By Nancy Tannler
Over a year ago, leaders of Portland Public Schools (PPS) decided to change the system’s education inequities with The Enrollment and Program Balancing proposal. The Southeast Guiding Coalition (SEGC) was formed to negotiate the process. It is made up of representatives from the 21 schools that could be impacted by the boundary changes implicit in the proposal.
The SEGC has listened to community input, reviewed proposals and will make a recommendation for changing boundaries, school feeder patterns and special program locations.
The intention is to complete this process by February 2022 and implement changes the following year, but reaching consensus could be difficult due to public push-back on the choices
The drivers for these proposals are based on the following criteria: keep middle school enrollment above 500 students; elementary enrollment above 270 students; classrooms at 80 percent capacity and move boundaries to avoid students crossing major arterial streets where possible.
These are being implemented in two phases. During Phase 1, which began in 2020, it was decided to discontinue almost all K-8 schools, which would require a change in feeder pattern structures to the middle schools, especially to the newly opened Kellogg Middle School. According to PPS officials, this necessitates redrawing more than a dozen schools’ boundaries.
Jonathan García, Chief of Staff for PPS said, “The evidence is clear that the K-8 model does not provide for adequate middle grade programming. Staffing is allocated based on the number of students enrolled in a school. When staffing is increased at a school, more robust elective programming is available to students.”
Phase 2 got underway in the spring of 2021 with community meetings that presented the proposal overviews. PPS and SEGC generated Drafts A, B and C for people to consider.
Some proposed changes are: convert Harrison Park, SE 82nd Ave and SE Division St., to a middle school; add more students to Lane MS, SE 60th south of Woodstock; relocate the Creative Science schools so they become a K-8 focus option /neighborhood school; consider co-locating the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) programs and revise school boundaries to meet minimum enrollment targets.
Drafts A, B and C offer different combinations of these concepts. Draft A displaces four schools, B five and C impacts Bridger and Harrison Park. (See more draft details at pps.net/Page/13615.)
It is the belief of PPS leadership that by choosing one of their proposals, there would be more equity in schools especially in low-income areas where enrollment is low.
At the most recent Open House December 8, after PPS staff presented each draft proposal, neither A, B or C were received with any enthusiasm by those present.
In the questionnaire that followed each presentation, parents only gave a high rating to the proposals of allowing students to attend schools close to their home and maintaining co-located neighborhood dual language schools.
Juan Carlos Ordonez, Atkinson immersion school parent, wrote to The Southeast Examiner saying that, “There is widespread opposition from Atkinson families to the proposed plan to move the Spanish immersion program away from Atkinson and to place it in a school combining other Spanish immersion programs.
“Doing so would rob Atkinson of most of its diversity, to the detriment of the whole school. It would lead to a more segregated Spanish immersion program, with native Spanish speakers funneled into one school, a step backwards in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The reason parents are concerned is that this would then segregate Latinos into one school, rather than being in a regular neighborhood school that already fosters diversity, like Atkinson.
The Mandarin Immersion Program passes from Woodstock Elementary to Hosford Middle School to Cleveland High School. Many Chinese-speaking families believe that changing the DLI program would disrupt this already successful immersion program.
In an article in The Bee David Ashton interviewed Maggie Berg, Shu Ren director, who reiterates this complaint by the Chinese community. Shu Ren is a nonprofit 501(c)3 that provides cross-cultural learning opportunities for Mandarin Immersion Program (MIP) students and families at Woodstock Elementary School, Hosford Middle School, and Cleveland High School.
They fear there is a very real risk of changing the program because then it will consist of mostly native Chinese speakers rather than the half native Chinese, half English ratio that currently serves the goal of PPS’s Dual Language Instruction programs.
Another criticism of the draft proposals is that so far, none of the inner SE schools (Abernethy, Grout Llewellyn or Duniway), are being asked to move to a different school.
Parents would like clarity on how PPS feels justified in unfairly burdening outer SE schools with all the changes. The response is that there is no problem in the flow from grade school to middle school to high school.
One parent, whose child attends Bridger Elementary School in the neighborhood track, said she was surprised when she found out about changes proposed for the school. She felt her child’s kindergarten learning experience has been positive so far. They can walk to school and have met many other classmates who live in the neighborhood through the school.
“This process is trying to find the best solution for 21 schools, not just for one school,” Garcia said. Some parents are fine while others are concerned with too-small and too-large class sizes, lack of program offerings in some schools and lack of professional collaboration resources for staff.
PPS and the SEGC will meet again on January 6. Small groups will present recommendations to the SEGC, who will decide on special program locations and configurations through the consensus process.
To follow the proceedings, go to pps.net/enrollmentbalancing.