Enthusiasm, cynicism surround opening of recovery high school
Molalla River School District Superintendent Tony Mann is leading efforts to open a high school in Lake Oswego for students recovering from substance abuse, an effort he is passionate about; but some are concerned about the potential impacts the school could have on the community.
Mann is the co-founder, along with Brent Canode, and board chair of the Oregon Recovery High School Initiative (ORHSI), which will open Oregon's first recovery high school, unofficially named "Hope Academy," in 2019.
"It will be a flagship west of the Mississippi," Mann said.
The school will provide daily support for students in grades 9-12 who are recovering from substance abuse disorders. ORHSI acknowledges that it is detrimental for young people to return to the same environment that facilitated their drug use. As such, the recovery high school will offer students a fresh start alongside individuals who understand their struggle.
Mann hoped for the high school to be located at Marylhurst University, but on May 17, Marylhurst announced its closure at the end of summer term 2018.
"Even with Marylhurst's closure, we are confident we will secure a location soon," Mann said. "The school is slated to open in August 2019, and we have more than one viable option in front of us for the school location."
Mann started conversations about the high school in 2016, and ORHSI leaders first presented a showing of the film Generation Found, about addiction recovery efforts in Houston, Texas, in April 2017 to regional leaders in communities, healthcare and education.
Just more than a year later, on May 7, 2018, the Lake Oswego School Board voted unanimously to approve the Recovery High School proposal to create a charter school sponsored by the Lake Oswego School District.
ORHSI and the Lake Oswego School District are currently in the process of developing a charter contract.
Lake Oswego School Board members were enthusiastic in their support of the proposal.
"I couldn't be prouder of the fact that we are the district that is stepping forward to make this happen," board member Rob Wagner said at the May 7 meeting.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic. When The Lake Oswego Review broke the news of the board's approval, some responded negatively in the online comments section.
"Lake Oswego residents, you need to ask yourselves, why do we need to have our safe and pristine community to be flooded with drug addicted and crime ridden adolescents and young adults?" -Lake Oswego native Rhein Amacher
One commenter, Lake Oswego native Rhein Amacher, called the approval a "stupid decision" and suggested the charter school is more suited for school districts such as Tigard-Tualatin, North Clackamas or Portland Public.
"Lake Oswego residents, you need to ask yourselves, why do we need to have our safe and pristine community to be flooded with drug addicted and crime ridden adolescents and young adults?" Amacher said in public comments on The Review story.
He told The Herald, "Lake Oswego is a high affluent community with less crime and violence than its neighboring cities, especially Portland. For someone who has had friends addicted to opioids and taken them to their drug appointments, I know the atmosphere surrounding those places. They tend to attract the wrong types of people such as individuals seeking drugs and involved in the thrill-seeking lifestyle. This would be terrible for the community of Lake Oswego."
He added, "Don't get me wrong. I think the whole idea is a great one, but just not the location. It's like putting a Whole Foods in NE Portland; it just won't work. The cultures are entirely different from one another."
Mann pointed out, though, that the high school will serve youth recovering from addiction, not those who are actively using. He further sought to address some common ideas associated with drug addiction.
"Those experiencing addiction live everywhere around us at this very moment today," Mann said. "It does not discriminate on the basis of neighborhood or zip code. Addiction is not a moral failing. It is a chronic health condition as affirmed by the Surgeon General in 2016. Those living in recovery are powerful, community-changing, driven people capable of altering the trajectory of the local community and economy for the better. This is an investment in all of our futures."
Mann will be part of the governance for the high school, not a member of the staff. He said that his work as an educational leader in Molalla and beyond is enhanced by his work with ORHSI.
For more information about ORHSI, visit oregonrecoveryschools.org.