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February 22, 2008

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Here's what current school board member Ruth Adkins wrote to Scott Learn at the Oregonian on August 9, 2006:

Dear Scott,

Hi, hope you are doing well. Thanks very much for your article today on the middle vs. elementary school testing issue. I have been in a summer relaxation stupor, but this article got me right back into outrage mode!

So...let me get this straight. Last year the entire district was thrown into total upheaval...all because the superintendent and her minions told us (over and over and over again) that the middle schools are "failing" and a "model that doesn't work"....and now it turns out to be wrong and a misinterpretation of the data?

You were very polite not to point this disparity out in the article...I think it is worth pointing out, and I hope the Oregonian will be following up on this issue as well as the progress of the various reconfigurations now in process.

I, for one, am disgusted that the district either didn't do its homework on the relative/actual difficulty levels of the tests, or worse yet, misled the public with the straw man of the "failure" of middle schools in order to go about a slash-and-burn reconfiguration of its own devising.

Vintage Ruth --gentle sarcasm critical of the abominable Portland press coverage of local educational issues. Thanks for sharing this.

I meant to include a mention of data that shows middle schools test scores aren't really all that bad. But the post was a little lengthy (or windy) as it was.

Thank you, Terry! You did a terrific job illustrating how K-8s and middle schools can work. Inadequate funding creates inequity no matter which model is in use.

I just took a look at Jackson Middle School's brochure, which you can access on their website: http://www.jackson.pps.k12.or.us/

I was pleased to see such wonderful offerings: Core curriculum includes Accelerated Math, Algebra 1, 2 and Geometry. Advanced math classes are also available through Wilson High School. Band, Choir,Art, Drama, Film, Technology, Shop, Photography and Spanish. Looks like Mandarin is forthcoming. There are also numerous opportunities to travel abroad. They also have a SUN school with even more after-school enrichment.

I am very disheartened to see the K-8 schools in NE Portland struggling to offer even Algebra 1. You can forget about Geometry. Drama? Film? Shop? Band? Most K-8s don't have any of these in house.

With all the overcrowding in many of the K-8s, there ISN'T SPACE or MONEY to provide most of these things. It is obvious that the K-8 situation we have is inferior to the middle school model it replaced.

I went to one of the last PPS K-8s years ago. Though it was considered one of the better schools in town, the offerings were limited compared to my friends that attended middle schools in other parts of town. And there were the same middle school shenanigans (sex, drugs, etc.)in the K-8 as in the middle schools.

Marian, thank you for your comments. The middle schools in the SE and N Portland didn't have the things Jackson has either. It is more expensive to put these things in K-8's because you have to add teachers. In the middle schools you can add all these extras and not add any teachers, just some equipment. This is the great secret which PPS fails to reveal. Who would have thought that adding these electives in lower economic middle schools wasn't a matter of money but will?

Ruth, damnit, you NEED to get back into outrage mode. Your apparent buddy David Wynde was one of the chief enablers of this disaster of a poorly planned, ill-considered reconfiguration. In the process, he (and Bobbi Regan) was rude and obnoxious to the wiser voices of parents counseling the district to go slowly and do more planning. The gang of four (Wynde, Regan, Morgan and Sargent), in cahoots with Phillips, did much damage to PPS and tore at the fabric of our community. I voted you in to rock this boat!!! Will you please start rocking?? Please?

Kudos to current board member Ruth Adkins who questioned both the rationale and lack of adequate planning and support for the K-8 conversions by the former superintendent and school board.

Kudos to Ruth Adkins who publicly and correctly articulated at that time that K-8 conversions would cause chaos if not properly executed and supported.

Kudos to Ruth Adkins for previously and publicly attempting to hold the district accountable to provide the public “honest” rationale for K-8 conversions, and who articulated that these conversions were being unfairly implemented district-wide.

She “got it” then and she “gets it” now.

Go Ruth; you have public support!!!!!

Check this out,

No one doubts that Ruth got it then and gets it now. What is open to question, however, is whether Ruth is going to have the courage of her convictions to speak the bold truths that need to be spoken and take the risk of challenging the status quo. I have not written Ruth off, nor can I say that I am satisfied with what I have seen from Ruth in her tenure on the Board so far. What is the saying? You can't bake a cake without breaking some eggs? The jury is still out on whether Ruth is living up to her promise.

