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October 08, 2007


Ruth, as you know, I've defended you against the headhunters on this blog re. your positions on the Blazers' ads in our gyms and the expansion of a magnet program into a building previously occupied by a neighborhood school. I disagreed with these positions, but defended you on the grounds that your opposition to them would be merely symbolic and against your interest of building political goodwill on the board.

In other words, you needn't remind me about the folly of one person trying to to "swoop in and enact changes."

But open transfer enrollment is the single most important issue affecting neighborhood schools in PPS. Maybe I'm naive to think so, but I thought this was your signature issue.

While I can appreciate an incremental approach, I would expect stronger statements about this policy, especially given that nobody seems to be able to cite a rationale for its existence.

Ruth says, "there is no discussion or planning re: specific schools at this point."

They why was Cathy Mincberg and a team of representatives from PPS, PCC and an architecture firm at a conference in Washington DC September 23-25 giving a presentation about a new building design for Jefferson High School?

The conference document says:

"Jefferson High itself presents a significant opportunity in an environment of urban revitalization. Long under the cloud of missed opportunities and failures, there exists an atmosphere of hope and expectation surrounding the Jefferson campus. The "Design Team" referenced above produced a plan to divide the high school into four separate academies, provivding a focused curriculum to improve academic performance...

"Built in 1909, and situated on 12 acres, the four story building houses the three academies, but they are not localized in a portion of the building. A sense of identity of each of the academies is lacking...

"Note again that PCC is just across the street, in modern accessible buildings. But "just across the street" means, today, crossing an entire football field length to get to the street. Built on Killingsworth, there is the potential to skybridge from a new Jefferson High building to the PCC campus buildings, making PCC more accessible to Jefferson academy students, and Jefferson more accessible to the community for evening classes and other resources within a new school...

"The potential exists for rebuilding the Humboldt Elementary School (a building with serious deficiences, located just a block away) on the same [Jefferson/PCC] campus. This would provide the opportunity to redevelop the existing elementary school site with additional housing and/or mixed use...

"Portland Public Schools is especially interested in design concepts that acknowledge the community development initiatives (and resources) in the Jefferson High School/Killingsworth Street area, the opportunity presented by the location of a vibrant and already-connected Community College, and the initiation of new academies of learning and strong leadership within Jefferson High to create higher levels of academic performance, and to revitalize and build long-lasting community support of the Jefferson campus."

So, apparently there IS very specific planning going on for the Jefferson High School building (and the Humboldt School land), and it includes setting in stone the four narrowly focused high school academies by constructing a divided building designed specifically for them and continuing to require Jefferson kids to take classes at the community college if they want access to the type of courses offered at other PPS high schools. Long-time Jefferson community members have been saying for ages that the district has been neglecting Jefferson because PCC wants that property. It looks like they were right.

The whole design team process was a front for the superintendent's predetermined four-academy, single gender, 6-12 grade, PPS/PCC partnership plan for the school. Now it is clear that PPS already has a plan for the Jefferson building, so why in the world should Jefferson parents and community members spend any time giving input into the "Reshaping Schools" "process"?

This document indicates an intent by PPS to architecturally entrench the "academies" concept at Jefferson. In other words, let's take our mistakes and literally set them in stone.

The number one reason my family has decided to move to Beaverton is that every neighborhood high school there is a comprehensive, integrated school. In Portland, the four high schools in poor and working class neighborhoods are split into academies, and the five high schools in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods are comprehensive.

So my children's "choice" is to take limited educational opportunities in their neighborhood or play the lottery and take a city bus across town.

I can't get over how the fundamental unfairness of this is lost on every single school board member.

G.P., do you have a link for that information so we can read more about it?

Ruth: I normally agree with what you advocate for, but your position on the transfer policy is so way off, it's laughable.

Of course you can't force families to go to their neighborhood schools as long as they are inequitable in terms of educational opportunities.

However, the answer is not trying to falsely market a "mess"; the answer is making sure all the neighborhood schools ARE equitable in terms of educational opportunities. THEN, and only then, you stop neighborhood-school to neighborhood-school transfers. And the time to make all our neighborhood schools equitable is NOW!!

You don't want upheaval, huh? What about all the f***ing upheaval the families of Jefferson, Roosevelt, Marshall and Madison have had to go through FOR YEARS because of this immoral transfer policy, skimming off up to 3/4 of their top neighborhood children?

We've had equitable neighborhood schools with students attending their own neighborhood school for the vast majority of years PPS has existed. Now to get it back would cause upheaval? Are you kidding? What ridiculous logic! Just do it! PPS is making this much too difficult. Look at Beaverton; just do it! You might be surprised how many more families you would retain city-wide if you had strong, equitable schools in EVERY neighborhood.

