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Area PTA’s Send Letter to District RE: Cleveland High

Below is a letter sent to Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith. It lists issues and questions regarding the high school redesign process that parents in the neighborhood would like to discuss with the District at the meeting on Dec. 8th.

It has been endorsed by all the PTAs in the Cleveland cluster.

If you can attend, please plan to be there. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. on the 8th at Cleveland.

Parents encourage everyone to go there with open minds and willing to engage the District in discussion, however they also want to show them that there is real interest about this issue within our community.

December 2, 2009

Carole Smith, Superintendent
Portland Public Schools
501 North Dixon St.
Portland, OR 97227

Dear Superintendent Smith:

As a coalition of 9 several Parent Teacher Associations that are part of the Cleveland High School cluster, we have been tracking the High School Redesign conversation and have recently met to clarify our perspective on the best way to organize the upcoming discussion, on December 8th at Cleveland High School. Our coalition supports the interests of the District, teachers and parents to seek to make our high schools stronger and more equitable for all students. However, we are concerned that the District seems to have “honed” in on a solution that may not achieve these goals in a way, which will result in a long-term solution. As such, we would like to focus the upcoming Cleveland discussion around these points that seem to be the core of the current District conceptual plan:

1. The District is scheduled to recommend the plan to the school board in mid-January. The District is likely to propose that 2 or 3 high schools be closed, and high school students be assigned to equal sized community schools of approximately 1,200 students each, or attend a focus school. Boundary changes and a ban on transfers will be the primary methods used to assign students to community schools.
• What criteria will be used to determine which schools will close and how boundaries will change?
• Are all nine PPS high schools under equal consideration?
• How will the district reach out to the communities that may have a high school closure and/or a boundary change?
• How can neighborhoods provide input and influence the plan?

2. Perhaps Cleveland will not be closed, but closure could be based on location, physical condition of the facility and its deferred maintenance costs, desired socio-economic distribution, or other criteria that bear more on redistribution of students than on the historical performance of a high school.
• How will the criteria be weighted? For example, will facilities considerations carry the same weight as recent program success?
• Where does community/neighborhood/historical relevance fit into the decision?

3. There is no stated school-specific plan yet for any particular high school. However, from the conceptual plan, the options for Cleveland would include:
a. Closure;
b. Conversion to a focus school; or,
c. Reduction in size to a community school of approximately 1,200 students.

• How strong is the demand for focus schools and what is the evidence that focus schools support the district goals of quality, equity, and sustainability?
• What criteria will be used for determining which schools will become focus schools and what focus programs would be selected?
• What evidence is there that 1,200 students is the ideal population for a community school, and how much fluctuation in this population size over the years would be tolerable before a new reorganization would be necessary?

4. Cleveland presently has between 1,500 to 1,600 students. To fit the PPS community school model the Cleveland population would need to be reduced by about 400 students. This may:
a. Reduce FTE staffing proportionately;
b. Reduce enrichment options that Cleveland currently provides;
c. Shift some programs to focus schools; and
d. Require ~400 students be removed and reassigned to another school by redistricting or some other means.

• Can the district guarantee that students currently in the Cleveland Cluster will have the same opportunities, or better, in the future, than they would if no reorganization were to occur?

5. These changes would be implemented in the 2011 – 2012 school year.
• Is this a realistic timeline?
• Are families in the community adequately informed, especially the families with elementary and middle school aged children?

6. No process has yet been identified for the community to discuss the pros and cons of this model, to understand how its key components are designed to achieve sustainable results or, to propose modifications.
• What will be the process for community input after the December 8 meeting?

7. There has been no discussion to date of how an implementation plan will be developed and what role the community will play in developing this critical component of the final overall redesign plan.
• How will an implementation plan be developed?

8. The City Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is currently engaged in a related effort to update Portland’s Comprehensive Plan (known as the Portland Plan). A cornerstone principle of the Plan is increased urban density and the building and sustaining of “20-Minute Neighborhoods”. Yet, it is not clear how the City’s vision for growth through increased density is being factored into the High School Redesign effort, given that an increase in special focus schools and a reconfiguration of fewer community schools may require students to cross the city and increase vehicle miles traveled, rather than reduce them as the Portland Plan (and the City’s Climate Action Plan) calls for.
• How does the High School Redesign effort support and affirm the “20-Minute Neighborhood” concept cited in Portland Plan presentations?

Each of these issues is significant and will warrant presentation and adequate time for questions and comments. From this perspective it is our recommendation that the Cleveland meeting be structured for the District to address each issue 1 through 8, allow for clarifying questions by meeting attendees on each issue, and the opportunity for limited testimony to the District on the overall conceptual proposal (the number of testifiers and time for each statement would be limited).

We respect that the District has worked hard to prepare for each of the 8 individual high school meetings. However, based on our review of the slideshow distributed, discussions with parents, teachers and administrators, and a review of the record of the recent Grant meeting (provided by parents), we are convinced that our proposed structure for the December 8th meeting will best meet the District’s and our goals for meaningful information exchange and feedback on the conceptual High School Redesign Plan in it’s current form.

We look forward to your timely response to this proposal and are available to meet with you, at your earliest convenience, to make final preparations for the December 8th meeting. Please contact me with any comments, questions or, follow-up (mikanter@comcast.net, 503-309-9894).

Sincerely,

Mike Rosen, Legislative Chair
Cleveland High School PTA, and

Signed on behalf of the following Cleveland Cluster PTA Presidents and their Boards:

Rebecca Friedenwald and Amy Sharpe, PTA Co-Presidents, Abernethy Elementary
Sara Elgee and Pam Wiley, PTA Co-Presidents, Cleveland High School
Christine Morita-McVey and Andrew T. Reilly, PTA Co-Presidents, Duniway Elementary
Jeanette Finley, PTA President, Lewis Elementary
Susan Kroll-Wilch, PTA President, Llewellyn Elementary
Toni Karter and Annie Griffin, PTA Co-Presidents, Sellwood Middle School

Cc: Tammy Barron, Principal, Abernethy Elementary
Paul Cook, Principal, Cleveland High School,
Tou Meksavanh, Principal, Duniway Elementary, tmeksava@pps.k12.or.us
Steven Powell, Prinicpal, Llewellyn Elementary School,
Helen Nolen, Principal, Sellwood Middle School,
PPS Board, SchoolBoard@pps.k12.or.us
Sarah Singer, PPS, ssinger@pps.k12.or.us
John Wilhelmi, PPS, jwilhelm@pps.k12.or.us
Xavier Botana, PPS, xbotana@pps.k12.or.us.

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