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Benefits abound for New Urban's independence

New Urban High School students are enclosed in one building (except for PE) for the entire day.

In this seclusion, we can practice consistent reinforcement of positive behaviors such as nonviolent communication and peer-mediated conflict resolution. Our independent campus also eliminates substance-abuse opportunities during the day, increases all-day attendance, and decreases the number of aggressive incidents and bullying. Having a campus comprised of portables, multiple buildings, no hallways and no neighbors reduces the amount of structure we are able to provide for our students, and this is a major element of what makes us unique.

The Sabin-Schellenberg program, while amazingly successful, is not relationally focused. The population is the largest and most transient in the district, which makes nurturing the safe, mutually respectful relationships among students impossible to replicate consistently.There is constant action and movement on the campus, which for some feels like instability and compromised safety.

One component of our relational strength that is often overlooked is the scaffolding we build for students to widen the spheres of relationships in their lives. For the last seven years, students have been serving in the Oak Grove community, which has become a source of pride and a sense of ownership for our students, local business people and homeowners.

One can make an argument that these relationships don’t have to disappear with a move, but that again strikes us as an oversimplification of student needs. Transportation is an enormous barrier for a majority of our students; so offering them an equal chance for cultural collateral without extra money from the district requires a neighborhood with a wide variety of businesses.

Some of our students and families can afford TriMet and for a variety of reasons choose it over district transportation. Our current campus is accessible by two TriMet bus lines, giving parents and students without cars access to the campus every 15-20 minutes during the school day. The SS campus is accessible by one bus that comes just once an hour. The stop near campus has no sheltered area for passengers while they wait. This change lacks equity.

Our argument to stay in our home has frequently been met by assurance that people get attached to buildings and that’s tough but survivable. This is a distortion of how we’ve transformed not just our extended community, but also our physical space. We are attached to our building. First, because what’s being proposed is not an equitable transfer in square footage or in character. We would lose half of our classroom space; our cafeteria, which we use to hold a community dinner each year; our auditorium, which we use to celebrate positive behaviors each month and to hold school-wide exhibitions each trimester. We would lose our hallways, which reinforce our sense of community by displaying student work and remind us of our collective values and beliefs in nonviolent communication and thoughtful dispute management. Our hallways also offer us a chance to further instruction through intentional bulletin boards and a college resource space.

Finally, putting us in a smaller space locks us into never growing back to our original size. We have been discussing ways to take advantage of the Max rail that is connecting Oak Grove and Portland to increase our student population. All districts are changing their perceptions of boundary lines while closing their alternative programs and losing Title One funding. Oak Grove is accessible to all the boundary schools and already graduates inter-district transfer students every year. To reduce our physical size and limit our numbers at this time is a choice to eliminate a potential source of revenue for the district.

The structure, safety and relationships offered by New Urban High School depend largely on our location and the values and structures of our permanent staff. For the reasons we noted above, we feel that the relocation and redesign of our program is truly a loss of New Urban High School in all senses except by name.

We are a group of individuals who work collaboratively to provide superior service to the toughest-to-access students in the district. We are underutilized as a program and that’s where the true inefficiency lies.

At the last board meeting, a board member shared some advice he’d received: “When trying something new, do it on a scale that failure is survivable.” The district will survive financially if the proposal to relocate and redesign New Urban is passed. New Urban will not. For this reason, we developed some alternative plans to increase revenue and decrease spending without relocating and redesigning New Urban High School.

The district’s vision, mission, strategic plan and values describe the very things that make those who truly know us so passionate about New Urban. We help cultivate people we would be proud to have as neighbors: responsible, diverse citizens of good character. Our program offers equity and relevance to those who feel they don’t belong anywhere else; it increases achievement and wellness in our community, and engages the minds and hearts of our whole New Urban family. Our program is working for the students, families and community it serves, as it is where it is. Instead of seeing what it could be at Sabin-Schellenberg, see what it will be if it’s allowed to continue to build momentum and strengthen its roots. Instead of seeing it as a drain of district resources with little to show in terms of numbers, we hope you’ll chose to see it as an underutilized, cost-effective resource that can easily be transformed to be profitable for the district.

Anna Scarpino is a teacher at New Urban High School.



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