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Save Our Schools — one school at a time

Posted on July 16, 2012 by dmayer

This is the real life story about The Death and Life of One Great American School — to borrow a phrase from Diane Ravitch. Can you help us revive this school?

Tubman girls take the seats of PPS school board members and vote unanimously to keep their school open.

Today a group of parents and teachers who had been diligently trying to keep Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women alive received another “nail in the coffin” from the Superintendent’s office of Portland Public Schools. After closing the school on June 13th, Superintendent Carole Smith encouraged parents to pursue a district supported charter school. In a letter dated June 18th, parents posed questions to her about what the nature of support would be. Today, on the day the charter application is due, Zeke Smith, Chief of Staff at PPS finally responded. Even if by some miracle the group had been able to complete the application in three weeks, the charter would not be expedited he said. The school would not open in September.

The closure of Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, a successful, inner city, 6-12th grade, all girls public school focused on math, science and leadership is a travesty and an injustice that should not be tolerated. The manner is which the school was closed shows an egregious lack of respect for the school community and quite frankly, the law. Three weeks after the announcement was made that closure was under consideration, the school was closed. POOF! GONE! The decision left students scrambling to find a placement for fall and wondering what they had done wrong to deserve this. Listen below to the girls as they tell the story of how they lost the excellent school they love.

Jada Commodore, 5th grader at Chief Jospeph Elementary School, implores the school board not to close the school she has looked forward to attending, “What did we do wrong to deserve this?” she asks.

Tubman is very diverse with 50% minority, 70% low income, and 54% of students wanting to pursue jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). At this year’s science fair Tubman students won more awards than any other high school in the district. Yet, the school’s small size (a projected 220 students for next year which was partly a result of frequent threats of closure), made it an easy target for the school district.

Timeline for closure:

April 2, 2012 — Robo-calls sent from PPS Superintendent Carole Smith to the parents of Tubman students. “I’m calling you because I want to make you aware of a recommendation I’m making to the school board this evening that would have a direct impact on your child and family. I’m recommending that the Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women be closed for the 2012-13 school year. With the large budget cuts that we’re going to have to make this upcoming year, we would not be able to provide your student a quality education in such a small school.

April 9th — Public hearings
April 10th — Enrollment and Transfer Teams arrive at Tubman. They announce that the vote has been moved from May 14th to April 23rd.
April 12th — Listening session
April 13th — Harriet Tubman removed from school choice options
April 23rd — Board votes 5-2 to close Tubman
June 13th — Last day of school

PPS reassigned teachers before the board vote.

It’s education gone wild!

Members of the community beg, beseech, and implore the board to keep Tubman alive. One board member responded this way: “The program that we know is working for kids, you’ve all spoken to it, we know it’s the right thing to do for kids, and we cannot afford to do it anymore. So, I apologize, I’m sorry for that.”

What should have been done to keep Tubman alive?

That is a question that the girls continue to ask. There was a plan to bring the girls together for a summer math program at Tubman beginning August 6th. The district, as of today, has not shown any interest in opening the space for the summer program. Parents are wondering what to do next.

Some parents are considering a legal challenge with the goal of keeping the school open as a neighborhood school. They have 180 days from the date of the decision to respond, but they have no money for a challenge against district attorneys well-versed in Oregon public school law. There is a feeling of hopelessness and disappointment in the Tubman community, “What has taken four years to build was dismantled in three weeks,” said parent and volunteer Jyothi Pulla. “Forty years after the passage of Title 9, girls are still lagging behind boys in math and science. Why would you close a program which is bridging those gaps and filling a need in the economy?” She wants to help form a Tubman girls club and pursue a Saturday or summer program for girls, to keep them connected and continue the pursuit of their interests.

How can you help the girls now? Contact the Superintendent and the school board: csmith1@pps.k12.or.us and SchoolBoard@pps.k12.or.us

Tell them:

Intel provided a grant which will allow for a three week summer program for Tubman girls. Please provide a space at Tubman so that the girls can have their summer program. Also, provide a space for Tubman girls to meet on Saturdays so they can stay connected and continue to pursue their interests in math, science, and leadership.

Contact us at mail@greatschoolsforamerica.org

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