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Landmark high school reforms passes, closing Marshall, changing Jefferson

In a 4-3 decision last night, the Portland Public School board voted to close the three academies at the Marshall High School campus, a group of Gates Foundation-funded experimental small schools, at the end of the 2010-11 school year. The school had been in decline before the switch to academies, and in recent years, "falling enrollment and rising operating costs" -- along with parents who were generally desperate to get their children in stronger "community schools," as the PPS buzzword goes -- led to the near-inevitable decision. The students in those clusters will go to Cleveland, Franklin and Madison; the teachers will be distributed; the building will be closed.

Another decision, to change Jefferson into a "powerful focus school that offers students the opportunity to earn college credits even as they complete high school," is equally expected but far less understood (and voted for with a strong 6-1 margin). Northeast neighborhood parents, left with two options, Grant and a long-declining Jefferson, often chose Grant; the privileged students went to Lincoln; Jefferson was in dire need of a return to its relatively strong identity in the 80s and 90s as a performing arts school. 

Benson was already "saved," and Grant, despite early fears by parents and community members, was never really in danger (I submit that the idea was grandstanding by Carole Smith meant to soften the blow of her eventual decision; but that's entirely an unfounded conspiracy theory :). In light of our initial discussion when the first plan was released, what do you think? Is this the best option to fix an awkward-if-not-totally-broken school system? Could equity result if everything goes according to plan? How will your family be affected?

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I think the board is heading in the right direction making Jefferson a focus-magnet school. Unfortunately, I do not think people will be sold on the "college credit" so come to this school approach. I know if I had the choice high schools, I would NOT choose Jefferson and be the guinea pig for the HS redesign. I suppose I am a bit conservative, and when it come to my child's education, I am always going to pick the established education. I would take a pass the college credits..they can earn them in college!

I like the college credit idea. This might appeal to those students who feel high school classes are not meaningful or are a waste of time. Plus with the school being directly across the street from PCC, hopefully there can be some collaboration between the two. Jefferson is our neighborhood school but our oldest won't be entering high school for about ten more years. I am hopeful that Jefferson will be a different school by then. Just from looking at the school's statistics, I would be cautious about sending her there now.

I think the plan outlined for Jefferson is exciting and something that PPS sorely needs. But based how other Jeff programs have floundered (the 9-12 program at Young Woman's Academy, for example) I have no confidence that the district can support it or see it through, or that the greater PPS community will support it. Although the program as described thus far sounds great in theory, and I think would be great for my child (if it flies) I won't be seeking a transfer into Jeff for my daughter when she starts her Freshman year next year.

Something else that really disappoints me about this incarnation of the PPS HS Redesign--looks like transfers will still be allowed into and out of community comprehensive schools, although I understand the district says that the numbers of those transfers available will be limited. Isn't that the case now? Isn't that exactly what has bled Madison, Marshall, Roosevelt and Jefferson of students, staffing and funding?

My daughter has not attended our neighborhood schools during her PPS career. While that was the best thing for her, and our family, I understand why that was not the best thing for our neighborhoood schools, or for the district as a whole. I now support the elimination of transfers, at least at the HS level, because we need to do everything we can to eliminate the horrific disparities that currently exist, esp. at the HS level. But now I'm left with a tough decision--try to get my child into a better-performing high school by playing the transfer lottery, or throwing my support behind my underperforming neighborhood high school?

Speaking as someone who was transferred here with her family for a job let me say that all of these old grudges, past rivalries, constructed east/west dichotomies, etc while potent to natives are not very interesting or influential to most newcomers. We don't have any of the baggage around these things and we're not obliged to take on your perspectives or biases. I'm not claiming that's all good but there you have it. From the outside this town sometimes looks like it's ready to implode under the weight of it's unresolved history and so perhaps new people can bring new perspectives and new energy to this wonderful place and provide some much needed perspective.

We are in the early years at a Jefferson Cluster school that has a tremendous amount of energy going into it. (Yay, Ockley Green! Come check us out!) Parents in this neighborhood are indeed taking chances on the neighborhood schools and it is fantastic. This school is not the same school it was last year and it's not nearly what it will be next year, and that is why I feel so committed to it. So many of our families, and neighboring school families, are committed to making this cluster work. A lot of us actually have a fair amount of hope because we see it in action.

