools only care about these issues when their schools are affected. It's perfectly good political judgment on their part to insist that the same standards apply to all schools. It got your attention, didn't it?

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Ruth,

    In re: "Why not simply and strongly argue FOR the programs we all want to see stay open? There is no need to argue "for" focus options, since the entire system is set up to nurture and expand them. They don't need our support."

    I was referring to Rieke, Hollyrood, Humboldt, etc. Why not simply and strongly argue FOR these programs, rather than argue for them AND against other programs? Perhaps I should have phrased it this way the first time, but better late than never.

    In what way does characterizing the focus programs as "elite" and "boutique" and suggesting one or more of them be closed help the cause of keeping Rieke open? You have stated several times that is there is going to be pain it should be shared equitably, which is a fine statement, but it takes as a first principle that there have to be closings to begin with. Why accept that?

    Roger

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Because what you care about is the prospect of closing your favorite "excellent" schools. As long as that doesn't happen, you're happy.

    I'm not sure why I am going to respond to this charge yet again here. But here goes: not true. I am willing to fight for neighborhood schools. I'm not willing to affiliate myself with the NSA, however. Because I disagree with the position that it is a worthwhile tactic to suggest that a focus program get closed in order to save a neighborhood school.

    Regardless of the fact that it got my attention.

    Anyone else want to tell me what I really think or believe?

    Roger

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)
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    I was referring to Rieke, Hollyrood, Humboldt, etc. Why not simply and strongly argue FOR these programs, rather than argue for them AND against other programs? Perhaps I should have phrased it this way the first time, but better late than never.

    Roger, the problem is that the imbalance and inequity is an elephant in the room--it has to be talked about out in the open. Everyone, from Vicki P. on down, says they support neighborhood schools. The issue is that in reality, district policies undermining them. Note, I said district policies, not individual parents exercising their choice to send their kids to special programs.

    I'm not saying focus options shouldn't exist but that the way the district treats them vs neigh schools is inequitable. In what way does characterizing the focus programs as "elite" and "boutique" and suggesting one or more of them be closed help the cause of keeping Rieke open? You have stated several times that is there is going to be pain it should be shared equitably, which is a fine statement, but it takes as a first principle that there have to be closings to begin with. Why accept that?

    I know you really really don't like the words elite and boutique so let's take that out of the equation. I'm not saying that a FO should be closed instead of any particular neigh. school. The point we are trying to make is that focus options are never on the chopping block--not ever. It is always, exclusively, neighborhood programs that are considered expendable. And that is not equitable.

    I don't accept that there should be closures, but apparently everyone else with power in this town does--not just City Hall and the PBA and (of course) PPS but also school advocacy groups like Stand for Children, HOPE, CPPS and others. They have all drunk the kool-aid that PPS needs to "show Salem and the voters it can make the tough choices." And that school closures, being dramatic and showy, are just the ticket. Regardless of the fact that closures save little if any money (the K-8 reconfig will cost beaucoup bucks) and will permanently harm our city.

    The neighborhood schools being closed are political pawns, pure and simple.

  • Steve Linder (unverified)
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    I believe that immigration to the United States and the equalizing force of public schools are two of most important cornerstones of America. The creative genius and unique knowledge of American immigrants, flowing on the level playing field of public education, are the pump and wellspring of new ideas that drives American cultural, scientific and business innovation.

    I believe that Portland's Neighborhood Schools System, with broad curriculum, best provides the equal access to education supported by law. I believe that a focused schools system is by nature segregating. I believe the most equitable system is a broad curriculum that supports many learning styles and cultural approaches within the same facility.

    A broad curriculum attracts and serves the largest cross section of the population and so provides more choice with a given school. A broad curriculum also better supports transfers between schools, since any given school can accept a larger cross section of the population.

    Magnet schools and focus options often exacerbate the problem of segregation. While it is important to have the option to transfer one's student, an "option" is only an option if one has the information, time and means to act upon the option. The result of PPS's transfer policy is a more segregated school system.

    Portland needs a system more like Beaverton, where focus options are more equitably distributed. Focus programs should be used to broaden the course offerings of EVERY Neighborhood School.

    Neighborhood Schools provide the backbone of equal education that enables the support of enrichment programs. By drawing families away from Neighborhood schools, some focus programs in Portland weaken the backbone of equality and lead to greater segregation. Programs like Japanese and Mandarin Chinese Immersion can not be supported while unreasonable inequities exist in Portland schools.

    In addition to Neighborhood Schools, I believe in a comprehensive mechanism to achieve more integration of children from various socioeconomic backgrounds. This mechanism could be driven by choice, if made equitable and integrated with Neighborhood Schools.

    Let us bring these focus programs to the Neighborhood Schools where they can be equally accesses by all citizens.

