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Program changes doom Mt. Tabors Cedar Lodge

One of Portland Public Schools' most beloved and unique middle school programs - Mt. Tabor Middle School's Cedar Lodge - will be phased out over the next two years.

School Principal Van Truong announced the news last week, after an advisory committee met several times over the past month to weigh various scenarios. She formed the committee when parents balked at her February decision to cut the program next year.

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The Tribune reported last month that teachers, parents and community members began a 'Save Cedar Lodge' movement to protect the 18-year-old program, which consists of mixed-age classes that keep students with the same teacher, in the same classroom, for all three years.

Truong told the school community in a May 6 e-mail that rather than losing staff members, as feared, the school would gain .376 full-time equivalent staff positions based on 20 projected incoming students. The school will keep its enrichment classes such as art, PE/health and Spanish, and get to add back band, which they'd cut last year.

The deciding factor in phasing out Cedar Lodge, Truong said, 'is that our program enrollment has shifted this year and will continue to change over the next few years. We have to staff two additional 6th grade classes for our Japanese and Spanish Immersion students.'

Parents say they're not giving up. The Save Cedar Lodge group will try to garner support among administrators in the region to grant 'special option' status to Cedar Lodge so it can open in another location, says Diedra Krys-Rusoff, the Save Cedar Lodge group's parent leader.

'I have also been told previously that given the focus of the district on the high school redesign and the budget situation, getting a new program on the table will be extremely difficult,' she says. 'The Save Cedar Lodge parent group will continue to focus on this as a possible option.'

Barbara Kutasz, one of the Cedar Lodge teachers, says she's saddened by the decision.

'I firmly believe that one of the great strengths of Mt. Tabor Middle School has been the variety of pedagogical models it has offered,' she says. 'Families have had the ability to request the model that they believe will best suit their child's particular style, strengths and needs. … Narrowing the range of choices for families and treating every child with a "one size fits all" approach to learning can only limit our overall effectiveness.'

Kutasz adds: 'I want to be very clear that I am not saying here that Cedar Lodge is more effective than other models at Mt. Tabor, simply that we all stand to lose when families can no longer request the program that best suits their child.