February 20th, 2008 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

Updated: Schooling the Superintendent on K-8s

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Yesterday I wrote on WWire that there needed to be a K-9 unit at Tuesday night's K-8 meeting hosted by Portland Public Schools. I thought there needed to be some serious sniffing happening to find all the problems tied up in the school district's rush to convert elementary and middle schools into K-8 models.

I was wrong. The problems are real. And they don't need any serious sniffing — they were apparent to parent representatives who attended the two-hour meeting and presented their concerns to Superintendent Carole Smith.

To her credit, Smith listened -- without interruption -- to it all. After the meeting, former School Board candidate Michele Schultz said she could not have imagined former Superintendent Vicki Phillips sitting through a similar meeting. (Phillips was, in many people's minds, too interested in her own ideas to listen to others.)

Schultz summed up the evening pretty nicely.

"Here's what happens when you do too many things with not enough money," Schultz says. "The hope was that there was a plan. It's pretty clear there wasn't a plan."

At Beach, middle-school-age students must be bussed to King for algebra class.

Sabin lacks a separate gym for older children to use. It has no outdoor facility suitable for middle-school recess. Its library is unsupported. And it lacks an adequate science lab, not to mention classes in art and music. (These complaints were nearly universal).

At Arleta, middle-school-age students are sitting in chairs made for younger children. They're serving detention in the front office with the school secretary sitting next to the little kiddos.

Humboldt has a shockingly small middle-school population since neighborhood children can choose to go elsewhere. As a result, its programs lack depth and breadth. Sixth-grade students have the same electives as pre-K students.

At Irvington, they feel adrift. "We would like to know what the district's vision of a K-8 school is," a parent representative told the superintendent. Half of the packed audience of about 200 people at the Rigler School then stood up. There was uncomfortable laughter, then a shout from another parent: "That's not funny!" [Update on Friday, Feb. 22. The above quote wasn't from an Irvington representative.]

At Lent, there are no lockers for the older students.

At Faubion, there is no guidance counselor because the school has only 389 students. (The magic number for getting a guidance counselor is 400).

Vernon has so few students it must blend its fifth- and sixth-grade classes, compromising rigor.

Rigler, which doesn't appear to have a website, is bursting at the seams. As a result, the district is moving eighth grade to Madison High School next year. Ditto the Scott School. (So much for K-8s; K-7s are where it's at.)

"We need a shared vision," a parent from Hollyrood-Fernwood said.

Then the Bridger School dropped a bomb. The school district is charging middle-school students middle-school prices for lunch but giving them elementary-school portions.How's that for fairness? The school is also forced to serve its first round of lunches at 10:45 am, two hours after breakfast, to accommodate three lunch shifts in a day.

Woodlawn needs algebra (and a website).

Tensions ran high when a representative of Skyline in the West Hills gave her presentation. (A woman in the audience behind the representative actually raised her fingers in the sign of the cross as if to ward off her evil!)

"I feel so lucky to be up at Skyline School," the Skyline rep said before rattling off a list of electives and funded programs that include foreign language and a computer lab.

"Why am I not surprised?" School Board member Ruth Adkins asked aloud -- perhaps forgetting for a moment she was sitting next to a reporter. (Sorry Ruth! It was funny! I had to report it.)

The Skyline rep then went on to say her school was in danger of having classes that were too small, endangering the social opportunities of students. This, she said, could pose a problem when the Skyline kids are shipped off to Lincoln High where the student population is "3,000." (It's actually more like 1,300, but close enough.)

Here's a photo of the crowd Tuesday night. One of the more interesting aspects of the evening was the coordination on the part of the parents. Every time a speaker made a point others agreed with, they stood up and brandished a sign with their school's name on it. They also held up signs with words like "equity" and "all students" on them. The whole thing had a Quaker meeting feel to it. (That, or bingo. I can't decide.)

Thanks to Otto Schell, director of legislative activities for the Oregon PTA, for the pic. Also, I should have noted originally that the meeting was organized by volunteers with local PTAs. I regret the error.

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