  • mango (unverified)
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    Yes, they are political pawns. And yes, the district is mandating that positions at these new mega k-8 provide special classes like music and art or P.E. However, they are also staffing at the same level as before the specials were added. In other words, you have to have two extras, like art, etc., but will get no new staffing to pay for them. Positions will have to be cut in order to do that, so guess what happens to class size. Anyone realize that this is going on?

  • Janet (unverified)
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    If the true goal here is equity of education for all children, one must recognize the simple fact that not all children learn in the same way. Some children require the structure that a traditional classroom provides. Some children would wither in that structure.

    How does a public school system that offers only one style of education in a neighborhood school system teach all children equally if not all children learn in the same way? It simply is not possible. Focus programs are a requirement if one wishes to achieve equality in education. Focus programs strengthen rather than diminish PPS.

    Consider availability of options if one's child would be among those who wither in a traditional classroom. Suddenly, the system doesn't seem so equitable--there are only a few choices offering non-traditional teaching methodology in a large public school district. The comparison to Beaverton with regard to availability of focus options within the district is simply not apt. Beaverton is a small suburb with a smaller number of square miles and a smaller population to service. How can we realistically achieve an equitable distribution of focus options given our larger area and population?

    Sorry if this seems off-point, but I'm trying to figure out how in the world one would bring equitable distribution of alternative teaching methodologies, such as those at Emerson or Creative Science School, to every neighborhood school. Especially if one's kid has the talents that would make Buckman the right place for them.

    And: I'd like to correct a false impression. Winterhaven, a special focus K-8 school, is threatened with closure under the current proposal as one of six schools in a cluster that have been challenged, as a community, to have a discussion as to how to consolidate the programs in the cluster into five of the six currently operating buildings. So, the focus programs have not been unilaterally spared.

  • Terry (unverified)
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    Whoa, Janet!

    Winterhaven, the math science magnet which DISPLACED Brooklyn Elementary (a neighborhood school) TWO years ago, a school with a 44% TAG enrollment, is in NO danger of closure.

    It is merely listed as ONE of the Sellwood cluster schools that MAY be closed when that community decides the fate of the cluster. Its listing is certainly meant to placate critics of the district plan, especially the Neighborhood Schools Alliance which has accused the district of unfairly protecting focus option schools at the expense of traditional neighborhood schools.

    Rest easy, Janet. There's no way that Winterhaven will be closed by Vicki Phillips. And ultimately, it's her decision.

    <hr/>

    Steve, part of the broad "curriculum" that you so correctly identify as characteristic of neighborhood schools is "democratization". That's a cornerstone of the common school movement, something that's sadly been overlooked in this conversation.

  • Steve Linder (unverified)
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    I recognize that "all children don't learn in the same way," that is why I advocate for a broad curriculum that attracts and serves the largest cross section of the population and so provides more choices and integration with a given school.

    We can achieve an equitable distribution of focus options by placing alternative programs like these in EVERY Neighborhood Schools.

    I support alternative teaching methodologies and options, but our first priority should be an equitable system for the largest cross section of the population.

  • Tired of Debate (unverified)
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    Instead of everyone fighting for resources that are very limited and people trying to keep his or her children's pet neighborhood school open, why don't we propose a very simple solution.

    The problem is money. Or not enough of it.

    So to keep all the schools open, just have every household who has a child pay a "fee" or a "tax" or "tuition" or whatever you want to call it. Let's say $1000/child/year. It's cheaper than going to private school; it's certainly cheaper than OES or Catlin Gabel. With 40,000 childen in PPS, that would generate, $40 million. Close to closing the shortfall. You could make the "fee" a sliding scale. With wealthier families paying more than poorer. If keeping your neighborhood school open isn't worth spending $20 or $30/week/child, then maybe your school deserves to be closed. This way you don't have to convince and depend on the 20-somethings in the Pearl without kids, or the older people without kids, or the truly short-sighted to approve some sort of tax or levy like the i-Tax again.

  • Betsy Richter (unverified)
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    The point Roger and I were trying to make way back up there still stands (as does Christopher's excellent comment) - why divide? Why alienate?

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)
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    Mango wrote: Yes, they are political pawns. And yes, the district is mandating that positions at these new mega k-8 provide special classes like music and art or P.E. However, they are also staffing at the same level as before the specials were added. In other words, you have to have two extras, like art, etc., but will get no new staffing to pay for them. Positions will have to be cut in order to do that, so guess what happens to class size. Anyone realize that this is going on?

    Thank you Mango for this important point. Let's put aside the FO/Neigh school issue for a minute (clearly there needs to be a community process of some kind to talk more about this and reach some kind of detente)-- let's talk about the K-8 proposals that are about to be voted thru on May 1 and which will transform the city's schools in one fell swoop. (yes I know, the phase in is over time--but the plan/decision itself will be set in place on May 1).