Trueblue,

I suggest you help us find a candidate to run against Trudy next year. Also someone to run for Sonja's seat (she will not run again); I do not want the only choices to be those who are anointed by SFC, CPPS, PSF, and others of that ilk. As we have seen, they are the problem, not the solution.

Zarwen, it sounds like you've started already. Who have you got in mind? Sonja Henning will be tough to replace as she has been a strong and unwavering voice for equity. Be very careful of PTA/Site Council types. Generally, I find that they are get along-go along types who lack the gumption to challenge PPS, or they are single issue (MY school). That seems to be true in Hennning's district.

Terry, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. But I do wonder how a moratorium on K-8 conversion would work. This poorly planned conversion is underway so we can't just stand still. We either have to complete Phillips' "vision" or we need to reverse or otherwise change course. For example, folks could urge the district to reopen Rose City, or PPS could provide funds to do it right at Gregory. What we can't afford to do is continue muddling along the way we are now. Based on the testimony given at the K-8 meeting last week, this is true across all parts of the district that were K-8'ified.

Question: If K-8 is so great, as Phillips claimed, then why was the West Side left with middle schools intact? Why were k-8's good for everyone but the richest and most powerful among us? Is something wrong with this picture?

Terry: Like trueblue I also wonder what students are getting that is better at the converting K-8s than what they would have received from their former middle schools. This morning I picked up a brochure from Beaumont Middle School. While it may not be as fancy as Jackson, the array of offerings are impressive: high school level French and Spanish, high school Algebra which is taken by 50% of 8th graders, an award winning music program, core classes of 12-15, drama, photography, art, film critique, three science labs, etc. Furthermore, the school still manages to maintain its racial and economic diversity even with one remaining feeder. I can't help but wonder if similar things were offered at the middle schools that no longer exist and whether such options can ever be matched by K-8 schools? I also wonder why the middle school option no longer exists at all in the Madison and Jefferson clusters? Does this mean that we have decided that certain classes will not be offered in certain parts of the city? At least not under one roof? In short, I have a lot of questions as to whether this was really an improvement as implemented. And if it is not an improvement, what is the rationale?

And if it is not an improvement, what is the rationale?

This is the key question. I'm waiting to hear the answer from Superintendent Smith's office.

If it's about cutting curriculum to save money, we better make sure things are cut across the board, and not just in poor and working class neighborhoods as they have been so far.

I don't know if "moratorium" on K-8 conversion is the right terminology. Perhaps I should have suggested a rethinking of the entire process.

And I'm certainly not suggesting that students are better served by the emerging K-8's.

However, it's too simplistic to suggest that more is better. I believe that all students should have exposure to music, foreign languages, and advanced math classes where appropriate. Beyond that, I don't know.

The point of my post, however, is that K-8's, properly funded, can be better models for providing the close relationships, small learning communities, and teacher collaboration that are the hallmarks of school reform.

But as I wrote, I'm conflicted. I have fond memories of my time as a middle school teacher.

After all of the appropriate resources are taken to the K-8's then even more students will have access to those resources we would have been far ahead had we kept all our schools open by having them k-8 and developed the resources neccessary to provide all of the wonder options in our neighborhoods rather than to have to ship your kid across the district to get those options that is one of the reasons for creating middle schools was to consolidate and terminate and sell off the assets and destroy the viability of public education
I regret not having a viable k-8 option here on the west side and think that having all of these enhancments for west side middle schools shows a disregard for east siders
Now add to that the fact that gangs are targeting the middle schools for recruitment and drug distribution k-8's provide more eyes and ears at school through parent participation where as middle schools because of there long travel times reduce the opertunities for parental envolvement and actively discourage it.
there is a higher rate of bullying and violence at middle schools than for k-8's or high schools
there are 3 private middle schools in oregon
2 are in PPS as charter schools so why do parents take there kids out of pubic education and put them in k-8's
the longer you have parental involvement in your public schools the more likely you can have public funding because they will be part of the process and willing to vote for improvements
so we have pourly served our k-5's by taking out the resources neccessary for the 6-8's think about the exposure of seeing the upper classes go to the chem/bio lab the accelerated math the music the tech the art the language the pe all things that are need through out the learning cyle

