Lents’ high school freshmen to commute in fall … ?

Will fall high school freshmen in the Lents Neighborhood be shuffled off to inner SE Portland’s Franklin high or NE Portland’s Madison High? Discover what we learned at two meetings – one of them held at soon-to-be-decimated Marshall High School …

Volunteer Carrie Adams helps neighbors sign in to the well-attended meeting at Marshall High School.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For many folks living in the Lents neighborhood – one of the very first areas to be annexed into the City of Portland, back in 1912 – shutting down Marshall High School would be just another slap in the face.

Regardless, it looks as if the Portland Public Schools (PPS) “High School System Re-design” program will shutter it – or reduce the use of its campus to some yet-undefined educational programs.

“I started out feeling bad that we might lose Marshall High School,” said 50-year Lents resident, Judy Welch. “It is the community’s school. Now, it makes me kind of angry.”

A past president of the neighborhood association, Welch said her four children, and a grandchild, all attended Marshall High. “What the School Board needs to do is reconstruct their teaching methods, not close schools. It just isn’t right to take a high school away from a whole community of people. They should be teaching our kids what they need to do well in today’s world – not how to commute on a TriMet bus.”

Lents Neighborhood Association’s President, Nick Christensen, says taking away the area’s high school will likely stymie Lents’ redevelopment efforts.

Says ‘pulls the rug out’ from under Lents
“Education is key to what we’re trying to do in the Lents neighborhood,” stated Nick Christensen, the current neighborhood association president, before a meeting began at Marshall High on May 27.

“If they close down Marshall High School, it creates an impediment to the students of Lents,” Christensen told us. “It’s pulling the rug out from under what we’re trying to do to revitalize the area, economically.”

One of the ideas floated by the board and membership of the neighborhood association, Christensen added, is to consider transferring the Marshall High campus to the David Douglas School District. “Although we’ve there’s been no official word, we have had favorable comment from a couple of the David Douglas School Board members.”

Above all, Christensen said, “I’m urging that the School Board ‘Slow down, and really listen’ to us.”

Portland Public Schools’ Superintendent Carole Smith says system-wide solutions are not easy or straightforward.

No easy answers
Carole Smith, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, came to the meeting, and said, “I’m eager to hear from people. Of the number of meetings we’ve had here, this looks like the best turnout.”

Asked why the School Board held the meeting only hours before the close of the official comment period, Smith responded, “All comments, throughout the process, make a difference. What will happen is, we will come with some revisions to my original proposal. We’re trying to end up with is something that ‘feels right’, going forward, for Portland.”

The benefit of the public process, Smith added, is being able to hear “individual voices” of people expressing what they “hold dear to themselves and their family. We’ll weave this [input] all together, and arrive at systems solutions. They’re not easy; they’re not straightforward.”

The cafeteria at Marshall High School is packed with alumni, students and prospective students, as the meeting gets underway.

The community ‘fights back’
After a multimedia presentation, officials from Portland Public Schools heard testimony from neighbors, alumni, students, and prospective students.

Marshall High student Samantha Keeling summed up what several said that they, too, were feeling:  “Seven years ago, we were a ‘guinea pig’ [by breaking Marshall into three, smaller schools]. Now that we’re succeeding, why change that? Is it true that you chose Marshall because you thought we wouldn’t fight back as a community?

When another student, Laura Powell, asked why the sShool Board chose Marshall to shutter, Mark Davalos, a district deputy superintendent, responded that it was through a number of criteria.

Being more specific, PPS Chief of Staff Zeke Smith said it was based on:

  • Proximity – How close students would be to a community comprehensive high school.
  • Student impact – Number of students who would be in an attendance area.
  • Diversity – Impact of change on diversity in system.
  • Current program – The three small Marshall schools together would be similar to the program currently running at the school.

“The idea would be to build upon those strengths,” Smith said.

Marshall High senior Matthew Lewallen says he feels the School Board “picks on” his school.

Passionate testimony given by many
Matthew Lewallen, a Marshall High senior, talked with us before the meeting: “I think I got a good education here. I’m not sure it should become a comprehensive high school, but I think the focus school idea is a bad one.”

During the meeting, Lewallen spoke up, “Why do you always pick on Marshall? Why not Jefferson or Wilson or Lincoln? Is it because they have a stronger community? Not anymore. We are all here tonight, tired of you bullying Marshall. We want the same classes and same chances other schools receive. Long live the [Marshall High] Minutemen.”

Dismisses transfer to David Douglas Schools
Regarding the idea of having Marshall – a campus designed to teach about 1,500 students – become part of the burgeoning David Douglas School District, Superintendent Smith said that originally, they intended to “engage with the David Douglas” school district. “Clearly Portland Public Schools [Board?] believes we want to serve the students of this community.”

After the meeting, Christensen said he still had hopes the schools might switch districts.

Beyond that, he added, “If the impression Superintendent Smith got from that meeting was that the community wants to ‘give up’ on its school – sending incoming freshmen for the 2010-11 school year to Madison and Franklin – she must not have been listening very hard.”

People from all over Portland come to plead their case before the PPS board at Franklin High School.

Meeting at Franklin reveals little
The PPS Board held yet another public meeting – this time at Franklin High School, on Saturday, June 5.

A few concerned folks from the Lents Neighborhood also came to this little-publicised, sparsely-attended meeting. Nick Christensen was one of them.

“Instead of slowing down the process, it looks as if Superintendent Smith has sped things up,” Christensen said. “She told our freshman class they will not be attending Marshall – but will, most likely be attending school here at Franklin.”

Chris Leichner, and her husband, and her son – who will apparently become a Franklin High freshman in September instead of attending Marshall High as they’d planned – say they’re “Very unhappy about what they’re doing it with the high schools.”

He’s frustrated, Christensen, said, because “This diminishes our ability to create a sense of community. This morning, I saw an e-mail from PPS Board member Ruth Adkins. She says it makes sense, geographically, to turn Marshall into the focus school, because it’s close to the MAX Light Rail line and near Portland Community College. Perhaps her sense of what’s ‘close by’ is different than ours, because she lives in Southwest Portland.”

Few attended this last public input meeting, held with little notice at Franklin High School, regarding the High School System Design plan.

Your guide to ‘Who goes where’
According to the most recent “High School System Design Modifications, Considerations and Board Actions” report, issued by the Superintendent Smith, “In response to significant community interest in achieving greater balance in student diversity, as a result of closing Marshall as a community school, I am recommending a modification that reassigns the current Marshall feeder schools into three different schools – Franklin, Madison, and Cleveland.”

As of this writing, the current plan shows:

  • Cleveland High School’s “attendance boundary” will be “expanded” to include the entire attendance boundaries of Whitman Elementary School and Woodmere Elementary School.
  • Lane Middle School students will be split between Franklin and Cleveland High.
  • Franklin High School’s attendance boundary will expand to include the entire Woodstock Elementary School attendance boundary, and will continue to take Creston K-8 School’s students.
  • Hosford Middle School students will be divvied up among Cleveland, Lincoln, and Franklin High.
  • Marshall’s attendance area will be eliminated. Harrison Park K-8 students will attend Madison High, and Kelly Elementary, Lent K-8, and Marysville K-8 will attend Franklin High School.

We’ll keep you up-to-date as the changes in Portland’s educational system continues to evolve. For more information, see the school district’s website: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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