    While I think there are a lot of good potential benefits to the K-8 model, and am certainly open to considering it, as are many parents-- I have a lot of concerns:

    • we don't have any specifics about the curriculum or staffing model. indications are they are planning the K-8s on the elementary model, with few if any electives. Also the smaller number of 6-8th grade kids in each school (compared to a middle school) means far fewer options in terms of different levels of math, for example. I am very concerned that our 6-8th graders will NOT get the same quality of curriculum and supports they are getting now. Without seeing specifics, I am wary.

    • the stated "goal" is "PE, Art and/or music" at every school. That doesn't mean every day or more than you get now--just SOME amount of those during the year. For other "extras" like Spanish it may mean sharing teachers between schools so that everyone gets a small dose during the year. (part of the argument for closing down K-5s is that it is inefficient and not good to share PE, art or music teachers between schools. yet under this plan we'd switch that "itinerant" status up to the 6th-8th level and have those specialist teachers floating. so where's the improvement?) Our middle schoolers get a lot more than just occasional "PE, Art and/or Music" right now. The plan would leave some middle schools intact with their rich array of curriculum, others as K-8s with (as far as I can tell) a drastically watered down curriculum.

    • are the parents eager to be converted to K-8 really fully aware of what they will be getting in the new configuration? do they have all the details or are they just trusting that the district will do well by their kids? (and perhaps, banking on the fact that accepting this conversion will effectively secure their school's existence)

    • As Board members are pointing out with grave concern, the conversion to K-8 in the Jeff cluster is not going well. (the Jeff cluster was listed as the "pilot" for districtwide transformation under the Portland Schools Foundation's massive Gates Grant, which includes a detailed plan for creating 'community will' around transformation and "reform"). At King for example, when they added 6th grade last year, the class sizes were huge, the curriculum not fully worked out, teachers were not ones with experience at this grade level. The district did get the class size adjusted eventually but the road has not been smooth.

    • There has been no planning at the principal/staff level for how K-8 will be done. This is all "to be determined." Well as a teacher pointed out at Bridger, shouldn't this "lesson plan" be in place before a decision is made to push ahead with this sweeping transformation?

    *I'm also concerned by the one-sided nature of the PPS PR campaign to push how great K-8 is. To take just one example--the PPS website lists articles exclusively in favor of K-8. One of those articles, "Mayhem in the Middle," appears in the April 2006 edition of Educational Leadership. Yet in this journal, the very next article, "Guess Again," is a rebuttal of the push to K-8. Why not include both sides?

  • Kathy (unverified)
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    I've been an active parent at Creative Science School for nine years and I can tell you that we're "the little engine that could" because the district has done just about anything it could to squash it and we just keep chugging along. I have files of broken promises from the past two Superintendents, the concept that the school system is set up to support us is genuinely laughable.

    There are ten elementary schools (few of which are full) within a four mile radius of my house - yet the two closest (niether of which by the way is my assigned neighborhood school) are almost two miles away. I NEVER had the option of walking my kids to school.

    I live in a corner of the boundary - one block east the kids go to a different school, one block north to yet another. I have to cross a highway to get to my assigned school. It may not be my district-assigned school, but CSS is my community school.

    And by the way, Edwards WAS a focus school and the vast majority of it's parents had transferred from a neighborhood school to go there. The many people I knew who went there transferred from their neighborhood school (Grout, Richmond and Abernethy) and were there because it was a small school first and the year-round focus second. But in the district books - at the Educational Options Committee meetings - it was considered a focus school.

  • Lisa (unverified)
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    First, some full disclosures: I am a friend of Betsy's. I also have one child, a 7th grader, who attended k-5 at Creative Science School (focus option), and now attends Hosford Middle School (neighborhood), so I feel like I have a sense of both sides of THAT particular debate.

    However, I won't add my 2 cents to the seemingly endless litany of folks who seem so vested in being "right" about focus vs neighborhood. I have sympathy for both points of view. But it took until Janet last night at 9:12 pm to raise what I've always felt was the crucial issue when it comes to public education:

    How does a public school system that offers only one style of education in a neighborhood school system teach all children equally if not all children learn in the same way? It simply is not possible.

    Nothing that PPS does - nothing - has EVER addressed this issue en masse, although I believe that the whole idea of creating focus options was supposed to be the "answer" to that. More to the point though, nothing that the ENTIRE U.S. PUBLIC EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM ever does addresses this issue. Steve's credo "I support alternative teaching methodologies and options, but our first priority should be an equitable system for the largest cross section of the population" (my emphasis) is precisely what's wrong with our educational system in the first place.

    "Equitble" systems designed for the largest cross section of the population get us exactly what we have - (mostly) mediocre schools (even the "best" ones) that don't perform well (unless you consider high scores on standardized tests "performing" well), consume huge amounts of taxpayer dollars from people who consider public education someone else's problem (as if a city's school system isn't the fulcrum upon which the city will rise or fall as a "desirable" place to live), and otherwise decent parents who end up at each other's throats as they desperately fight for what little they can salvage for their particular children or neighborhood.

