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Wilson High cluster presentation

Principals present successes, challenges to school board


Over the last few months, the principals representing each cluster of schools in Portland Public Schools have presented their schools’ successes and challenges to the Portland School Board.

On May 6, principals from the Wilson cluster gave presentations of their own.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Wilson High School cluster administrators pose with the Portland Public Schools School Board.

Capitol Hill, Hayhurst, Maplewood, Markham, Rieke and Stephenson elementaries, Hayhurst Odyssey K-8, Jackson and Robert Gray middle schools and Wilson High School itself comprise the Wilson High School cluster.

This cluster is “a little bit different,” said PPS Regional Administrator Larry Dashiell. “Our schools probably aren’t as old as many of the inner core, except for Maplewood, which did celebrate its hundredth anniversary not too long ago. … Probably, you won’t find others like it in the city.”

Indeed, “I don’t know that I’ve ever been in (another) building where kids have their nose in a book at recess," said Maplewood Elementary School Principal Julie Ashby. “We have a responsibility to make sure that all of our children read, and read well."

The schools are located in an area that some people consider the most privileged quadrant of the city, the principals said.

“Sometimes, the westside schools aren’t considered very needy,” said Jackson Middle School Principal John Ferraro. However, he and his fellow administrators agreed that along with a myriad of opportunities, the Wilson cluster schools aren’t without their share of obstacles.

At Maplewood, for example, 26.7 percent of students are designated as economically disadvantaged and 12.3 percent as in need of special education. And at Jackson, 43 percent are "combined underserved," a designation used to describe students who are eligible for special education, limited English proficient, eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals, African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Pacific Islander.

But each percentage is “two points too low for extra equity funding,” Ferraro pointed out. With funding thin on the ground, there has been an increased student-teacher ratio at Jackson, and the school’s SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) after-school program has been perpetually in jeopardy.

On the positive said, this year Jackson became one of the 11 "Beacon Schools" in the district that have done advanced equity work.

“Bringing that into our school has taken our teachers from teachers who teach content to teachers who teach students,” Ferraro said.

Even so, Ferraro said, Jackson and fellow schools in the Wilson cluster have been at risk of falling through the cracks and being passed over for additional state- and district-subsidized funding because they have appeared to be self-sufficient.

Stephenson Elementary School Principal Thu Truong said missing out on funding has translated into being understaffed, and even if the preponderance of her students are meeting standards, she said, “I’m just wondering who, how … am I going to meet the needs of those kids who aren’t meeting.”