Parents of students in top program want stable home, growth

One of Portland Public Schools’ alternative programs — a tiny K-8 school for the district’s top gifted and talented students — may find a new home as part of the Jefferson cluster enrollment balancing process.

Then again, it may not.

ACCESS, the district’s program for students who score in the 99th percentile, is at Sabin School in Northeast Portland. For years, it’s been looking for room to grow, to be able to serve more students. But without space there was a cap on enrollment, at 200 students.

This year, the district lifted the cap and managed to squeeze in 218 students in grades K-8, but 72 more are on the waiting list.

Like the nine other North and Northeast Portland schools involved in the Jefferson cluster discussion, ACCESS is just another school that’s struggling for just the right amount of space.

The other schools involved are Beach, Boise-Eliot/Humboldt, Chief Joseph, Faubion, King, Ockley Green, Vernon, Woodlawn and the recently closed Harriet Tubman building.

In past months, PPS has held public meetings on the proposal. From Dec. 3 to Dec. 19, six options were on the table for feedback and consideration: a complicated array of potential school consolidations and grade reconfigurations.

In January, PPS staff plan to come back with two or three concrete options for change. Those options will be outlined in letters mailed to families at the affected schools in January, for a community discussion.

Superintendent Carole Smith is expected to bring one recommendation to the school board for a public hearing and vote in February, and changes would begin in the fall.

ACCESS is included in four of the six scenarios proposed. Three of them involve moving to King School, less than a mile west.

Another option is more complicated. Chief Joseph and Ockley Green would function as a dual-campus K-8 school (split by lower grades and higher grades between the two campuses), and ACCESS would fall into the mix.

For ACCESS PTA President Kristen Sheeran, that’s the least desirable option on the table. As a mother of a third-grader who takes fifth-grade math, she says it’s a priority for the program to remain on one campus, so students can cross grade levels and remain a tight community. Parents’ other priorities are to be able to keep their principal and to be allowed to grow.

In time, Sheeran imagines, ACCESS could grow to as large as 400 if permitted, especially if PPS were to open enrollment to outside the district. Other than the Beaverton School District’s Summa program serving middle-schoolers in the 99th percentile, there’s no other public school program like ACCESS in the Portland area, and families often inquire from just outside Portland.

Sheeran says she and other parents are eagerly awaiting the next step of the public process. But she’s aware that change is usually controversial, especially in the Jefferson neighborhood.

“We’ve heard we’re moving for so long,” she says, “we’re not exactly packing our bags yet.”

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