Words from the Field: Guest Blogger Chrysanthius Lathan Talks PPS Budget Cuts, Humboldt Closure, and PDX

We are fortunate enough this week to have a guest blogger who is right in the middle of experiencing and reflecting on the PPS Superintendent’s proposed budget cuts.  These cuts, if you remember, include a proposal to cut 100+teaching positions, ending the Oregon Outdoor School Program, and closing Humboldt and Harriet Tubman schools.  Take a moment to hear one perspective from the front lines…and please share your thoughts, too!

The writing in teal below is from Boise Eliot teacher Chrysanthius Lathan.  Many thanks for contributing!

I am stuck in the middle of the spectrum as far as whether this [the merging of Humboldt and Boise-Eliot and closure of Harriet Tubman] is a good or bad change. Let’s start with the good. Students in the middle school grades [at ImageHumboldt] were still being taught self-contained classes because there isn’t enough staff to support departmentalized classes or “switching classes.” This is a huge gaping social hole, as they leave middle school unprepared for the rigors of high school. At Boise Eliot they have access to a variety of core and elective teachers, not just one all day. The combination of human and material resources of the two schools makes for more of a comprehensive program that serves all students. Another good thing is that Humboldt made AYP, and the children are doing well in reading, as they are in Boise. Strength in numbers (of staff and students alike). 

The thorn buried deep into my flesh is that Portland Public Schools saw this budget shortfall coming from afar. I remember a couple years ago, the governor said, after the state rejected the sales tax bill, “be prepared for steep cuts in education and social services.” More and more childless people are moving to Portland to establish themselves and move elsewhere. Why should they care about taxes that would help the schools if imposed? 

The other part of this is the gentrification of North and Northeast Portland in particular. I love word study and just realized the root word of “gentrification” is “gentry.”  The attraction of the childless gentry is shrinking the size of neighborhood schools.

Last, but certainly not least, Wilson HS has the second smallest high school population, yet there are continuous talks about closing Jefferson and its cluster schools. Both YWA [Harriet Tubman Young Women’s Academy] and Humboldt are Jefferson cluster schools. Historically, we as a people of color have ALWAYS had to fight for our schools while west side schools have been kept open and thriving. Without the proper information, resources, and opportunities given to our parents and staff, we will never have a fair shot at equity in this district, no matter how many dollars they spend to train every staff member. 

In sum, it’s good for kids, sad for the neighborhood, and could have- SHOULD HAVE- been avoided. I thank God for self-preservation because I have a job next year, but boy, do I have a hell of a job, teaching these kids the truth about what happens in weird-ass Portland.

I hope to hear lots more from Chrysanthius on the blog — to share with readers and with my students.  If there are any other PPS teachers or volunteers or parents in PPS schools who want to chime in, please comment here or email me at zapoura@pdx.edu.  More public discussions about the practices in our districts and in schools can only help push us closer to equitable schools…or at least closer to fighting more efficiently for equity. 

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