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Tubman’s Revival

Educator with deep community ties plans school’s future

Danny Peterson | 1/31/2018, 11:55 a.m.
Natasha Butler’s extensive resume and experience in education and school administration might make her more than qualified as the planning ...
Deep community ties and a personal connection to the neighborhood helps Natasha Butler understand the needs as she plans for the reopening of Harriet Tubman Middle School. Butler is the planning principal for the north Portland school which is scheduled to open this fall. Photo by Danny Peterson

Natasha Butler’s extensive resume and experience in education and school administration might make her more than qualified as the planning principal for the re-opening of Harriet Tubman Middle School this fall. But the personal connection she has to the area and the north Portland school in particular can’t be replicated in just anybody’s repertoire.

Butler sees the opportunity to strengthen community ties and support for a robust program at Tubman. The plans are part of a larger effort by Portland Public Schools to bring equal access and quality academic programs to schools across the district.

“I have two younger brothers that were in education that actually attended Harriet Tubman. And my dad owned a business right on Williams Avenue. And so as a result of that, I used to come to Harriet Tubman quite a bit,” Butler told the Portland Observer.

Her father was Harold Williams Sr., an influential community leader who owned a consulting business, participated in public life as an education advocate, and was elected as a member of Portland Community College Board of Directors. He passed away in 2012.

It was back in the early 90s when her brothers attended Tubman. It since transformed into a young women’s academy but that too closed down. The building has remained dormant for over five years.

“There's a lot of history here. And there are many families here that have been, as we know, displaced,” Butler said. “So this is an opportunity to say there's still a place for you here. And Portland Public Schools is still committed to academic excellence and that we're going to do whatever's necessary to provide equitable opportunities for all students.”

Butler has participated in dozens of community meetings and has coordinated with 26 school district departments in anticipation of the school’s reopening. District officials report that she has received tremendous support from the four north and northeast Portland elementary school communities which will feed into Tubman, identified as Boise-Eliot-Humboldt, Irvington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Sabin.

“The support has been humbling,” Butler said.

Tubman’s re-opening was wrought with uncertainty last fall when the school board considered pursuing a backup location for its students in light of air quality concerns due to its proximity to a major freeway. But the district has since redoubled their commitment to its reopening after a community outcry questioned the legitimacy of yet another delay in a long line of postponements by the district, though they’ll still perform air quality and environmental testing. They’ve also set aside funding to perform repairs and install a new ventilation system.

Harriet Tubman Middle School and Roseway Heights are both two new middle schools slated to open this fall. Butler will helm Tubman and Kathleen Ellwood will be the principal at Roseway Heights.

Butler is drawing on the support of so many community members who are invested in seeing Tubman’s reopening. She plans to integrate as many supports for the school as possible, from academics to tutoring to providing a high rigorous curriculum.

“My hope is that school can be everything that a kid needs,” she said.