December 4th, 2009 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools, Multnomah County

Top 10 Reasons To Worry About PPS's High School Redesign

Carole Smith
The first round of Portland Public Schools' community meetings about redesigning its high schools has ended. But what may be the most contentious meeting of them all lies ahead.

On Dec. 8, PPS must make its case to Cleveland High School-area parents who already appear mighty skeptical of PPS's plans, according to this letter [PDF] dated Dec. 2.

Here are the top 10 reasons Cleveland parents have every right to be skeptical:

1) The district's last big overhaul of schools -- its experiment with K-8s -- remains, at best, a work in progress.

2) Administrators who didn't have many answers to School Board members' questions in September still don't have many answers for parents three months later. At the Lincoln High School meeting Nov. 30, one parent wanted to know how the changes would affect class size. A legitimate question surely. But John Wilhelmi, an administrator leading the high-school reform effort, responded by telling the crowd, more or less something like, "Hey I went to Lincoln." Ages ago. He never answered the parent's question. He didn't even deign to say he didn't know the answer, which would have at least been honest.

3) Cleveland has a lot to lose, and PPS hasn't articulated well what other schools stand to gain. Under the proposal PPS is advancing -- which calls for about seven community high schools each with about 1,300 students -- Cleveland faces one of three outcomes. PPS currently has 10 high schools. So Cleveland could close. It could become one of the new "focus option" schools, meaning students would have to apply to attend. Or it could see its boundaries shrink in an effort to shift students to other buildings.

4) The district hasn't indicated what criteria it'll use when determining what schools to close. Will the age of the building be a factor? Geography? Success of the program?

5) The district wants to start implementing a plan in 2011.

6) It's not at all clear whether the district will have the money to implement its plan. Two years ago, the district started laying the groundwork for a possible $1 billion construction bond by paying for a $1 million survey of its buildings' needs. Now it appears they're floating the possibility of a much smaller bond, to pay for renovations at just two to four high schools. Even then, it's not clear when -- or if -- the district will get a bond.

7) There's no sense of whether teachers approve of the plans because the plans lack so many details. And given the fact the teachers union currently has no contract, there are other pressing matters to address, too.

8 ) The January election, and the outcome of Measures 66 and 67 could throw a wrench in the district's plans -- or, at least, its timeline.

9) No one is talking about how the changes will affect English language learners or special-education students, two groups that, when combined, account for about 25 percent of all students.

10) When parents ask a good question -- about funding, boundaries, class sizes and feeder patterns, the answer more often than not is: "That is not the topic of discussion tonight."

Photo of Carole Smith from Portland Public Schools
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