Never before have I posted the transcript of a lengthy monologue by a Portland School Board member. But David Wynde's off-the-cuff speech explaining his "no" vote Tuesday night, when the School Board approved Marshall High School's closure in a 4-3 split, warrants a full read from anyone concerned about public education. What follows is an unedited transcript of what Wynde had to say. Beth Slovic
David Wynde: Because I respect the staff and trust the sincerity and the integrity of the people that are here, I'm not at the point anymore where I'm willing to take ‘We're working on it' as an answer. And I wish I hadn't taken ‘We're working on it' when I voted before.
I know there's clear evidence that a number of kids in the Marshall cluster are voting with their feet. I think there's a couple reasons for that: One is that some people want a community comprehensive option, and they deserve that, and we should give them that. We just voted on a resolution for kids in the Jefferson neighborhood. We've given them just exactly that. We also know that small schools are just exactly what some kids need, and in the Jefferson cluster—at least for the time being—we've given them that option.
We gave kids in the Marshall cluster a guarantee of the opportunity to go to a small school. And they had to vote with their feet to go find a community comprehensive. And with hindsight, Director [Dilafruz] Williams, maybe we should have started with one small school on the Marshall campus and built from there: could have, it's too late. That was then. This is now.
There's another reason why kids in the Marshall cluster choose to go somewhere else, and I didn't understand that fully until a little while ago. You've heard Director [Martin] González refer to No Child Behind and the implications of not meeting adequate yearly progress, and you've heard him as he correctly said that … Superintendent [Carole] Smith how many high schools in this district made adequate yearly progress [AYP] a year ago? This year I know it's Franklin and Lincoln and the three small schools [at Marshall]. But how many high schools the year before? I think it was just Lincoln.
[Here board member Trudy Sargent says it's the second year for Franklin.]
Good for them. I mean that. That is good for them. But I have a daughter who attends the Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, which is part of Jefferson High School, and Jefferson High School did not make AYP, and Jefferson High School receives Title I money, so every parent who has a kid attending Harriet Tubman [got] a letter that said, ‘Your child's attending a failing school. You can go somewhere else if you want to.' It wasn't quite as stark as that, but I'm on the school board. I understand this stuff. I got the letter and read it and went ‘Ewww!'
Parents whose kids attend Cleveland, Grant, Wilson, Madison did not get that letter because those schools don't receive Title I funding and so we don't send those letters to families. Their academic status is exactly the same as the schools that do get it. So, if we want to understand why people are choosing not to attend one of those three schools at the Marshall campus in addition to the fact that we were not offering a community comprehensive there, we were also sending a nastygram to each of those families suggesting that they might want to go somewhere else. We asked, at our work session, Carl Logan, the principal from Lane Middle School, who's there, and Lane is a school that's made significant progress. And we asked—somebody asked, I believe it was Director [Bobbie] Regan maybe, asked, ‘Carl, why is it that kids don't go to Marshall?' And his two word answer was ‘urban legend.' He said they're still fighting the same issues at Lane even though they have the results now. There's a perception, and it lingers, and it lasts for a long time. So, there's a third reason kids are not attending schools on the Marshall campus.
So, we had three schools receiving Title I money that have struggled: Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Marshall. Marshall, those three schools actually made AYP, safe harbor, it's moving in the right direction. Roosevelt—millions of dollars in federal money gives us an opportunity to work with them. They weren't doing quite as well as Marshall, but they got money. Jefferson—not doing quite as well as Marshall, they have a plan, middle college, opportunity to go to another school if you want a community comprehensive. Marshall–doing the best out of the three of them, and the reward for that? We're gonna close all three schools. That doesn't seem fair. [Applause!]
Maybe it's the buildings. Oh, but wait. We've got closure reports, FCI index. That's a technical thing about the state of the buildings. Marshall, Franklin, Cleveland, Madison, ah… Marshall buildings are actually in the best condition of the four. Not by much in a couple of cases, but it is actually in the best physical condition. So, it can't be that. But here's something else.
