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Charter adds to public options

by: DeNISE FARWELL, For David K. Smith (left) and other Southwest Charter School board members (clockwise from Smith: Miriam Lea, Eric Lea, Anne Gurnee, Bob Nourse and Ray Streinz), the empty Smith Elementary building is a wasted opportunity.

The Portland Tribune got it almost perfect in its March 30 story 'Charter fans keep the faith.' For the past two-plus years, the parents, students and neighbors of Southwest Portland have kept their faith in public education alive despite more than a few delays and setbacks.

As you correctly noted in the article, we are hopeful the state Board of Education will concur with its advisory committee's recommendation and agree to sponsor Southwest Charter School starting in September.

But while we were frustrated enough to have packed up and taken our children to surrounding private schools, we instead decided to work with the district and others to keep a public school in our neighborhood. For lots of reasons, the best way to do so in Oregon is with a public charter school.

While some charter schools seem to have been created to avoid the public school system, Southwest Charter School was formed for precisely the opposite reason - to provide Portland-area students with an innovative, proven, place-based education experience within the system, one that would give our kids the tools to become better Portlanders, Oregonians and American citizens.

Starting literally from the ground up, place-based education has received national attention, for its emphasis on instilling in its students an appreciation of where they are and how they got there.

Natural-history lessons could cover the geologic origins of Portland's West Hills, while mathematics classes might measure and analyze rainfall volume or measure climate variations over time.

Citizenry classes may start with exercises in classroom democracy and engage local community groups like the Southwest Neighborhood Association and end up at Portland's City Hall or a Metro Council meeting.

Much of this learning will occur in traditional classrooms and laboratories, but substantial amounts of experiential work will occur out of the classroom, in nearby parks, neighborhoods and government offices, so our students can connect with their physical, educational and political communities.

Portland Public Schools has recognized and created similar innovative models like those at the Metropolitan Learning Center and Sunnyside Environmental School.

We are hopeful the district will recognize Southwest Charter School as a comparable opportunity and work with us to place our vision in their vacant property in Southwest Portland.

That way the district would retain and attract more students, a now-vacant building once again would echo with the hum of excited students, and our kids would show their fellow citizens that being smart can start by knowing one's place in the world.

David K. Smith

Southwest Charter School board member

Southwest Portland

District should plan before it closes

Smith Elementary School has been closed for two years, and only now are Portland Public Schools officials realizing that 'it's time to step back and do some planning, both short range and long range' (Charter fans keep the faith, March 30)?

It seems like common sense that planning for the future use of a neighborhood school building should happen before it's closed, not two years afterward.

Not only are vacant buildings unable to generate revenue, they continue to cost our school district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in maintenance and upkeep while no one is using them.

PPS leadership should more carefully analyze and plan for the future of our school buildings, which are valuable community assets. That's why I'm voting for Ruth Adkins for school board this May - for school leadership that's closer to our community.

Valeurie Friedman

Southwest Portland

Theater company left waiting in wings

I applaud Eric Bartels' article on local theaters (The state of the stage, April 3) and the ever-present challenge in raising the awareness of potential audiences to the thespian cornucopia in Portland.

I'm mystified, however, by the conspicuous absence, in the article and the accompanying photo of anyone from Theatre Vertigo.

Full disclosure demands I mention that I, while not a company member, am currently in rehearsal for Slawomir Mrozek's 'Tango,' Vertigo's spring production opening April 27.

My mystification deepened when the article mentioned 'offbeat fare (that) is an audience builder.' A prime example of such fare would have been Vertigo's recent Anonymous Theatre production of 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' (where no member of the cast had met any other until they stepped onstage).

Chris Porter

Northeast Portland