I didn't think my rhetorical question would need answering, but the east-west side split on k-8'ification is actually pretty easy to explain.  Despite her sharp elbows, Phillips was above all else a political player.  She lined up the power players on her side and steamrolled more vulnerable parent and student groups.  She didn't k-8 the wealthy west side because she knew there wasn't a chance in the world they would let her do it.  Like most everyone else, they like their middle schools.  She got a break on the east side because Laurelhurst and Irvington championed the idea due to special circumstances in their existing configuration.  Pretty much everyone else on the east side, and other k-8'ified parts of the city, had it rammed down their throats.  We're still choking on it. 

I should add that one powerful Northeast neighborhood--Alameda--was able to dodge the k-8 reconfiguration altogether. Phillips' mode of operation was simple: court the powerful and crush the rest--all for the sake of . . . why Phillips' career of course. Now why is it that we're following through on a k-8, big school (400-600) "mandate" that is only hurting our kids and our schools?

Neisha,

You asked whether "similar things were offered at the middle schools that no longer exist"--those schools made Beaumont look "fancy" by comparison, but even the very poor middle school where I worked in the mid-'90's was able to offer Spanish, choir, band, health, PE, shop, art, computer tech., media specialist (librarian), and a science lab.

All that was only 12 years ago, but now it seems like some unimaginable luxury 12 centuries ago in another country!

When the draconian cuts happened in 1996, the principal cut everything except shop, PE and health. But the shop teacher retired a year later, so it didn't last long. You might be interested to know that there had been a choir exchange program with Beaumont too, which was lost at that time along with the rest.

And in case anyone out there doubts Trueblue's assessment of Vicki Phillips' tenure: DON'T.

Thanks, Zarwen! As always, you are a wealth of information, history and analysis. And I don't mean to be dense, my child was five and in pre-K when this was going down and I was mostly focused on the fact that schools were being reconfigured and closed in neighborhoods that seemed to me to be chock full of pre-schoolers.

I like what Terry is saying about K-8 schools, but that doesn't seems to be what's happening. But, we do have a new superintendent, so I'm hoping things will get better? Today's budget announcement seemed to be a step in the right direction.

Sonja Henning, a strong and unwavering voice for equity? Am I missing something?

Tell us more Steve B. Compared to Wynde, Sargent, Regan and (formerly) Morgan, you think Sonja's a problem? You've got to be kidding. She hung tough when it counted. Yeah, I'll defend Sonja.

"can't help but wonder if similar things were offered at the middle schools that no longer exist and whether such options can ever be matched by K-8 schools?" I guess we can't hope for much...I can only wonder how these K-8's are going to manage adding any electives, when no FTE is forthcoming...Next year we at Astor are facing an actual cut in FTE according to my calculations...We will add 8th grade...but will only have about 1/2 ADDITIONAL FTE...which equals maybe 1/2 of a PE teacher...This will end up with a cut in the full time P.E. teacher we had this year (first time in years!) and the 1/2 time art teacher funded by priority funds....where are our funds for programs? Do we have to go begging year after year? Looks like we do. If they can't do it right, don't do it at all is my suggestion. And nice to think about Rose City being reversed. Good idea. Unfortunately, my neighborhood school...Kenton,...where all the new hipster families with toddlers are locating...has been leased out for the next 20 years. Looks like some things can't be undone..So now what?

Trueblue, I guess I have a tendancy to judge public officials by what they bring to the table. What has she done is my question? What problems has she addressed? What has she tried to do to change things?
I see the role of a board member as more than just someone who reacts to things but also initiates things.
And right now in Portland the question is what has she initiated for lower economic neighborhood schools. Granted she seems more reasonable and measured and fair than the ones you listed. Gotta give her credit there. But where has she broke ranks to help poor kids? To try to lead, to try to push the administration to change in the way business is done, and to follow through on these things? Maybe I am wrong, but I haven't seen it.

