How to Save Jefferson High

by Steve, December 27th, 2007

Sounds lofty, eh? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll tell you there is a growing consensus about what we need to do.

Over the last decade or so, the once proud, comprehensive Jefferson High School has been allowed to stumble through a combination of malign neglect, massive out-transfers, and corporate grant-funded experiments that amount to a pattern of institutional racism. Enrollment now stands at around 600, with a catchment area population of around 1,700. The student population is disproportionately black and poor, and their educational opportunities are starkly limited compared to the wealthier, whiter students who live in the Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland and Franklin clusters.

What remains of Jefferson is a segregated, balkanized, underfunded shell, carved up into four separate academies that benefit neither the black community nor the larger North and Northeast Portland area Jefferson once served.

The attendance area of Jefferson is the most diverse in Portland. There is no single ethnic group in the majority. Imagine if the school looked like the neighborhood, with a focus on unity and understanding. This is exactly what Portland (and the world) needs right now. Imagine Jefferson CommUnity High School, where every student has the same opportunities as children at Lincoln or Grant, and then some. Imagine a championship athletic program, world-class performing arts, and a rigorous academic program that serves the full range of students.

Portland Public Schools and the City of Portland have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to offer the young adults of North Portland every opportunity that is available elsewhere in Portland. There is a growing cross-community consensus that Jefferson needs to be returned to its comprehensive roots. There also appears to be a growing openness on behalf of the district to really listen to the community, admit mistakes, and move forward.

Let’s not beat around the bush. It’s going to cost money — a lot more than the district is currently spending — to bring Jefferson back to its once proud status.

There are two ways to pay for it (assuming we’re not getting any new funding any time soon): by phasing out neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers (the biggest source of the current inequity), or by shifting funding and resources away from schools like Lincoln, Cleveland, Franklin and Grant. The former makes the most sense, and would be the most equitable, but we can’t force students back to Jefferson without first rebuilding it. That means the latter is required, at least in the near-term.

At this point, I don’t care how we fund it; it is imperative that we create a school with equal opportunities for our most disadvantaged students. It is not fair to punish students who chose to attend their neighborhood school as opposed to playing the lottery and commuting on public transit to school. The transfer policy states that students have a right to attend their neighborhood school, but is silent on the fact that this gives extra privilege to students who live in the wealthiest neighborhoods at the expense of the rest of us. I propose an amended policy statement to the effect that every student has a right to attend their comprehensive neighborhood school.

It’s important to define comprehensive, of course. So here’s what I’d like to see:

  • a rigorous academic core
  • business education
  • vocational education
  • college prep (A.P.) in all disciplines
  • special education
  • foreign languages
  • performing arts (dance, theatre, band, orchestra and choir)
  • visual arts
  • athletics
  • journalism (TV, newspaper and yearbook)
  • science
  • technology

The district excuse that Jefferson doesn’t have the enrollment to fund these things can no longer stand under the bright light of public scrutiny, especially given that it is district policy that has allowed — and even encouraged — enrollment to drop so low.

I propose we immediately fund Jefferson at a rate at least two times the district average per student, and return a full slate of electives, foreign languages and performing arts beginning in the 2008-09 school year. I also want to see the firewalls between academies softly and quietly dismantled, to the extent that students aren’t limited in their academic options based on a choice they make in the ninth (or sixth) grade.

Believe it or not, Jefferson administrators are open to these ideas. They are relieved that the glaring inequities are a concern to the community at large. They understand that the biggest struggle is with the district, specifically with funding.

Our two-tiered system of high schools belongs in the Jim Crow south of the past, not in a city that prides itself on its diversity and civic-mindedness. It’s time to move past the debacle that was the Jefferson redesign under Vicki Phillips. It’s time to come together and demand equitable opportunities for our children, no matter where they live.

39 Responses to “How to Save Jefferson High”

  1. Comment from RLW:

    My proposal to the superintendent was similar. Fund clusters (now called communities) based upon the catchment census, not the actual enrollment. Do this and very soon Jeff and Roosevelt wil become quality schools once again, and the transfer issue will solve itself.
    I hope a funding plan like yours or mine becomes a reality.
    Furthermore, I have to say that the YMA is woefully underfunded and any young man attending this academy will get an inferior basic education and a lack of options.

    North Portland

  2. Comment from Steve:

    Unfortunately, funding based on catchment population is punitive to those who live in neighborhoods with high in-transfers. In other words, students who live in the Grant area and attend their neighborhood schools would receive a lower per-student budget because students have transfered in.

