February 8th, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

High-School Redesign: School Closures, Boundaries, Board Elections and Union Impasse

Grant High

The busy state of Portland Public Schools' high-school redesign and teacher contract negotiations bring this omnibus update, in advance of tonight's School Board meeting:

• Parents in the Grant High School cluster met last week to organize against Grant's possible closure as a neighborhood school. Between 200-300 people attended the meeting, which included entertainment from Grant's Royal Blues chamber choir (pictured above). Grant parents now have lawn signs, a Facebook page, a Google group and a new website domain name, www.don'tclosegrant.org, even though no decisions about closing Grant (or any other neighborhood high school) have been made.

• The Portland School Board will not hear a resolution tonight on the future number of neighborhood high schools, despite opposite indications at the Jan. 25 School Board meeting. At that meeting, Superintendent Carole Smith's chief of staff, Zeke Smith, said staff would present a set of resolutions tonight that spelled out not only the district's minimum requirements for the types of core classes each neighborhood high school would offer beginning in 2011, but also the district's targets for neighborhood schools' student enrollment. Instead, the resolution [PDF] reads like a wish list of desired outcomes instead of an actual plan. It does repeat the goal of giving all students access to two world languages and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.

• The School Board will consider a new $75,000 contract with Tampa-based Seer Analytics, whose CEO visited Portland this fall as a participant in the Council of the Great City Schools conference to talk about using new school boundaries as a tool for "increasing diversity and efficiency while building community participation and buy-in." The $75,000 contract falls under the board's business agenda, which board members typically approve with little to no discussion.

• The possibility of neighborhood high school closures, the creation of "focus" schools in their place and the proposed redrawing of catchment-area boundaries made me wonder if the boundaries establishing the School Board zones might be redrawn in the future. School Board elections in Portland are at-large, meaning everyone inside PPS's boundaries can vote for every seat. But to be eligible to run, a candidate must live in the zone that has an opening. There are seven zones, and zones currently correspond loosely to neighborhood high-school catchment areas. Lincoln High, for example, is in one zone. Wilson is in another zone. But three high schools (with some of the least politically powerful parents arguably) are clustered into one zone -- that's Trudy Sargent's Zone 6, which includes Madison, Marshall and Franklin high schools. Turns out the boundaries are reconsidered once a decade with every U.S. Census report. They were last redrawn in 2001, according to PPS. They could be reconsidered after the release of the 2010 Census. Something to think about.

• Finally, an update on the district's declaration of impasse with the Portland Association of Teachers union. Both sides have until Feb. 11 to submit final offers to the state. One upside of an impasse? Negotiations have required the help of a state mediator since August, at the request of PPS. By declaring an impasse, PPS has priority over other management groups in the state when it comes to scheduling sessions with a state mediator, of which there are currently only two in all of Oregon.
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