    Why not do what Belgium does? It's no big secret - I saw this on 20/20 (of all places ;-) a few weeks ago. In Belgium, state educational spending is "attached" to each child attending public school. In other words, whatever school the kid attends gets that money as part of its budget to run that particular school. There is no districting in Belgium, no "catchment" areas, no neighborhood schools per se. Instead, parents are free to shop around to ANY school they care to. Consequently, the schools have to be excellent enough to attract enough children and enough money to remain open. If the school can't deliver educationally, it ends up short on kids (money), and IT CLOSES. Period.

    Ergo, in Belgium, excellent public schools abound. I'm sure there are some lousy pockets here and there - no system ever created by human beings will NOT have problems - but as a system it seems far preferable to the U.S. "system" of starve, divide, and conquer, particularly here in Oregon (as a native of Massachusetts, I can't begin to say how appalled I am at the entire way that public education is approached in this state, from kindergarten through university. But that's a whole 'nother debate . . . ).

    Vicki Phillips may be the most sincere PPS superindent Portland has had in years. She may be thoroughly corrupt and totally politically motivated. K-8 may be the best thing that's happened to PPS schools in decades. It may be the worst. In one important sense, none of that matters as long as ALL of us settle for a public educational system that never addresses any of the actual problems - how to turn our children into thinking, viable, active citizens.

    As I said, my son attends Hosford Middle School. It is a perfectly decent, well meaning, middle school (one of the few not slated for closure or even any change at this point, I believe). I like and respect the majority of his teachers, the principal, the vice principal, etc. They're not doing anything "wrong" in the context of a US public middle school - in fact, they are doing a lot of things right. My son is getting decent grades (not as high as I'd like, and not as high as I think he's capable of, but decent).

    And it still doesn't work - at ALL - for my kid. He is bored to tears. He hates EVERYTHING about school - it's ruining his life!!! (Of course, I totally take that last with a grain of salt, given that he's 13 ;-). But still, the important point here is that he's bored to tears. At a decent, well-meaning, working, "successful" middle school in this city.

    Something's very wrong here.

  • Steve Linder (unverified)
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    Let me more specific. I am in favor of alternative teaching methodologies and options. I am in favor of MORE options in MORE places. This should not be an either or debate. It is the current structure and funding system that delivers these “choices” that is inequitable.

    I am not saying the solution to inequity is simple or cheap, but consider the costs of a segregated Public School System.

    My simple solution for funding is to support Jim Hill for Governor.

  • Dale Sherbourne (unverified)
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    My take on this school system is that it was broken by the middle schools and crumbled by the focus option,magnet,language immersion,alternative education schools,and charter schools. Neighborhood schools are not a luxury but pillars of our communities. Like parks are a necessity parks often sit idle collecting trash and dog.cat,geese,gull and you name it dodo. Public Neighborhood Schools are cornerstones of our community to me and anything that takes away from that I am against So i am for the return of the Prek-8 9-12 model with the identification of those,special ed etc, that need added resources to attain an education in that setting. So to that end I advocate a return to PreK-8 with all students attending their own geographic Neighborhood School Saves on transportation eliminate all non special education transportation,don't have to pay for kids who win lotteries but don't have the means to get there, i think they use taxi cabs Cuts down on pollution Increases circulation with exercise by walking or riding a bike And by sending back the 6,7,8th graders most schools would have enough kids to justify their existence And to those of you who would abandon your Neighborhood Schools for private schools because you lost your cherished ,charter,focus option, magnet,language immersion Sayonara,Adios, and what ever in Mandarin And finally school choice is about the destruction of Public education and their teachers unions and I offer the following report and after reading it see if you or someone you know is a right wing nut

    http://commonwealinstitute.org/reports/ed/EdRespondReport.html#TableOfContents

  • Steve Linder (unverified)
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    I was educated in Michigan, in a well-funded Public School. With the broad educational options available in my High School, I was able to explore my choices in life and I enjoyed school. Some of the elective classes I selected in High School were: Russian History, Early English Literature, Journalism, Stage Craft, Ecology, Computer Science and Architecture.

    Though my style of learning was not “typical,” I am thankful the well-funded schools I attended were flexible and had program options so I could thrive. It is possible.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    I support Dr. Phillips, but anyone who thinks she won't close/move Winterhaven in a heartbeat has forgottten about the single best, cheapest to run, school of legend called Edwards.

    90% benchmark in a bad year. Full every year with a waiting list. A teaching waiting list too. Rally cheap to run. A school of your dreams.

    My teaching friends from back east still shake their heads in disgust about Edwards because no school in their cities have never equalled its greatness.

    So, now that another $20,000,000 has been thrown over the PPS transom, why again are we closing schools for mere peanuts?

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    Lisa,

    You are so very right that it takes different approaches, different learning tracks to teach different children. I don't think anyone here would disagree. But again it must be done in an equitable fashion. If the results are mediocre, then we need to analyze what is causing the mediocrity. I work with teenage kids. Yes, most of them are BORED! Why? In my opinion, it is because we have devalued the kids themselves. One reason why many of them get turned on to drugs and sex.