    Still, we must equalize opportunities. If the district insists on open transfers, they’re going to have to find a way to pay for it other than they way they are now: by limiting opportunities for those who stay put.

  3. Comment from niceoldguy:

    Have you discussed this with Jeff teachers? Rigorous academic program? How about getting the kids to show up? The social problems go way beyond what the school system can do.
    With so few kids it should be possible to organize volunteer mentors to take on groups of students, and give them interesting things to do. HS is mostly BS, and the kids know it.

  4. Comment from Steve:

    There are two overlapping Jefferson stakeholder communities.

    The current crop of students is in immediate crisis, and they need immediate intervention. What you suggest would be nice, but realistically, the district needs to foot the bill and bring in help. Now.

    On the other hand, we need a strategic vision to restore Jefferson as a comprehensive school that will serve the greater community. That’s my focus, but I in no way want that to eclipse the immediate and real problems faced by Jefferson students right now.

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    One thing that would help Jeff is a genuine community committee to help oversee what takes place at Jeff and in its cluster. I propose a committee made up of representatives of the major community organizations and everything that takes place at Jeff gets run through this committee. It would be a place people could be heard and a place where the district could get serious help in making that cluster work. Right now it is pretty much guesswork, and the guesswork has been pretty bad.

    I hope you are right that people in power in PPS are beginning to genuinely see the inequities and are beginning to do something about it. Haven’t seen much of it yet. Maybe you are mixing up people on your blog with people in power.

  6. Comment from Steve:

    The PPS administrators who work at Jefferson are keenly aware of the inequities they labor under, and are glad for the community support.

    I’m not so sure about those who work at BESC, but I’m willing to give them a chance to come around to the inescapable truth that we’re staring at a train wreck set motion by the last administration, marked and aggravated by intolerable inequity.

  7. Comment from Marian:


    Bravo! I agree with your assessment of the situation and your proposed solution(s) for Jefferson. Most families in Portland want a comprehensive high school for their children with the classes and extracurricular activities you mentioned. Why do you think so many transfer OUT of Jeff/Roos/Mad/Marshall TO COMPREHENSIVE high schools? We don’t want to be part of a social experiment that has been haphazardly thrown together like Jeff’s academies and, to a less drastic degree, Madison’s. Our family left Madison because it is no longer a comprehensive high school and lacked the academic and social opportunities that the Lincoln, Cleveland, and Grant offer. PPS needs to wake up! Each cluster deserves a comprehensive high school with the offerings you described. Anything less is inequitable.

  8. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve B.,

    I can’t resist pointing out that Michele Schultz made a similar proposal when she was campaigning for the school board last spring. Here is a draft of it:

    “Over the past three decades, ever since the advent of desegregation on a national scale, Jefferson High School has been the subject of well-meaning but costly and ineffective experimentation. Program after program has been implemented in the hopes of desegregating the school and raising achievement, in the end accomplishing just the opposite. The most recent “redesign,” still under way, will split a very underenrolled high school into four very small academies, two of which will place boys and girls in school uniforms in buildings three miles apart. A new form of segregation. No other PPS high school has any similar arrangements.

    Why have so many well-intended efforts gone so wrong? Because they were driven by the school administration and not by the affected community. When was the last time anyone from PPS asked the 75% of Jefferson neighborhood parents who send their children to other high schools what it would take to bring them back to Jefferson? There was a golden opportunity to do so in 2005, but the PPS administration was more interested in implementing a Gates grant than in serving the needs of inner-city families.

    Currently, Jefferson parents are still asking for the “redesign” plan to slow down or be rewritten because they still are not comfortable with it. If they are not heard, if their needs are not respected, then what chance of success will this latest “redesign” have?

    I would like to propose one final “redesign” of Jefferson High School. But this one will be different from all the others. It will be different because it will BEGIN with parents instead of proposals. And it will seek out the parents whose children attend other high schools, and ask them what we can do to bring them back to Jefferson. And it will also seek out parents of middle schoolers to ask them what would attract them to Jefferson. And it will implement no plans that do not have parental and community support. If elected to the PPS School Board, I pledge not to support any plan for Jefferson that does not satisfy these criteria.”

    You never heard David Wynde, the 2-time winner of the Zone 2 seat (which is also the zone where Jefferson is), propose anything like this. Now, why do you suppose Michele wasn’t elected?

  9. Comment from Realist:

    Its done, its over. Close Jefferson at the end of 09-10. Sell the land that Jefferson sits on for private development.

    In the interim expand the physical plant at Grant. In the 10-11 school year the first 900 high school students in the former Jefferson cluster that request admission to Grant would be let in. All of the rest of the high school students in the former Jefferson would be allowed to pick any other high school in PPS.