Ruth: shame on you for turning your back on the children that are being denied the same educational experiences as others. Shame on you for suggesting some ridiculous false marketing plan that WILL NOT WORK instead of DEMANDING equitable educational opportunities for EVERY student IN THEIR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD!!!!

Isn't that the very issue you ran on - having equitable, outstanding schools in EVERY neighborhood? Didn't you say you were committed to addressing the issues cited in the Flynn/Blackmer audit - on of which was that the transfer policy is at odds with strong neighborhood schools?

While I appreciate you chiming in and communicating more than any other board member, I believe you are WAY OFF BASE on this one - and I am beyond disappointed that this kind of unworkable proposal would come from you.

In addition, it sounds like you have already made up your mind about the transfer policy before the "public" process has even begun. What happened to your absolute disagreement with that kind of process?

I supported you but now I am disgusted!

Craig, I don't have a link to the conference info about the redevelopment of Jefferson with PCC. But if you send me an email ([email protected]) with your mailing address I could send you a hardcopy of the conference agenda and the Jefferson Project Summary.

Or you could request a copy from PPS since Cathy Mincberg, Cynthia Harris, John Wilhelmi and others were presenters in the conference. Or from PCC since Cascade Campus president Algie Gatewood was a presenter. Or from the project architect, John Weekes, AIA, Principal, Dull Olson Weekes Architects.

Or contact the conference organizers:

American Architectural Foundation's Great Schools by Design
National School Design Institute
Washington, DC
September 23-25, 2007
The agenda lists Nancy Zivitz Sussman as the American Architectural Foundation's program director with a phone number (301) 461-1647.

It sounds like Ruth is attempting to re-engage with school activists on this website because she realized it would sure be nice to have some of the grassroots folks at the "Reshaping Schools" meetings pressuring other board members to remove the 400-600 mandate for schools.

Sorry Ruth, for me it's WAY too little, way too late. Going along with the free-marketeer power brokers does have its costs.

Not to pile on, but another thought occurred to me. Ruth wants to take an incremental approach. But it doesn't seem that it is an incremental approach to ending a policy that has caused such dramatic inequity. Rather, it seems like an incremental approach to addressing some of the symptoms of this policy.

My recommendation to the board (383KB PDF) was a three-point incremental approach that would ultimately curtail neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers:

1. Equalize educational programming across the board,

2. Re-evaluate school boundaries, and

3. Curtail neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers for new enrollment, grandfathering in existing transfers.

I think most people in the red zone would appreciate this kind of "upheaval," especially part 1. By the time we get to part 3, who would complain?

Seriously, the issue isn't that "complex." It's pretty simple, but I can't get over the feeling the school board is protecting some hidden vested interest. The only reason I can think for defending the existing policy is ideological. There are certainly no empirical reasons.

I am rejoining this discussion a little late. First, I want to join with Terry in thanking Ruth for responding to all of us on this blog and discussing these issues with us. It is certainly more than any other Board member is doing.

Secondly, I want to state for the record that I am NOT anti-tax. I am anti- being misled about what the money will be used for. And not without reason. I am still kicking myself for voting "yes" on the last bond, but I genuinely believed it would be used to restore music and PE to our schools. And a TINY portion of it was. But that's not good enough for our kids.

That brings me to my last point. Terry is correct that Ruth did not participate in making this mess. But she did run for school board and win a seat, so now that makes her responsible, along with the people who did make it, for cleaning it up. That's why so many people are weighing in here. They know Ruth is the only one who will listen at all, and the cleanup has to start somewhere, with someone.

Gossip alert (or maybe an impropriety alert): wasn't architect John Weekes romantically involved with Vicki Phillips? Or am I thinking of somebody else?

Steve R. and company,
You ask what the district rationale for the transfer process could possibly be. Not a hard question if you come at it from the angle the school board consistently uses to look at PPS issues. The upper middle class (SFC and PSF) angle. The question should be what is in it for them? If the benefits don't outweigh the negatives for them then the policy will be changed. Right now they believe the benefits outweigh the negatives.

So what is in it for them? 1) It is an escape valve for the middle class. This keeps those active middle class parents who are spread throughout the city happy. They don't have to send their kids to the rotten schools. The pressure from this group can be hazardous, while pressure from the poor is meaningless. So it keeps the heat off. 2) Choice is a good sell. So they look enlightened. 3) There is not a lot of negative when they pick up kids from the poorer schools because they generally get the more motivated kids (products of more motivated parents). Plus, right now their schools escape worrying about closure because they are full. Therefore their neighborhoods growing older aren't a problem because lots of kids from out of their neighborhood go to school there. 4) The influx of kids can't cause overcrowding because the school draws a line (often arbitrary) that says they are full. And they don't have to be full of kids, sometimes they are full because programs are taking up space. 5) Their kids benefit from a more diverse population (liberals like this) and it is a neat way to do it. Let in a few kids. Control the situation. 6) Their schools are picking up money and programs when they add kids as you suggest from your great maps.

