Will the assault on Portland's traditional neighborhood schools never end?
The new Emerald Charter School offers yet another "vision" of an elementary school that will truly engage students. The idea began, says Emerald's website, "...with the notion of increasing student learning and achievement at our neighborhood schools." That begs the question:
Why did Emerald School organizers decide to abandon neighborhood schools?
None of the four driving principles, or "core values", of the new school are incompatible with the mission of local elementary schools. Consider:
- Community Building --That's what neighborhood schools do. They provide a sense of community.
- Respect and Nurture --"We aim to ... create an environment in which respect is the foundation of every interaction and experience in our school." I suspect you can find such language in every school's mission statement.
- Excellence --"We commit ourselves to success through continual improvement. We will provide the resources... necessary for every student to achieve measurable success and reach their highest individual potential." The implication is that only charter schools seek "continual improvement."
- Diversity --"Diversity strengthens our community; we must value and appreciate what each of us bring... ." It's unlikely that a charter school can match the diversity found in any of the elementary schools in North/Northeast Portland.
In some respects the district has only itself to blame for the charter school onslaught in North and Northeast Portland by failing to provide programs for low income schools attractive to concerned parents. Then too, the heavy hand of top-down curricular mandates, and the incessant demands of testing, whether from No Child Left Behind or from the state, stifle the initiative and creativity of building educators to foster the best possible learning environments for neighborhood school students.
But beyond that, Portland is simply not immune to the charter school mania sweeping the nation. As long as charter school laws remain on the books, parents will continue to seek out special niches for their children in the urban educational landscape.
Only local leadership that truly values neighborhood public schools can stop the onslaught.