Benson Tech battle gets assist from a big AC(E)
NBAer A.C. Green offers his support to alma mater in school fight
Benson Polytechnic High School is enlisting the star power of one of its most famous alumni, A.C. Green, to help advocate for the school's future.
Green, retired NBA star and a 1981 Benson graduate, is among many alumni who've become alarmed that Benson could change drastically under the Portland Public Schools high school redesign proposal.
'A.C. contacted me last week with concerns he had, regarding the redesign,' says Benson basketball coach Troy Berry. 'He expressed interest in lending a hand and a voice to do what he could to get the district to rethink the whole plan.'
Berry, who graduated with Green in '81, says he had a long phone chat with Green from his Los Angeles home and welcomed his 'passion and willingness to step forward.' They'll work together during the next week to come up with creative ways to get his voice heard, Berry says.
The Portland School Board is set to vote June 21 on a proposal to convert Benson to a two-year advanced learning center for juniors and seniors, in order to allow students districtwide to benefit from those vocational programs. The Benson community opposes it, saying it doesn't make sense to destroy a four-year program that combines academics and career-technical education and has been successful for its population of high-need students.
Last week another wrinkle emerged when board member Martin Gonzalez raised the idea of possibly moving Benson into Jefferson to help that school succeed. About 300 Jefferson neighborhood students attend Benson, almost as many as attend Jefferson.
Other board members requested more information from district staff on how that proposal could pan out. It's unlikely it will have any legs, however.
The idea got a harsh reception Monday night from the Jefferson community during a public meeting at Self Enhancement Inc. Many people said they preferred Superintendent Carole Smith's original proposal to turn Jefferson into a comprehensive school with extra support and the ability to bring back all of its neighborhood kids.
'They're performing arts, we're (career-technical education),' Berry says. 'We have the facilities here. I think Jefferson should be afforded the same opportunities as the Lincolns and Wilsons and Clevelands and Grants. If you move Benson over there, you're still limiting options for kids.'
Berry wants to emphasize that he respects Superintendent Carole Smith and her supports efforts to increase equity in the district, although he disagrees with her plan. He thinks the problem starts at the K-8 level, where students at some schools aren't given high expectations, behaviorally and academically, so they carry that into high school.
Berry laments the fact that none of the school board members are black, like the majority of students at Benson and Jefferson. He sees that as a flaw in policy-making.
Dismantling the communities at Jefferson and Benson, he says: 'It's racism. It's institutional racism. ... We have to quit taking back seats. Why are we the ones that have to get left out, forgotten about, miseducated? Whey are we the ones that have to get the scraps?'
Marshall also fighting back
The redesign effort is continuing this week at a fast pace, with a district-sponsored public hearing on the proposal set for 7 to 9 tonight at Roosevelt campus. Another is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 22, at Benson.
A hearing is planned from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, Thursday, May 27, at the Marshall campus in outer Southeast Portland, but the Marshall community can't wait. People are organizing their own meeting tonight, knowing that most can't make it across the city to St. Johns for the Roosevelt meeting.
The Marshall community's meeting is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Ararat Bakery, 5716 S.E. 92nd Ave.
'Our message to PPS: 'Slow down. Listen. We'll help,' says Christina Armstrong, a parent who's taken the lead in organizing the community's voice. 'We need more time, and we will demand it. One month isn't right for any community to have to make a decision that will severely affect our community.'
Under Smith's proposal, Marshall's three small schools would close and turn into one focus option school for 400 students. Most of the Marshall community says they would rather be a large comprehensive school, with the same opportunities as others.
The district has tried to balance that desire with the success of at least one of the small schools that will now no longer exist.
In the meantime, Benson students are circulating a petition in opposition and planning to gather at City Hall Monday afternoon to draw the attention of city leaders, says John Slaughter, a mentor at the school.
Green, who was also a basketball star during Oregon State University's early 1980s run at a national championship, spent 17 seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2001. He splits his time between Los Angeles and Phoenix, working on his business and charitable ventures.
He's a consultant for a company called Financial Destinations Inc., runs the A.C. Green Youth Foundation, and has become the ambassador and coach for a 3BA International, a professional 3-on-3 league that started in 2008.
Green has always been considered a role model for youngsters; his foundation promotes character, leadership, abstinence and Christian values.
In a July 2009 blog entry on his foundation's website, he speaks to the issue of peer pressure. 'So much of high school is about growing,' Green writes. 'Growing physically…mentally…emotionally. I was 5'10' when I walked in the doors of Benson High School for the first time and 6'8-1/2' when I left! But I went through even more changes as a person.
'Decisions I made in high school helped shape who I am today. Many of these decisions had to be made in the face of peer pressure. Peer pressure had the potential to be a powerful force when I was in high school. It still does, for both me and you.'