Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith speaks with parents and students during an Open House night earlier this year.
Benson, Jefferson schools brace for new focus
Updated at 9:35 pm Tuesday, following the vote
With extra tight budgets for Oregon in the upcoming years, the Portland Public Schools Board voted 4-3 Tuesday night in favor of closing Marshall High School in southeast Portland. The much protested move is a part of a redesign plan that will focus on consolidating and strengthening the remaining schools.
Student representative Dina Yazdani, who also (though unofficially) voted against the closure of Marshall, cited the school’s improved graduation rate, and how it is serving a lower income community; a community that will be much impacted by fuel costs as a result of students’ longer commutes to farther schools. In fact, BizTech and Renaissance Arts Academy on the Marshall Campus were just given an improved rating in a new reort card looking at Oregon schools, based on how students performed on the state’s standardized tests, improvement from previous years, and graduation rates.
Superintendent Carole Smith presented an updated plan for Portland’s public high schools to the board in late September, and the district held a work session and took public testimony at Marshall last Wednesday.
Existing academies on the Marshall campus – BizTech, Pauling, and Renaissance Arts – would close after the current school year, and the high school program at the Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women in north Portland would discontinue, leaving a standalone-focus middle school.
Cleveland, Franklin, Grant, Lincoln, Madison, Roosevelt and Wilson would continue normal operation as community comprehensive schools with neighborhood boundaries and well-rounded high school programs, while Benson, Jefferson, and existing charter schools would serve as focus schools, open to students from across the school district.
Students leaving Marshall would likely receive education at Madison, Franklin or Cleveland.
Smith’s vision was drawn from the harsh reality of budget reductions presenting the dilemma of keeping all the high schools alive, but at a subpar level and hoping to build them back sometime in the future, or consolidating them now and strengthening a common core of programming.
Though the school board faces difficult challenges, the students, teachers, and parents of the Marshall community are not about to let their school be closed in silence.
Last Wednesday in the Marshall auditorium, the school board sat and listened as students showed up with the all the school spirit they could muster, waving signs that read “Save Marshall,” and testifying in support of what they called amazing teachers.
Teachers and parents spoke of success stories, pleading to keep the school as a much needed support system to Marshall’s predominately low-income students.
At the top of concern for Marshall supporters was how their students will fare in other schools that lack the specialized programs that found success at Marshall. Examples were a daycare for teen parents, a full-time nurse, an association for homeless students, and an after-school tutoring and enrichment program.
Board members watched with difficulty hours of inspiring persuasion from the Marshall community, which will, in all likelihood, lose their school unless the school district decides otherwise.