You are probably right Steve. I guess that the Board members I listed, particularly Wynde and Regan, have been so actively BAD that my standards have been lowered. Just "doing no harm" elevates Henning above those folks.

Marcia,

I'd like to see some kind of movement to reopen Rose City. Closure of that school was the ultimate travesty (and its not my school). Some of Phillips' cram down changes can't be reversed. The harm is already done. However, it is my understanding that RCP is sitting empty. REOPEN RCP! It would do us a world of good to see that PPS can confess and correct its worst mistakes.

Steve B -- One thing I appreciated about Sonja Henning was that she was the only person on the board at that time who seemed to recognize immediately that K-8 schools would be less racially diverse than the middle schools that they replaced. Once she said pointed this out, everyone else was like, oh yeah, I guess that's true. But, she got it right away.

Personally, as a brown person with a brown kid and a neighborhood elementary school that is not very diverse, I know that a diverse middle school was important to my family. Attending a large diverse high school in Oak Park, IL (after a lack of diversity in elementary and middle school) was practically a life-saving experience for me.

Reopening Rose City would be a wonderful
thing for this city! Its closure has created hardships for its neighboring schools: Overcrowding at Fernwood/Hollyrood, Alameda, Laurelhurst (who can't fit the upcoming 7th/8th graders), Rigler and Scott (who also can't fit in next year's 8th grade, forcing them into Madison). So much for K-8s reducing transitions for our kids!

Without RCP, the heart of our city is left with a 2 mile radius with no public school. The numbers of the surrounding schools speak for themselves--RCP should not have been on the chopping block.

But now that it's closed, it is no coincidence that it will be used as a swing school for Laurelhurst and Fernwood if the bond passes and they get new buildings.

Frankly, I'm not impressed with Wynde, Sargent, and Regan. They applauded this train wreck as it was happening. I'd love to see them redeem themselves with some honesty and try to correct the damage they participated in creating by either reopening schools (Clarendon?) and giving ALL schools equal programming.

Well, you know the Superintendent's proposed budget caps kindergarten classes at 25, which I strongly support. I'll be interested to see where space is found for extra sections of kindergarten. I hope it doesn't mean that we just have really big first grade classes.

Trueblue, thank you. A good comment on S. Henning. But I would have to ask what she did to stop the conversions or what guidelines did she propose to make sure the diversity stayed pretty even or that the anticipated problems were sure to be addressed. Or what investigation did she do into the actual expense of creating electives etc. in K-8's v. middle schools. Or what about addressing publically and stridently the idea that the west side was keeping its K-8's. That is the type of thing I am looking for from my school board. She doesn't get that as far as I can see.

Steve B -- I think that was me (comment re Henning being first to notice resegregation issue).

Neisha

Marian, you said:

"But now that it's [RCP is] closed, it is no coincidence that it will be used as a swing school for Laurelhurst and Fernwood if the bond passes and they get new buildings."

I think I know what you mean by "swing school" but I'm not sure. Can you explain?

Thanks

Trueblue: Here's a link to an article from the Portland Tribune a few weeks back that talks about the "swing school" proposal in some detail:

http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=120095266392716600

Basically, RCP, Kellogg, Clarendon, and Smith are being proposed as swing schools that will hold students while their home schools are being remodeled or rebuilt. That's supposedly why those buildings remain empty.

Thanks, Neisha, that is exactly to what I was referring when I mentioned "swing schools."

Thank you Neisha for correcting me. I think all the people on the board are probably pretty nice people. I know Dan Ryan, Dilafruz, and Ruth and they seem very nice. As people I don't doubt the others are decent people -- certainly not the ogres we sometimes seem to make them to be. I just have a distinctly different philosophy about how you conduct yourself on a board of which you asked to be a part. Two things need to take place which do not. 1) Board members need to bring forth ideas, from themselves or their constituents, or professionals which help improve the eduation in this system which is so clearly struggling (They are a legislative body -- that is what legislative bodies do. That is why they call their resolutions "policy".) 2) They need to address problems in all parts of the city, not just the parts where their supporters' schools are located. (SFC and PSF schools). This means treating the education of every child in the district as equally important.

Right now they do a poor job of both.