    A neighborhood school with a menu of extra-curricular activities is a prescription for curing that boredom. Neighborhood volunteers who mentor the kids add to that cure. It really does take a village to raise a child, especially in today's world where parents have less time and energy to do it by themselves.

    I was raised in a Chicago neighborhood during a time when almost every adult watched and watched out for kids. I went to school at a time when full funding of public education was a NATIONAL DEFENSE priority. We were worried that successful sputnik launches meant we would lose the technology race to the evil Russians.

    The real reason why are kids are bored and can't achieve is that we have become lazy and selfish. The "I got mine, go get yours!" motto has replaced true citizenship and community service. In spite of having one of the lowest tax rates in the world, we still look to slash investment in our schools.

    Roger and Betsy's title to this thread is valid. Don't let PPS divide and conquer. But they take the position of NSA wrongly. We are not out to destroy focus options. In fact, I would like to see every neighborhood school also have a focus option program. But I reject the premise that schools must "compete" for students. If a school is lacking in certain resources that might casue parents to walk away from it, then it is imperative that those resources be fixed.

    Unfortunately, even in this day of increased tolerance, some parents walk away from certain schools because of racism. There is little we can do about that, but we should counteract that by puting extra effort into those schools victimized by racism, not by closing them down or punishing them with things like requiring uniforms, etc.

    Sure, we want the best for our own kids, but if we abandon the needs of other kids, then indeed we are guilty of "elitism" whether it be tranferring kids to a focus option or just another neighborhood school outside there own.

  • Roger Devine (unverified)
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    Roger and Betsy's title to this thread is valid. Don't let PPS divide and conquer. But they take the position of NSA wrongly. We are not out to destroy focus options.

    Richard, I'm glad to hear you say that. And Ruth has said some things here that echo it. But the starting point for the whole discussion was a position statement released by NSA that seems to contradict that. Which is why our basic call was to the NSA to stop saying and writing things that divide the community of active, involved parents in this district.

    The posts here seem to have clarified one thing: many NSA members (or sympathists, it's hard to figure out who exacly is a member) seem to be okay with focus programs as long as they are also exclusively neighborhood schools.

    The opinion gap here seems to be not about "focus" but about "options" -- about choice. Dale's comment seems to define one end of the spectrum:

    So to that end I advocate a return to PreK-8 with all students attending their own geographic Neighborhood School Saves on transportation eliminate all non special education transportation,don't have to pay for kids who win lotteries but don't have the means to get there, i think they use taxi cabs

    Here's a few more:

    Terry: But the way I see it, schools choice leads to an inevitable degradation of Portland's once proud- and effective- network of neighborhood schools. And that's not a good thing for the vast majority of Portland's students.

    Terry, again: unrestricted school choice is ultimately detrimental to neighborhood schools. And that a district full of magnet schools and focus options is "public" in name only. It's a short step from educational options to outright privatization.

    One from Steve: While it is important to have the option to transfer one's student, an "option" is only an option if one has the information, time and means to act upon the option. The result of PPS's transfer policy is a more segregated school system.

    I'll stop there.

    On the school choice spectrum, I'm way on the other end (I love the "Belgium" proposal above!) I find the school choice system here to be one of the best, most progressive things about this state. (and please, I know you disagree.) I benefit from it, I know many others, of all economic backgrounds and races, who benefit from it, and I will fight hard to keep it. Against many of you, I imagine.

    I do not know what kind of common position we can achieve w/r/t this. I'm pro-choice. Many of you are not. That's pretty much the end of the discussion for me. Happy crusading!

    Roger

  • Lisa (unverified)
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    Richard,

    I'm afraid you've missed my entire point . . . and you're opening line proves it - that I'm "so very right." Who cares??? I don't think this entire debate should be about who's "right" here (although one would be hard pressed to find any other purpose to this discursive string than to for one "side" or another to "prove" they have the better argument).

    The bottom line is we - parents, children, teachers, school administrators, and the City of Portland itself - are getting royally screwed by our current educational system. While people like Richard and numerous others in this string continue to battle over Neighborhood schools vs Focus Options - and whose solution is "righter" - we all suffer. And give even more reason for the state of Oregon to continue ignoring the problem of its laughable and terrible attitude towards public education, as it's done for decades.

    If kids are bored in school I don't believe it's because they're "devalued." Hell, kids were "devalued" when I was in public school also, even in education-driven Massachusetts. THAT'S the point - our whole approach to public education is faulty. It hasn't changed much over the decades. The "debate" over focus options and neighborhood schools is a red herring - despite some in this string preferring to treat it as a sacred cow.

