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Portland school board could strip its charter, based on weak test scores, falling enrollment

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO  - Patrice Mays, interim executive director of Trillium Charter School, spoke during a recent school board meeting.
The Portland School Board is likely to vote soon to yank its sponsorship of the struggling Trillium Public Charter School.

The staff of Portland Public Schools has recommended that the school board revoke the charter and the school board's charter committee agreed.

The next step is a public hearing, which has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the district headquarters at Blanchard Education Service Center, 501 N. Dixon St. After that hearing, the school board will schedule a vote of the entire board on whether to withdraw Trillium's charter. If the charter is revoked, it would be effective after this school year, as of June 30, 2019.

Trillium's interim executive director, Patrice Mays, did not immediately return calls or an email for comment on the situation.

The tiny school, founded in 2002, has had a turbulent history with high staff and board turnover, testy parent meetings and poor student performance on standardized tests.

"Trillium Charter School has had poor or inconsistent performance for the past three years,"a February document from the PPS charter schools office said.

Trillium was required to submit a school improvement plan to PPS based on poor achievement in math. It has not met the targets for improvement.

The school was supposed to bring the number of kids in grades three through five passing state tests from 10 percent to 40 percent and in grades six through eight from 18 percent to 40 percent.

About 20 percent of the younger kids passed the most recent state test for the 2017-18 school year, still well below the target. The share of older kids passing actually declined from 18 percent to 7.4 percent.

By comparison, 48.5 percent of elementary students district-wide passed the math benchmark tests. In middle school, 46.4 percent district-wide passed, sixfold more than at Trillium.

In reading and language arts, in the 2017-18 school year at Trillium, only 37.4 percent, slightly more than one-in-three, met the state standard in reading and language. For district elementary and middle school students, more than 59 percent hit the mark.

In additional to poor academic performance in some areas, the PPS memo said "there have been growing organizational and financial concerns in the past year. In the past two years there has been significant turnover of Trillium staff."

Enrollment has fallen from a high of 405 in the 2013-14 school year to about 200 in the current school year. Since schools get their funding based on the number of students, the decline puts a pinch on the budget. The recent decline translates to about $600,000 less income for Trillium.

Some families chose Trillium because it boasted small class sizes and students stayed with one teacher for several years. It educates students from preschool to 12th grade, so kids also don't have the disruption of changing schools every few years.

Trillium bills itself as an alternative to regular schools, offering "democratic education."

The school's web site said Trillium's curriculum "engages students in inquiring, exploring, comparing, collecting information, predicting, testing, justifying and defending ideas, and synthesizing the results of their inquiries. Higher-level thinking is taught and expected."

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