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SWNI takes stock of Southwest schools

The Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. Schools Committee have released the results of a survey of all K-12 Portland public schools and three of the nine private and religious schools in the area. The survey consists of a series of questions about their status as of the 2011-12 school year. The survey, in combination with an ongoing survey of neighborhood associations, was designed to help set the Committee’s priorities from the needs and interests of the SWNI-area schools and community.

All public schools reported that changes in funding and the current economic climate resulted in staff cuts, especially in non- classroom programs such as music, PE, counselors and support staff like teacher-librarians. Private schools, by contrast, reported slight growth, reflecting stable or rising enrollment and income.

During the 2011-12 school year, several changes took place, including the addition of new principals in four schools, a couple of class and staff additions owing to increased enrollment and a new math curriculum. Only one private school underwent program changes, adding academic support.

Compared to the previous school year, enrollment was up in 80 percent of public elementary schools, especially in lower grades. Although enrollment in public middle and high schools continue to be slightly down, but is expected to rise as the larger elementary classes move into them. In private schools, meanwhile, enrollment was up, ending a trend of stagnation over the last few years and resulting in lower public school funding and performance.

Public schools meet the needs of high-functioning students through talented and gifted (TAG) programs, some of them school-wide, as well as Advanced Placement classes, differentiated instruction, enrichment opportunities like field trips and special focus programs. Private schools cater to high-functioning students through smaller classes, learning specialist assistance, regular assessments and independent learning plans.

Many of these same methods were employed to meet the needs of struggling students. Public schools employed differentiated instruction, learning centers, reading interventions, volunteers to read, ESL and special education programs, after-school support and specialized staff such as speech therapists and psychologists. Private schools were much the same, also offering tiered instruction and working with families.

Both public and private schools have encountered their share of challenges. For public schools, a lack of funding (70 percent) and specialized support staff (40 percent), a wide range of abilities and a plethora of district initiatives without the time or staff necessary to implement them properly. Private schools, meanwhile, are concerned about having enough money to offer more scholarships.

Finally, area schools were asked to report the most important needs for support from community members, especially those who don’t have children in school. Public schools requested volunteers to work with small groups or one-on-one or in office, fundraising and financial support, understanding the value of school, advocating and voting for school funding. Private schools, on the other hand, want the community to get to know them, appreciate their support for the community and to strengthen public schools.