    Not to mention that there have been numerous responses to this issue so far that make it clear that several focus options HAVE been close to the chopping block, and are in danger of it today (as a former CSS parent, I agree 1000% with Kathy that if CSS is still open and successful today, it's in spite of PPS, not because of it. My son was there long enough ago for me to remember that from K through grade 2, it was always a toss up whether he'd have a program to return to the following year).

    I often find mention of "equity" vis-a-vis this debate to be a thinly desguised cover for people who don't want to entertain the idea that they don't know best, and that everyone should fall in line with what they think. I don't think neighborhood schools are the panacea Richard makes them out to be. I don't think focus options are either. I DO think that if we continue this useless battle among ourselves over which venue is "right" or "better," NO-ONE's interests are served - except maybe the state legislature's.

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    Lisa,

    Well I get your point but I think you miss mine. Why should a preference be given to maintain or expand focus options at the EXPENSE of neighborhood schools. This doesn't mean that I am against focus options. I do believe that they should be offered in the context of neighborhood schools becauset that it the strongest and most stable environment. But if focus options are free standing schools, they should be held accountable (and liable) to the same closure criteria applied to neighborhood schools.

    It doesn't matter if you like the NSA position or not, (we have many members and are increasing daily because of the issues) as long as you are with against the closure proposals. Here in North Portland we have some Astor parents berating Portsmouth MS in hope of keeping Astor open and responses from Portsmouth parents that attack Astor.

    As I have posted elsewhere, most parents don't care about closures as long as their favorite school is spared. This is wrong because the draconain changed planned by Phillips will likely close more schools every year.

    But if closures are necessary then we want a direct definition of the basis for closing particular schools and we want that basis to be applied across the board, not just toward neighborhood schools. That is equitable.

    No child should be a "loser". BTW. I worked in Belgium for about a year. Their system isn't really any better thasn ours, but better funded. Choice is not the answer.

    RLW

  • Lisa (unverified)
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    Richard,

    So far, you've not demonstrated to me (or anyone else, as far as I can see) that there IS any preference being given to closing neighborhood schools over focus options. I have absolutely no way of knowing, but I'd be willing to bet that it's a better than even chance that the percentage of focus options that have been closed/threatened with closure is similar to the percentage of neighborhood schools that have been/are slated to be closed.

    And if I've missed your point, which is entirely possible, I've missed it on purpose because I think it's a specious one. Bravo that so many other parents are joining the NSA. You "win." Big freakin' deal. As far as I'm concerned, we're ALL going to lose here, and we're doing exactly what the state legislature wants us to do - fight each other instead of going after them.

    I think your assumptions that most parents don't care about school closures unless it affects their own child's school is insulting and demeaning - I certainly don't feel that way. Although of course, such an assumption allows you to pursue the NSA party line of "make focus options close" with a clear conscience.

    It blows my mind that so many people involved in this farce of a "debate" about closing focus options vs. neighborhood schools are so blind to their own best interests. I repeat - our entire approach to public education is faulty. If Belgium doesn't work as you say (and I have only your word for that), then let's come up with something else that does. Quibbling over which mediocre school or program gets to stay open at the "expense" of others is self-defeating.

    If you and the NSA are REALLY concerned about school closures, why not do this: Put your time and considerable energy and networking into forcing our do-nothing state legislature to finally come up with a STABLE plan to fund public education in this state for the first time in 15+ years.

  • Steve Linder (unverified)
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    Dr. Phillips is targeting more schools for closures because the Portland Schools Foundation, its Innovation Partnership and Real Estate Trust, and the Portland business community set the strategy for these closures years ago.

    Our exceptional, efficient, well attended Smith School was first targeted for a land grab several years ago when PPS tried to take five acres off the site, but was stopped by the community.

    Since I have been paying attention I have learned, PPS has changed the Smith School boundary to reduce its capture and diversity. PPS removed Spanish Immersion from Smith School. PPS opened the Odyssey focus option program at an adjacent school, then used the enrollment “data” from that one year the Odyssey program began to close Smith.

    PPS absolutely destroyed the synergy that once characterized our beautiful Smith School Neighborhood. They have driven a large and growing percentage of students out of public education forever. PPS doesn’t account for the monies lost from this Smith School Diaspora because they say it is impossible to quantify.

    This week, the “Real Estate Trust” is trying to move Mitch Charter School from Tigard into OUR Smith Neighborhood School. It is not how much money can be saved by closing schools; it is how much money the “Trust” can make through LONG term leases and sale of these high quality properties.

    The damage has been done to my Neighborhood.

    Why divide? Why alienate? Ask Dr. Phillips.

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    If you and the NSA are REALLY concerned about school closures, why not do this: Put your time and considerable energy and networking into forcing our do-nothing state legislature to finally come up with a STABLE plan to fund public education in this state for the first time in 15+ years.

    Actually we are doing just that. We are not the one-trick pony that you accuse us of being. We should just agree to disagree on this and move on.

    I will continue to fight for equity, transparency, and fairness in PPS decision-making. That includes preventing all closures until a open. collective, participative process is installed and all options are on the table.

