April 20th, 2011 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: Schools

High School Redesign: Benson to Get a New Principal

     
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Steve OlczakBenson Principal Steve Olczak at a student walk-out to protest Portland Public Schools' proposed reforms.

The Benson Polytechnic High School principal who played the awkward role of leading Benson even as his boss, Superintendent Carole Smith, worked to strip the career-focused school of many of its programs, will retire at the end of the school year.

Now advocates for Benson are scrambling to make sure their voices are heard as Smith searches for Steve Olczak's replacement as the storied school's next principal.

Last year, as Smith closed her months-long process for reallocating scarce resources across the district's 10 high schools, Benson became a target for multiple reforms. At first, Smith proposed transforming the four-year school into a two-year, part-time career program for high school students who would get their academic classes at their neighborhood high schools. But that idea failed amid protests from Benson students and graduates. Ultimately, Smith and the Portland School Board decided Benson would remain a four-year school, but the school had to shed some career tracks because of dwindling state money for public education.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty, advocates for Benson argued Olczak should have played a stronger role to protect Benson and keep its programs intact. One of those critics was John Slaughter, who runs the mentoring program at Benson and also serves as a football and basketball coach there.

Olczak came to Benson at another awkward time in 2008 after the somewhat unexplained departure of Benson's former principal. The school district this morning confirmed Olczak's retirement, but Olczak was unavailable for comment.

A community meeting is scheduled for tomorrow night at Benson to talk about Olczak's replacement.

 
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