So, tell me, Steve, why should they change? How will the negatives outweigh the benefits? The cases you can make are not direct -- they are stuff like the poor kids education is being devastated and it certainly doesn't help the city to have more dropouts who can't take their place in society or as educated citizens. They don't seem to care about that. And, in fact, aren't more kids getting a better education by being able to go to the better schools?

Simple as pie when you look at it from their point of view.

Steve B., I could poke a few holes in your reasoning, but I'm looking for the official board policy rationale, as requested by Flynn and Blackmer over a year ago.

Any policy that causes such radical problems must have a Very Important Problem that it solves. But nobody on the school board can name this Very Important Problem.

I know that it's about free-market ideology ("School Choice!") and trying to keep the middle class from fleeing (a preposterous notion -- my family's leaving because of this policy). But I want to hear the school board justify it. If they can't justify it, they are logically and ethically obligated to end it, given its horrid effects.

Awright already! Let's continue the discussion over on Steve's blog. He has a new post up about the transfer policy that directly addresses the board.

Not that I don't enjoy the give and take, but... .

I just want to add to G. P.'s point about the future of school district buildings. The O reported yesterday that NAYA, the current tenant of the old Whitaker school on NE Columbia, plans to purchase the building within the next three years. And the Tribune quoted Cathy Mincberg as far back as last December that Rose City Park would go up for sale. So there are some "specific plans" for some buildings other than Jefferson too, unless the papers are getting it wrong.

RE: Well of course we wouldn't want to change the transfer policy this year. That would limit Rieke's ability to grow by attracting transfer students from other schools wouldn't it Ruth? ...Your efforts at providing resources and supports to schools at/near 400, like Rieke, will do nothing for a huge portion of the schools that are harmed by the tranfer policy and other PPS policies.

I'm not talking about providing resources and support to Rieke--they already have plenty. (and just for the record, the district specifically put a limit on the number of transfers that Rieke can accept - growth has to come from kids living in its enrollment area.) I'm talking about providing resources and support to schools like Humboldt and Peninsula that fall below the 400 mark and don't have the means to fundraise and are being hammered by the combination of less resources/support from the district (being under-400), charters, people transferring out, etc.

And if you will re-read what I posted, I am not saying that marketing is the only answer; I am saying that providing equitable quality/program offerings is essential.

Re: facilities--I stand corrected on Jeff. When I asked at the district how this plan/concept would be perceived and why Jeff was the only school with a plan before the overall process began, I was assured that this was only preliminary ideas, nothing set in stone, etc. I can understand, in light of all that has happened in the last few years, that the community would have a hard time believing that. At this point what I am doing, and will continue to do, is monitor and participate in the planning and implementation of the process as best I can.

For continued dialogue, criticism, whatever, please contact me directly at [email protected], call me at 503-351-9258, or come to a committee or board meeting. The Student Support and Community Relations committee meets on Oct. 25 4-6 in the Willamette Rm upstairs at BESC, and the work session on enrollment and transfer is scheduled for Nov. 5. Thank you.

For the record, Rieke is allowed by board resolution "to attract up to 20% of its enrollment on transfer from other Portland Public Schools."

To GP: Precisely. Rieke's "growth" is limited by resolution to 20% inbound transfers; no other neighborhood school in the district, to my knowledge, has such a limitation placed on it. Similar limits implemented districtwide would constitute the very kind of "first step" to limiting transfers that some here advocate.
I note that schools with magnet and focus options (see Ainsworth & Buckman below, for example) are encouraged to pull students from throughout the district without limit. Even if you ignore those programs, a 20% transfer rate is quite modest given those of some schools in the district. Consider the following % inbound transfers, based on 2006 numbers (calculated by dividing # students from other neighborhoods by total enrollment):

Abernethy 31%
Ainsworth 42%
Alameda 34%
Buckman 64%
Chapman 27%
Duniway 27%
Laurelhurst 28%
Lewis 51%
Llewellyn 20%
Maplewood 17%
Sabin 58%
Skyline 20%
Stevenson 19%

Portland Tribune marketing Rieke


I crunched numbers on this for the entire district when I was working on the the Schultz for School Board campaign. Even Michele was shocked by the kinds of numbers she was seeing. So were some members of the NSA, who had thought, up until that point, that focus options and charters were the big villains. And while they do take students out of neighborhood schools, the overall percentage is actually very small. But the School Board predicates their moves on the premise that none of us are smart enough or diligent enough to sniff out this information.

Now, if only we could get the Fourth Estate to publish it!

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