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District needs to re-evaluate its closure proposals

North Clackamas Schools is currently proposing to close down two excellent schools. My motive of writing to you is that my daughter goes to the elementary school they want to close, but I also have larger concerns about choices our district is making.

I am also a teacher, so I know all too well about the horrible state of educational funding, and I know that at this point, closing schools is one of the only options available, sadly. My issue is with the schools they choose for closure proposals.

A strong school district can draw a lot of families into our area and help real-estate prices. What makes a school district enticing? In my opinion, it’s not the “regular” schools; it’s the magnet schools and the special programs. Our district has several of these: Milwaukie Academy of the Arts, the IB program at Putnam, New Urban High School, Sabin-Schellenberg, Sojournor, El Puente and Riverside bilingual (I’m sure there are more). Programs and options like these are what will attract families to our district.

In the past two years, our district has started targeting the magnet schools and is shoving them into the shadows. Two years ago, Sojournor (an elementary school with very long wait lists at every grade level) lost its building and was forced to “merge” with Linwood Elementary. They aren’t one school; they’re two schools in one building. That just doesn’t work, and it isn’t going well from what I hear.

This year they are proposing to consolidate or move two more magnet schools. The first is New Urban, which serves a small population of at-risk youth. They do an amazing job with kids who have never been successful in school and get them to graduation, college, or where ever they want to go. These are kids who have been on the outside their whole lives, picked on, not understood. Now the district wants to take their building (in Oak Grove where they do community service all over the neighborhood) and put them in Sabin-Shellenberg. I don’t really know a ton about this program, but I heard them speak at the School Board meeting. According to the results of a student survey, only 7 percent of the kids will stay if they move. The rest will end up...who knows where?

The other school is Riverside Elementary, which also has very long waiting lists of around 30 kids a year. I know I’m biased, but it is an AMAZING place. There are (approximately) two classes at each grade level. One is English speaking; one is Spanish immersion. The school totally operates as one school. The students and staff see no difference or division in the two programs. Global understandings and true multicultural education is infused every day there. It is a truly unique place that we feel extremely fortunate to be a part of. Our redheaded daughter speaks fluent Spanish with a very authentic Mexican accent. She comes home with knowledge about other cultures (not just from Latin America, everywhere). It’s not only the bilingual kids that benefit from this program; the kids in the English program are right there, receiving all the same lessons, just in English. They start every Friday with an all-school assembly where they celebrate each other’s victories and sing the school song in English and Spanish. Several times a year we have evening celebrations, including Dia del Niño. I could go on all night about how amazing this school is, but I’ll stop.

My point here is that they want to close the school. The plan is to send the English program to two nearby schools, and the bilingual kids will be sent to merge with El Puente, the other bilingual school in the district. What really upsets me is that the district is looking at Riverside as two separate schools.

El Puente is a fine program, but it is run totally differently than Riverside. It is its own school housed in Milwaukie Elementary. They have separate websites, separate PTAs, etc. They have spent the past six years trying to merge the two schools, and apparently the “walls are beginning to dissolve.” They are taking the school that is truly the model of what a bilingual school should be and destroying it and shoving it into a building that already has two schools in it. They are also taking the two programs whose partial mission is to celebrate diversity and teach acceptance and shoving them into one school where only the students lucky enough to get in benefit from the program.

If our district continues to do this, our wonderful programs will no longer attract families. They will see that the district doesn’t value any of the programs and will cut them back and put them in locations that tear them apart as soon as money needs to be saved. Since the district wants to close an elementary school, we did present another option that would save Riverside and close an unsafe school and get three out of four schools in the area to nearly 500 students (the district’s goal). The district’s plan does not get any of the schools near their goal, and it destroys two wonderful programs.

The School Board plans to vote on March 21, and this was only announced Feb. 28. Many people have no idea this is even happening, and we need to get the word out. It is an absolute nightmare that they have to close down any school. But if they have to do this, why are they destroying the very schools that will attract families to the district?

Megan Oliver is vice-president of the Riverside Elementary PTA.




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