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Advocating for KairosPDX

One year lease brings uncertainty

Danny Peterson | 8/8/2018, 6 a.m.
KairosPDX wanted a five year lease, but the district offered only one year, plus a rent increase of over 30 ...
Board members and founders of KairosPDX, a public charter school serving children in the African American community, are disappointed with an offer of a one year lease for the former Humboldt school property at 4915 N. Gantenbein Ave. Pictured (from left) are KairosPDX board members Tiffani Penson and Chris Nelson; school founders Zalika Gardner, Marsha Williams and Kali Thorne-Ladd; and board members Stuart Ellis and Traci Rossi. Photo by Danny Peterson

Even as doors opened Monday at KairosPDX, a public charter school serving children in the African American community, a school that will see its first graduating class of fifth graders this new school year, uncertainty for the school’s future lingers.

That’s because for the second time in less than a year, the school which is tasked with closing the achievement gap for minority students by using evidence-based methods of increased learning outcomes, and is led by a volunteer, minority-led board, has been offered just a one year lease by the Portland School District, owners of the property.

KairosPDX wanted a five year lease, but the district offered only one year, plus a rent increase of over 30 percent, according to KairosPDX school board members.

Portland Public Schools cited a district-wide shortage of facilities as the reason for the shorter lease, though no plans are in place specifically for the former Humboldt Elementary School, whose doors were shuttered when Kairos moved in.

Tiffani Penson, who is the vice chair of KairosPDX’s board of directors, told the Portland Observer that she’s disappointed in the school district’s decision.

“I understand that there is resistance to charters, but when you are failing to serve an entire demographic of children; you lose the right to have an ideological argument. You need to focus on what works and support that,” she said.

Black students were the lowest performing ethnic demographic in Portland Public Schools this past school year, according to scores from Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium. Less than 15 percent of Portland Public Schools black students met the standards in reading or math.

KairosPDX is one of the schools trying to turn that statistic around, one student at a time, Penson said.

“Kairos creates a program to change things and improve outcomes. And we are doing this. While our sample size is low, the early results are very promising. In some cases, black students at Kairos are outperforming black students at other schools in the districts over four to one,” she said.

Part of how they achieved the positive results was by hiring high quality educators and holding classes year-round, both proven techniques of improving learning outcomes. The school also creates culturally specific curricula.

Meanwhile, the threat of being forced to move to another location seriously throws into question whether the school can remain open.

The school asked for a five year lease from the district back in December, and in late June, the district responded with its own offer of a one year lease, as well as a rent increase of over 30 percent, KairosPDX board member Chris Nelson testified to the school board last month.

As a compromise, KairosPDX is now asking for a two year lease.

Penson said the school has looked at ‘dozens’ of properties in the Albina area in the past year, and even hired a facilities person to help them do so back in 2016, but none of the locations met the criteria to hold their more than 160 students.