Access Academy, Portland's alternative program for Talented And Gifted students, spent the last few school years at the Rose City Park school building.

Access Academy, Portland’s alternative program for Talented And Gifted students, spent the last few school years at the Rose City Park school building.

Laura Klinkner/OPB

Parents and students at a Portland arts school are pushing back against the possibility of moving in a program for gifted students. Emails to the district and OPB argue the arts-focused da Vinci Arts Middle School is working well as a stand-alone school and contend it is not a good fit for the ACCESS Academy.

Students who attend ACCESS are in the top sliver of highly gifted students in Portland. To attend ACCESS, they have to demonstrate their neighborhood school is not meeting their needs. Parents and students at da Vinci contend their students have similar needs.

“Just like children at ACCESS who need their enriched program, there are many children at da Vinci who are in exactly the same situation, and need the specialized curriculum offered at the Arts-focused school,” wrote parent Ana Cragnolino in an email to district officials.

The messages follow a Portland Public Schools’ announcement last week that da Vinci was one of four sites under consideration. At the same time, two ACCESS parents have filed a formal complaint calling for a halt to new admissions at schools like da Vinci, until ACCESS has a home.

“[T]he size of the admitted sixth grade class from the 2018-19 lottery should be determined after ACCESS program and building needs are finalized to make certain that needs are prioritized over wants,” the complaint said.

But da Vinci parents and students said limiting the incoming sixth-grade class would undermine the arts program and take away important opportunities for students.

“If Access Academy joins our home at da Vinci Arts Middle School they will be taking the place of our sixth graders and won’t have the opportunity I did as a sixth-grader,” wrote Sydney Hayes, a seventh-grade student at da Vinci.

The most likely scenario that Portland Public Schools envisions would split ACCESS Academy into two locations. Deputy Superintendent Yvonne Curtis all but shelved the possibility of a single-site solution in her message last week.

“While we do not see a likely option to keep ACCESS together in one location, I understand the value and benefits of a single-site location,” Curtis said.

Curtis’ message suggests co-locating ACCESS’ sixth-through-eighth grades at a middle-school site and its elementary grades at an elementary school. The middle-school options include da Vinci and Lane middle schools, while the elementary options include Boise-Eliot and Irvington — two schools that are converting from K-8 programs to elementary schools. Splitting up is not ACCESS parents’ first choice — a point that some da Vinci parents agree on.

“ACCESS has its own thriving community,” wrote da Vinci parent Katrina Norwood. “[I]t prefers not to be split up into 2 separate schools. Using da Vinci as a spot for the 6-8 ACCESS will diminish ACCESS and diminish da Vinci. It is a lose/lose situation.”

ACCESS is moving out of its current location as part of a broader shuffle on the district’s east side. But district officials have struggled to find a location to move ACCESS to. PPS considered a building in North Portland — before it allowed a charter school to remain there. Officials debated breaking up ACCESS into multiple locations across the east side, before ACCESS parents objected and Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero apologized. Most recently, PPS planned to move ACCESS to Southeast Portland, and displace a school for students with special needs — but Guerrero abandoned that effort in March. 

Portland Public Schools responded to messages from da Vinci parents and students with a brief statement Monday from Director of Strategic Communications and Outreach Harry Esteve:

“We are dedicated to finding a home for the ACCESS Academy and hope to have a decision this week. DaVinci is among a number of schools we have toured, but we have made no decision at this time. I would like to stress that there are no plans to relocate the daVinci students or students in other schools we are considering. This would be a co-located program, with ACCESS students sharing space within the school. As a district we have the responsibility to maximize the use of all our facilities to meet the needs of students throughout the community to the best of our abilities.”