    As for the "Belgium System" you don't have to take my word for it. Just search the Internet for a plethora of articles. Also note that essentially it is a "voucher" system and some aspects would violate the US Constitution or at least result in a legal challenge here.

  • kathy (unverified)
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    The District has attempted open, collective, participative processes over the last (at least) eight years - I've attended many a meeting since 1998.

    It always boils down to the same thing - someone has to make the hard decisions (to piss somebody off by closing their school) and no one wants to do it. Educational Options worked and worked trying to write a policy for deciding how to close schools - and a group of parents, principals, and administrators picked it apart until it didn't exist.

    I was on one of the Eastside Task Forces a couple years back and we were specifically charged with making that decision - this time it was the principals and parent representatives from the schools they were considering closing - big surprise, we all agreed to spare each other and came back with "don't close any schools."

    There are too many schools that are less than 3/4 full - especially close in SE. Population is declining not increasing. It's sad, it's hard, but schools need to close.

    I don't know the best way to do it, but I do think the district has tried (however ineffectively) to include communities in this decision over the last few years (I've been attending public and committee meetings on the subject since 1998) and it just degrades to this - parents fighting each other to keep their own buildings open.

    People keep talking about how sudden this all is... but I was pregnant with my now 7 year old when I went to my very first community meeting to discuss closing schools. To me it feels like it's dragged on forever.

  • Lisa (unverified)
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    Richard, I'm really glad to hear that the NSA is lobbying our state legislature to find a STABLE way to PERMANENTLY fund public education in Oregon. Although given your comments about the merits of neighborhood schools vs focus options in this string - and the comments of other NSA members/supporters about same in this string - one can't blame me for not being able to tell.

    I don't really care about the Belgium educational system. I care about the U.S. educational system (particularly the state of Oregon's educational system) and the myriad ways its failed and worsened over the past decades. I care about the fact that in this country and in this state, there are actually still people who think that public education is not "their problem" - witness the brilliant suggestion by somebody in this very string: that parents with kids in school ante up an additional $1,000 - $2,000 every year to pay for it. Yeah, THAT'S a great solution right there (sarcasm very intended).

    "Equity, transparency and fairness" won't exist in PPS decision making as long as the entire system doesn't work. You can't put a bandaid on a gushing wound.

    And Kathy's right - this arterial bleed has indeed gone on seemingly forever, and all anybody ever comes up with is more bandaid solutions. The real answers don't lie in fighting each other over every tough decision PPS is forced to make, or even raging against the perfidy of Phillips et al (I truly doubt they actually WANT to invoke the wrath of parents and concerned community members with the proposed school closings).

    I'll say it again - until we all confront the fact that our entire educational system is broke, there ain't gonna be any way we'll ever be able to really fix it. Check out the latest issue of Time magazine to discover the problem is nation-wide.

  • Steve Linder (unverified)
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    Kathy, Since you admit you “don’t know the best way” to plan an Urban School District than you are probably not familiar with the studies which originally sited many of Portland's schools. A nationally recognized Urban Planner originally sited these schools, and he knows the dangers of using volunteer groups to do the work of Urban Planning professionals.

    You say the Eastside Task Force recommended to “not close any schools,” and you all agreed with the decision. What information has changed your mind?

    Despite the great work and sacrifices of past generation, PPS still ran into a classroom shortage in the 70’s. I can only imagine how much worse and costly the 70’s hasty schools expansion would have been, if not for the great population forecasting of professional urban planners.

    By not addressing the possible growth of Portland in the current closure plans, we will set ourselves up to run into classroom shortages in the future. What will Portland look like in 30, 50 or 100 years? Everything runs in cycles, and our student population will peak again, we are just not old enough a city to understand that yet.

    What would be the future costs of locating and building a school? That is not considered today.

    The urban families in Portland feel under attack. People who don’t care if Portland is a family friendly urban place, don’t understand the unique qualities of Portland Neighborhoods and its Neighborhood School System.

  • kathy (unverified)
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    I guess I didn't get the message clear before on the Eastside Task Force - the process was a farce.

  • Tired Of Debate (unverified)
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    Lisa,

    Why not ante up another $1000 or $2000 for your own children's education? I would. It's called sacrifice. That's something that people who probably don't read blogs, don't have good internet connections, and don't go to endless hours of "task force meeting" understand more than people who do. So instead of trying to squeeze more out of a system that cannot produce anymore, why just not simply give the system what it needs: money. Stop trying to take what you perceived is your entitled right to scarce resources (keeping your neighborhood school open to the detriment of those schools with a lot of parents who cannot attend these meetings because they have to work multiple jobs and/or have poor English skills) and put your money where your mouth is. Stop going to Starbucks and work some overtime and write that check PPS. For the benefit of all children.

