Oregon's largest school district is weighing options for how to redraw boundaries for much of North and Northeast Portland. The changes Portland Public Schools could enact hinge at least in part on the fate of two programs: Kairos PDX charter school and the ACCESS Academy alternative program for highly gifted students.
Earlier this week, PPS board members backed off plans to remove the Kairos charter school — which serves mostly black students — from its home in North Portland. The district had been pressured to back off the move by area leaders, including Mayor Ted Wheeler and Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
But at a meeting Thursday night at Sabin K-8, removing Kairos from the Humboldt building remained in the materials. District spokesman Harry Esteve told parents that like all parts of the PPS boundary changes, there was still room for debate.
"There has been some discussion by the board about not moving Kairos out of Humboldt," Esteve acknowledged. "This is a proposal — nothing's written in stone in it — that's why we're gathering comment."
The proposal presented again Thursday night would move the ACCESS Academy alternative program from its current Northeast Portland home to the Humboldt building, where Kairos is. If Kairos were to stay put, it's not clear where Access would go. Portland's complicated set of changes across much of North and Northeast Portland call for creating a neighborhood elementary school at the Rose City Park building, where ACCESS is now.
ACCESS parent Amy Gervais sympathized with parents who are worried about other parts of the plans.
“But for ACCESS, we need a home," Gervais said to applause from other parents. "These kids deserve a home.”
ACCESS Academy parents were not petitioning to displace Kairos from the Humboldt building, in part because the building may be simply too small for ACCESS.
ACCESS Academy is an alternative program for students who place in the 99th percentile on a test of cognitive ability and who can demonstrate their neighborhood school is not adequately serving their needs. The school has been growing in recent years, but typically can't accommodate all the "Talented And Gifted" or TAG students who could attend.
ACCESS Academy moved to Rose City Park four years ago, where it shares space with two grades of the Beverly Cleary School. Reducing overcrowding at Beverly Cleary and consolidating it into no more than two campuses is another priority of the Portland school board. Turning Rose City Park into a neighborhood school is part of that plan.
Many parents who testified at the Sabin meeting Thursday night were concerned about another part of the proposal: the creation of a new middle school in North Portland at the Harriet Tubman school. Some parents questioned the wisdom of opening a middle school so close to Interstate 5, given the heightened levels of air toxics in the area. Tubman was used over the last two years as the temporary home of Faubion K-8, while a permanent building went up on the edge of Concordia University in Northeast.
Other parents were willing to support a new Tubman Middle School, but wanted to work with district administrators to ensure programs and support would be in place to create a smooth transition to middle school for students coming from the four K-8 schools designated to become elementary schools: Boise-Eliot/Humboldt, Irvington, Martin Luther King and Sabin.
Similar changes are proposed in the eastern part of the district, feeding the Roseway Heights building. PPS held a meeting in that area early last week.
The school board could vote on changes as soon as Oct. 24.