First of all – in the name of full disclosure, my kids take part in an Educational Options program that is only offered in one location, so this post is not intended to adopt a holier-than-thou – attitude. Quite the contrary… Like many other parents that opt out of their neighborhood, I wish I didn’t have to, but you do what you have to do to give your kids what they need. We need to be aware, however, how the result of these decisions feeds a broken system. In a perfect world, there would be a program of this kind in every high school cluster. For now, though – let’s just focus on neighborhood high school equity, as this inevitably sets the stage for richer and more varied offerings on all subordinate levels. If you build it – they will come…
All that philosophizing aside, I lament the necessity to put up such a fight for our kids’ right to a good education. My take on NoPo’s situation is that the only way to turn the ship around is to END THE PPS TRANSFER POLICY NOW! As the money earmarked for each student ceases to be siphoned off to other high school clusters, our very own area stands to gain by leaps and bounds! Don’t EVER forget that it is in the best interest of the more affluent high schools to maintain status quo – i. e. the steady influx of students from other clusters. They are the direct beneficiaries of funds that should go to our neighborhood schools, and they know it. Just imagine if the hundreds of kids that should go to Roosevelt or Jefferson came back home – all that funding would end up where it was intended. Of course, that funding would buy academic variety, AP classes, special programs – you name it… It already does, just not in our schools. Look at it this way – we, the residents of North Portland, are currently paying for the excellent opportunities of the other schools across town. They love us for that, and have strong lobbies in place to covet and protect what we are voluntarily giving them.
By 2016, there will be an estimated 2,200 high school-aged kids living within the Jefferson cluster. That’s only five years from now! Each kid is worth a certain amount of federal and state funding (about $5,000 each) that will be used wherever that student chooses to go. That’s 11 million dollars per year! To put that into perspective, it is helpful to know that for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Jefferson’s administrative and instructional costs landed at about $4 million. I’m guessing a similar economic surge would be true for the cluster schools. Just visualize all that moolah put to work in our North Portland neighborhood schools, and you will realize that this change has to happen from within our neighborhoods, Ghandi style – on a grass roots level. The past actions of the Portland School Board have made clear beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are not going to do anything that has a lasting positive effect on our particular area. We who live here, have to create our own bliss. For some, the draw of living in NoPo was the diversity, for others it was the relatively cheap real estate. Regardless of what your reason was for moving here, it truly undermines your investment to send your kids to schools outside your area.
I’ll say it again – the absolute fastest – and only – way to improve the NoPo schools is to invest into our own community by keeping our kids here. PPS is not going to help us. Granted, there will be a few years of transition to reach the same academic opportunities of Grant, Lincoln, Cleveland and others. But there is only so much money out there. The result of students returning to their neighborhood school is inevitably that the academic benefits the more affluent – thus more popular – schools currently enjoy, will diminish at the same rate that ours will increase. The proverbial playing field will be leveled. Until equality has been reached, the relatively small class sizes offered at Jefferson and Roosevelt – a direct result of low enrollment numbers – is an educational benefit in itself. Small classes allow for a much higher availability of individual instruction, and can make a world of difference in the high school experience. The “transition kids” will directly benefit from that. Trust me – I just heard the Grant Principal speak the other day, and they don’t have that “problem”. Grant is bursting at the seams, and classes are packed!
So – think again before deciding to “vote with your feet”, as the School Board likes to call it. Together we can turn the tide, and make Jefferson the most attractive choice for our kids. Don’t wait for the School Board to kill the Transfer Policy – they never will. We have to kill it for them. And after we do that, we need to focus on School Board election reform. More on that in a later post!