Intolerable Inequity

by Steve, January 15th, 2008

Here are my prepared remarks to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education, delivered January 14, 2008 regular meeting at Jefferson High School.

Thank you for being here, and welcome to what I would like to be my children’s high school.

We’ve finally reached a clear consensus within the district that Jefferson needs to be a comprehensive high school. This is what the Jefferson community has been asking for for years. It is refreshing to finally be on the same page, and I think we should recognize that this new openness springs from the administration of superintendent Smith, as well as from the Jefferson administration.

But let’s be honest. This is a very small first step, even if it is in the right direction. We need to make sure we have the proper momentum to carry through when the eyes of the city are no longer upon us.

Comprehensive doesn’t just mean tearing down the walls between the academies. And it doesn’t just mean adding a couple of AP classes.

To most of us who went to public high school, comprehensive means a school that serves the full range of students, from vocational education through advanced placement. And not just that, but exciting and interesting electives too.

You don’t have to look far for this kind of school. Wilson High has it all. Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland and Franklin look pretty good, too.

But here on this side of town, and in a crescent from St. Johns through outer northeast and into outer southeast Portland, we might as well be living on a different planet. The district’s transfer policy divests over $40 million annually from these parts of town, leaving us with gutted programs and shuttered neighborhood schools.

This school district is fraught with intolerable, glaring inequity. And Jefferson High School is ground zero for that.

In spite of this, we have some of the most creative, resilient students in the city at Jefferson. They are doing it by sheer force of will, because this city can’t see fit to provide them with the opportunities it offers students in wealthier neighborhoods.

Let’s be clear. The students are not failing at Jefferson. Jefferson is not a failing school. This district and this city have failed Jefferson and its community. The segregation and inequities are obvious to anybody who cares to look. As the policy makers responsible for this, you should be ashamed for Portland.

Yes, let’s start by tearing down the walls that currently constrain our students in academic silos. But let’s also tear down the much larger wall in this city that separates rich from poor, black from white, the haves from the have nots.

This is not Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. This is Portland, Oregon, 2008.

I think I speak for most of my neighbors when I say: We’ve had enough. The time has come for real change in the way we distribute our public investment. Let’s start with Jefferson, and make it a model, comprehensive high school we all can be proud of. But let’s keep the ball rolling in the Roosevelt, Madison, and Marshall clusters as well. We need equitable, strong, comprehensive schools in all of our neighborhoods, not just the white, middle class ones. The time is now.

13 Responses to “Intolerable Inequity”

  1. Comment from McAngryPants:

    Outstanding! I realize that this is a week-long event but will you write up a summary when all is said and done?

  2. Comment from Steve:

    I’ll probably post updates as the week progresses, but I’m only going to be participating in select events. There seems to be media saturation on it though, so check the Oregonian daily and Willy Week’s blog (nothing there yet, but I know Beth Slovic was at the board meeting last night).

  3. Comment from Marian:


    You’re doing the right thing! I remember when I had friends who transferred to Jeff back in the early ’80s. It was thriving place (not without problems, of course) but still a good comprehensive neighborhood high school with a solid dance magnet program.

    Keep up the good works.

  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Terrific speech, Steve.
    Let’s see — at the end of the week we should get what?
    A comprehensive high school.
    A cluster wide committee fairly drawn to advise PPS

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    on Jeff and its feeders.

    The elimination of the neighborhood to neighborhood transer policy or massively improving the poorer schools so they can hold their own.

    Lots of extra money poured into the cluster so the offerings will be substantial.

    A new building for Jefferson (like at Lincoln)

    A revamping of the teacher transfer policy to protect the drain of better teachers into upper middle class neighborhoods.

    And …………

    (Let me know when you see any of these things.)

    Of course, the flight to the moon included liftoff.

  6. Comment from Steve:

    Baby steps, Steve B., baby steps.

    At the end of the week, we’ll have what we have right now: a general recommendation from the Jefferson administration and the office of high schools to merge the two non-gender academies at Jefferson.

    I don’t expect any significant movement on the student transfer policy, the teacher transfer policy, or anything else by week’s end.

  7. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve R.,

    I just gotta ask—how many times were you interrupted by applause??

  8. Comment from Steve:

    I think just once, on the line “This district and this city have failed Jefferson and its community.”

  9. Comment from rubycakes:

    Here, here. Well said. I hope the will exists to make Jefferson a school that the entire city can be proud of.

  10. Comment from Anne:

    So it looks like PPS was a little late in getting the reports out for the facilities discussion on Tuesday night. Friends said they only found out at 5pm on Tuesday that the complete facilities report is on line at the PPS site. From what I heard at the last minute PPS also declared discussions of high school facilities off limits, despite the fact that the facilities discussions are being held at high schools. True?

    We have got to stop waiting for PPS bureaucratics to ensure democratic, sane decision making. We are the only ones that can make that happen.

  11. Comment from Anne:

    In today’s Oregonian columnist Renee Mitchell speaks out about the deplorable inequity between Jefferson and other high schools.

    Many people have been speaking out for years about Jefferson, with great insight and patience. The above link is to a speech that Glenda Walker Simmons made two years ago about the reforms initiated by Vicki Phillips and driven by a Gates Foundation agenda. When Simmons made the speech two years ago, predicting and explaining the conditions at Jeff that were exacerbated by Phillips, she was ignored at best and demonized at worst. Some of those who condemned her are now criticizing the current state of Jeff.
    Let’s push to the root causes and speak out like Simmons about the hidden and not so hidden sources of the inequity, ie corporate influence in public schools.

  12. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    re: facilities. Flyers were sent home with all the kids last Monday (1/7/08), and word was circulating about the facilities meeting way before then. The e-mail that was sent at 5 p.m. last night was just a reminder, prior to the first meeting.

    yours in better communication,


  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, I don’t expect major movement from this board ever on my list. Geez, how I wish I am wrong.