Marshall High boosters boycott PPS meeting, focus on ‘final’ meeting

Find out why this group of people, concerned about the fate of Marshall High School, chose to meet in Lents – instead of heading out to a meeting held in North Portland …

Lents Neighborhood Association’s Education Committee Chair, Rebecca Stavenjord, leads a meeting about changes to Marshall High School, at a Lents-area restaurant.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While hundreds of people piled into Roosevelt High School in North Portland to further discuss Portland Public Schools’ (PPS) high school “redesign plan” – a group of concerned parents and Lents-area neighbors decided to “play hooky” from that, on May 18.

So instead, a group of 19 folks met at the Ararat Restaurant on SE 92nd Avenue to share information, and support one another, in their efforts to “save” Marshall High School, keeping it as a comprehensive educational institution.

“In effect, we’re protesting by being here tonight,” explained Rebecca Stavenjord, the Chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association’s Education Committee.”

“We’re protesting, because it’s a three-hour-plus, round-trip transit ride from Lents to Roosevelt High School,” Stavenjord continued. “That’s a long way for families to travel – especially those who don’t have their own transportation. Our meeting here will allow people to air their opinions, and get some word out on our committee’s work.”

Asked why they preferred not to make their voices heard at the North Portland meeting, Stavenjord replied that they felt better off at meeting in a business run by the Slavic community – one of many groups not well-represented in the “high school redesign” process.

Janice Shields, mother of a Marshall High student, helps out by making campaign buttons before the meeting begins.

Group focuses on local needs
While schools like Benson High and others in the area have their own concerns, Stavenjord commented, “Marshall High School is our focus. We want to make sure that we have positive, comprehensive educational opportunities for students who live in this neighborhood.”

Stavenjord said she and the committee members aren’t so much discouraged as they are frustrated. “We’ve dedicated decades trying to revitalize the Lents area. It’s an urban renewal area – now with a new MAX Light Rail line. While we’re trying to improve livability here, and work to increase our sense of community – to take away, or drastically modify, the only high school in the neighborhood – it doesn’t make sense.”

She continued, “We believe, both in our neighborhood and across our community, that education means economic development. If we don’t have education as a pillar of our community, our community will start to deteriorate and fall apart.”

Lents neighbors and Marshall High parents gather at Ararat Restaurant to share concerns, and plan their next steps.

Parent wants to preserve school
As Stavenjord set about preparing for the meeting, we spoke with concerned parents – and students – about the impending changes.

“I’m involved in this effort because my daughter is a junior at Marshall high school,” Janice Shields told us. “These changes won’t affect her; they won’t go into effect until after she graduates. But, we’re still fighting for the school.”

Asked why, Shields continued, “My daughter has really come along there since she started going there. Her teachers have really supported her, so we are here to support them. The smaller schools at Marshall have allowed for really good communication between the teacher and student.”

Christina Armstrong – Marshall High School Class of 2009 – says she is willing to fight to keep her school intact.

New alumna decries PPS ‘bullying’
A student who graduated from Marshall High in 2009, Christina Armstrong, soundly denounced the redesign plan. “I think what they’re doing to Marshall is a matter of bullying; it’s socioeconomic segregation. They’ve taken away an opportunity for future students to have the benefits of a neighborhood high school.”

Armstrong observed that under the redesign, students will be forced to attend Madison or Franklin High School. “That’s up to 45 minutes away on public transit, each way.  A lot of kids won’t be willing to do that – yet the school district says they want to help all kids graduate. It’s completely unfair.”

Because of the support she received from her teachers, and Marshall’s Principal, Armstrong said she got a good education, and was able to graduate a year early. “I’ve been taking college-credit courses since I was 14, while attending Pauling Academy at the Marshall Campus.”

Her advanced coursework also set her up for up to receive full college scholarships. “I want to go back and be a teacher at Marshall,” Armstrong concluded. “That’s what I’m fighting for. I want Marshall to be there when I come back to teach.”

Citing extended transit times and loss of a neighborhood resource, these committee members say they’ll continue to work to keep Marshal High open as a comprehensive school.

Hopes for increased community support
Just before the formal meeting began, Stavenjord said that she hopes to build more community support for retaining Marshall High as a full-service school. “There are a number of family and community members who haven’t even heard of this proposal, because they haven’t been included in Portland Public Schools’ outreach effort.”

While there is a meeting with the PPS board scheduled for May 27, folks in the area aren’t thrilled with the timing.

“That meeting is one day – just one day – before the ‘comment period’ closes,” Stavenjord pointed out. Even though they say they are listening, I don’t feel that we have really been heard. We will possibly be the last people that they hear from on this topic.  On the other side, this is a community conversation that needs to continue.”

To learn more about the Lents Neighborhood Association, including contact information and meeting dates and times, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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