January 26th, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

PPS Considers Exceptions To Transfer Ban

Redesign Now, Think Later

A few bits of news about the high-school redesign emerged at last night's Portland School Board meeting, and if it weren't for -- wait for it -- School Board Member David Wynde, nobody in the room would have acknowledged that news.

Here's the shocker (or non-shocker, depending on how cynical you are): The school district might "carve out an exception" to its proposed ban on neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers at the high school level for students in immersion programs. Those are Wynde's words.

That means a major component of the proposed redesign -- a component that was supposed to help end inequality in the district by balancing enrollment across high schools -- could have a gaping loophole.

Under this proposed exception, eastside students who attend the Spanish-immersion program at Ainsworth Elementary, for example, will still get to attend Lincoln High on the west side, no matter where they live. Japanese immersion students at Mt. Tabor will continue to go to Grant, if Grant remains open, even though Mt. Tabor feeds to Franklin High. The list goes on. (Currently, about 2,800 attend immersion schools)

Xavier Botana, the district's newish chief academic officer, managed to drone for about 40 minutes. The closest he got to acknowledging the possibility of the exception was when he said PPS's current "feeder pattern does not support" the desired outcomes of successful immersion programs. (A Chicago schools blogger once described Botana's manner of speech this way: "[H]e had this low and rushed way of talking -- a speed mumble -- that made everything sound boring and important at the same time. Not an easy trick.")

Wynde was the board member who finally clarified the implications of what Botana was saying -- that the board could be asked to grant an exception to a fundamental component of the redesign as it stands now. One other option would be to create a "focus school" devoted to world languages that all immersion kids would attend.

Also at the School Board:

• PPS staff told the board it would come to them with language for a set of resolutions on the high-school redesign on Feb. 8. But the board won't vote on those resolutions (outlining the comprehensive high school's core program and enrollment goals) until a month or six weeks later.

• Botana also said comprehensive high schools would maintain a certain amount of local control when it comes to determining what electives they offer. Creating more uniformity in the schools' offerings is another key component of the redesign.

• Superintendent Carole Smith's chief of staff, Zeke Smith, reminded the board "we haven't asked you to make any decision about the high school redesign." That gets my goat a bit, because it's not entirely accurate. Eighteen months after the fact, the board has made numerous decisions about the redesign. In fact, they made another one last night when they approved spending another $31,000 in grant money so Davis Hibbitts & Midghall can conduct more polling about the high school redesign. This time, they're being tasked with surveying Portlanders on their appetite for "focus schools" with programmatic themes and "specific learning approaches."

The sign (pictured above) comes from the Portland Association of Teachers union. Teachers held copies of it at a rally in December over the union's lack of a contract.
 
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