    Less money, more rigor, better results.

  10. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Realist, our kids cannot go to Grant — I’m a Mad High alum. SENATOR! (stomp stomp) POWER! SENATOR! (stomp stomp) POWER!

    But they can’t go to Madison because, you know. We live in North Portland. Who wants to drive that far? I think my neighborhood needs a high school within walking distance.

  11. Comment from John Fairplay:

    This exact conversation could have taken place 25 years ago. The idea that a one-size-fits-all solution proposed by the District or some Committee is going to solve Jefferson’s problems is ridiculous. Jefferson students have been used as a social experiment for decades. As long as they are trapped in a public school system whose primary concern is protecting the jobs, salaries and benefits of its union employees rather than what is best for its customers, nothing will change.

  12. Comment from Steve:

    The debate here is not whether we need unions in our public schools. That debate ended a long time ago, and your side lost, John. Please refer to the coment policy, specifically #3 and #10.

  13. Comment from The Megis:

    It is now time for the Jefferson Alumnus to step up & give back to Jefferson. Jefferson High Staff has a data base of Alumnus e-mail addresses. Lets get the Jefferson Alumnus involved. We all been knowing the issues for years. Lets come together with fresh ideas & solve the issues that is facing Jefferson. There are other High Schools around the country that had issues & overcame them. One thing that I do know is that the Alumni has to be involved! The buildings & grounds are prefect to bring Jefferson back to Life.

    The Megis

  14. Comment from CoachO:

    It’s NOT just JEFF! And I agree with the idea, that a mojor problem with Oregon schools is the easy transfer policy.

  15. Comment from Steve:

    True, it is also Roosevelt, Madison and Marshall, though the situation at Jefferson is more stark.

    I’m focusing on Jefferson for a couple reasons. It’s our neighborhood school, and I want it to be an option for our kids. And all eyes will soon be on Jefferson as City Hall moves there for a week in January.

    If we can fix Jefferson, we can use it as a model for restoring comprehensive high school programs in all of our communities.

  16. Comment from Zarwen:


    I am curious: what, specifically (if anything), are you hoping will come from the City Hall visitation?

    I recall reading some email correspondence forwarded to me by a member of the Jeff community. City officials were offering to install doors, windows and trees at Jeff. My friend sounded ready to tear her hair out, screaming that doors, windows and trees will not fix Jeff’s problems. She sounded ready to give up on getting anyone from the city government to understand that it is the curricular structure at Jeff that needs fixing.

    Are you hoping for an opportunity to demonstrate to city officials what Jeff really needs? Or are you hoping for something (anything?) else?

  17. Comment from Steve:

    I’m hoping for the light of public scrutiny to shine brightly upon the gross inequities of our two-tiered system of public education in this city.

    Portlanders like to consider themselves progressive and enlightened, yet they’re either ignorant of these inequities or they’re hypocrites.

    When the mayor asks “how are the children doing?” I want everybody to see that the students at Jefferson aren’t doing so hot under the Jim Crow school system we’ve got in Portland.

  18. Comment from SW Dad:

    Great post. Here’s some background:

    Why are Jefferson Families Outraged about the Latest School Reorganization? (From August 2006 press conference, prepared by Jefferson High School Parent, Teacher, Student Association)

    The latest reorganization of Jefferson into separate academies for Arts & Technology and Science and Technology disrupts successful elements of the school while failing to address problems that need to be addressed. The reorganization also violates numerous PPS board policies, PPS administrative directives, Oregon Administrative Rules, Oregon Revised Statues, Title I, II and V of federal NCLB regulations, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution including but not limited to the following:

    – OAR 581-022-1020 (1) & (2) & (3) & (7)
    – OAR 581-022-1130 (3)
    – Sec. 1114(b)(1) of Title I

    – PPS Board Policy 6.10.010-P (2)
    – OAR 581-021-0045, OAR 581-021-0046, OAR 581-022-1140, OAR 581-022-1020 (1), and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:
    – Sec. 1114(b)(1) of Title I of NCLB
    – The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

    – OAR 581-022-0606, PPS Board Policy 6.10.010-P (15), or Sec. 1114 (b) (1) of Title I.
    – PPS Board Policy 6.10.010-P (11) and (15)
    – OAR 581-022-0606.

