Neighborhoods and Schools

July  8, 2013

Since I wrote this over 2.5 years ago, the groundswell I mention has absolutely blossomed! Even better – the individual schools in our cluster are no longer acting as one – they are banding together! Most of the credit for this should go to a Facebook page that was created to exchange information about the enrollment balancing process that was currently taking place during the later part of last year. It has brought the community together in an unprecedented way. Although PPS still makes – in my opinion – many crazy, unsustainable decisions, I think most would agree that we now have the ear of the School Board. They are definitely listening!  And although most of us don’t envy them their (volunteer) job of making the tough decisions in this abhorrent fiscal climate, knowing that they listen makes those decisions more tolerable.

With this note, I will take my school activism to Facebook, where I will be kept in check by those many who have been fighting this fight much longer than I, and know far more than I do. It also offers the benefit of many, varied perspectives and backgrounds which is invaluable in trying to learn new things. I will leave my old posts up for the benefit of learning more, to anyone interested. Thinking,  researching and writing helped me understand at least some of the issues we were (and are still) battling, but as always – the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. The combined treasure chest of knowledge, compassionate thinkers and brilliant minds present on the N/NE PPS Enrollment Balancing Discussion page is a much bigger ocean than my little pond. Feel free to ponder my thoughts too, but to really tackle the learning curve, there is no better place than this! It is a great forum, and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to learn about Portland schools. If you are a parent of pre-school children, it will get you up to speed quickly. Which can be both empowering and frustrating. Thanks for reading!

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I love living in my part of town. It is close to downtown, close to the MAX, it’s easy to get to Mt. Hood from here, and my neighbors come in all colors, genders,  and from all nationalities and socioeconomic strata. There is everything from lawyers and physicians to artists and musicians living here. From all aspects, it is a very diverse neighborhood spanning all walks of life. In my nearly 7 years of living here, I have only met a few I didn’t like. So far, so good.

Unfortunately the public schools in this neighborhood aren’t representative of this flourishing, multi-faceted diversity. Over the last several decades, many have escaped the North Portland public schools. As you will see if you read my posts, there are a lot of cultural, historical, political and existentialist reasons for this, and I can’t say I blame anyone who takes the easy way out and leaves. But, by living here, I have come to learn that this exodus is of no fault of the actual schools themselves. The schools are simply victims of a system in which they have been set up to fail. Various configurations of the PPS School Board are the power brokers at fault, and over the years they have proven time and time again, that our area is of no interest to them. I thoroughly believe, that if any change is to happen, it will have to come from a groundswell of intelligent area residents that will take matters into their own hands, and together force the needed change to occur in our favor.

Thankfully, this groundswell is already happening in the lower grades in our cluster elementary schools, where parents and local businesses are putting their time and resources into improving our neighborhood educational options. This is wonderful to see, and my hope is that this momentum will eventually transform all our area schools into thriving, inspiring temples of learning. For a while now I have spent my time working on keeping our neighborhood high school – Jefferson – open. It has been on the School Board’s chopping block too many times to count. Given the fact that our area currently has more children than any other area in this city, closing our high school would be insane! We need to rally together to bring back the strength this school once had!

Over the two years that I have been actively working to keep our high school open in a comprehensive community high school format, I have learned of the many things that have brought us into the mess where we are today. To my great joy, I am also continuously learning about the ongoing things that are indeed great about Jefferson. My blog is littered with posts that aim to explain and clarify the history,  the political circumstances that have shaped its current configuration, the mechanisms of school funding, as well as highlighting the environmental benefits and current educational triumphs that make up Jefferson High School of today.

There is still a lot of work to do, but my modest hope is that those who read my posts will side with me and others who strive for educational equality no matter in which zip code you live, and join us in our quest to make the next few decades the best Jefferson has ever experienced. The School Board will not do it for us – they are too tied up in loyalties to the schools in the areas in which they live. The area schools that benefit from our area’s demise have strong, and well funded lobbies that put up unified resistance any time there is a chance the educational playing field will be leveled. Part of our quest for the right to equal academic opportunities will have to involve working for School Board election reform. (More on the need for that in a future post!) I know that together, we have the power to make it happen. We have to – for the sake of our kids and the livability of our neighborhood. We deserve access to quality education within our own community! Click on the category “Local Interest” to read more about the challenges we face and the celebrations that are due!

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