Two recent changes at Madison High School are stretching teachers thin and causing them to question how closely administrators are listening to them.
The first is a unanimous vote by the School Board on Feb. 25 to create a new “academy” at the outer Northeast Portland high school for 115 eighth-grade students next year.
That change is designed to relieve overcrowding at nearby Rigler and Scott schools, which had been targeted to become K-8s next year. Both schools now have only kindergartners through seventh-graders.
The second is a decision to keep three “small schools” or “schools within schools” at Madison, despite a board decision last December to postpone indefinitely a vote on cementing those schools in place.
Teachers say dividing staff and students among those three “small schools” limits what Madison can offer because it requires them to duplicate courses for three sets of students. For example, students may take classes only in their own “small school,” so all three “schools” must offer a class in Advanced Placement literature, even though none of the classes is full.
The impact of the two changes is heightened by the fact that enrollment at Madison has dropped 30 percent since 2003 to about 820 students. That means principal Pat Thompson must cut teaching positions at the high school next year. At the same time, she’s hiring eighth-grade teachers for the new academy.
To fill the ranks, she’s first asking high-school teachers with little to no background teaching middle-school-age students to shift positions, a move some teachers find worrisome.
Madison teacher Gene Brunak, also a “community writer” for The Oregonian, penned an editorial in early February for the newspaper, expressing optimism for the changes related to the eighth grade. “In some ways, this solution makes sense,” he wrote.
But his confidence is a “little shaken,” Brunak told WW more recently. “These things need to be planned for carefully, and [the district’s] track record is not great.”
Thompson, one of five administrators at Madison next year, says enrollment may rebound, reducing pressure on teachers.
Senior Nick Culbertson, 17, says he and other students are worried dramatic changes that are poorly thought out will harm Madison’s overall reputation. He also says he’s fearful parents won’t want to send their eighth-graders to Madison with older teenagers, a trend that might do the opposite of what Thompson wants.
“Maturity-wise, they’re just not ready to be with 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds,” Culbertson says.