    – Sec. 1114(b)(1) of Title I
    – Sec. 1114(b) (2) (B) of Title I.
    – Title V-A
    – OAR 581-022-1020 (4)
    – OAR 329.704 and PPS Board Policy 7.10.010-P III
    – PPS Board Policy 6.10.010-P (15)
    – PPS Administrative Directive 3.10.011-AD (4) & (5)
    – PPS Administrative Directive 3.10.012-AD (4)
    – PPS Administrative Directive 3.10.014-AD (1)
    – Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
    – OAR 581-021-0045
    – Core values of the PPS 2005-2010 Strategic Plan
    – OAR 581-022-1020 (6)
    – Title I, Title V, OAR 581-022-1020, OAR 581-022-1130 OAR 581-022-1120,
    – PPS Administrative directive 3.10.014-AD (1)
    – PPS Board Policy 6.10.010-P (12)
    – PPS Board Policy 6.10.030-P II. (1) and (2)
    – PPS Board Policy 6.10.030-P I. (1) and (2)

    E. The Proposed Reorganization Also Fails to Address Areas in Need of Improvement to Strengthen Jefferson such as:
    – Recommendations for Jefferson identified in the 2003 Oregon Department of Education Comprehensive School Review of Jefferson
    – Problems with the PPS Transfer, as documented in Multnomah County and City of Portland audit of PPS (June 2006).
    – Violations of numerous requirements of Title V, Title II, and Title I including but not limited to issues related to parent involvement, teacher quality, and other NCLB required school components. (see Sections D.14. and D.15.)
    – Bringing the Jefferson Site Council into compliance with Oregon 21st Educational Act for the 21st Century (ORS 329.704) or PPS Board Policy 7.10.010.
    – Lack of a systemic and effective plan for communication between the school and community regarding school programs and school related issues as required by Administrative Directive 3.10.014-AD (1)
    – Mitigating the harm caused by a documented history of misusing public funds intended to serve low-income and minority students, (Title I funds, federal grants, etc.). For example, PPS schools were more segregated when desegregation funds ended than when funding began, even as Portland neighborhoods became less segregated.
    – Misuse of private funding and grants through the Portland Schools Foundation violating PPS Board Policy 7.10.030-P and the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century. The lack of equity, oversight, and accountability of the Portland Schools Foundation results in policies and projects that violate:
    • PPS Board Policies 6.10.010-P (2), 6.10.030-P I. (1) and (2), 6.10.030-P II. (1) and (2), 7.10.010 and the PPS 2005-2010 Strategic Plan;
    • ORS 329.704, OAR 581-021-0045, OAR 581-021-0046, OAR 581-022-1140, and OAR 581-022-1020(1);
    • Multiple sections of the NCLB Law’s Title I, including Sec. 1114(b)(1), and Title V;
    • The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and
    • PPS Board Policies 6.10.010-P, 6.10.030-P, and 7.10.010; the PPS 2005-2010 Strategic Plan; ORS 329.704, OAR 581-021, and OAR 581-022; and Title I and Title V of NCLB.
    – School attendance area boundaries and feeder patterns that drain enrollment from the Jefferson cluster, or increase racial segregation among schools in violation of The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    – The urgent need to increase enrollment at Jefferson as identified PPS Resolutions 3264 and 3423.

  19. Comment from Steve Buel:

    SW Dad, I am blown away by your research. Have you shared this with anyone else? Like school board members etc.?

    Yes, Michelle Schultz had a lot of good things to say and would have been pretty good on the school board. I was certainly for her. It should be noted that Jefferson is not in any school district that Wynde represents — the Wilson, Lincoln, parts of Grant and Cleveland district doesn’t contain Jeff. So Wynde has no interest and even less understanding.

    Schultz lost because she wasn’t supported by SFC and PSF, pure and simple. And if she was going to spend time, energy, and money on Jeff she wasn’t going to get their support. End of story.

    My committee is different from hers in that the members are chosen by the major organizations in the community. It would also be a standing committee. If it is set up this way then it is much less likely to be corrupted and co-opted. And it will get the suppport of the community.

  20. Comment from Zarwen:

    SW Dad,

    Are you an attorney? If so, Uncle Jefferson needs YOU!!

  21. Comment from The Megis:

    FYI, This is Jefferson High School Portland, Oregon

    The Megis

  22. Comment from Marian:

    Notice that PPS’s School Enrollment and Program Data page for Jefferson’s academies is from November, 2005. How does one get current enrollment and program data for Jeff’s academies? How does a parent determine where these academies are located and what they have to offer? Do you have to visit each academy (if you can locate it) or is there an easier way? Help!