I so desperately hope that when mine reach high school, either the program at Jeff has taken off and is a good fit for them or the alternative, likely Roosevelt, continues in the direction it is headed. Have you seen the amazing progress there? If you step into some of these neighborhood schools (and I hope many, many of you do), you will see what I'm talking about. I imagine it's more challenging to take a chance at the high school level than it was for kindergarten, but if you are even thinking about it, know that we're right behind you to join you.

I think the decision to close a school needed to happen. I'm sorry it had to happen to actual people, but in the long run I think it will be the right decision.

And, Tired Mom....amen. It would be nice if we could just start where we are today.

Also, check out the Running Start program in Vancouver. http://www.clark.edu/academics/programs/running_start/RS_brochure.pdf

I know several teens in Vancouver that take this option and they love it. Essentially, they can graduate from high school with an AA degree if they work it right.

We are being told, the fewer schools, the better for the children as the schools will be able to offer more and better classes. It sounds like a solid argument to me. I am quite surprised with the opposition to closing small schools (especially if they have poor results). Don't all parents want good schools for their children? What is the outcry about keeping "neighborhood" schools? If school A closes, school B become a neighborhood school for a particular address. Sometimes I think it is the teachers' unions opposing the redesign - in fear of loosing jobs. Of course, I understand nobody wants their children to be guinea pigs but if the school being closed has poor results than it can only get better.

The part I don't get is that, as I understand it, the transfer option is not going away. I thought this whole plan was based on ending transfers.

Also, this isn't right:
"Northeast neighborhood parents, left with two options, Grant and a long-declining Jefferson, often chose Grant"

Jefferson area students had to apply to transfer into other high schools and couldn't just opt into Grant. That will be different now, as apparently everyone zoned for Jeff will also be zoned for another school, Grant or Roosevelt.

Daisy, I'm confused by your statement, "everyone zoned for Jeff will also be zoned for another school, Grant or Roosevelt". But Jeff isn't closing...why would they be zoned for two high schools? I think I missed something.

Jefferson will essentially become a magnet school, but with all kids within the Jefferson boundary being guaranteed a place there--if they want it. Kids within other HS boundaries will have to go through the transfer/lottery process if they wish to attend Jeff.

For those kids within the Jeff boundary who choose not to go there, depending on where they live, they will be assigned to either Grant, Madison or Roosevelt.

AJ, I agree that all parents want good schools for THEIR children. The problem is that not all parents seem to care whether ALL children within the district have equal access to a quality education.

Vanessa, Madison Cluster Parent has it right: I suspect this "dual citizenship" (as the superintendent calls it) is meant to placate Jeff area parents who are worried about sending their kids to Jeff.

I participated in the Washington Running Start program. I graduated high school with about 76 college credits. It was a good experience. I do feel like I missed out on certain aspects of the high school experience but the entire education system cannot be overhauled so I think it is a great way to add access to a better education.

The families affected by this closure are inconsolable and have not given up the fight. Marshall has more than Jefferson. And I think it's safe to say that many have disheartened at the lack of support from groups like Close the Gap or their school board member. The transfer option has basically starved out "less desirable" schools and then PPS pulls the plug.

Clearly most urbanmamas (not many mamas of teens around here) are not affected by the closure of the only outer SE high school and subsequent mandatory bussing of students from the neighborhood to THREE different schools.

I attended a coupla meeting with the Marshall families and PPS. I remember a father saying something like "Why is my child not worth the education that is available at other schools? Here in Lents?"

If you could walk down those halls and see how much those kids love that school, your heart would break.

In Portland Public Schools, it seems like it's all about "sucks to be you. . ." The academies have made AYP. But they didn't have politically connected allies who could hold press conferences.

The kids learned a a very sad lesson it this debacle. Here are the kids....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdVDfoTa0cg

The Willy Week posted School Board Member Davis Wynde's complete comments about the inequity inherent in this decisionmaking process.

http://blogs.wweek.com/news/2010/10/15/read-the-transcript-school-board-member-david-wyndes-no-vote-explained/

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