I have posted below my most recent letter to the Beaverton School Board. Final decisions re: the high boundary adjustment process (which I've discussed previously here, here and here), are expected over the next few weeks.
It is my hope that the Beaverton School Board does the right thing for students and amends the current boundary transition plan to allow all students, including the Class of 2020, the opportunity to start and finish at the same high school.
If you'd like more information about the Beaverton School District High School Boundary Adjustment Process, you can find that here.
If you'd like to share your views with School Board members, you can find their contact information here.
The school district's Boundary Advisory Committee will be meeting tonight (September 28, 2016) to provide their input and review public input (however no additional public testimony will be allowed at tonight's meeting). The School Board is slated to discuss this issue at an upcoming meeting in October (however, the date for that meeting has been changed at least once, and I'm not currently 100% certain when it is).
The short story is that I want all students in our school district to be able to experience the benefits associated with continuity in their high school experience . . . and the Beaverton School District seems to think it is adequate to simply mitigate the risks associated with disruption instead of avoiding the risks altogether. I disagree. Although the District holds most of the cards on this issue, two things I can do are 1) Use my voice to raise concerns before all decisions are final and 2) Support students through the disruptions that adults seem ready to impose on them. I will do both. The letter below is one way I have brought my voice into the conversation.
Dear Members of the School Board,
Thank you again for your careful consideration of the boundary-related issues in our school district.
I am writing to you today to ask that you reconsider your approval of the current high school boundary transition plan.
There were two objectives that you established at the outset of the High School Boundary Adjustment Process:
*Relieve current and projected future overcrowding with a five-year horizon, and targeting 90% capacity or less.
*Minimize transitions for students.
Our school district has fallen short on the objective of minimizing transitions for students, particularly for the Class of 2020. Under the current boundary adjustment transition plan, students in the Class of 2020 who are impacted by the boundary adjustment, but who do not qualify for the sibling rule, will be asked to change schools next year. Although my own two children will not be asked to change schools as a result of the boundary adjustment, I continue to press this issue with the school district because I strongly support the notion that all high school students should have the opportunity to finish at the same high school in which they started. Board Policy JC gives the superintendent authority to allow this to happen where and when possible ("At schools impacted by redrawn attendance boundaries, where and when possible, the superintendent may allow students to remain at their current school for one or more years to complete the highest grade level or levels offered.”) I ask that you direct the school district administration to innovate and find a way to make this possible for all high school students, including the Class of 2020.
I recently gave testimony at a school district listening session and shared that I've heard district administrators' arguments that the Class of 2020 must transition to their new boundary school during their sophomore year to allow the newly built school enough attendees to operate successfully. I’ve also heard district leaders say it is simply not possible to allow members of the Class of 2020 the option to remain in their school of origin. I wondered aloud if these same people would have thought it impossible to put a man on the moon? Or impossible to develop a polio vaccine? Or find a cure for cancer? The students we are educating today are the citizens of tomorrow who will find the cure for cancer. Can we not set an example for these students by saying, “WE are Future Ready, and WE can find an innovative solution that will allow students in the Class of 2020 the option to remain in their school of origin and still have adequate enrollment in our new school to open it successfully." It may be challenging. It may be be complicated. There will likely be added short-term expense. But, it is possible, and it is important.
The most impactful study I’ve read about the importance of continuity of school was conducted by the National Institutes of Health (2012). Here is a link to the study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4279956/ . Although studies on this topic are typically focused on the impacts of family-initiatived mobility (i.e. due to changes in housing, jobs, etc.), this particular study aimed to normalize the data for other elements of instability often found in individual students who are impacted by higher mobility (for example, poverty).
What stood out for me in the research, is that the same types of mobility issues that are seen as concerns for individual kids who "switch schools” are the same general concerns that I and others have expressed re: the boundary-related transitions. The NIH study findings indicate that, "school mobility presents disruptions in social relationships with peers, teachers, and other important adults.” Likewise, the NIH study cites other research findings (see Parker, Rubin, Erath, Woislawowicz & Buskirk, 2006, cited in the NIH study) that indicate that "negotiating peer relationships is a central developmental task of middle childhood and adolescence, and school changes that disrupt these relationships likely impact student school engagement, behavior, and motivation to succeed academically.”)
What also stood out for me in the research (all of the research I read on mobility, not just this one study) is that researchers were looking for ways they could support kids through family-instigated mobility (i.e. mobility that the schools couldn’t control or necessarily stop from happening). This begs the question as to why our school district would knowingly create mobility disruptions for students when there are other options. I am hard-pressed to find convincing evidence that we are doing what is best for students when we ask them to disrupt their social relationships with peers, teachers and other important adults just as they are beginning their high school careers. It seems clear that the school district’s current transition plan is essentially a business decision, and the Class of 2020 will shoulder the cost of doing business. That is not okay.
Under the current transition plan, students in the Class of 2020 will experience disruptions in their social relationships with peers, teachers and other important adults. I understand and agree that kids are resilient. I also understand that shifting students en masse is not exactly the same as individual students "switching schools." However, it is telling that the school district plans to build in the same types of supports for boundary-adjusted kids that the research suggests is of benefit to individual students facing “mobility-related” disruptions and transitions due to "switching schools.” I should also note that to my knowledge, the school district has not disputed that the transition being asked of the Class of 2020 will be disruptive, nor has the District provided evidence to suggest that there are not risks associated with disrupting students in the midst of their high school experience. The District's messaging has been focused on their confidence that the risks can be managed. It is my argument that if the District understands that this type of disruption has risks that need to managed, we need to step back and ask ourselves, “Why are we willing to subject a group of students to these risks?” and “What innovative solutions could we employ so as to avoid subjecting a class of students to these risks?”
If we shift our thinking from, “There is no way we can afford this” or “There are too many logistical issues," to instead saying, “Let’s find and/or develop an innovative solution to this problem,” we can right this wrong. Innovative ideas might involve utilizing the transportation system that is in place for Options Schools. It might involve surveying students and families about their transition needs and preferences via their home room teacher and/or their google account and a QR code. Maybe it involves giving kids access to a TriMet bus pass. Maybe it involves allowing kids from across the District to Opt In to the new school in order to adequately populate it. There are options. WE need to focus our Future Ready minds on modifying the boundary transition plan such that all students have the opportunity to start and finish at the same high school.
Please do not rest with the belief that the current administrative transfer process is an adequate or appropriate solution for this problem. The administrative transfer process involves red tape, annual uncertainty for each individual student, and it also comes without the support of transportation, which creates equity issues.
No matter what actual boundary lines our District finalizes, some families will be pleased, and some will not. But there are some families whose high school students will be directly impacted during the transitional years. I ask that you amend the transition plan to include a provision that allows these families the opportunity to make a transition decision that is best for them.
Parent of two Beaverton High School Students(who are not currently slated to change schools via the boundary adjustment)