In less than a week, Portland Public Schools’ new superintendent, Guadalupe Guerrero, became the subject of criticism and then praise for reversing his handling of the district’s academy for Talented and Gifted students.
Standing before a gym full of parents and students in green ACCESS Academy T-shirts — one of which was presented to Guerrero by a star-struck ACCESS Academy student — Guerrero apologized for moving quickly on a proposal to overhaul the program.
“I just want to say from the outset: I owe the school community an apology — and I have to own it because I’m the new superintendent,” Guerrero said at a community meeting with parents Tuesday night.
“And so, in the urgency of trying to arrive at a solution for what to do in displacing the academy, what we should’ve started doing is understanding the school community and coming to visit. We should’ve had a listening session like this together; we should’ve co-constructed a conversation.”
The crowd erupted in applause, signaling a change in pace for a district that has faced criticism over the years for its sluggishness and lack of transparency on issues like lead in the water and sexual assault allegations. Guerrero started his new position as superintendent Oct. 2.
Last week, Guerrero proposed spreading the academy between eight neighborhood schools across Portland’s east side. The new approach, termed “ACCESS Pathways,” sought to provide challenging, individualized instruction at each location.
Since Guerrero announced the proposal, parents, students and teachers made tremendous efforts to tell Guerrero it was a bad idea. By the next week, Guerrero decided to reverse his decision and meet with parents to discuss a path forward.
The academy has been in a temporary home at the Rose City Park school in Portland since 2013, and parents and teachers have been asking the district for a permanent location for years.
PPS is set to vote next week on new boundary changes at the district. Guerrero said what happens after the vote will give the district more insight into what it can offer to the academy moving forward.
In the interim, Guerrero asked parents to pick delegates who will continue discussions with him and district leaders about their requirements for a permanent location, including how much classroom space is needed.
“Let’s get an inventory of what would be the minimum needs and then we would have to have a sort of pragmatic conversation around: where are all the spaces that exist?” Guerrero said. “And I think you’re going to see sort of what we [the district] were challenged by, but I think it’s better to just be transparent about it and maybe together we could figure it out.”