The Portland Public School Board didn’t have to face villagers armed with torches and pitchforks, when they met at the school this week. But, they certainly did get an emotional earful from those who testified. We’ve got more than just TV sound-bites here – and lots of exclusive photos, of course …
Portland Public School’s board members are scolded and lectured for proposing shutting down the Marshall High Schools at a meeting on campus.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Just why board members of Portland Public Schools (PPS) chose to meet in the auditorium at Marshall Campus in Lents on October 6 wasn’t clear. By all reports, the school board – and Superintendent Carole Smith – had already decided that Marshall High School’s three academies would be shut down at the end of the school year.
But those who testified on behalf of keeping the Marshall Campus open did so vigorously, emotionally, thoughtfully – and occasionally sarcastically. Those who spoke were cheered on by an audience which applauded, called out, and yelped as salient points were made.
Samae “Miss H” Horner, an art teacher at Marshall’s Renaissance Arts Academy, and one of her students, senior Leela Hickman, say they’re there to speak up in favor of keeping their school open.
Says closing Marshall is the ‘wrong choice’
An art teacher at Marshall’s Renaissance Arts Academy, Samae Horner, was in the hallway outside the auditorium, talking with Portland Police Bureau School Resource Officer Dave Thoman before the school board meeting got underway.
“I was pointing out to the officer that, at one time, Marshall high school saw a lot of violence here – we were known as a violent, scary school,” Horner said. “Since we started the small schools, that violence is has disappeared; it’s a very peaceful environment. Students who would’ve not have gotten along before, now mingle together. You can’t do that in big schools; it’s impossible.”
Horner also said she was concerned that so many of their students who are now doing well in one of Marshall’s three smaller schools will be “lost” when forced to attend large schools.
“It’s not that I’ll lose my job,” Horner added. “I’ll still be teaching somewhere. But it’s going to be a huge, huge loss for the students, their families, and the community.”
Marla Rosenberger says she felt compelled to attend the meeting, but “testifying is useless”.
Early grad sees no point in testifying
“I live in the area, and I don’t want to see this high school closed,” said Marla Rosenberger, as she sat near the back of the Marshall High auditorium waiting for the meeting to start. “I think will be bad for the community. And, it will reduce property values.”
Saying that she’d graduated from the school 45 years ago, not long after Marshall first opened its doors, Rosenberger commented, “I had an excellent education. So did my husband, our children, and my cousins – we all went to Marshall. The City of Portland needs to pay attention to outer Southeast Portland. I really feel bad because our neighborhoods, and our kids, are being unfairly treated.”
The reason she didn’t sign up to testify, although she had at past meetings, Rosenberger said, was “I feel like it’s useless. But feel I still have to be here because I can’t let it happen without being here. Go Marshall! Go Minutemen!”
Marshall student Serena Moore talks passionately about the school she says she loves – and tells why.
All “A” student decries ‘loss of dreams’
Serena Moore, a student at Marshall, said that in a large-school environment, her grades had suffered. “But, I maintained a 4.0 grade average here last year. This is the kind of school, and the sort of teachers, that helped me reach that goal. I would’ve never thought it was possible. I love being here. This is not my school, this is my family. We all – all of our three schools – make up Marshall.”
Addressing the school board, Moore continued, “You guys say you’re trying to decrease the [high school] dropout rate; but what you’re doing is increasing the dropout rate. I have heard tons of my peers say that if they close Marshall, they’re just going to quit and go to ‘online school’ and get a GED.”
Marshall students and staff, and community members, enthusiastically support Moore, as she testifies.
“I’ve been trying to get my voice heard ever since this thing started,” Moore testified. “I’ve been writing letters to you, and going to meetings. I’ve never had any of my questions answered, or gotten feedback that helps me understand this. I just sit here and get scared for my school, and my peers, and my community.”
Moore concluded, “Everybody at Marshall has dreams in mind. Having more options for small schools is a better idea. I do well in a small school; it’s been proven with my 4.0 grade average. I chose the arts academy because I want to be a photographer for National Geographic. Everybody in the school has dreams about what they want to become. By shutting down our school, you’re shutting down those dreams, and shutting down our future.”
Schools activist Carrie Adams says the school board’s decision to keep Jefferson High open – and close down Marshall – won’t make them look “any less racist”.
Carrie Adams, a schools activist, chided the school board about Marshall’s closing on several fronts.
“The initial goal of a high school redesign was to increase graduation rates and give students more rigorous programs in their own neighborhoods,” Adams began. “Portland Public schools now has a $6 million grant that targets Marshall, Jefferson, and Roosevelt for use of those funds to create more opportunities and more equity within our own neighborhood. It’s not happening here, certainly. The annual reports don’t say anything about you planning to close Marshall.”
