Leaders urge PPS to keep KairosPDX in current home
Mayor Ted Wheeler and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, are urging Portland Public Schools to back off its proposal to move KairosPDX charter school from its home at the former Humboldt Elementary School in North Portland.
PPS is proposing to move Kairos, which serves mostly African-American students in kindergarten through fourth grade, to make room for ACCESS Academy, an alternative school whose student are highly gifted and 70 percent white.
"I am concerned that the needs of the students enrolled at the ACCESS Academy are being prioritized in a way that unnecessarily undermines the educational opportunity of predominately low-income students and students of color who are enrolled at KairosPDX," Kotek wrote to school-board members on Monday. "Portland Public Schools has made a commitment to equity and the proposal before you flies in the face of that commitment. To provide growth opportunity to a program that currently serves 70% white students at the expense of a school that is successfully closing the opportunity gap for students of color in Portland does not make sense."
PPS's proposal is part of a districtwide effort to balance enrollment and financial resources at schools that currently offer inequitable access to courses such as art, music and world language.
As part of that effort, PPS plans to reopen Tubman Middle School in the Eliot neighborhood near the Rose Quarter. Tubman originally opened in the 1980s in response to demands from Portland's black community that PPS put an end to racist practices that called for the scattering of black children to white schools. In recognition of that history, PPS leaders have said they would set aside seats at the new Tubman for children whose families have been displaced from inner North and Northeast Portland by gentrification.
But at the same time, PPS is proposing to displace Kairos, which serves the younger children of many of the same African-American families.
"Their results are excellent," Wheeler wrote of Kairos in a Sept. 21 letter to the school board. "Their relationships with the families they serve are strong. This program has the right mission, the right location and the right students."
PPS officials say they don't have many good options for ACCESS outside of Humboldt. Many of the schools the district shuttered a decade ago under former Superintendent Vicki Phillips are too small or dilapidated. PPS leases two of its buildings to private schools. Others house community programs such as Trillium Family Services at the former Edwards School in Southeast Portland.
"I understand that it's a challenge to adapt limited space to an expanding student population, but PPS' commitment to equity should be consistent," Kotek wrote. "Opening one school that has seats reserved for historically displaced community members is not an excuse to displace current students. You have an opportunity to support the growth and achievement of PPS students who are thriving at KairosPDX instead of repeating history and asking them to move and make room for more privileged students."