What’s next for Marshall High?

Via exclusive interviews with Portland Public Schools’ Superintendent, and Lents Neighborhood Association’s Education Committee Chair, find out what we learned about the fate of Marshall Campus, its students, and its teachers …

PPS Superintendent Carole Smith says some Marshall High teachers may follow their students to the campuses of Cleveland, Franklin, or Madison next school year. East Portland News file photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the on-again, off-again process called the Portland Public School (PPS) High School Redesign Plan, the PPS Board made it official at an October 12 vote: The three small schools at Marshall High School will be closed down at the end of this school year.

Under the adopted plan, Cleveland and Franklin – as well as Madison, Grant, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Wilson high schools – will operate as community comprehensive schools with neighborhood boundaries.

The size of the student body at Franklin High, here shown gathered for an October 1 Pep Assembly, will be enlarged, starting next school year – as will those at Cleveland and Franklin High Schools.

This means that the only changes for other East Portland high schools – Cleveland, Franklin, and Madison – is that they will be absorbing all of the students from the Marshall High catchment area.

“The goal is to increase the graduation rate,” stated PPS Superintendent Carole Smith, “and to better engage all students, by providing all students access to a common core high school program, while maintaining choice for those seeking a more specialized or personalized environment.”

PPS Superintendent talks about impending changes
In an exclusive interview with us on October 16, Superintendent Smith said, about the decision to close the Marshall Campus, “Close vote, tough decision. It wasn’t one that any of us could do easily; it was a heart-wrenching decision. We’re starting to figure out how we will transition and support students who are transitioning – especially students who are on the Marshall Campus – and how we build a transition plan that lets them be successful next year.”

Smith said that she’s already met with all of the school principals involved, and will be sitting down the schools’ staffs. “We’re getting their thoughts on what the best way is to do the transition. Then, I’m going to meet with the teachers, and the teachers and the teachers association.”

Although this campus will be closed down, and students like these will no longer walk these halls, Superintendent Smith says the District is considering moving the students and their teachers – as a group – to other schools.

Says Marshall students may move, together
At this time, it looks as if the incoming freshmen who would have attended Marshall High will probably be distributed among the other high schools based on geography, Smith said.

“We also could be looking at creating cohorts, to keep kids together who have been together, with the community that they’ve built that has been successful for them. And also, we’re considering what assets we can bring to the other campuses on which we can build.”

Asked to clarify, Smith said there’s a possibility of teachers moving to different schools with their students. “That is a more complex conversation. But, if the teachers believe it’s the right thing for students, then we have total room to move and find how we do that. It then becomes a conversation between us and the teachers’ association, and the teachers themselves, about what is the best-case scenario.”

Bemoans losing ‘small schools’
About closing the “small schools” at the Marshall Campus, Smith sighed, “Small schools are part of my history – part of what I know works well with kids.

“We were just hitting a point [at Marshall] where they were getting successes for the students in the small schools. But, they haven’t reached their ‘viability threshold’ in terms of numbers of kids – 400 students in each of the three small schools. They’re clearly getting success for their kids; [in fact,] they just met AYP (adequate yearly progress measurements under No Child Left Behind). So, it’s really bittersweet for me to both celebrate their success, and to say their programs will need to close, right at the same moment.”

Marshall students to have least amount of additional travel time
We asked Smith about the additional travel time – up to an hour a day, for former Marshall students – to attend more-distant schools. “Even though there is increased travel time,” she replied, “it’s less travel [than would have been the case] from other schools. When you’re doing a system analysis, it’s one of the factors that factored into which campus would be closed.”

About the process, Smith commented, “This has been a tough conversation, all around Portland. In every community, our schools have deep connections; they build community. We have to make a ‘smaller footprint’; we have to ‘tuck in’ and do the things that we can do, to serve the greatest number of kids. These are really, very, very hard calls to make.”

-4 Although signs like these – the upper one having adorned the window of Lents for some time, the lower one held up at the last PPS Board meeting at the school – have been retired, neighbors still say they wonder and worry about the future for Marshall Campus students who were achieving success.

To parents in Lents and the Marshall Campus catchment area, Smith said, “This is been a tough decision for all of us who are tasked with making it. I feel that we’ll be able to create a plan that offers really strong educational opportunities for the students in Lents.

“These plans will involve the community in the conversations about what happens with the Marshall building, going forward. And, that I believe that we will be able to surround those students, and support those students in being successful in their new schools.”

Lents education advocate responds

Rebecca Stavenjord, holding her newborn, Harper, Chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association Education Committee, shares information about their activities with neighborhood association president Nick Christensen, at Lents Commons.

Now that it appears that the decision to close the Marshall Campus is now carved in stone, folks on the Lents Neighborhood Association Education Committee are still actively focusing attention on the “transition”.

“We’re approaching this from two different ways,” said Rebecca Stavenjord, Chair of the committee, as we talked at Lents Commons on October 20. “One considers the needs of our students, the other is school-system-focused.”

Stavenjord said the committee’s first concern is for the wellbeing of the freshmen through juniors currently being educated on the Marshall Campus. “We need to organize the community to support those students in their immediate needs.”

To the idea that students – and their current teachers – might move as a group to one of the area schools, Stavenjord responded, “I hope that that is feasible – that the district is able to do something like that. But, I have my doubts. There are layers of complication that might make it impossible.”

Extended student travel time is still an issue that sticks in the craw of local education advocates, Stavenjord added. “For some students who already have risk factors stacked against them, they’ll have to decide on whether it’s worth heading out to school a half hour or more earlier – to attend a school at which they don’t feel comfortable, don’t have a sense of community, and don’t feel ownership. That really puts students at a heightened risk of dropping out – even closer to ‘falling through the cracks’.”

Unanswered issues abound, Stavenjord said. “Students may not have scholarship opportunities that they were in line for at Marshall. They could have been in line to be valedictorian at Marshall, but that’s a whole new equation going to a new high school. In sports, if they were a varsity player, they don’t know where they stand, going into a new school.”

“Could the Marshall Campus join the David Douglas School District?” is the questing being posed by Lents education activists. East Portland News file photo

Checking into switching school districts
“We’re also looking into a systemic approach,” Stavenjord continued. “There are community members in the Lents area who are organizing to move the Marshall Campus catchment area boundaries into David Douglas Schools.”

Instead of drawing up new boundary lines, these folks are starting a conversation with the David Douglas School District’s board. “They want to find out how this idea might be received. We don’t want to move forward if it’s something in which they have no interest.”

Any boundary-change plan would have to go through the Multnomah Educational Service District, and require gathering signatures from both school districts, in order to move the schools and the students over to the other school district – and then a vote by the districts, Stavenjord added.

We’ll let you know how they progress with their efforts.

  • For more information about the High School System Redesign Plan, see the official PPS website: CLICK HERE.
  • To keep up to date about the activities of the Lents Educational Committee, see their official Facebook site: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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