Steve,

I will concede the possibility that Wynde and Regan are not ogres. It is conceivable that they have merely had several bad years in which they have treated a huge slice of stakeholders (parents and students) as if they are superfluous to PPS decision-making. Then again, nah . . . At least as board directors, they have been ogres.

Trueblue, as usual I can't get left of you. I guess it is how we define ogre. Probably nice to their kids and family. Upstanding citizens, decent neighbors. I guess what I am saying is a lot of their errors are made out of ignorance and arrogance, not malice.

For instance, I have been trying to get Stand for Children to listen to me about the teacher transfer process. The solutions they are bringing forth merely fix things for their schools (I love that) and leave the lower economic schools in the same bad place they are in now -- often the stronger teachers move from the poorer neighborhoods to the wealthier and SFC's plan does nothing to offset this. So, is it out of arrogance or indifference or ignorance or malice that they refuse to talk to me and actually consider a plan which would also help schools they are not interested in helping. (You have to discount the idea that I am a jerk in order to participate in this exercise.)

So, is it:

a) arrogance
b) indifference
c) ignorance
d) malice
or
e) all of the above

What difference does any of that make? The result is the same.

Did anyone listen to This American Life on NPR this morning? One of the stories was about the land grab for public school properties in Washington, DC. DC is going through a similar school closure process that we went through last year. Some of the interviewees said that the school district would allow school properties and programs to deteriorate and then, once closed, sell off to developers. Sound familiar?

I have heard it is a national epidemic. What is our country coming to?

Steve,

I don't think it started out as malice (nastiness might be a better word). That came in reaction to the unwillingness of excluded groups to go quietly into that good night. When parents insisted on having their voices heard, efforts to limit and exclude those contributions took on a nasty tone, particularly on the parts of board members Regan and Wynde, Super Phillips and staff members Mincberg and Carlin-Ames. They treated parents as adversaries rather than stakeholders with a valuable contribution to make. While things have improved somewhat under Smith, I think the new Super has missed (or is missing) a golden opportunity to declare that PPS will operate in a more open and transparent manner that will include all stakeholders in decision-making processes. No more shock and awe campaigns unfurling well-concealed "plans."

Marian, my husband has a friend who is vice principal of a Philadephia school that's located in a downtown office building because the former school buildings have all been sold or leased. We went to visit her a few years back and my son, who was around 4 at the time said, "this isn't a school, this is a work place."

Trueblue, don't bother talking to SFC. They are so out of the picture. and Marian, et al, I hope everyone listened to This American Life tonight. Ira Glass looked at how public properties such as schools, libraries...community colleges... in cities such as Washington D.C. etc. are being sold off and turned into lofts, condos etc. "Benign neglect" was what one person called the treatment of public facilities. An excellent show! Listen to it. And it was preceded by a wonderful account of the New York city Rubber Rooms....(bascially the teacher dention run by the NYC public schools...) This year the hallway in my North Portland school had a gaping, seeping hole in the ceiling. Long story short...for months I tried to get someone to fix it...Obviously it was not important...I was told it was fixed at one point, and I replied that was funny since at that very moment I was watching water pour out of it into a trash can. It was to the point of being ridiculous when a work crew came out during a school day with kids present and sprayed KILLZ or some such toxic substance over the creeping water stains, then painted over the tiles.....next day there was still water pouring out....But I guess they considered it fixed...I figured they were going to let it get to the point of no return then just close our school...Finally I got parents involved...And a parent's letter on attorney's letterhead was sent to everyone from the State Supt. of Schools on down (with pictures). There was a work crew out the next day. When it starts to rain, we'll see if it really got fixed this time.

Sorry...the above should have read Neisha et al...As I read thru the posts, I realized Marian and I probably listened to the same This American Life. Worth listening to, if you can get it to download.

Please check out the information by jake Vigdor and his associates at Duke University. There is also other research from an economical standpoint with some factors which you should examine. When middle school came, with it came a decline of strong academics-check out how you do compared across internationally---and with it more alternative schools and greater number of students attending these including a higher dropout rate across the USA. It is common today to line up 100 students and maybe 70 will graduate. Best of luck with your quest(s) for they appear to be many.

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i would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

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