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N/NE PDX parents feel the crunch

Public meetings focus on Jefferson cluster options


Parents at Woodlawn School are the latest to oppose one of the two proposals on the table for balancing enrollment among Jefferson cluster schools.

Woodlawn parents don't like the idea of closing their school and consolidating with Chief Joseph and Ockley Green, to operate as a dual campus from those two buildings.

Here is a letter from the Woodlawn PTA, presented to PPS staff at a community meeting at their school Thursday evening:

Dear Enrollment Balancing Committee and PPS Board,

We know you came here tonight to share these two proposals with us regarding our beloved school. We are well aware of the fact that you will try to couch these changes, especially the possible closure, under the heading of, “What is best for our kids.” However, we want you to know that we have come to this meeting tonight with an agenda of our own. To say to you – Do Not Close Our School. We have come here tonight, after reviewing these proposals, to say with conviction, that we Do Not Believe that closing our school is what is best for our students.

What a shock it was for us to read this document and see a proposal for Woodlawn closure. Shocking because just a few months ago, you stood here, in this very room, and told us this was highly unlikely due to how close we are to our “target numbers.” ….It was shocking. But....why should it be? Why should it be, when this seems to be the path for schools like ours, schools with high percentages of lower income students of color. The PPS graveyard is filling up with them – Rest in Peace Kenton, Rest in Peace Applegate, Rest in Peace Harriet Tubman, Rest in Peace Woodlawn? Who will be next when the Enrollment Balancing train comes through? One of the looming questions in our mind is this, if these closures balance enrollment, why do we keep having them?

The truth is, they do not balance enrollment because they send the clear message that you have given up on our students. They do not balance enrollment because they serve to further disenfranchise parents. They do not balance enrollment because they alienate parents, families, and communities. They do not balance enrollment because they are not equitable. They do not balance enrollment because they make our cluster less appealing to “would be” Jeff cluster families.

We watched Monday’s PPS Board Meeting and we saw the 'Why Woodlawn' slide. We know that you will use low test scores and low catchment rate as a means to shut our doors. What we did not see, is the slide in which you take ownership for the inequitable polices that are dismantling this cluster one school at a time. What we did not see is the slide where you take ownership for not investing in our school for many years, despite the knowledge that we struggled with both.

Still, you will tell us that this is the radical change needed to benefit our students. But, we do not believe this to be true. School report cards reveal the sad truth, the truth that schools in the Jeff Cluster do not do well by their lower income students of color. This is the problem that needs to be fixed. The schools you propose to bus our children to don’t have report cards any better than our own when it comes to our demographic of students. These options do not deal with the underlying reason that this continues to be the case. Closing our school, moving these kids around, again, only perpetuates this fact.

It is our belief that closing Woodlawn is a mistake. One that will hurt some of Portland’s most vulnerable students. Our school community wants more time to turn things around. We have a good momentum going here. The Oregon Department of Education has designated us a Priority School. We hope to have the time to benefit from that designation. We want time to utilize the help and interventions that have been denied to us for many years. We want time to invite our diverse community into a conversation about what program would best benefit our entire community. This community is committed to partnering together to revive and renew Woodlawn school. Give us that chance. Join us.

Finally, the options put forth by the EB committee are very callous towards vulnerable student populations like ours (low income students of color and SPED/CB). We believe there are better options to be explored, options that could reflect the Equity Policy that should be interlaced throughout every portion of this process. Members of our community have been exploring viable possibilities that do no include closing Woodlawn. We will be sharing those with the EB Team and the PPS Board. We hope that you will reflect on them carefully and choose to keep Woodlawn School Open!

Thank you,

The Woodlawn PTA

Despite the controversy, the enrollment balancing process is expected to wrap up next month and the changes will roll out in the fall. For details on the two options, see pps.net.

The public can weigh in at two public meetings:

English-as-a-second-language parent feedback meeting: 6 p.m., Jan. 23, at Ockley Green School, 6031 N. Montana Ave.

Community feedback forum: 1 p.m., Jan. 26, at Jefferson High School - Middle College for Advanced Studies, 5210 N. Kerby Ave.

There are also informational meetings at individual schools, feedback forms in school offices, and an online survey at www.pps.net.

Five fewer school days

As if potential closures wasn't stressful enough on Wednesday, about 4,000 students at 10 of the district’s most struggling schools — all except two in North and Northeast Portland — stayed home for a day-long teacher training.

Those schools will have four more no-school days through the end of the school year, one Wednesday per month.

The schools are designated as “Focus” and “Priority” schools, ranked in the bottom 5 percent and 15 percent by the state. They include: King, Lane, Ockley Green, Rigler, Rosa Parks, Scott, Sitton, Vernon, Woodlawn, Woodmere.

Parents at some schools have criticized the decision, calling it unequitable and poorly executed, since some found out as late as Dec. 14, just before winter break.

Antonio Lopez, PPS regional administrator, says it was a tough call but the training is sorely needed.

“We had a hard time debating that, but what we know is if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re not getting the results we need,” he says. “We have to figure out how to better utilize what we have and find ways to improve on it, look deeper, figure it out by looking at the data. We hope it will give us better results.”

Jefferson gets scholarship boost

On the bright side, Jefferson High School just got a big boost. Willamette and Pacific universities have joined the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Portland State University and Warner Pacific College in offering full-tuition scholarships to eligible Jefferson graduates.

Since Jefferson transformed into a middle college in fall 2011, enrollment is up from 413 to 443 (the target enrollment is 450 to 600).

More sophomores are on track to graduate on time than were before. The four-year graduation rate is still at 55 percent, but the class of 2015 will be the first graduating class to fully benefit from the increased rigor and support.