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Jefferson discussion focuses on transfers

January 31, 2013
Work with us to build up our neighborhood schools, including changing the district transfer policy that allows too many families to leave, Jefferson Cluster parents and teachers told PPS amid heated discussion of two options to balance enrollment in PK-8 schools.
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Portland Public Schools is looking district-wide at where schools are too crowded or too under-enrolled to deliver a strong education to students. The district is taking steps to balance enrollment across schools – through boundary changes, reconfigurations and consolidations - so that all students have equitable access to strong academic programs.

Two options were released Jan. 14 for balancing enrollment in the Jefferson Cluster after several months of community discussion and review of possible scenarios. One uses consolidations to strengthen K-8s and the other creates a middle school in the cluster.

Transfer policy targeted
During discussion of the options, many community members and teachers called for PPS to address the many ways that families leave the Jefferson Cluster, including through the district’s transfer policy, before deciding to close schools that are capturing a low percentage of the students who live in their neighborhoods.

At a school board work session Jan. 28, the board and superintendent held a discussion with PPS staff about the transfer policy and its impact on the Jefferson Cluster. Staff presented data showing that transfers have been a significant path, especially for white families, to leave Jefferson neighborhood schools. (Data)(PowerPoint) (Memo outlining most pressing enrollment issues in the cluster)

Across the district, students use the transfer policy to transfer to other neighborhood schools and also to focus schools (such as Buckman K-5 arts magnet, Sunnyside Environmental School and Benson and Jefferson high schools) as well as to language immersion programs.

Members of the citizen-based Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment & Transfer presented to the board the committee’s belief that the transfer policy should be looked at district wide.(See video)

Transfer policy background, next steps
The PPS transfer policy was approved by the school board in 2004 and was the first time that the district created a formal, district-wide method for giving students access to schools outside their neighborhoods. Prior to that, transfers were handled on a school-by-school basis and largely unregulated.

The 2004 transfer policy reflected the conditions at the time:

  • PPS was trying to keep families from leaving the district during a period of declining enrollment.
  • The charter school movement was still new.
  • The federal No Child Left Behind law that rated schools and required districts to pay for students to be bussed out of failing schools was just being implemented.

As a result, the transfer policy, along with federal law, was focused on equality in transfer choices, not on whether the result of allowing transfers was equitable, Judy Brennan, director of the Enrollment & Transfer Center, told the board Monday.

School board members and district leaders at Monday’s meeting discussed the need to set up a process for reviewing the transfer policy and discussing school choice, framing that discussion in the context of the PPS Racial Educational Equity Policy approved by the board in 2011.

Other key Jefferson community feedback
PPS gathered feedback on the enrollment balancing options at a dozen meetings and community events attended by more than 700 people. PPS staff also held two teacher listening sessions and attended staff meetings at two of the schools to gather feedback.

Meetings included a community forum at Jefferson High School Jan. 26 that drew more than 250 people, many of whom participated in a grassroots rally before the forum. (Meeting notes)

In addition, an online survey drew 247 responses, 57 percent favored a middle school option and 43 percent supported stronger, larger K-8s. PPS also received roughly 300 feedback forms, letters, emails and proposals.

Key themes included:

  • School structure is not the most important topic
    – Transfer policy, leadership, school marketing should be addressed before moving students
  • Do not close any more schools
    – Community has endured more than its share
    – Closing more schools in the Jefferson Cluster is inconsistent with the PPS Racial Educational Equity Policy
  • Concern over students enduring multiple shifts due to frequent structural/programmatic changes.
  • Concern that options were not derived from community supported long-term vision.
  • Skepticism over whether PPS will staff and resource a new school structure well
  • Options presented don’t seem to reflect the feedback.
  • Community wants to collaborate on solutions/options not just give feedback to inform the process.
  • Acknowledgment that the process has brought the cluster together and created cross-school ties among families and teachers.
  • View more in board presentation.

Next steps
The superintendent is drafting her recommendation to the school board for balancing enrollment in the Jefferson Cluster. She will release a summary Friday afternoon at www.pps.net that will also be sent to families.

The superintendent will present her full, detailed recommendation to the school board Monday at their 6 p.m. board meeting in the board auditorium, 501 N. Dixon St. The meetings are carried live on TV Channel 28 and streamed live.

The board will listen to public testimony:

  •  At a public hearing Saturday Feb.9, 10 am to noon in the Jefferson High School Auditorium, 5210 N. Kerby Ave.
  • At their Monday Feb. 11 board meeting, 6 p.m., 501 N. Dixon St. (45 minutes allocated for testimony)

The board is expected to vote on the superintendent's recommendation Feb. 25.

Follow the process on the Jefferson Enrollment Balancing webpage.

Community Question: What are the strengths and weakness of the PPS transfer policy? What should a discussion of the policy address? Discuss on facebook.


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