Portland School Board To Present Redistricting Plan Later This Month
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
The Portland School Board will unveil its preliminary plan for redistricting at its meeting later this month.
The School Board is considering redistricting in order to deal with an influx of new students. Projections have school populations totaling 53,000 students by 2025, an increase of more than 5,000 over current enrollment.
Of particular concern is unbalanced enrollment in the city’s elementary schools. Officials want to avoid overcrowding at one school while another is nearly empty
An initial meeting regarding the redistricting plan was held on Monday. Many parents attended the meeting and asked officials to consider proximity to schools when redistricting. Other advocated against redistricting, arguing that they moved into a particular area to allow their children to attend a particular elementary school.
Officials released a report detailing ideal grade enrollment earlier this year. The report stated that three sections, or classrooms, per grade, would be best for K-8 schools while K-5 schools would be best suited to have three or four sections per grade. The report said that two sections per grade would work.
For K-5 schools, grades with 500 to 550 students would have three sections while grades with 670 to 720 students would have four sections. K-8 grade with three sections each would have from 700 to 810 students.
School officials plan to finalize new school maps and vote on them by January of 2016. Those maps would then be used starting in the fall of 2016.
Preliminary redistricting plans will be unveiled at a discussion regarding the plan on October 29.
Related Slideshow: 9 Challenges Facing Portland Public Schools
Aiming to lower expulsion rates, especially for students of color, and raising high school graduation rates are among Portland Public Schools’ top priorities. See what other challenges the schools are facing here.
Raising Graduation Rates
In 2012-2013, about 75 percent of students graduated with their cohort, while another 7 percent of their cohort completed some form of high school requirements during a fifth year, finishing in 2013-2014.
Sascha Perrins, senior director of PK-12 Programs, said Portland Public School District has raised rates by doing more career technical education alongside regular curriculum, giving students deeper offerings all the way back to middle school, as well as by identifying students sooner who have fallen behind.
Graduation rates got a little boost from another data change in 2013-2014 that could be a little deceiving. In 2013-2014, the state began counting students who received a modified diploma in the four-year cohort rate, reasoning that a modified diploma is enough to qualify for college financial aid.
The district also has a strategy to address an issue that goes hand in hand with graduation rates: exclusionary discipline of students. “We’re seeing a really high link with kids who are excluded (via expulsion) and kids who don’t graduate on time,” said Perrins. “I’m not saying if you miss… suddenly you can’t graduate, but it’s more symptomatic of your experience in school.”
Additionally, students of color are far more likely to experience expulsion than white students—a national trend that doesn’t miss Portland. In 2013-2014, 10.5 percent of African American students were expelled at least once, while 7.4 percent of Native Americans, 4.4 percent of Pacific Islanders, 3.9 percent of Hispanics, 3.8 of percent mixed race, 2.3 percent of whites and 1 percent of Asians were expelled.
In the last few years, the number of students being expelled has decreasd, but the rate of expulsion for African American students has not changed much. In 2013-2014, they were about 4.6 times as likely to be expelled than a white student.
Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan said that the district has huge leadership issues starting with principals but also at the central office.
“People are just being mean. In some cases it feels like they are being encouraged to be,” said Sullivan. “I don’t know when (the district) will actually fire a principal. They tend to go on leave and disappear.”
Recently, the district has had a number of principals abruptly go on leave—one after being accused and arrested for domestic abuse and the other after teachers complained about the hostile environment, reported Willamette Week.
Sullivan said that the central office must have good leadership, too, in order to address these issues.
“We know that in a school where you have a supportive principal, the teacher feels supported, the parents feel supported, the kids feel supportive and the environment is good to teach in,” Sullivan said.
Improving Parent and Community Engagement
“(Parent involvement) is one of the things that everyone talks about and everyone tries to figure out how to approach,” said Otto Schell, long time parent advocate and PTA volunteer. “Some communities have done really well at engaging parents at the school level and others not so much.”
“The PTA model works very effectively in some schools and in other schools we don’t reach all the parents,” said Schell, who is currently a Grant PTA member and the legislative director for the Oregon PTA.
Schell gave the example of watching the Caeser Chavez community come out and presented during the budget meeting at Roosevelt High School, which included a Spanish translation services. “It’s a great example of how you can do it if both the school staff and parent community coalesce and work together,” he said.
Due to anticipated growing enrollment, PPS began a boundary review process this year that would address balancing the district population in the available space in school buildings.
Some sticky areas include achieving diversity of racial and ethnic groups and addressing space needs in some schools.
Additionally, the district has a mix of K-5 and K-8 schools, about which parents have had mixed opinions. Some feel that middle school students get stronger offerings in a 6-8 school as classes like band or choir are difficult to offer middle school students in a K-5 school lacking a larger population.
“Middle schools should have shop, art, band… a variety of different things,” said Sullivan.
A district-wide committee is rethinking boundary changes for the fall 2016 school year.
Completing Building Upgrades and Rebuilds Using 2012 Bond Money
Hand-in-hand with rebalancing school populations, the district is planning and currently undergoing building changes for Portland’s growing student body. While some plans are already underway, the district will still consider whether building spaces already in the works will be enough to house enrollment projections 15 years from now.
“We’d hate to overbuild or underbuild,” said Miles.
The district has released its list of 27 summer projects in elementary schools, which includes seismic upgrades as well as science classrooms and ADA (American with Disabilities Act) work. It is also beginning work at Franklin High School with a groundbreaking at noon on Saturday, May 16, and at Roosevelt High School. Work at Faubion PK-8, which will create a shared space with Concordia University, begins in the fall. Planning for modernization at Grant High School is currently underway with construction planned for 2017.
There are a few more years of the bond after that during which the district could consider how to adapt other smaller buildings.
Ensuring Third Graders Can Read to Learn
Before third grade, teaching is more directed at helping teach students how to read, but in third grade, the curriculum shifts to reading in order to learn more. “You have to read to access more information,” said Perrins. “We want every child to access all that learning to come up after third grade.”
Reading to learn by third grade is a priority of the Oregon Department of Education, which administers state testing in third grade. But that will only tell you what a student has learned in the past, said Perrins, which is why the district administers smaller “formative assessments” to understand what struggling students are learning. These could be done every two to three weeks.
To support reading in elementary schools, the district hires instructional specialists especially at schools with higher poverty, divides students into smaller groups, provide mentorship for younger teachers and professional development options to strengthen teaching.
Sullivan added that in the case of reading the district is doing a good job by adding 25 more librarians next year.
The district isn’t the only player to consider in the game of funding schools. But certainly many challenges would be easier to face with more funding.
This year, the Oregon Legislature increased funding from the last biennium to $7.255 billion spread across the state. However, most local school districts had supported a $7.5 billion budget for K-12. The reduced number isn’t really anything new for public schools, which have for years been asking for more than the legislature gives it.
Providing More Wrap Around Services
Sullivan said teachers could benefit from better connections with other services available to their students from impoverished families. They need things like counselors, mental health providers and food assistance—some of which can come from other sources like the county.
But, sometimes the extra support could come from special education services, which requires the district to be supportive of teachers making referrals.
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