Thirteen Reasons Vicki Phillips Needed to Go

by Steve, April 25th, 2007

The news today that Vicki Phillips is stepping down as Portland Public Schools Superintendent comes as good news to those of us who have been critical of her leadership.

Perhaps her three-year legacy can best be summed up in three words: Jefferson Cluster Fuck. The planning for Portland’s only majority black high school and its feeder schools has been an abysmal failure of imagination and leadership. With only token community input, Phillips produced a disjointed plan that the community overwhelmingly rejected. The Jefferson campus was to be segregated by gender, with Tubman Middle School closed and the building used for an all-girls 7-12 school (two miles from the actual Jefferson campus). The boys would get their 7-12 school in Jefferson proper (shared with three other 9-12 “acadamies”). You see, you can’t trust young black men around young women. Also, you need discipline, so these 7-12 schools would require uniforms.

It is inconceivable that this type of plan would have been floated for a majority white school in Portland. It is further inconceivable that this was floated as a way to increase attendance and save Jefferson. Inconceivable, I tell ya!

But it gets even better. In order to add to the chaos, Ockley Green, the other middle school in the cluster, was converted to K-8 (how does that articulate to a 7-12 high school?), with plans to turn all the grade schools into K-8, too. Or just close them (this part they didn’t say out loud, but it’s been widely suspected that schools that are too small — or too close to Ockley — don’t have a part in this bizarre plan).

Because of tremendous public outcry, and underwhelming applications to the gender-segregated 7-12 schools, that part of the plan was delayed until the 2007-08 school year. We can only hope that with Phillips’ departure (and her hand-picked Jefferson principal floundering on administrative leave — see number two below), this asinine plan will be scrapped.

So here, in the spirit of Thursday Thirteen, are Thirteen Reasons Vicki Phillips Needed to Go. (Many thanks to the Neighborhood Schools Alliance for keeping such good tabs on Phillips during her stint here.)

1. The Jefferson Cluster Fuck, as detailed above. This alone was enough to disqualify her from further employment.

2. Leon Dudley, while technically part of the Jefferson Cluster Fuck, deserves his own item in the list. The district paid a head hunter $30,000 to help find him, but evidently they failed to take into account his troubling work history before offering him the job.

3. Her affinity with church-based education, exemplified by her attempt to sneak a church-run alternative school (to be housed at Jefferson) past the school board after they had unanimously rejected it as a charter school.

4. Sadly, this is part of a pattern of channeling taxpayer education funding to church-based organizations.

5. Her emphasis on closing down small, neighborhood-based, walking-distance schools, in favor of large, centralized schools.

6. Her alliances with conservative business interests and right-wing think tanks.

7. Her outsized PR budget.

8. Her general shoddiness in including the community in planning school closings.

9. Her general shoddiness in including the community in planning school boundary changes.

10. Her duplicitiousness on racial segregation. At the beginning of her tenure in Portland, she made a speech to the City Club of Portland decrying the trend of resegregation, correctly pegging it to liberal school transfer policies. (I can’t find the transcript anywhere, darn it.) But her policies, particularly with regard to Jefferson, seem designed to perpetuate segregation.

11. Her mismanagement of a $6.2 million federal grant that nearly led to its termination.

12. Her mis-diagnosis of declining enrollment as an artifact of demographics, and her failure to identify and address the true causes.

13. That hair. Good God, woman, are you hoping to get an award at your high school reunion for the one who looks the most like her senior portrait?

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist that last one.)

In all seriousness, I had high hopes for Phillips, as did many of my fellow Portlanders. And I realize that with unstable and inadequate school funding, there’s only so much you can do. Still, Phillips managed to blow it in ways nobody could have imagined three years ago. Good riddance.

3 Responses to “Thirteen Reasons Vicki Phillips Needed to Go”

  1. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    For me, #4 especially BITES. Thanks for the list.

  2. Comment from Calyn:

    thanks for a great list and info – especially all the links. It’s interesting to hear from a local who’s followed it from the start.
    I heard soundbites on the Jefferson gender-based academies, and wondered how that was solving things. At the time, I supposed that I must not know enough about the school or community to understand why that solution would serve it well.
    Looks like Vicki didn’t, either.

  3. Comment from Hope:

    I agree with your review of Vicki Phillips tenure and the damage she has caused to our schools. The school board also shares responsibility for the problems.

    This is what one school board member said about approving the Jefferson reorganization plan, approximately 2 months after the vote:
    “I can personally say that I voted on the Superintendent’s recommendations regarding the Jefferson Cluster because she repeatedly emphasized that it was the work of the Design Team. To honor [the design team’s] work I was willing
    to vote in favor of the proposal. Although I made several requests for data and research to support the proposed changes, I did not receive enough information to make an intelligent and informed decision.”