Rosa Parks Elementary, Portland’s only year-round school, will be returning to the district’s traditional schedule in the fall.
School board members voted last May on the decision to revert to a traditional schedule. But parents and teachers at the school said they were never formally informed of the change.
On Feb. 1, a letter signed by teachers was sent to the district, asking administrators for their rationale in changing the schedule which they say worked for the student body.
A Feb. 12, a letter was sent to the Rosa Parks mailing list detailing the district's decision. Three days later, Area Senior Director Karl Logan attended the parents' coffee hour that takes place every Friday morning.
“In the May board meeting that we just found out happened where they voted, no one was able to go. We didn't know that it was happening and our administrator didn't know. No families, no teachers knew, so [we] really couldn't advocate for the year-round schedule,” said K.C. Huizinga, who teaches first and second grade at Rosa Parks. “It really feels like we've been out of the loop as far as what's good for our kids ... It's been good to have Karl Logan come out ... to the parent coffee, but I'm just still feeling pretty frustrated about how the process went.”
In the Feb. 12 letter, the district said one of the major reasons for changing the calendar was to align Rosa Parks with the rest of the schools in the district.
“... Rosa Parks families with children in one or more of the area secondary schools have had to manage multiple different schedules for their children. Also, it is difficult to coordinate certain district-wide activities for only one school that is different from all other schools — this includes meal services, report card schedules, and teacher trainings.”
Teachers say that would not be the case if the district maintained its original plan of changing all the feeder schools to the same schedule.
“When you have a parent with a child on two different schedules, it's extremely difficult on the parents. And so the idea of the year-round model was for us to pilot it and then have other schools join us within the community in order to have a successful year-round model,” said Beyoung Yu, an English as a Second Language teacher at Rosa Parks.
Yu said with the district not aligning George Middle School and Roosevelt High School on the schedule it felt like Rosa Parks was never given the opportunity to succeed on the year-round calendar.
“We've been asking the district for more support during this time and we feel kind of like the district solution is to not support us now that we have all these kids where the year-round model has worked really well for them,” Yu said. “Instead, the district solution is, OK, we'll just switch back to a traditional calendar.”
As part of the transition, the district is promising an “excellent summer program,” which Huizinga said is just going back to the system the school had before she joined the staff.
“That was what they did before we went to year-round and the summer school option didn't work for our students and our community. So that's why they originally had turned over to doing a year-round model with interventions interspersed with each of the breaks,” Huizinga said.
The Rosa Parks year-round schedule consists of about nine weeks on, with three or four weeks off. The school has a relationship with the Boys and Girls Club next door, where many of the kids spend their breaks. On the last week of the recess, students can come back to school for enrichment or intervention classes, depending on their academic needs. These classes are taught by Rosa Parks staff members and are meant to create an easier transition for the students and teachers. Huizinga says summer school requires teachers to come back early from breaks and teach their students. If they choose not to, she says, that can mean a summer instructor has to start from scratch. Huizinga says the year-round schedule has prevented the summer slide when kids don’t retain over the summer what they learned the previous school year.
Parks teachers Yu and Huizinga say one of the major benefits of the year-round schedule is that it creates consistency and stability for a student body that may not otherwise have that.
“It provides them with a place to eat, which is really important, especially considering we're a Title I school and one of the poor schools in the district,” Yu said. “A lot of the worries right now from parents and families is that our kids aren't going to have food for three months, and we have a large homeless population, too. There's a lot of concerns with basic needs, needs not being met now within this community,” he said.
Rosa Parks Elementary is a Title I school with more than 95 percent of the population receiving free or discounted lunch. It's located in one of Portland's low-income communities. In the letter to the administration, teachers highlighted the recent audit from the Oregon Department of Education that said PPS is failing students of color and those living in poverty.
The change to the school’s schedule is not the only major shift for Rosa Parks in the 2019-2020 school year.
“Our principal [Tamala Newsome] is retiring this year and she is the longest tenured principal in Portland Public Schools. The transition to a new principal and changing the calendar, we feel like it's going to be way too much for our kids,” Yu said.
In their letter, teachers asked administrators to leave the year-round calendar in place. But they say they're disappointed in the communication they’ve received from the district. They had heard that the district was considering making the 2018-2019 the last year of the pilot that’s run since 2014, but they say they never received confirmation.
In November 2018, Yu started emailing the district but says there was no reply until he had the majority of the teaching staff sign the letter that was sent in early February 2019.
According to a PPS memorandum from March of last year, school officials visited Rosa Parks in December 2017 and January 2018. During those meetings many staff and parents advocated for keeping the year-round schedule, saying they believed it supported student learning better than the traditional calendar.
“I think that regardless of what data they're looking at, I want to feel heard that we do more than just test scores. And what we're doing at Rosa Parks is something that's really special and unique. I take a lot of pride in it and I think that our students really do as well,” Huizinga said. “And it's more than just a dot going up or down on a paper.”
Portland Public Schools declined to comment, beyond the letter that was sent to the Rosa Parks Elementary community.