Marshall Campus: Lents’ high school thrown under the bus – again

After fiddling with the school’s structure for the last couple of years, is Portland Public Schools really going shut down this outer East Portland school?  It sure looks like it. See why lots of folks will be heading to the Marshall Campus to speak their mind on October 6 …

During her May, 2010 public meeting at the Marshall Campus, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith answers questions put to her by television reporters. East Portland News archive photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The doors of John Marshall High School in the Lents Neighborhood first swung open, welcoming students in Portland Public Schools (PPS) largest student attendance area, on September 6, 1960. After the last class bell sounds in June, 201, these doors will close, never to be opened again.

That was the message PPS Superintendent Carole Smith and the PPS School Board sent on September 27.

“No one accepts the role of superintendent because she wants to close neighborhood schools – and this recommendation has brought great deliberation and some heartburn,” stated Smith. “But the school board charged me with finding a sustainable path, and building a high school system that ensures the high-quality education every one of our students demand and deserve.”

Smith said her recommendation for strengthening Portland’s high schools would be to “consolidate and rally around a smaller number of schools”, but specifically “closing BizTech, Renaissance Arts, and Pauling academies on the Marshall Campus – and we will not propose the development of a new focus school there.”

Jefferson High will join Benson in being a focus school; but kids living in Jefferson’s attendance area will be offered the opportunity to attend that school.

Unlike many other high schools in the greater Portland area, PPS officials say many students who live in Marshall High School’s attendance area choose to attend other schools.

Marshall Campus leaks students
According to Public Information Officer Matthew Shelby, one of the criteria the PPS School Board took into account is that, currently, about 60% of the students who could attend Marshall are not doing so.

“These students are choosing to go to attend other schools,” Shelby pointed out. “The campus could educate about 2,000 students; and at last count, 1,592 eligible students reside in the Marshall attendance boundary. But only a total of 665 students attend the three schools at Marshall.”

Checking the statistics, Shelby listed how many, and where, potential Marshall Campus students have currently chosen to be educated:

  • Franklin High School: 241 students
  • Community Alternative schools: 169 students
  • Benson High School: 160 students
  • Madison High School: 80 students
  • Cleveland High School: 77 students
  • Grant High School: 38 students
  • Charter Schools: 27 students
  • Jefferson High School: 10 students
  • Wilson High School: 6 students
  • Roosevelt Campus: 2 students

In more ways than one, according to the President of the Lents Neighborhood Association – Nick Christensen – two school districts truly divide the community. East Portland News archive photo

Says school districts split community
Nick Christensen, President of the Lents Neighborhood Association, said – speaking for himself, and not making pronouncements on behalf of the association – that PPS and David Douglas School District (DDSD) share the neighborhood.

“Portland Public Schools could have agreed with the Lents Neighborhood Association, and explored transferring its East Portland constituency to the David Douglas School District,” Christensen remarked.

“Instead, PPS immediately ‘closed the door’ on the notion,” Christensen continued. “Lents is fortunate that it is in two school districts. [David Douglas Schools] has found numerous ways to succeed; [PPS] can’t figure out how to educate its students.”

Not mincing words, Christensen added, “Unfortunately, students in Lents who live on the ‘wrong side of the street’ will continue to be subjected to PPS’ sub-par education; PPS will continue to take tax dollars from this neighborhood and import them into the more affluent neighborhoods of this city.”

Shelby pointed out that, while PPS did investigate leasing the Marshall Campus to DDSD, it never considered shifting enrollment boundaries. “A district boundary can’t be shifted only for high school students. If there were a boundary change, it would also affect elementary and middle schools. This can become very complex.”

Calls it a defeat for minority families
Christensen congratulated folks in other parts of town who successfully advocated for keeping their schools more-or-less intact.

“But nobody should be celebrating today’s proposal as a victory for civil rights in Portland,” Christensen asserted. “A majority-minority campus, home to some of PPS’ least-affluent families, is proposed for closure. Students will be disenfranchised from their education. It’s a shame that the path of least resistance is also the path that has the most to lose by being trampled.”

PPS School Board co-chair Trudy Sargent listens to testimony at a June, 2010, public meeting. East Portland News archive photo

Board wants to ‘put this to rest’
At Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Smith was joined by PPS School Board Co-Chairs Pam Knowles and Trudy Sargent, who talked with the media. “We talked as a Board at a retreat this summer,” Sargent said. “Our No. 1 priority is landing this high school decision this fall. We’re ready to put this to rest.”

To wit, in a meeting two days after the announcement, on September 29, PPS Board members discussed how to outplace Marshall’s students. “School board members want to know what kinds of supports will be in place, at the Marshall Campus, for transitioning the students, before they vote on the high school reorganization plan at their October 12,” Shelby told us.

At the May meeting, many folks came out from the community to show their support for keeping Marshall High open. They’ll have one last chance to be heard on October 6. East Portland News archive photo

‘Public input’ accepted, Oct. 6, in Lents
In an interesting turn, Shelby also said that the school board will meet at the Marshall Campus on October 6. “They’ll spend the first hour exploring career-related learning opportunities across the high school system, and specifically at Benson High School.”

However, the remainder of the meeting that’s scheduled to run from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. will be devoted to “hearing public testimony for the duration of the meeting,” Shelby added. “And, the board will also listen to public testimony at their October 12 meeting as well.”

The school district spokesman also pointed out that they’ve established a “high school action plan hotline” where community members can ask questions or get more information: (503) 916-2801. Or send an e-mail to highschools@pps.k12.or.us, or visit the district’s high school redesign web page: CLICK HERE.

The Wednesday, October 6 meeting begins at 6:00 p.m., but public testimony won’t begin until about 7:00 p.m. – be sure to sign up if you attend and want to speak. Marshall Campus is located at 3905 SE 91st Avenue.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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