Readers' Letters
by: L.E. BASKOW, Senior Amanda Axtell (center) adjusts the wheel alignment on her car during an automotive class at the Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center in Milwaukie. Although Portland school leaders are looking to create more career-exploration options as part of the district’s high school redesign, letter writers voice concerns over inequities in the Portland Public School system.

There are about 12,000 students in high schools within Portland Public Schools. With nine schools, that averages out to about 1,330 per school, enough to support a first-class curriculum in each. What's been lost during several decades is the equity between schools that earlier school district administrations maintained.

The 'cure' for what ails PPS high schools is restoration of that equity. Cancel the ultra-liberal transfer policy now existing and redefine boundaries so about 1,330 students are in each school and are required to attend their neighborhood school.

Instead of tying the hands of the administration to a fixed number of dollars per student, return to the commonsense approach of allocating budget dollars so as to maintain equity between all schools. That will allow different funding by year for different needs from school to school.

This also would prevent those parents who wish to take advantage of lower housing costs - but who do not support the local school in their neighborhood - from continuing to shirk that duty to their neighborhood school. Come on, Portland.

The 'fix' is not complicated - unless you choose to make it so.

Bob Johnson


Magnets better prepare students

My son was blessed with the option to attend Beaverton's School of Science and Technology, and he had a great experience (Sharpening the focus, Jan. 28).

Was it challenging? Yes. Lots of work? Yes. Were there numerous opportunities to succeed and challenge himself? Yes! He is currently a second-year student at Willamette University, and was extremely well prepared for the rigors of college.

Juan Mendez


Not all students go to college

Excellent article, Jennifer Anderson, and how frustrating to hear of the success in Beaverton with their focus schools as compared to the fumbling efforts of Portland Public Schools (Sharpening the focus, Jan. 28).

Portland schools are criminally inequitable and my fear is that the board will bow to the power of the voices on the west side of this city. The 'not my school' attitude is pervasive and troubling and is really only a microcosm of the prevailing belief by many people in this country, mostly white and privileged, that somehow affluence does not obligate sharing not only the wealth, but the opportunity.

These plutocrats have enormous control in Portland as well.

Portland Public high schools place way too much emphasis on the idea of college for all, which is shortsighted and classist and leaves few options for students not interested in college and who would sincerely thrive in the vocational/technical world of the trades.

College ready and work ready are not synonymous, and the myth that is created around this concept hurts and limits options for students. I challenge all of our schools to put as much effort into getting a child into a trade as they do to getting them into college. The emphasis on college is yet again a have and have not situation, and the students not going to college feel the shame of it and can voice it if we are willing to listen.

I am a high school counselor and I try very hard to communicate the value of all post-high school options, but the feeling of being 'less than' is hard to mitigate when so much effort is devoted to the top 20 percent going on to college, while the rest are ignored.

Finally, I would like to congratulate Dave Hamilton of Marshall's Linus Pauling Academy. His 'formula for success' is a miracle given that he is just finishing his first semester as principal following the retired and former principal, Stevie Newcomer. How did you make his miracle happen in just a short semester?

David Colton

Counselor, Madison High School

Southeast Portland

Raising awareness helps gifted students

Oregon law requires that all students be taught at their appropriate rate and level of instruction. There are limits to how much differentiation even a highly talented and experienced teacher can do in a classroom of 25 to 30 students, and ACCESS is an alternative program of Portland Public Schools for highly gifted students whose needs could not be met at their neighborhood schools.

The students typically are learning material two to four grade levels ahead of the neighborhood classrooms they came from. But to get instruction at the appropriate rate and level in the core subjects, ACCESS students sacrifice the convenience of attending a neighborhood school and, in the middle school grades, almost all electives and extracurricular activities, including athletics.

Equity is a major concern of the ACCESS community. While the student body is socio-economically diverse, its racial diversity (or lack thereof) is similar to that at other districtwide magnet programs. I believe the district has started TAG testing of all second-graders at Title I schools, and I remember hearing that it plans to expand this practice to all elementary schools. I'm sure the ACCESS community would love to hear any other ideas about ways to increase diversity in our program.

One issue we have struggled with is publicity and recruitment - we are happy to see the article 'Gifted students want a home of their own' (Feb. 11) because we know it will help raise awareness about our program, which many people don't know even exists.

More information is available at There is an open house for prospective students and their families on March 3 at 6 p.m.

JaneAnne Peterson

Northwest Portland

Alternative schools are the future

Why can't the funding for these efforts be connected with the student vs. being centrally controlled by a government education monopoly (Gifted students want a home of their own, Feb. 11)?

The entrenched old style of having everyone show up at the same time, doing the same tasks, at the same rate of learning is a remnant from the factory or industrial era. This is just another example of how antiquated the education system has become in a modern era where alternatives should be available.

Being forced to use these outmoded educational systems is like being forced to drive to the post office to send an email. It's time to place these old educational practices where they belong - in a museum!

James Burton

Lincoln City

Reopen Smith as neighborhood school

Sara Allen says Smith Elementary closed because smaller programs didn't have enough (students) to have 'robust programs' (Gifted students want a home of their own, Feb. 11). Then why did Smith have more and better programs than the larger schools to which Smith students were sent? The school was closed because some very misguided 'real estate professionals' at the 'Innovation Partnership' thought Portland Public Schools could make a lot of money selling and leasing its buildings.

Now PPS is spending $9.6 million on dozens of new portable trailer classrooms for overcrowded schools such as the neighboring Maplewood School, where some of Smith's students now attend school. Smith school should be reopened with its historic boundary re-established between Taylor's Ferry and Interstate 5.

Ashcreek and Crestwood neighborhoods need Smith Elementary as a neighborhood school!

Steve Linder

Southwest Portland

ESL education is improving

The Portland Tribune gave substantial attention some months ago to how Portland Public Schools was approaching the education of high school English as a Second Language students (ESL woes nothing new, Dec. 17, 2009).

Subsequently, many of the concerns that were raised in that series of articles have been addressed in a positive way. Under the leadership of Xavier Botana, PPS chief academic officer, and with the constructive roles played by the ESL Department, administrators, concerned community members and especially teachers, a counterproductive policy of mainstreaming all students regardless of their achievement level has been revised much for the better.

I firmly believe that PPS has taken a major first step in vastly improving its delivery of a superior education to ESL students. The Tribune is to be commended for the part it has played.

Steve Levy

Southwest Portland

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