For those of you who have taken an interest in the January 18th posting on Racial Bias in Portland Public Schools, (and of course for anyone else reading), this post will point out the things that are indeed good at Jefferson High School, despite decades of strife and struggles. The first post provided the background to where the school stands today, and why. After reading even just the excerpts I posted, no one can be surprised that sentiments here in our neighborhood flash a little hot now and then. The historical injustices are many and well documented. By now, however, so much time has passed, and such a dramatic change of demographics have occurred, that I felt that a revisit to the historical background, and the reasons why “everyone” flees Jefferson, was warranted. An understanding of the past will hopefully soften the hard edge of judgement required to turn your back on your own neighborhood. When you hear your neighbors say “I will never send my kids to Jefferson”, it is easy to assume the same attitude – even though you may not really be aware to which extent their reasoning is based on fact or fiction. What I and the other parents are trying to accomplish with our work, is to entice neighborhood families – new and old – to take a real good look at what we do have, and to see and acknowledge the whole story. The past can unfortunately not be undone, but by keeping it in mind, we can steer the future of Jefferson in a different direction from where it’s headed now. Agreed, Jefferson is far from an ideal school – yet. The last 50 years have inflicted tremendous damage both in terms of community goodwill and academic offerings.
The list below was written to serve as a counterpoint to all the flurry of negativity – justified or not – that often sparks when Jefferson High School is mentioned – in almost any setting. For example, once when Jeff’s football team played, the newspaper article the following morning focused the first paragraph on the “barbed wire surrounding the field”, instead of reporting the highlights of the previous evening’s game. The paper failed, of course, to mention that almost all football fields in almost all high schools are surrounded with barbed wire, in order to deter non-paying intruders. In this case, it immediately served to paint a picture of the Jefferson campus as a dire, sinister, and ominous place, akin to a prison yard. Even if trivial, these constant little media pin-pricks do nothing to improve the school’s image. We want to change that!
At the end of the summer of 2010, the Portland School Board decided – partly due to community pressure – to keep Jefferson open. It would however be transformed into a “focus-hybrid” school where the focus would be on something called the “Middle College Program”. This “Middle College” option would enable students to pursue up to 30 credit hours of college credits for free at the Portland Community College, located across the street, as part of their high school education. This program is in no way new to Jefferson, but the focus designation would enable kids from across town to also apply. The “hybrid” part means that, unlike any other focus school, those living within the Jefferson cluster would have first dibs. Although relieved that the school would remain open, what the community really wanted was a regular Community Comprehensive High School, with so called “pathways” (i.e. areas of focused study) related to the offerings already in place in the cluster schools, as well as taking advantage of and rebuilding what Jefferson used to be in its heyday. One of the pathways would build upon the very successful Spanish Immersion program at one of the cluster’s elementary schools, whose students have nowhere to go to pursue additional language studies after finishing 8th grade. Other pathways we were hoping for, included a continuation of the OHSU collaboration mentioned below, environmental studies to complement the annual Carbon Footprint Fair, and, of course, a rebuilding of the once famous Visual and Performing Arts and Music programs. There is a three story wing full of unused music rooms at Jefferson, filled with rows of band uniforms, choir rooms and a library full of sheet music, all of which bears enough testimony of what could be, to make anyone kick into action.
At the end of September, the Jefferson Alumni Association organized a week long fundraiser to bring back the arts and music programs to the school, and the cluster schools. A number of renowned musicians including Mike Phillips (an incredible jazz player who in the past has played with Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, to name just a few), Portland’s own Pink Martini, the Devin Phillips Jazz Quartet, and of course, the Jefferson Dancers, were featured. On the last day of the festival, music played from three stages for an entire day – it was marvelous! The halls of the school were filled with great music, and it felt as if the tired, old building had come to life again! Many of the musicians were graduates of the now dormant music program, before its demise, and sang the praise of arts education. They also told stories from their time there. The consensus was that “it gives kids something to do, and keeps them off the street”. So true. As Plato put it: “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys of learning.”
Although most agree on the benefits of an education rich in exposure to the arts, art and music are sadly lacking in today’s public schools, with few notable exceptions – at least here in Portland. The latest educational trends focus on reading, writing, and more reading. But, as a wise person said – “If you take away the arts, there is nothing left to write about”.
Lastly, another VERY positive and notable recent testimony to the caliber of what is left at Jefferson, was the visit of a talent scout from the distinguished Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts last week.
New for this year in Jefferson’s curriculum, is an AP Arts class. The art teacher posted some of the AP students’ work on a website, and it caught the attention of this discerning head hunter. The school he represents is a 200-year old private college and offers several different programs, one in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania. (Notable alumni include Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Alexander Calder, David Lynch, and many more – check their website!) He stated that students who attended PAFA for their bachelors often go on to receive a Masters in Fine Art from Yale. The fact that he found it worth his time and resources to fly out west and, out of all other schools select Jefferson, speaks volumes about the quality of the work emanating from Jeff. The students he met with were both bewildered and delighted. Most of them had never entertained the possibility of going to an ivy league school before this! What gets me, is that here is a high school with marvelous potential, and most of the neighborhood galleries and artsy little stores along Alberta and Mississippi don’t even realize the talent that is brewing in their back yard! (Kudos to those of you who do – you know who you are! ; ) This is great news! We need artists, merchants, musicians – everyone living and working in the Jeff community to open their eyes to this potential, and for the neighborhood to rally around their school! Sure it may seem a bit battered and beaten now, but it’s a diamond in the rough. With community support, I bet it wouldn’t take very long for Jefferson to regain its long lost status of being the most desirable high school in Portland!
