By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood star, June, 2010
The Portland School Board is expected to vote June 21 on a plan for restructuring high schools to increase graduation rates, close achievement gaps and give all schools a strong curriculum.
The board is scheduled to hear public testimony June 2 and 5 on a plan crafted by Superintendent Carole Smith and, possibly, proposals by its members. Smith’s plan would begin in fall 2011 and take effect in phases over five years. Her initial plan would retain eight community high schools with similar core programs, including foreign languages, arts, advanced class options, more counselors and support programs for students falling behind in English and math.
The schools would be Grant, Madison, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Cleveland, Franklin, Wilson and Lincoln. After five years, each school is projected to enroll about 1,280 students.
Smith proposes closing Marshall High’s three small schools, enrolling a total of about 814 students and creating a magnet for 400 to 500 district-wide students seeking a small school atmosphere, possibly paired with a David Douglas district program.
She would shift Benson Polytechnic High School’s vocational programs to half-day courses for 400 juniors and 400 seniors who would take academic courses in neighborhood schools.
Supporters of Marshall and Benson, where enrollment has dropped from about 1,452 in 2005 to 1,100 in 2009, have packed meetings to oppose Smith’s proposal.
Benson’s principal, Steve Olczak, said it is financially difficult to maintain the school’s high-quality technical and academic courses as enrollment drops. If he hires a new Spanish teacher, he said, he must decide which vocational course to cut.
“We’re not able to build (programs),” he said. “We’re just hanging on.”
Smith said keeping only technical programs at Benson enables the school to build on its core mission while reducing the need and expense for vocational courses at the community schools.
However, in a May 15 work session at which the board mulled ideas for eight or seven schools to fit expected funding reductions, board member Martin Gonzales suggested moving Benson’s four-year programs to the Jefferson campus. Smith has recommended a “middle college” program of joint high school-Portland Community College courses at Jefferson. The board asked staff to get community response to Gonzales’ idea.
During last year’s public planning meetings, parents urged district officials to halt transfers that have left some schools with declining enrollments and few electives while others, including Grant High, attract students with a wide array of courses.
Madison, with a 2009 enrollment of 860, has lost students to schools with more electives, said Kim Nickens, president of Madison’s Parent Teacher Organization. She applauded Smith for curtailing transfers, but she fears the proposed attendance boundaries won’t meet a goal for socio-economic and ethnic diversity in the district.
Nickens and Maggie Brister Mashia, a Jefferson parent, each recommended that the district launch a marketing program to tell families about the beefed-up core program and advanced classes that Smith recommends for each community high school.
“It will put people back to investing in our communities,” Nickens said. “But that won’t happen if parents don’t believe their kids will be safe and get a good education at every school.”
Mashia and Scott Overton, president of Grant’s Parent Teacher Association, questioned whether the district can support eight community schools.
If Smith’s plan is modified, Overton said, “It is imperative that they retain an equal quality of curriculum for all students. It will be hard to get kids back into schools they have left if they don’t believe they will get a good education.”
For more information:
PPS High School Hotline: (503) 916-2801
Web site: pps.k12.or.us
School Board hearings:
June 2, 5-8 p.m. in Vestal School auditorium, 161 N.E. 82nd Ave.
June 5, 1-3 p.m. in Franklin High School auditorium, 5405 S.E. Woodward St.