There was a phrase in one of the resolutions that the High School System Design Process bought out the best in Portland. In some ways that's true – other ways, not so much so.
I mean what I'm about to say respectfully, and I hope, Director Regan you don't take this the wrong way, but you said just a minute ago that every school community has been through an emotional roller coaster. I'm sorry, but I really don't think that's true. I don't think the Wilson High School community has been through an emotional roller coaster. I don't think the Lincoln—I mean I could be wrong. But you want to talk emotional roller coaster? I think the Marshall and Jefferson high schools communities have been through an emotional roller coaster. I don't think the rest of these communities have been through an emotional roller coaster. Maybe the Grant High School community put themselves through an emotional roller coaster [a little laughter, some applause]. ‘Cause there was a rumor! Someone looked at the map, and said, ‘You know, if you look at the map, it makes sense: you close this one down, you reassign people, off you go.' It was a complete rumor. There was no foundation. There wasn't even a draft secret plan somewhere in the superintendent's office like that. And out of that, came a popular movement complete with a slogan, Facebook page, lawn signs, a massive bombard of email to school board members: ‘Close the gap, not the schools.' Superintendent Smith a month ago put out a proposal: closing three schools. ‘Close the gap, not the schools' people, where the hell have you been for the past month? [Applause.]
You know, these results are in part because of their school numbers of the Marshall community. Their numbers aren't the same as the number of kids as at Franklin, Cleveland and Madison. That's the whole point. They're small schools. And if Cleveland, and Franklin and Madison—and I don't mean any disrespect to the people working in those schools—can't get the numbers that they got at Renaissance and at BizTech …
If they don't get the results with the number of kids they have now, how is it going to be any better when we send more kids there from Marshall? [Applause.]
One of the gentlemen who testified earlier said something about this process on listening to the voices. You know, one of the challenges we face as a school board is ‘Which voices do we listen to?' Do we listen to the voices of the 850 people on the ‘Close the gap, not the schools' Facebook page who are in our face? Or do we listen to the voice of the 600 families whose kids are Marshall, most of whom don't know that they can come and testify before us, that they can email us. And don't have the community infrastructure that they do in North and Northeast Portland. I don't mean to take anything away from the Jefferson community. But SEI, the Albina Ministerial Alliance, the Urban League, elected representatives in the state Legislature, and a whole slew of people got in our face when were proposing to do something about that school. And that's their prerogative.
Where's that institutional heft in defense of the Marshall community? Well, it's not there because those institutions don't exist in outer Southeast Portland. So now, maybe we do need to close an entire high school community—I actually don't think so. I think, I wish we had found a way to keep one small school at Marshall and build on the strengths like I've heard people say.
But maybe we did need to close a whole school community. The conversation we haven't had on this board was a real conversation about which one do we close in that situation. And the question I asked a couple of months ago is if you've got to unsettle and disrupt a whole cohort of kids, which kids do you disrupt? Do you disrupt the poorest, least represented, least supported group of kids. Or if you've got to do that to a cohort of kids, do you do it to the ones who have the family, have support, have institutional infrastructure to support to thrive wherever it is that they go? We haven't had that conversation.
So, we don't have the opportunity to do everything we want everywhere. We've heard that. But we've also heard we have to do everything we want everywhere we have to do somewhere, and we have to give students access to do that. And if we want to talk about sharing resources to make programs viable in CTE, then, maybe there's ways that we can do that somewhere else. So, I'm a ‘no' vote on this resolution, and I hope that this doesn't say something more substantial about the decisions that we have to make about priorities that we have to make when it comes to budget and other allocation decisions we've got to make. But I'm concerned: equity of access isn't even close to enough. And it's great that we're building a core program, but I think what we're doing to the kids who have chosen to attend those three schools on the Marshall campus is wrong, wrong, and wrong. And I'm really sorry that we're doing it. [Applause, cheers, a couple whistles.]