Enough said – below are 11 additional Jefferson facts that are undeniable. They were assembled before the aforementioned music festival, and before the District made its decision to turn Jeff into a focus-hybrid, but I will leave the list as is. If you’re reading this in Portland – please spread the word! And, yes, the petition mentioned in item #2 was still open for signing last time I checked!
1. CLOSING JEFFERSON DIRECTLY VIOLATES THE CITY OF PORTLAND’S 20-MINUTE PLAN As the Office of Sustainability and Planning’s Portland Plan’s background on Public Schools states: “Schools are critical to Portland’s vitality. Schools are centers of community, and are key elements in walkable, convenient 20-minute neighborhoods. The public school system is one of the most important institutional building-blocks of our society.” If we allow the PPS School Board to complete their plan to close Jefferson High School, not only will we lose an essential part of our neighborhood infrastructure – property values within the Jefferson cluster will plummet.
2. MOST CHILDREN LIVE IN NORTH, NORTHEAST, AND EAST PORTLAND According to the Background Report Overview “Public Schools” from the same Portland Plan “More children live in North, Northeast and East Portland, fewer in Central City.” Additionally, by 2016, around 2,200 high school age students are projected to be living in the Jefferson cluster area. It is imperative that our community retains its Comprehensive Community High School. The livability of our neighborhoods depend on it. Please sign the petition at http://petitions.tigweb.org/Democrats and pledge your support for our community.
3. THE PPS TRANSFER POLICY IS DRAINING THE JEFFERSON NEIGHBORHOOD The current system of school funding is engineered so that the money goes where the kids go. The Transfer Policy is draining our own community of much needed school funding. Why let your kids finance other neighborhoods’ educational opportunities? Nobody should have to commute to high school. Let’s work to keep our kids at Jefferson! We deserve quality education in our neighborhood!
4. JEFFERSON IS ON THE RISE ACADEMICALLY Jefferson High School is a school on the up and up. Under the leadership of Dr. Cynthia Harris, the schools academic performance climbed significantly, and has enjoyed a Satisfactory State Rating for the last two years – despite the continuous draining of its funds to other schools. Jefferson has recently produced two Gates Scholars through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – an honor that bestows upon its recipients a free ride through college, including post-graduate studies through PhD levels.
5. ENJOY SMALLER CLASS SIZES AT JEFFERSON One unexpected benefit of low enrollment numbers is smaller class sizes. Why travel far to be treated like a number when you can choose to be treated like a person at your neighborhood school? With growing community support for Jefferson, these conditions won’t last. Take advantage of the intimate class sizes and one-on-one educational support while you can.
6. JEFFERSON NURTURES CORPORATE AND COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS One of Jefferson’s most successful partnerships is the OHSU biomedical internship program. Initiated 24 years ago, it continues to churn out well-prepared and highly qualified graduates that go on to further studies and promising careers in a growing field. Another great option available to Jefferson students is the possibility to earn college credits for free, through the ongoing PCC partnership referred to as the Middle College Program. In 2008, then mayor Potter relocated City Hall to Jefferson aiming to “give students, parents and educators a first hand lesson in how government really works – and to showcase the opportunities, successes and challenges facing every school in Portland’s six public school districts.”
7. JEFFERSON IS A SAFE SCHOOL IN A SAFE NEIGHBORHOOD A look at Portland Maps busts the popularly propagated myth that the Jefferson Campus is an unsafe place. The crime statistics indicate that with the exception of one, Jefferson along with the other high schools in the outlying areas, sport far lower crime rates than those located in the central parts of the city.
8. JEFFERSON IS PORTLAND’S PREMIER PERFORMING ARTS HIGH SCHOOL Jefferson is home to the internationally renowned Jefferson Dancers – a program started in the 70’s. With the expected cash infusion from the Rose City Music Festival in Sept. 25 – Oct. 2, the currently dormant music program will be rebooted, for the benefit of our neighborhood. Pink Martini, the Jefferson Dancers, and many other artists and musicians are rallying to support Jeff.
Check it out at http://www.rosecitymusicfestival.com/
9. JEFFERSON’S VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM HAS GLORIOUS TRADITIONS In its hey-day, Jefferson’s Art Programs drew students from all over the state. Those students left a lasting legacy of artworks representative of important political and historical eras throughout the school’s century-long history. Volunteers are continuously working to archive and preserve these treasures for the future. Conveniently located at the crossroads of the Alberta Arts District and the Mississippi, time is ripe for Jefferson to reassume it’s central position in the Portland Arts Community. Let’s cultivate the talent in our own back yard!
10. JEFFERSON IS A TOP-NOTCH SPORTS SCHOOL It’s basket ball team has not lost a single City Championship in 11 years! Last year 4 boys went on to D1 colleges! In the last three years, the Boys’ team has won the State Championships three times, and the Girls’ team twice. Notable alumni include NFL Hall of Famer Mel Renfro and Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker.
11. JEFFERSON IS AN ENVIRONMENTALLY SAVVY SCHOOL For the last two years, Jefferson has hosted a highly popular and well-attended Carbon Footprint Fair. In fact, the school was one of only ten schools in the nation to receive a grant from the Earth Day Network in Washington D.C. to install solar panels on its roof. Volunteers at Jefferson are presently working on installing semi-permanent exhibits featuring current information on a variety of sustainable technologies. The intent is for these displays and related workshops to be offered as an open, public resource for the community, starting at the end of the 2010-11 school year.