A community forum draws more than 80 citizens, leaders, kids

Where do we go from here: community or chaos?

Corbett resident Marnie Freeman posed this Martin Luther King Jr. question to more than 80 citizens, leaders and children.

The group filled the grange hall Saturday for a community forum about Corbett schools.

Led and organized by Freeman, the forum was intended to give residents an opportunity to voice their concerns for Corbett schools.

“I really want to bring the community together, and for people to be heard,” Freeman said. “I want to bring something back to the school board that gives an idea of where the community is.”

Freeman spearheaded the meeting after a community meeting between NE Multnomah County Community Association and the Corbett School Board was called off in early January.

Freeman asked the audience to show courage in talking about the issues important to them, setting the tone by telling her own story.

She described being “pro-bond” in the time leading up to the November 2013 election for a school construction bond but noticed Corbett schools became a point of contention and seemed to drive a community rift.

Amid the bond process, Freeman admitted she had become judgmental of certain people opposed to the bond — some of whom she didn’t know. When the bond was turned down, Freeman made calls to more than 60 Corbett citizens to hear why they voted “no.”

She found that she had much more in common with these people than she had realized and wanted to end the partisan divides.

“We have the same foundational beliefs,” Freeman said. “We believe in having great schools, that every single kid in Corbett deserves an education and deserves to go to school in Corbett.

“What an incredibly strong force we would be if we could come together ... What do we want to create now, and what do we believe we can create? Corbett is an amazing place, and I think we can have it all if we come together.”

From seniors who have lived in Corbett more than 50 years to young adults raising the next generation, from contractors to brand-new citizens, the audience heard a mix of commentary about local schools.

To Brad Scott, a longtime resident, Corbett is a “bloody independent” town that is always going to have some sort of strife. “We’re just geared that way, and none of us are wrong,” he said. “My concern is for us and the kids that we have. We need workers who can work, and we need schools driving this so kids can get an education that can get them into the workplace.”

Five school board members and Superintendent Randy Trani also were in attendance, with board Chairman Charlie O’Neil and directors Annette Calcagno and David Gorman speaking.

“We do a lot of talking at the school board meetings, but you also have a chance to speak,” said O’Neil, a lifelong Corbett resident with children and grandchildren in the area. “We’ve opened it up so that you can speak not just at the beginning, but at every action item.”

O’Neil said he thought of the Corbett campus as “dynamic” and said he believed the bond was needed to maintain the campus for the number of students it supports.

Gorman said the education Corbett students receive is up to the adults, and that with all the arguing, students were getting lost in the process. “Let’s put the kids first with what they need,” he said. “It’s not about us.”

Michael Wilson, a software engineer and district father, said he didn’t see the perceived divisions among Corbett and out-of-district children.

He said he hoped the community would focus on what the children have in common and expressed excitement about a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) starting in Corbett.

Some of the audience comments were more critical of the school district — analyzing the failed bond, the district push for Advanced Placement classes, the controversial charter school and a sense that the school board wasn’t listening to citizen comments.

Calcagno described the difficult decision to transfer her son to the Reynolds School District three years ago, and said she had a goal for Corbett to educate “every last one of our kids.”

“We need to stop having our kids leave,” Calcagno said. “... I want my children to come back here, and I want them to be successful.”

Longtime resident Kit Dixon said she felt school administrators and school board members needed to address morality issues among leaders who had become an elephant in the living room.

Karina Lande, a district mother, said she believed small town life was sacred and very important to her. She said she hoped district leaders could find a middle ground in listening to community concerns and trying out citizens’ suggestions for schools.

After two hours of audience comments and a potluck, the meeting ended.

Freeman distributed surveys to attendees about a potential school bond. Attendees were encouraged to explain their top five reasons to vote yes and no on a bond, with comments. She said the information would be collected and shared with the school board.

“I heard several common themes,” Freeman said. “We value community, and we value each other. We’re never going to agree 100 percent, but we’re at a place where we can be in these separate groups or come together. Let’s come together.”

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