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June 10, 2008


I was at the first meetings at Jefferson when Phillips was re-reforming the small schools there. I was also at the 2003 conference on small schools. Phillips did not listen to the Jeff community who asked for a little time from the latest changes that were put into motion there. She said that the situation was too urgent, academic achievement was at stake and her Gates funded reforms must go through. Now Phillips' and her buddies (Meyer Memorial Trust) are asking for more time to show that their expensive reforms work. They mocked us when we questioned the limited curriculum from small schools and ignored pleas for more time. It is hard to hear what they are saying now that their reforms have not borne the fruit they promised.

Thanks for writing this article Terry. It almost seems a distraction to talk about the size of high schools in Portland, because it's so much about what opportunities there are for the kids at each high school.

Vicki Phillips pretends it was a mystery, that we just didn't know it was about face time with teachers. What makes a successful school has never been a mystery, though PPS and the Foundation would have us think so.

Where are all the promised IB and AP courses at Jefferson? Where is the promised music, art, band?

I don't care what PGE and Fred Meyer Memorial Trust think about education. Do they even live in Portland or have kids going to our schools?

From a 2006 NSA press release (

"On the fad for small schools in larger buildings: "There is, however, much unevenness among the small schools now evolving in New York and other cities. When school boards seize upon this concept as a panacea for systemic problems and begin to stamp out small academies without the long preliminary groundwork ... they end up making little more than fashionably smaller versions of the unsuccessful large schools they're replacing ... the designation 'small academy' turned out to be simply a novel-sounding decoration for another inner-city holding tank for students who could not obtain admission to a better and more academic institution." (p. 275)

On “polishing the apple of apartheid. I'm not going to propose a small segregated school. I"m not going to propose a small segregated school with uniforms and silent lunches. I'm not going to propose a segregated school, even with slightly higher test scores. I'm too old to spend the rest my life helping you to polish the apple of apartheid.” (Source: Interview with NEA,

On “fixing” schools with uniforms: He is equally harsh toward so-called experts, the "bombastic charlatans"
who turn up yearly with quick and easy plans to "fix" what has gone wrong in the nation's schools—"as if this were not a moral travesty we're dealing with, but some kind of mechanical dilemma." One year, he said, "smaller and more intimate segregated and unequal schools [are] trendy. Or separate and unequal schools with tougher discipline and strict accountability. Or separate and unequal schools where black kids march around in uniforms. Or separate and unequal schools with upbeat slogans and lots of self-help incantations on the walls." He told of a school he visited in Seattle, for instance, where the children chanted "I have confidence that I can learn" 30 times each morning. "There's something heartbreaking about it," he said. "They never chant those slogans in schools where it's assumed they can learn."

Kozol offered no such panaceas. "We haven't just ripped apart the legacy of Brown," he said. "We haven't even lived up to the tarnished promises of Plessy v. Ferguson: Our schools are separate; that's self-evident. They'renowhere near equal." He called that "the real heartbreaker," and encouraged an enthusiastic standing-room-only audience to join him in refusing to silence their convictions. "I believe apartheid schooling is a cancer on the body of American democracy," he concluded. "It needs to be cut out, and I intend to keep fighting for this struggle until my dying day." (Source: Harvard Graduate School of Education News)"

It's time for Carole Smith to start making bold, decisive policy moves. Not the kind of top-down, autocratic moves made by Vicki Phillips that got us into this mess, but the kind of moves long advocated by the Jefferson community, and more recently by students and teachers at Madison: a return to comprehensive education in every neighborhood school.

It seems so basic, yet the PPS school board and superintendent would have us believe it's such a "complicated" issue.

Of course it all starts with balancing enrollment, which means we have to talk about the open transfer policy that has so clearly benefited Portland's wealthiest neighborhoods at the expense of the rest of us.

I guess "complicated" is code for "politically uncomfortable."

The School Board is responsible for allowing these harmful top-down reforms to continue. Below is a letter from school board member Ruth Adkinks (before she was elected) protesting the reorganization of Jefferson into small academies.

From: Ruth Adkins
To: School board office

Subject: Statement of support for Jeff

Dear Board members,

I’m very sorry I didn’t get to BESC in time to sign up and testify tonight. If I had, I would have read the resolution below on behalf of Rieke PTA (I’m very grateful to Ron Webb for reading it for me).

I also would have stated how appalled I am, as a Wilson parent and a citizen of Portland, to see Byrd’s chart comparing the rich array of course offerings at Wilson and other high schools with the shameful lack of courses to be offered next year at the Jeff "academies." This is an outrage.

I understand, of course, that the number and variety of courses a school can offer depends greatly on the size of the school. Why on earth, then, did PPS split an already small school into 4 tiny programs which could not possibly offer increased rigor and variety of coursework (many promises during the redesign process notwithstanding).

What student would want to choose a high school that offers only a fraction of the courses and curriculum provided at other high schools? What Jeff students asked for was more depth, more rigor, more variety. Instead they get a watered down, sharply limited, fragmented, middle-school caliber program. Of course they will continue to transfer out in droves, if they possibly can. Who wouldn't?

Why did PPS extend a respectful and collegial (albeit challenging) partnership to the Rieke community, yet you refuse to heed the pleas of the Jefferson community? I see a disturbing inequity in the manner in which these two communities are treated by PPS.

Having observed the redesign process from the beginning, and seeing the manner in which the redesign and implementation process has unfolded, and the glaring inequity and insufficiency of course offerings unveiled for this fall, I can only conclude that despite all the fine talk, this entire process is intended to kill off Jefferson HS. Even if that is not the intention, that will surely be the result if you allow the PPS administration to continue on its current course. This situation is depressing, totally unnecessary, and just plain wrong. Please do the right thing, and halt the re-reconfiguration and planned extinction of Jefferson.


Ruth Adkins

Unfortunately just prior to the school board election last year Ruth's voice questioning harmful PPS and PSF policies became almost inaudible and it only got worse after the election. If anyone has a cure for laryngitis please get a prescription to Ruth ASAP! You can find her at school board meetings through the summer. Summer meetings -- all at the Blanchard Education Service Center, 501 N. Dixon St. -- are at 7 p.m. June 23, 7 p.m. July 21, noon Aug. 11 and 7 p.m. Aug. 25. They will be televised on the district's Channel 28.

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