PPS Superintendent Carole Smith has announced two more hearings on school boundary and reconfiguration issues. There have been far too many hearings and too little intelligent, strategic, future oriented thinking on PPS facility needs. I graded the DBRAC report (a C minus) and stated my criticisms of the process in a previous blog post (here). Two more hearings will change little. It is too late.
Here is the 2/18/16 email from Superintendent Carole Smith:
Thank you for your continued attention and engagement in our work to balance enrollment to strengthen all schools as our student population - and our city - grows.
The involvement of and input from our community over the last few months has been unprecedented and inspiring. My proposal in coming weeks to the school board will respond to the recommendations I received from the District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee (DBRAC). To be responsive to DBRAC’s specific recommendations, I am intentionally reaching out to invite and listen to the views of families from whom I need to hear more.
Thursday, Feb. 25, 6 pm to 8 pm: We will hold a meeting in Spanish with English interpretation at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, 6651 SW Capitol Highway, across from the Stephens Creek Crossing housing complex. Food and childcare will be provided.
At the meeting, we will review the District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee’s (DBRAC) recommendations for boundary and program changes to west side schools. Proposals include moving the K-5 Spanish Immersion program from Ainsworth to East Sylvan to make room for more students at Ainsworth, relieving overcrowding at Chapman, and to make the immersion program more accessible to more families.
All are welcomed at the Feb. 25 meeting but we are prioritizing hearing from Spanish speaking families who may not have had other opportunities for public comment. Headsets will be provided to English speakers for simultaneous interpretation.
Tuesday, March 1, 6 pm to 8 pm at Ockley Green, 6031 N. Montana Ave. Food, childcare and interpretation in Spanish will be provided. We are co-hosting this meeting with the Jefferson Cluster Middle School visioning group, a group of Jefferson community leaders who have put forth a proposal to open Ockley Green as a middle school this fall. Ockley Green currently houses grades 4-8 of Chief Joseph/Ockley Green K-8 School. The Ockley Green Middle School proposal came up late in DBRAC’s process and I want to hear more from the community about this.
Again, our meetings are always public and all are welcomed. At the same time, it is essential for me to hear from key communities before I make my final recommendations to the board.
Thank you for your continued involvement and your support for your schools. Carole Smith Superintendent
Portland Public Schools is in the midst of a process of reconfiguring schools and shifting boundaries to right size school enrollments. Neighborhood school activists, the district's politically dominant ideological faction, have seized upon this process to attack dual language immersion programs, especially those enrolling largely English native students. With the DBRAC's proposal to move the Ainsworth Spanish immersion program to East Sylvan and to close down the Spanish immersion program at Ainsworth, the English-only, neighborhood school extremists have wounded a long established immersion program. The sharks are closing in for the kill. Which immersion program will the sharks go after next?
The PPS District-Wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee (DBRAC) has completed its work and given its report (here) to the Superintendent. I think the process was largely a failure. It wasted lots of time on irrelevancies and did not get around to some important strategic issues. I would grade the effort as a C minus.
(1) On the good side, and keeping the DBRAC from getting an outright F, it did support moving PPS to a largely middle school (6-8) and K-5 system. I support that direction.
Now the failures, and they are significant.
(2) The DBRAC failed to tell the Superintendent and Board that the prioritization of high schools for rebuilds from bonding over the next ten years needs to be reconsidered. Growth is creating areas of the school district that need additional elementary school enrollment capacity (Chapman, outer SE) and proposed reconfiguration to middle schools has pointed to several schools that are too small (Gray, George). Funds need to be found to refurbish Kellogg, Smith, and East Sylvan in order to implement the DBRAC's current proposals. These facility shortages will need to be addressed. DBRAC said little on this issue. I think addressing Gray, George and an additional school in the Chapman area are all higher priorities, for example, than rebuilding Madison.
(3) The DBRAC failed to articulate a strategy to increase the socio-economic and racial enrollment of elementary schools in PPS. In 2015 (here), I told them:
The current system of neighborhood schools, each reflecting the demographic characteristics of its neighborhood, cannot offer equal educational opportunities to all of its students. Change is needed.
This committee should recommend that:
PPS move boundaries to equalizes as much as possible the percentages of different racial, ethnic and family income characteristics of the students enrolled in neighborhood schools.
To further equalize the distribution of students eligible for reduced priced meals, neighborhood schools with forecasted enrollment of less than 25% students eligible for reduced priced meals should have their geographic boundaries reduced to permit students eligible for reduced priced meals to transfer in up to the 25%.
The DBRAC did neither and little else.
(4) The DBRAC failed to articulate the need for and a strategy for expanding dual language immersion programs. I made many public comments to the DBRAC on the need to incorporate expansion of dual language immersion programs into the boundary setting process. These appeals were ignored. The Department of Dual Languages made a written request to the DBRAC to site a number of dual language immersion programs. Too date, these have also been largely ignored. Currently, a shortage of dual language immersion teachers limits the immediate expansion of immersion programs. But this shortage should not last long. Because of DBRAC failures, it will be harder and create more disruptions to site immersion programs in the near future.
Portable electronic translators are getting better but will not soon replace actually knowing and living a foreign language. From the article accompanying the video above (here):
Don’t get too excited, because the arrival of wearable translators doesn’t mean you should stop paying attention in your foreign language class, or give up attempting to chat with your non-English speaking grandma. While these types of devices will help travelers with basic communication in places where insurmountable language barriers would have otherwise existed, they will never come to replace real human conversation.
Just like the flippant and flirty British traveler from the video, I went to Japan and found myself facing enormous language barriers. While the wearable translator would have been very helpful in several situations, I probably would have never come back knowing dozens of words in Japanese. It was a source of pride to be able to piece together a basic sentence in a non-European language for the first time. Foreign language ability, especially in early childhood gives you a leg up in life. Studies show fluency in foreign languages makes you smarter, and wires your brain differently in ways we are only now beginning to understand. Amazingly, research also points to something that many multilingual people may already realize: our personalities differ depending on the language we’re speaking.
So yes, it’s easier than ever to flirt in a foreign language because of wearable translators, but technology will only get you so far. This technology is a powerful tool that can help navigate us through menial tasks in a foreign language, but it can’t substitute a one-on-one human conversation. There’s something about old-fashioned communication that makes it essential to building a genuine relationship. Case-in-point: I imagine the creepy British guy in the wearable translator commercial didn’t ultimately get the girl’s phone number after he kissed her.
At the 1/28/16 meeting of the DBRAC, PPS backed away from its intentions to open a new Spanish language immersion program in southwest Portland, as seen in this older slide.
With the following slide, Judy Brennan, Enrollment and Transfer Director, without acknowledging PPS earlier intentions, stated the reasons for the change:
"There is not a high number of bilingual teachers out there that we can access to start new programs so we are looking to make best use of the teachers that we have. One of our consolidation questions that is before you is around helping with that, as well as making sure that we place any new teachers in front of as many of our emerging bilingual students as possible. So, it is mostly outer southeast and in some ways in north Portland where the priority zones for dual language expansion, especially in the Spanish language. Southwest certainly could see expansion in the future. But, it would likely come after those other priorities are addressed. So it is a good idea. It is not necessarily a timely idea that we can invest in at this time."
Here is the video of the 1/28/16 DBRAC meeting. Judy Brennan's comments are at 1 hour, 41 minutes and 25 second. Debbie Armandariz, Director of Dual Language, makes a few comments at 2 hours and 4 minutes.