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Options A and B would disrupt the school and students; Option C might not. Read on, for more...

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Woodstock Elementary has long been part of PPS proposals for re-balancing enrollment and programs that could bring big changes to some Southeast Portland schools. However, it now starts to look that staying as it is may be a possibility for Woodstock School.Portland parents and students have a history of expressing support for their neighborhood schools. In early 2020, when the Portland Public School District began discussing making changes to Southeast Portland schools – in order to "balance enrollment and programs" – many parents were upset, because it meant that some students would be moved to different schools farther away.

In the December 2020 issue of THE BEE, correspondent David F. Ashton explained some of those changes. Woodstock, known for its internationally-renowned Mandarin Dual-language Immersion (MDLI) Program, would no longer have over half its students studying Mandarin during part of their school day. Those MDLI students would be transferred to Bridger Elementary School at SE 79th and Market Street, it seemed. In addition, all MDLI students from Harrison Park Elementary (K-8) would (if this plan materialized) also be moved to Bridger, which would then become an exclusively-MDLI school.

Under this 2020-proposed plan, the other students at Woodstock Elementary, who live in the Woodstock School neighborhood boundary area and follow a more traditional curriculum – called the Neighborhood Program – would remain at Woodstock. At that time, it was remarked by parents that in that scenario the school would become under-enrolled, and would decrease in diversity.

That was a year ago. Since then, PPS has put forth two other different plans, called Proposal A and Proposal B – with a Proposal C pending. So what do these mean for Woodstock School?

Proposal A would make Woodstock a Creative Science school -- with no MDLI program. Proposal B would make Woodstock an all-Mandarin DLI school, with current Neighborhood Program students moved on to other elementary schools. As for Proposal C – read on, for some brand new details on that.

To bring you up to date, on Friday, November 19th, at 5 p.m., over one hundred Woodstock Elementary parents attended an online ZOOM meeting to discuss the latest PPS "re-balancing" plans. Yvonne Liao, a Language Access Specialist, provided interpretation from English to Chinese for those requiring it.

Dr. Esther Omogbehen, PPS Regional Superintendent – also known as "Dr. O" – spoke about Proposals A and B. After that, there was time for parent comments.

One parent remarked that Plan A, making Woodstock a Creative Science school, would take away a much-loved MDLI program for which a quite a number of parents had specifically moved into the Woodstock neighborhood.

Parent Hans VanDerSchaaf, who has two children in the Neighborhood Program, commented that, "PPS claims that the rebalancing effort centers on equity, but the District has not articulated in detail how any of this work, including how the two [opposite] proposals affecting Woodstock, would actually result in more equitable schools."

Some parents of Chinese students said that Proposal B – making Woodstock all-Mandarin school – would actually make it segregated, and perhaps also a target for those who harbor hostility to China and Asian people in general.

Parent David Jellis shared an online survey that drew responses from 103 parents. He reported that 90% favored keeping the school "co-located", and 73% opposed having the school be just MDLI. 60% said they think their voices, especially those of the Chinese parents, have not been heard.

Woodstock Principal Seth Johnson listened, and added information as necessary. At that November meeting. Woodstock's two parent representatives to the "Southeast Guiding Coalition", Eddie Wang and Alissa McMaken Roberts, were also present. (This is a group of parents and administrators created by PPS to provide input regarding proposed changes.)

During the hour-long meeting, parents were studiously respectful of Dr. O, the PPS administrator, and respectful of school staff and each other. At the same time, they made it very clear that they believe the school should be kept as it is now.

They would like Proposal C, when made public by PPS, to keep the "co-located" program – meaning both Mandarin and Neighborhood Programs housed at the school – just as it is now. During the entire two-year process conducted by the school district, parents have consistently voiced a desire to maintain the richness of experience provided by Asian children and non-Asian children eating lunch together, playing together, and participating in after-school activities together.

To that point, Xiao Feng stated, "The Chinese community wants to keep the school as-is. The balance works well, with my kids learning the two cultures." Min Cai said "Chinese families were taken by surprise with the two options [Proposals A and B]. Chinese voices were not included." And Alissa McMaken Roberts remarked, "My children are in the neighborhood program. How does disrupting our school make for more equity?"

During the meeting many parents spoke of their love for Woodstock School, and of the wonderful community that has been built over the years. They do not want to have its students shuffled to different schools simply to meet PPS goals that they believe have been already been successfully achieved at Woodstock.

Principal Johnson held the meeting open after the PPS administrator left, so parents could share and de-brief.

Six days later, on December 2nd, a Southeast Guiding Coalition online meeting was held to announce Proposal C. Upon initial review, it appears that the suggestions, thoughts, and ideas from the Woodstock Community have indeed been heard – and, under Proposal C, Woodstock would remain as it is, having both the Chinese DLI and Neighborhood Program. However, there would be some changes made to the school's southern boundary.

It was also announced in this meeting that, due to staffing challenges, no changes would be made at Woodstock School until the fall of 2023 – instead of 2022, as PPS had previously stated.

Proposal C would also make some changes to boundaries of other Southeast Portland elementary schools, including Lewis Elementary and Lane Middle School. Those changes will be highlighted in a future BEE article. Meantime, to learn more immediately, go online – www.pps.net/enrollmentbalancing


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