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City comes calling at Jefferson

High school will spend week as mayor’s office, civic showpiece

Jefferson High School is about to feel some love. In its continuing battle to overcome obstacles of underenrollment and underachievement, Jefferson literally will be at the center of city and Portland Public Schools politics for a week starting Jan. 14. At the invitation of students earlier this year, Mayor Tom Potter’s office will relocate for the week to an underused computer lab at Jefferson. The City Council and the school board will hold their sessions there, and Potter will deliver his State of the City address at the school Jan. 18, shuttling the audience of Portland City Club members — who usually enjoy the chichi affair at downtown’s Governor Hotel — to the Jefferson auditorium (the school district is loaning buses for the errand, since parking around Jefferson is limited). “It will bring 450 new bodies into the building who’ve probably never been there before,” said Kate Raphael, education advocate to Potter. “It would be hard to walk away from there and not do anything.” In addition, Potter will bring his famous one-on-one listening sessions, “10 Minutes With Tom,” to students and parents. There will be roundtable discussions involving students, community leaders and elected officials. The public will be invited for an evening open house. And about 130 city staffers, including Jefferson alumni, will descend on classrooms to talk about their jobs and offer mentorship and internship opportunities. “There’s going to be a big, loud microphone on them for the week,” said school district spokesman Matt Shelby. “No high school gets that amount of coverage, ever.” Academies raise concerns The spotlight on Jefferson comes at a time when the school appears to have steady leadership in Principal Cynthia Harris, who has been rallying community support for the school since stepping in for former Principal Leon Dudley last spring. Yet the school also is still trying to overcome numerous challenges, most having to do with scheduling and programming, and, at another level, its reputation. At a recent meeting between district staff and a handful of parents, some charged that Jefferson was shortchanging its students by being split into four academies with special focuses and populations: science and technology, arts and technology, and young men’s and young women’s academies. Some members of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance watchdog group believe the academies limit students’ choices, and that students must have the same access to the breadth of programs comprehensive high schools have. They asked that there be more flexibility for Jefferson students to share the academies’ core classes while keeping their unique electives. Parents also suggested combining the two nongender-based academies into one next year, while leaving the young men’s and women’s academy intact. Shelby said Superintendent Carole Smith is open to hearing all ideas, and making adjustments midway through the year or at the start of next year. “There’s pressure on our end to really do something over there; it’s good pressure,” he said. “If it’s something we hear strongly from the community, I know we’ll take an honest look at it.” Program links kids to trades Despite its shortfalls, the school is steeped in success stories and filled with passionate supporters who’ve quietly been operating behind the scenes. One of them is Jennice Jackson, a mother of three Jefferson graduates who runs a job-shadow program for Jefferson students through her husband’s Northeast Portland company, CJ Jackson Construction. Students walk to the nearby redevelopment site of Humboldt Gardens apartments (formerly Iris Court), and follow everyone from the plumbers and electricians to carpenters, roofers, siders and architects as they do their jobs. While the trades might not seem glamorous, they provide living-wage jobs that are in demand, Jackson said, as well as apprenticeship opportunities to help pay the way through college. For example, Jackson said a union electrician job can pay about $64 an hour, and apprentices earn about 55 percent of that with 10-percent raises every six months as long as they’re going to school at the same time. “For them to be able to step into a project and watch it from start to finish,” Jackson said, “they’ll know what it’s going to take to stay in a trade.” Another big advocate for the school has been Shane Endicott, executive director of the ReBuilding Center in North Portland and a member of the planning team for the week at Jefferson since September. With his talk of the values of “civic immersion,” Endicott helped put a bug in Potter’s ear about blending city business with schooling so students can learn real-world applications of the subjects they’re studying. He thinks it would be a great idea for city bureaus to lease space in high schools throughout the district. “They don’t feel their education’s relevant,” said Endicott, who lives eight blocks from the school and is married to a Jefferson alumna. “Learning how things work and how to access change, that’s something in our society that’s been accessible to only some people.” The events at Jefferson will begin Monday, Jan. 14, with student showcase day. Tuesday is career day, Wednesday is civic immersion day, Thursday is parent and community day, and Friday is citywide support for students day. Monday, Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, will be service day at Jefferson, with a tree-planting event and a group of Portland State University students helping to start a Jefferson historical museum at the high school as one of their service projects. Daniel Capuia, a 1996 Jefferson graduate who’s working to bring more parent volunteers to the school, said his biggest hope for the week at Jefferson is to disrupt the status quo. “My challenge for (parents) is if we’re sick and tired of the same situation, we have to make the change,” he said. “And the change has to come from you as a parent.” At meetings with parents, he said, he talks about the success of schools like Lincoln High, as well as Jesuit, which is private. “They’re not successful because their three-mile radius is filthy rich,” he said. “No, it’s because the parents are involved.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.