Oregon’s teachers and principals are not the only ones adjusting to leaner school budgets, this fall. The changes have a direct effect on students – and their parents.
As part of a series on school budget cuts we’re calling “Learning with Less,” OPB is following teachers and a principal — but families, as well. Rob Manning caught up with a Portland family the morning of the first day of school.
Leslie Dailey has three daughters in Portland Public Schools. Sabra is 14. She’s a freshman at Cleveland High.
“I’m excited about being a part of different extra-curricular activities, but I don’t have very many friends in my classes, so I’m just worried about the first couple of days where it’ll be all awkward,” Sabra says.
Sabra has her older sister, Madison, to show her around. Before leaving for the first day of school, Sabra and her mom are waiting for Madison in the kitchen.
“She told me ten minutes ago, she was almost ready….”
Madison may be dragging her heels a little. She’s not exactly thrilled to be heading back to school.
“I wish it was still summer because school is stressful and summer’s not.”
The uncertainties facing a freshman, and the pressures of junior year, happen every year. Only the anxiety of the youngest daughter – ten year-old Rochelle – hints at the budget cuts that forced Portland Public Schools to eliminate almost 70 teaching jobs.
“I’m kind of nervous because I don’t know who my teacher is yet.”
Mom, Leslie, says it’s very unusual for her not to know her daughters’ teachers ahead of time. District officials shifted teachers around more than usual this year, and some of that meant teachers at Bridger Elementary weren’t in place until the last minute.
“Got some indication from the principal that it was because of the way that the union policies and district policies work on hiring and such that it kept pushing the process out, so we’ll see if she’s got a teacher this morning.”
When Rochelle hopped out of the family mini-van at Bridger, she did have a teacher waiting for her. In fact, it was a familiar face. Her teacher taught one of Rochelle’s older sisters.
Back at the house a week into school, Rochelle’s older sisters say they aren’t happy about some of the changes at Cleveland High.
“What do you think about the new block schedule?” Leslie asks.
“It’s really annoying,” is 16-year-old Madison’s response to the change to 90-minute long class periods.
Portland Public Schools shifted to a block schedule to save money. High schools in Beaverton and North Clackamas have been using that kind of schedule for years. It creates fewer classes. And the classes are longer— 90 minutes. The new Portland block schedule also inserts a required study hall, or free period.
“Well, most of my classes, we’ll spend like a half an hour, 45 minutes, like learning, or taking notes, and then the rest will be just working on stuff, like homework.”
Madison says she’s not the only one who doesn’t like it.
“My anatomy teacher will mention stuff like ‘We may not get to that this year.’ And they don’t like it because they feel like half of it is taken up with empty space, when people are just doing homework.”
The teachers’ union and Portland Public Schools are currently at odds over the block schedule.
Freshman Sabra sees good and bad in the schedule.
First the good: “I think it gives you more time to be able to really get to know the teachers. And from my experience, the teachers have been able to have a lot more time to actually get stuff done. In my classes, we use the full hour and a half actually doing stuff.”
If the schedule was all 90-minute classes, Sabra might love it. But instead, one of those 90-minute blocks is a study hall in the Cleveland cafeteria.
“People in charge of study hall, they don’t like that everyone has to take study hall, either.”
“How many people are in your study halls?” Leslie asks.
“200 kids maybe?” Sabra estimates.
“Really?” Madison is doubtful.
“Mine is packed. And then it gets really loud, and they’re all like ‘You guys need to be quiet. You need to be studying. You guys came here to study.’ And we’re like ‘No, we came here because we were forced to’,” Sabra complains.
District officials say Cleveland has one really large study hall class with about 130 students. They say the rest are a lot smaller.
Leslie Dailey suggests her high school-aged daughters may appreciate the study halls later in the year, when the homework starts to pile up, and after-school activities cut into their time to do it at home.
The sources for this story came to us from our Public Insight Network. If you’d like to be a PIN source, click here.