June 4th, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

High School Redesign: More Questions than Answers

Redesign Now, Think Later
Thinking about what aspect of Portland Public Schools' latest high-school recommendations to examine feels a bit like standing at a car collision with several bleeding people in front of me.

Superintendent Carole Smith's new modifications [PDF] pose many new unanswered questions.

Why should Benson High limit its enrollment to 400 students, as Smith proposed this week? Won't those kids continue to come from Roosevelt and Jefferson? Won't that undermine those two schools' programs? If ninth graders can't attend either Marshall or Benson next year, what's that mean for the remaining students in 10th, 11th and 12th grade? Will they have fewer class offerings? And that doesn't begin to consider what will happen to Marshall students as the district pursues possible plans to share the Southeast Portland campus with the David Douglas School District and neighborhood activists examine proposals to shift Marshall's boundaries so the school falls entirely under David Douglas's purview.

Looking at just one narrow change in Smith's proposal -- the idea of sending Skyline K-8 students from the West Hills, who currently attend Lincoln High, to Roosevelt High across the river instead -- sent me in multiple unexpected directions. Some parents said their children were young enough that they hoped Roosevelt, a struggling school, would be better suited to their kids' needs in a few years. Others (with older kids) were balking at the prospect of trading Lincoln's International Baccalaureate-orbit for a school with far fewer advanced courses.

Consider the situation of Diana Dienger. She is the mother of six whose eldest daughter is in eighth grade at Skyline through PPS's school-choice lottery. (About 23 percent of Skyline's students come from other parts of Portland.) Dienger lives in St. Johns, so Roosevelt is her children's neighborhood high school. But Dienger's daughter, Keala, planned to attend Benson next year. Under the superintendent's latest proposal, that option may no longer exist. "I don't know what we're going to do," Dienger says. "We were going to go to Benson. I'm not going to Roosevelt, that's for sure."

That last statement isn't a knee-jerk response. Roosevelt, Dienger says, sent her daughter a postcard inviting her to shadow a Roosevelt student this spring to get a feel for the school. But when Dienger followed the postcard's directions to call the school to schedule an appointment, she never got a response, she says. "So why would I want to go there?" she asks.
 
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