Lake Oswego School District approves proposal for recovery charter school
Lake Oswego School Board members voted unanimously last week to partner with the Oregon Recovery High School Initiative (ORHSI) to create a charter recovery high school in Lake Oswego.
The school, for students in grades 9-12, will be the first charter school created in partnership with the Lake Oswego School District and the first recovery high school of its kind in the state. It is scheduled to open in August 2019.
"I couldn't be prouder of the fact that we are the district that is stepping forward to make this happen," School Board member Rob Wagner said at the May 7 meeting. "To bring recovery conversations out of the shadows is so powerful."
Recovery high schools are designed to "support adolescents recovering from substance use disorders by providing an alternative environment to support their recovery, usually after treatment," according to ORHSI.
The recovery high school, which does not yet have a name or location, will serve adolescents in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. It will not cost the school district any money or present a financial risk to the LOSD, officials said, and it will not charge tuition to students. Rather, the school will be funded by per-pupil state allocations and a combination of grants and donations.
The LOSD's involvement is necessary, though, because a charter school needs a district, the State Board of Education or a university or college to sponsor it. Through a memorandum of agreement process, the recovery charter school and the LOSD will solidify details around back-office processing of benefits and paychecks, how diplomas will be awarded and how the district administration and charter school board will work together, among other details.
Tony Vezina, an ORHSI board member and executive director of Fourth Dimension, a youth recovery center in Northeast Portland, told the Lake Oswego School Board that there are about 7,000 children in the tri-county area who are suffering from addiction. He said Fourth Dimension is one of the only places for kids to go, and while the agency serves about 500 young people a month, it's simply not meeting the need that exists.
"I started using drugs at a young age. When I started to take drugs, I could not stop," said Vezina, who has been sober for six years. "The prescription that society gave me for my health condition was a nine-by-nine cell. I was in and out of jail a lot as an adolescent."
He was never introduced to the kinds of things that a recovery high school can provide for current students struggling with addiction, he told the School Board.
"I was never introduced to the concept of recovery as a lifestyle. I was never introduced to the concept of addiction as a disease. So I internalized my illness as a moral failing, and that shame and that guilt drove me to use drugs for a very long time," Vezina said. "I'm really excited that you guys have taken the opportunity for leadership in this gap in services in our community."
Tony Mann, co-founder and board chair of ORHSI, told the School Board that as a 1986 graduate of Lake Oswego High School, "I know I'm not telling you something you don't already know when I say that there are young people experiencing addiction across zip codes. Addiction is not a disease that discriminates."
According to ORHSI, nearly 50 percent of all high school students currently use an addictive substance, and one in three meets the medical criteria for addiction. Almost 70 percent of teens who go to a treatment center and return to their community high school relapse within six months to a year, the organization says.
In contrast, OHRSI says, less than 30 percent of teens who return from a treatment center and attend a recovery high school relapse over the same period.
Pam Pearce, co-founder and vice chair of ORHSI, expressed how important it is for young people in recovery to have a supportive group of sober peers, something that is currently lacking in the community.
"They can go to AA, but they're half the age of everyone there," said Pearce. "To know that there will be services, a place to go where they can hang out and be themselves, and be able to talk about who they are, and hear other people that are living on the same path, it's important."
The recovery high school will serve 20 adolescents in its first year. Jim McGovern, an ORHSI board member, told the School Board that the school aims to serve 85 adolescents by its fifth year. He said that not only is there a social imperative to create this school, but there is an economic imperative as well.
"Without this kind of help, they can go down a path that can cost society a lot," McGovern said. "We're going to self-fund, and we're asking that you consider our charter application and be a part of something the state needs."
Every School Board member, as well as LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck and a handful of community members who addressed the board, enthusiastically supported the proposal to create a recovery high school in Lake Oswego.
"This is new territory for us, to go into partnership with a charter school, and I can't think of a better way to start this partnership than like this," board member Liz Hartman said.
Bob Barman said he has never been prouder to support a motion throughout his seven years on the School Board.
"Rarely do I talk personally, but I have a godchild who is a recovering heroin addict. I've got addiction in my family," Barman said. "These kids need a place that is safe, where they can put in the hard work of recovery. I will be there every step of the way. And I know for a fact our community will be there."