  • kathy (unverified)
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    This is way off from the original article - and I hate to disagree with someone who appears to say that neighborhood schools shouldn't be kept open JUST because someone has to the time/energy/ability to advocate for them - but "tired of the debate" hit a nerve. I had time to go to the educational option meetings because the software company I worked for went out of business and time was the only thing I had to give to support my children's school. The Task Force meetings were at night. I don't go to Starbucks, I drink Folgers that I buy at Winco. Creative Science School has 38% of it's kids getting free and reduced price lunch-including mine.

    And that's my swan song.

  • Lisa (unverified)
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    Here's my response to Tired of Debate - and it'll be my swan song too.

    You're an idiot. I can tell simply by the stupid assumptions you make about my and other people's financial resources (or lack thereof), my and our preference(s) for coffee (for the record I prefer Stumptown to Starbucks - Starbucks always tastes too burnt, have you all noticed?) and the moronic notions you have that somehow, someway, superb public education is every family's "private" problem. I guess we should just let the next generation - who'll eventually be running this world - grow up even more ignorant than you've demonstrated YOU are.

    If you're really Tired of the Debate, go back to your blue collar job, your TeeVee, drink your crappy instant coffee, and leave the rest of us alone. Whoops, here I go - making a lot of stupid assumptions about YOU. Tsk tsk.

  • Richard Watson (unverified)
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    You're an idiot

    See, we can agree on some things! :)

  • steve Linder (unverified)
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    Since the "tired idiot" brings up the subject:
    The level of participation and sacrifice by parents and community members to benefit Portland Public Schools is amazing and should be commended. Thank you to all of you!

    I wish these private resources weren't so needed by all schools, because many schools don't get their share. Oregon's "Kicker" money should go to schools.

  • Tired of Debate (unverified)
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    Let's see:

    1) Oregon's tax system is dysfunctional 2) Oregon's method of distributing funds to schools is dysfunctional 3) PPS is short of money

    Does anyone disagree with these above statements?

    Isn't #3 the root cause of the issues with Portland Public Schools?

    So how do you fix #3?

    Get rid of or revise Measure 5? Enact a sales tax? Get rid of the kicker?

    All of these are possible solutions in of by themselves or in combination with each other.

    I proposed a method of helping PPS obtain additional funds, but bypassing the idiots in Salem who probably would redistribute the funds statewide. If you fix the mechanisms for funding schools, it will cost everyone more money. You pay either indirectly, or you pay directly, without the middleman (Salem).

    Good quality schools cost money. You're not going to do it on the cheap. Screaming for this program or that program to be preserved or this school or that school to be saved, how does that affect the bottom line? That PPS is broke.

  • L (unverified)
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    Didn't the Family Cooperative Magnet close recently?

    Which neighborhood school did Odyssey cannibalize?

    I'm surprised to read that CPPS has taken a position on the Superintendent's plan.

    What is the definition of a "neighborhood school"? Is it one that everyone can walk to? On the west side less than 25% of students are considered close enough to safely walk to their "neighborhood school". Look at the catchment area for West Sylvan, where most of the "neighborhood" children are separated from their school by an interstate highway. Or Capitol Hill, where the catchment area spans from Ross Island bridge nearly down to Lake Oswego. It takes that much geographical area to fill a school 3/4 full due to our terrain, low density, and low fecundity. Or Rieke, where children directly across the street are bussed to Hayhurst. Why wouldn't Fernwood also be considered a "neighborhood school" when the children from Hollyrood would simply walk one block more to school?

    Maybe too many of us have been watching reruns of "Leave it to Beaver", but all my schools were not within walking distance. Just as it is with my own children, 'community' was created on the bus ride to and from school and during extracurricular activities.

    Why do we blame the state legislature for our funding woes when it was the VOTERS of the state and this city that voted for Measure 5, then Measure 50? It's the VOTERS that defeat every sales', gas or sin tax attempt. It's the VOTERS that threaten law makers if they fiddle with the 'kicker'.

  • L (unverified)
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    Does a 35 percentage point jump in the number of 3rd graders meeting/exceeding benchmarks in a single year sound suspicious to anyone besides me?

  • Mack Momma (unverified)
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    The PPS Citizens Budget Review Committee, which in the past had asked for the Superintendent to bring forth a plan to consolidate an entire cluster, agreed to support the revised consolidation/reconfiguration plan. The report is very concise.

    We need to consider that in 35 years, our population has dropped 37%, while our footprint has only dropped 5%. & you don't necessary sell schools, as you don't know what might happen in the future. We can coordinate with our community partners towards community use options that are relevant locally. and devise to ensure cash flow to support the rest of our overaged, undermaintained, facilities.

    I wonder why they left off a more aggressive stance on employee benefits though. One reported draft indicated that PPS spends $15 million more than the national average on employee benefits, when judged against the Chalkboard Project's standards.

    Some have to close, but they should have started with Jefferson.

    <h2>Hollyrood parent, that doesn't mind our closure one bit. (I'm just amazed it's taken them so long.)</h2>
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