This week's WW
contains an analysis
of Portland Public Schools' efforts to reform its high schools. On Friday, I had a brief opportunity to chat with Superintendent Carole Smith
about this process. I had another, longer chance to talk with her last night -- after the story went to press. But Smith said a few things that struck me as worthy of sharing.
During that phone conversation Tuesday, I asked Smith if, given the criticism she's getting now for taking almost two years to get to the current stage of the process, she regretted her course of action. Her answer was clearly no. And that's not just because for every person (like me!) who tells her the process is too slow, there's another person who says it's too fast. It's also because she says she's learned a lot about what Portland students and their families want as a result of the community discussions.
For example, Smith says two years ago she probably would have imagined a school system with elementary- and middle-schools that were neighborhood-based. But the district's high schools would have been more like magnet schools -- with a greater degree of school choice than exists now. "It's not like I knew [what the high schools should look like] two years ago," Smith says. "We truly got loud and clear Portland wants neighborhood high schools."
She said one of her biggest worries is that parents and students who are anxious about the redesign won't engage with the process once more details emerge. "I would rather save people's energy for when we get to the specifics," she says.
Portland School Board members vote March 8 on a resolution that provides the frame for the superintendent's redesign. She then has just 45 days to determine how many neighborhood high schools should continue in Portland and where. She's looking forward to that stage -- as are many of her critics. "I'm ready to be in more definitive territory also," she says.
Photo of Smith at City Club of Portland in September 2008.