Portland’s Harriet Tubman Middle School likely to share campus with charter school

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Feb. 9, 2023 2:35 p.m.

The future location of Harriet Tubman Middle School could be on a shared campus with the existing Portland charter school KairosPDX.

That’s what Portland school administrators are leaning toward, according to documents shared at the school board’s facilities and operations committee meeting Wednesday.

Harriet Tubman Middle School in North Portland on Feb. 8, 2023. The district plans to move the school to a new location, with officials setting a fall 2027 target for opening.

Harriet Tubman Middle School in North Portland on Feb. 8, 2023. The district plans to move the school to a new location, with officials setting a fall 2027 target for opening.

Rob Manning / OPB

At the meeting, board members heard about two main scenarios. Both involved moving Tubman north to share the PPS property currently leased to KairosPDX.

Leaders from PPS and KairosPDX also sent a message to PPS families Wednesday, announcing the plan for the two organizations to “partner” in support of a new middle school.

“KairosPDX recognized the need for an appropriate new home for Tubman and reached out to PPS to explore a partnership. KairosPDX, an educational nonprofit with a PPS-approved public charter school, holds a long-term lease in PPS’s former Humboldt building,” read the message signed by PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and KairosPDX Board Chair Tiffani Penson.

Harriet Tubman Middle School reopened in 2018 as part of a broader districtwide shift from K-8 schools to separate elementary and middle schools. The Tubman campus had been used just before as a temporary site for Faubion K-8. But using the building as the permanent home of a middle school fueled air quality concerns due to its proximity to Interstate 5, which prompted protests for years. With a planned I-5 expansion moving forward, the district started making moves to relocate the school in 2021.

The district has $120 million from the state to pay for the move. District cost estimates for the project range well above that — from $190 million to $236 million.

The two ideas under consideration both involve a collocation of Harriet Tubman Middle School and KairosPDX on the KairosPDX property, as well as use of a lot across the street and south of Jefferson High School. “Scenario One” consists of a two-story Kairos building on the Jefferson lot, with a three-story Tubman on the existing Kairos property. “Scenario Two” involves a four-story Tubman next to a two-story Kairos building on the campus Kairos is leasing, with a shared multi-purpose field and parking in the Jefferson lot.


According to documents shared during the meeting, the district reviewed over 20 other properties that it concluded were not viable for various reasons.

With the two Tubman and KairosPDX colocation scenarios, there are still challenges the district will have to contend with. Though the location and availability of the property is considered positive by the district analysis, the project will be expensive. With scenario two, the suitability of the site in general and for academics is considered “negative.”

But Facilities and Operations chair Gary Hollands said after months of deliberation, the district is moving forward with seeking out community feedback on the two options.

“I don’t anticipate us going back to look at any other options,” Hollands said during Wednesday’s meeting.

“We did that for almost a year now, so the goal is to make this work one way or another.”

At the same time, both district officials and board members acknowledged that there will have to be compromises and possible tradeoffs with any final site chosen.

Though the property fulfills goals for the new Tubman to be located within the existing school boundary and in the historic Albina neighborhood, the spaces being considered will reduce outdoor amenities for both Jefferson High School and the middle school.

“This would be considerably more constrained than the existing Tubman site,” said PPS Chief Operating Officer Dan Jung, comparing the outdoor space at KairosPDX to the current middle school, which borders a park.

At 5.2 acres total, the space is smaller than the district’s target size for a middle school, of 6.9 acres (though district officials note that Kellogg Middle School in Southeast Portland is on 5.8 acres).

PPS Deputy Superintendent of Instruction & School Communities Cheryl Proctor spoke about the “optics” of the decision, noting that Tubman serves the largest number of Black middle school students in the district.

“It just seems tight, and then it seems like we’re compromising the space,” Proctor said.

District officials said they will continue to engage the community in the Tubman relocation, as well as in ongoing discussions about the Jefferson High School modernization and the district’s planned Center for Black Student Excellence.

There are still several unknowns when it comes to the project, including how it might affect academic spaces and Tubman’s capacity. According to district documents, collocating the two schools would change the plan for the Jefferson High School modernization and “introduce a variety of challenges for Jefferson, Tubman, and KairosPDX.”