Slow down for Winterhaven students

To: PPS School Board Members
From: Moss Drake, Linda Candello
Re: Slow down for Winterhaven students
Date: January 4th, 2007

Members of the school board:

We are writing to urge you to reject the recommendation of Superintendent Phillips to relocate Winterhaven School to the Clark building.

On the face of it, Superintendent Phillips' proposal to relocate Winterhaven may seem like an opportunity to grow a successful program. On closer inspection, however, the proposal has a number of problems. First, the new location, Clark, is neither central to the Winterhaven community, nor to Portland geographically. Second, the proposed site lacks equipment and resources essential to the Winterhaven curriculum. And finally, and most importantly, there has been no public process to involve the Winterhaven students and families in a collaborative effort to develop the program for the future.

Our main concern is that moving the school will fundamentally disrupt it. Dr. Phillips says "this set of recommendations allows two of our very successful schools to be moved as entire communities into buildings that suit their needs and are in good shape." We have to disagree with both assumptions: 1) that the community can be moved intact, and 2) that the existing Brooklyn building is inadequate.

We can understand the interest in Winterhaven. We were impressed with the school before enrolling our kindergartner five years ago. His writing and math skills were already past the level of most first graders, and we wanted a curriculum that would meet his needs, but we were also dedicated to staying with public schools. We toured Winterhaven and saw on the chalkboard in Mr. Huckaba's kindergarten classroom the steps for the scientific method (observe, hypothesize, test, refine), and at that moment we knew this school would live up to its goals of being an accelerated math / science learning program. We were also impressed by how the principal stressed that the program was only for students who were interested in participating in this sort of learning environment, and that parental involvement and volunteerism was expected.

In 2003 the Brooklyn neighborhood school was shut down, and Winterhaven expanded to fill the Brooklyn facility. My understanding of the neighborhood school closure was that a certain number of local students would be preferred to enter the Winterhaven program, if they elected to do so. Since then, Winterhaven has grown from 250 students to 340 students, a K-8 program that efficiently uses the Brooklyn building.

We feel that Winterhaven School is more than just a building. It is made up of the students, teachers, curriculum and parents that form the school community. Yet, the majority of students currently at Winterhaven live close to the school neighborhood. A study of the students at Winterhaven shows that one third of them live within two miles of Brooklyn, while not one Winterhaven student lives in the Clark zip code. If this proposal is accepted it's likely that more than a third of the families will not move with the school. In addition to this, a survey of Winterhaven families indicates that moving the school to Clark could decrease volunteerism by up to 75%! Considering the number of students who would not make the move, this can't be called a relocation. This is really closing one school, and then opening a different school with a similar curriculum in a new location. The end result will be a program with all the uncertainties of a brand new school, and an unstable learning environment for the students for several years to come.

In addition to parental involvement, Winterhaven students benefit from programs which depend on the school's location. A key example is a life sciences program organized around trips to Oaks Bottom wetlands. Add to this easy Tri-met access to downtown, and you begin to get a picture of how a location central to the Portland geographic area is important to the school. Moving the school six miles to the east will have an impact on the learning opportunities for the students currently at Winterhaven.

Other Opportunities
Rather than moving the existing program, we suggest examining ways to grow a successful program in a new location. One suggestion might be to create a new school called "Summerhaven," which replicates the Winterhaven curriculum. This focus option could share Clark with another more established program, such as the Creative Science School.

Another possibility of growing the Winterhaven program is to consider expanding the Brooklyn building. The Brooklyn building, with 16 classrooms, already has a maximum capacity of 400 students. So, according to Dr. Phillips, Brooklyn already meets the lower limit of an efficient school. But, the extension built in 1951 is structurally sound enough to support a second floor with four or five classrooms. That, along with dividing the existing portable into two classrooms expands the building capacity to 550 students, about the same as Clark.

As a side note, we don't believe that a school must have at least 400 students to be efficient. If you want to compare efficiencies, you could divide the operating costs by the number of students. On a graph of all PPS schools, Winterhaven is almost exactly in the middle for cost per student. We'd say this smaller building is already more efficient than half of the schools in the district!

The most frustrating aspect of the recommendation is the fact that it came without notice, shortly before a long holiday break, and without any public process.

For the past eight or nine months there were a number of "conversations" on the Sellwood Community Reconfiguration Proposal. During this time Winterhaven was involved in the conversation, but never mentioned in the final resolution of the recommendation (Resolution No. 3590). Add to this the fact that PPS has no formal growth plan for Winterhaven, and it feels like the recommendation to relocate the school is a based on a plan that's convenient to PPS facilities but doesn't really consider the education needs of students anywhere.

We would like a win/win solution. This means developing a growth plan for Winterhaven, and including students and families across the city in a collaborative effort to make sure both our schools and our students are successful.

Please slow the process down. Please reject the recommendation to close Winterhaven and move it to a new site. Please consider working in a collaborative way with the Winterhaven school community and other Portland families to develop a plan for future growth of the Winterhaven program.

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