October 24th, 2007 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Jefferson High School: It Takes a Pillage, Part One Million?

It's just a coincidence that the latest ideas about how to reform Jefferson High School took place at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the mega-retailer Target.

However, parents and concerned citizens in and around the Jefferson cluster have long felt the high school was -- understatement alert! -- some sort of bullseye.

Last month, four representatives of Portland Public Schools, the president of Portland Community College's Cascade Campus and John Weekes, an architect with Portland's Dull Olson Weekes Architects (a company that collaborated with the school district on the construction of the new Rosa Parks Elementary in North Portland) traveled to D.C. to attend the Great Schools by Design conference put on by Target.

The idea behind the conference was to give school officials a chance to talk about the importance of design in creating the schools of their dreams. Not a bad exercise. We should all dream. But the "project summary" for Jeff contains some doozies that shouldn't go unnoticed.

Below are direct quotes from the project summary, stellar grammar left intact:

"Originally envisioned as an urban strategy to strengthen Portland's public schools (and using strong school at [sic] an attractor to urban neighborhoods), the desirability of close-in neighborhoods has resulted -- in recent years -- in an increase in prices of large homes."

Keep reading. It gets better.

"But it has also resulted in a demographic shift. The population of many lower and middle income families has moved to more affordable housing in outlying areas."


"Jefferson High School is located in one of those inner-city neighborhoods. But gentrification has not occurred in the Jefferson High area to the same extent as other neighborhoods, and it remains one of Portland's least affluent."

Say what about gentrification? I don't quite hear you, there?

The "project summary" goes on to talk about faults with the Jeff building itself, despite over $1 million in improvements last year.

"Aside from not supporting the academics of the school, and notwithstanding the recent expenditure of more than $1 million for building upgrades, the building itself has serious deficiences ... As PPS's Assistant Director of Facilities stated, 'The building, as it stands, is past its useful service life and it is time to invest in a different strategy.'"

New idea alert!

"Note again that PCC is just across the street, in modern accessible buildings. But 'just across the street' means, today, crossing an entire football field length to get to the street. Built on Killingsworth, there is the potential to skybridge from a new Jefferson High building to the PCC campus building, making PCC more accessible to Jefferson academy students, and Jefferson more accessible to the community for evening classes and other resources within a new school."

Here's the biggest news, even if it's just an idea or wishful thinking:

"The potential exists for rebuilding the Humboldt Elementary School (a building with serious deficiencies, located just a block away) on the same campus. This would provide the opportunity to redevelop the existing elementary school site with additional housing and/or mixed use."

The four Portland Public Schools administrators who attended the conference Sept. 23-25 were Cathy Mincberg, chief operating officer; Justin Devers, from facilities; Cynthia Harris, principal at Jeff; and John Wilhelmi, director of high schools.

As of Wednesday evening, I was still waiting to hear who paid for PPS' trip.

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