Expressing her belief that community pressure led to the decision to invest in Jefferson High School to keep it open, Adams posited, “Keeping Jefferson open does not mean that you won’t look racist. There are students of color all over the district, even in Southeast Portland.”
As to the idea of saving money, Adams continued, “Has anyone seen a good analysis of money that’s been saved in the past? I’ve asked for a copy of the analysis, and frankly, it was crap. It doesn’t even mention the $11 Million that was spent on portable classrooms [to alleviate] overcrowding, because you closed schools already without adequate planning.”
Marshall instructor Tom Hewitt tells the school board members that their decisions over the years have made him feel like a “second-class citizen”, and closing the school will make their students become “third-class citizens” when they transfer out to other schools.
Students succeed, in spite of controversy, teacher says
Telling the PPS School Board members present that he’s been an educator for 34 years, and at Marshall High for 25, Tom Hewitt started his testimony by saying, “These teachers are some of most dedicated and skilled people that I’ve ever seen. When you’re a faculty member at Marshall high school, you’re a teacher, a parent, a friend, a counselor – it is a 24/7 job that we accept.
“But, for the 25 years that I’ve been here, the feeling you get immediately when you go into a [school] district meeting is that I’m a second-class citizen because I taught at Marshall High School,” Hewitt stated. [By proposing to close Marshall] that’s the feeling our students get; that they are second-class citizens. Now by this decision, they will become third-class citizens.”
Hewitt finished up by pointing out, “It’s incredible that there are 750 students here, even with all the adverse publicity that they’ve received in the last six months. They’re here because they love this place and they want to succeed. We’re here, as teachers, because we love them, and want to see them succeed.”
PPS Superintendent Carole Smith, school board co-chairwoman Ruth Adkins and board director Martin González listen as Marshall BizTech High School teacher Emily Paddock singles out academic achievements made by their students.
Teacher highlights academic achievement
“My question for you is, how will Marshall students benefit from the closure of their campus?” was the query BizTech High School teacher Emily Paddock put to the school board members.
“What we have here are three stronger schools, all of which met AYP (adequate yearly progress) this last school year. We have three programs designed around student interests. We have classes offered in conjunction with Portland State University and for Portland Community College credits.”
Paddock noted that, on the Marshall Campus, 114 students earned college credits from Portland Community College last year. “Not 114 credits, but 114 individual students earning credits – that’s more than at Benson or Jefferson High. We have a support system built in for all of our kids, not just for those identified as academic priority – but all of our students.”
Nick Christiansen, president of the Lents Neighborhood Association, poses many questions about closing down Marshall High to the PPS board members.
Neighborhood leader quizzes school board
In the hallway outside the auditorium, Lents Neighborhood Association’s president, Nick Christiansen, told us he didn’t have a prepared statement in hand when he came to the meeting. But when it came time for him to testify, it certainly appeared as if he’d gathered his thoughts.
“I want to welcome you to Portland’s newest high school,” Christiansen began, speaking as a neighbor and not for the neighborhood association. “I want to welcome you to the greatest neighborhood in the greatest city on the planet.
“And, in light of the comments today, I also want to welcome you to ‘the path of least resistance’, even if you don’t want to admit it.”
With that, Christiansen posed a “pop quiz” for the superintendent and board members present.
“My question, given that [closing the Marshall Campus] seems to be a foregone conclusion, is this: ‘In exchange for our $1 Million Urban Renewal investment in this facility, what does this give us – that is – other than burning up one million bucks?’
“Will you provide direct transportation for the students, so when they travel to Franklin, Madison, or Cleveland they don’t have to rely on TriMet, with up to hour-long trips?
“Would you require teachers at these other schools to create student volunteer opportunities here – in this community – that will be absent – when you follow through with this plan?
“Will you deign to examine the school district boundaries, as we asked you to do several months ago? David Douglas is still overcrowded.
“Will you facilitate peer mentoring Lent, Kelly, and other outer east Portland grade schools?
“Will you continue to take, and take, and take from this neighborhood as you export resources from this vulnerable community, to the affluent neighborhoods west of here?
“Your conclusion appears to be foregone; I hope you put some thought into these questions,” Christiansen concluded.
The evening after they appeared at this school board meeting to show support for their school, teachers, and fellow students, the Marshall High Cheer Squad, appeared at what looks like will be the school’s final Homecoming game on October 7.
Board to vote on October 12
To see a summery of the Portland Public School High School Redesign Plan, CLICK HERE to open their web page.
The Portland School Board will meet to discuss the plans and to take public testimony, we’re told, at their October 12 meeting – before they vote on the plan. That regular school board meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Blanchard Education Service Center, 501 N. Dixon St.
© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News