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The tiny school will likely close at the end of school year displacing families

PMG FILE PHOTO - Patrice Mays, left, Trillium Charter School's executive director, asked the Portland Public Schools board Tuesday night, Feb. 26, to keep the small school open as a safe place for LGBTQ students.Despite impassioned pleas by parents, staff and students, the Portland Public Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday night to terminate the charter of tiny Trillium Public Charter School.

Portland Public Schools staff recommended that the board should revoke the charter of the tiny school and the school board's charter committee agreed. Staff cited poor test scores, especially in math in some grades and questions about Trillium's financial stability.

The school's charter expires at the end of the school year, about June 30. The board assured families of Trillium students that the district would work to find placements for their children in the 2019-20 school year.

PPS board limited testimony Tuesday evening on the school's fate, after public testimony was taken Feb. 20 by the PPS charter committee, frustration boiled over at the board meeting. "Our testimony is not being heard by the board," shouted one parent from the audience Tuesday.

Many parents, including Katie Richley, told the charter committee Feb. 20 stories of their children flourishing at the tiny school after attending other schools that were not a good fit for them. Trillium serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade and has a "democratic" approach to education. Trillium parents told the committee that the school serves many LGBTQ students who were bullied at other schools as well as students with learning differences.

Danni/y Rosen, chair of GLSEN Oregon, asked the school board Feb. 26 to keep the charter open as a safe place for LGBTQ students. GLSEN is a national education organization focusing on supporting LGBTQ students. Rosen asked the board to "provide reasonable time to continue to address the deficiencies that have been identified."

A staff recommendation to end the charter cited a "third consecutive year of poor performance in grades 3-8 math" and "an additional consecutive year of poor performance in English Language Arts for grades 3-8."

Staff also recommended that the Trillium charter be terminated because of declining enrollment. With a capacity of 365, the school has only 201 students, a decline of over 40 percent since the 2016-17 school year. That drop in enrollment produced a drop in revenue, which "was not adequately accounted for in Trillium's 2019-19 budget," according to staff recommendations.

Opting out of tests

According to district agreements, Trillium was supposed to bring the number of children in grades three through five passing state math tests from 10 percent to 40 percent and in grades six through eight from 18 percent to 40 percent in math. About 20 percent of the younger kids passed the most recent state test for the 2017-18 school year, but were still below the plan target. The older kids passing actually declined from 18 percent to 7.4 percent.

Trillium supporters maintained a turnaround is in progress and the school just needs more time to boost these scores. Some also point out that a good portion of students at Trillium opt out of standardized testing, which skews results. Parents and supporters also said that a school is more than just test scores.

At the Feb. 20 hearing on Trillium's status, Patrice Mays, Trillium's executive director, said, "I believe neighborhood schools don't always fit for everyone."

Mays, who is African-American, also told the board, "you have demonstrated to me you do not want me to succeed" and contended that the district has a history of setting up African-American administrators to fail.

Mays did not speak at the Tuesday, Feb 26, meeting, but like many others, wiped away tears as the fate of the school became clear.


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