  23. Comment from young dad:


    One other issue that cannot be left out of a REAL discussion of how to fix Jefferson is what is happening with the district dance program that is located at Jefferson. This program is using Jeff’s resources to train students that are not enrolled in Jefferson. Jefferson’s resources should be used to help programs that are lacking first (rigorous academic core and college prep) before going to dancers at other High Schools.

  24. Comment from Steve:

    Here’s the 2006-2007 enrollment data sheet for Jefferson:

    The district still hasn’t published the profiles for this year. I’m not sure why they’re so late getting these out.

    The district so far refuses to publish a spread sheet of schools and their offerings. Their stock answer is that you have to attend the meat market “Celebrate!” event and walk around to all the tables and compile the data yourself, as presented by the school staff who are forced to sell themselves.

    I encourage you to e-mail the distract transfer and enrollment office and request this information. At least one other parent has done this, and more parents requesting the same will help. Here’s the e-mail address for the transfer and enrollment office:

    Young dad, I support restricting the Jefferson Dancers to students at Jefferson. What good is a magnet program if it doesn’t draw students to the school?

  25. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    We need to get dance programs going at some or all of Jeff’s eight feeder schools if we are hoping those same kids will dance as Jefferson Dancers. Dance (and music) has gone missing at most of the neighborhood schools.

  26. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Marian, call Jefferson main office directly — they’ll be able to give you info.

  27. Comment from Marian:

    Thanks, WM. My kids are many years away from high school. I was (albeit rather unclearly) making a point about how difficult it is for the average person to gather facts about what comprises Jefferson’s “campus” and what each small school has to offer. There should be a main Jefferson fact sheet that lists the small schools/campuses and their locations and gender and age limitations. Next to each small school, there should be a link to find out more information about that specific school. Right now, from the PPS website, you have to click on each school separately to get very limited information.

    On the other hand, if you go to Cleveland’s information page on the PPS website, you can access their school created website (which I couldn’t locate for Jeff). Check this out: http://www.clevelandwarriors.o.....index.html.
    And Lincoln’s school created web site is also full of good information about the school’s offerings.

    Jeff was once a great school and can be great again. There are a lot of great ideas floating around this blog on how to restore Jeff to a wonderful comprehensive high school that is desirable to the bulk of its catchment.

  28. Comment from Zarwen:

    PPS is notorious for its crappy web pages. If there is no school-created site, you are out of luck. You may be out of luck anyway; last time I checked the Irvington school-created site, its last update was in 2001!

    Now, about the Jefferson Dancers: I thought the school board passed a rule last year that all members of the dance program had to be enrolled at Jeff? What happened with that??

  29. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The school district gave me a fact sheet listing all the elementary school offerings. If anyone wants this let me know. I am in the phone book.

  30. Comment from Steve:

    That’s curious. I know one parent who has been given the runaround by the district. They told him even though they have access to the information, they wouldn’t collate it for him, and he’d have to gather the information on his own.

  31. Comment from reorg is us:

    So, since you’re still talking about a neighborhood comprehensive high school for your children, does this mean you’re NOT moving to Beaverton?

  32. Comment from Steve:

    Huh? Who told you we were moving to Beaverton?!?

    Oh, yeah, I read that Willamette Week article too.

    Yeah, we’re staying. Other than the schools and a better commute, there weren’t any positives. And there were plenty of negatives.

    We really like our neighborhood.

  33. Comment from Zarwen:

    “Willamette Week article”???

    C’mon, Steve–you wrote an entire post on the topic, right here on this blog, on October 5th!

  34. Comment from Zarwen:

    But I am glad you’re staying. Please tell Wacky Mommy I said so too.

  35. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Thanks, Zarwen. I’m glad we’re staying, too.

  36. Comment from Steve:

    Strange living life in the public eye…

    (By the way, for breakfast I had a fried egg sandwich, half a grapefruit, and a big cup of coffee.)

  37. Comment from reorg is us:

    I don’t know you and WM, but I’m glad you’re staying, too. Though I must say, I work for BSD and it’s a very good school district. Our children are here in PPS, though.

  38. Comment from SW Dad:

    Thanks to Steve and Zarwen for the comments above. The legal research above was included in a set of materials handed out at the 9/06 press conference held by Jefferson PTSA at Jefferson High School. It was prepared mainly by Nicole Breedlove, along with other members of Jefferson High School PTSA including Nancy Smith, Byrd and Glenda Simmons-Walker.

    The group also presented PPS with a public “report card” of equity and curriculum issues throughout the district, along with a curriculum analysis.

  39. Comment from Steve:

    I’ve got no really new ideas on this blog, folks, as evidenced above. I’m building on the work of many involved, committed parents and community members.

    But it’s a new year, and a new administration.