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Friday, March 8, 2013

Super Carole gets called out on dismantling Benson High

We keep hearing from critics of Portland's inept school board that the school district is determined to keep its failing Jefferson High School open, even at the expense of closing or wrecking Benson High School. The issue seems to be coming to a head this week, as we were copied on this e-mail message last night:

Dear Civic Leaders,

As Chair of the Benson Polytechnic Alumni Association, I urge you to please contact the PPS School Board and ask them to stop restricting transfers to Benson’s successful career technical training programs. Major manufacturers including Precision Castparts, Vigor Industrial, and Greenbrier have signed the attached letter asking the Governor and the Oregon's Educational Leadership to intervene as a jobs issue, and we are gathering more signatures from other industry partners who understand the importance of a skilled workforce. On March 11 at 6pm, I am scheduled for public comment to read this letter at the PPS School Board meeting.

For 93 years, Benson’s proven program has trained students for middle class jobs in high demand fields such as engineering, electric and industrial automation, manufacturing technology, communications technology, and health sciences. Within a few weeks, PPS will turn away nearly 200 students, and deny many economically disadvantaged and minority students a career pathway out of poverty. Last week ended the application period, 440 students applied to Benson as Freshmen, and 15 as Sophomore transfers, but PPS has capped enrollment at 248 Freshmen, and 10 Sophomore transfers. A LOTTERY will be used to determine who will have this wonderful opportunity.. nearly 50% of the applying students will be turned away... the students have voted... why not allow them to attend the most productive school on the Eastside of Portland that teaches the very traits we have all acknowledged in the press and publicly are needed today and in the future. Benson is the school that works.

In the City of Portland, Benson’s 81% graduation rate is second only to Lincoln, though many students are economically disadvantaged (75% Title I), and it is the only high school to graduate more black and Hispanic than white students. PPS has halved Benson Polytechnic’s successful programs to 850 students, cut computer engineering, software technology, mechanical drawing and architectural drawing, and pharmaceutical technology, and turned away hundreds of economically disadvantaged and minority students to keep numbers up at lesser performing Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Madison High Schools, which are the very neighborhoods where the majority of the applicants come from.

Businesses such as Precision Castparts Structurals, Gunderson, Tice Industries, Blount International, Vigor, Esco, and Boeing, want to work with Benson students and offer paid apprenticeships for jobs that start at $12-14 per hour leading to jobs that average $45,000 in early career annual earnings. Thanks to the Portland Workforce Alliance and its work with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, even more apprenticeship opportunities are being created this school year. These major employers are facing a "retiring workforce" over the next 5-10 years and there is a labor crisis in the making if Manufacturing and its story of providing Middle Class Jobs is not made well known to educators in the schools as soon as possible.. Look at materials from organizations named Pathways to Manufacturing and Manufacturing 21 Coalition to see that industry is trying hard to knock on educators' doors to address this issue, and read Chandra Brown's comment in today's Portland Business Journal in her appointment to a U.S. Commerce post, that "Manufacturing is what the middle class is based on".

The 2013 Oregon Business Plan calls for investments in workforce training to meet industry needs for technically trained engineers, health technicians, computer scientists, and well-paying manufacturing jobs, yet PPS is gutting the very programs that drive our economic engine.

Skilled technicians and tradespeople can earn up to $100k, without incurring college debt. Advanced manufacturing jobs pay more than non-manufacturing jobs and offer economic equity to non-native speakers and non-traditional students. Benson represents real world application of the Oregon Business Plan, 40-40-20, OEIB STEM initiatives, Cradle-to-Career, and the Portland Plan by providing relevant career training and apprenticeships in target job creation clusters.

PPS will not agree to stop restricting transfers to Benson, because it is concerned with keeping numbers up at poorly performing Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Madison. Only 32 lottery applicants applied to Jefferson in 2012, compared to 440 applicants to Benson. With ongoing budget shortfalls, Benson needs to rebuild back to its full capacity of 1600-2000 students to offer full educational programs. If PPS further restricts transfers, Benson won’t have the students, teachers, or programs to offer full programs.

Where Benson students used to study mechanical drawing for engineering, PPS is now subleasing the space to drug rehab programs. Benson should be an economic development tool in partnership with our business community.

Thank you for your consideration and your immediate attention to these important issues.

Rob Johns
Class of ‘77, Benson Polytechnic High School
Chair, Benson Polytechnic Alumni Association
President, Benson Tech Foundation

It's a real shame what's happened to the Portland public schools, and continues to happen. It sounds as though someone's PC fixation with "equity" is actually doing more harm than good to the people it is supposed to be helping.

Comments (17)


Yep, that word does not mean what many people think it means.

Why not have a 'trade' school for students who do not plan to go (and also should not go) to college?

Why get massive amounts of debt just to sling lattes as a hipster barista?

Why not get just enough education (from a high school) to get a solid trade like a plumber, welder or electrician? Those jobs do currently pay, and will pay $50-$80K, with no college debt. That equates to $100K+ job that covers your $50-$80K college loans. No many $100K jobs out there. Go big, Go trades!

Dollars to donuts this wrongheaded thinking is being perpetrated by people who feel the need to stay ensconced in their fiefdoms at Jefferson, Madison and Roosevelt. Crushing the dreams of these kids who just want a shot at earning a decent living in an honest trade isn't just stupid, it's selfish and evil. The people who are behind the demise of Benson should be ashamed of themselves.

It's a blatant display of incompetence and another breach of fiduciary and other legal duties.

The dumbing down of our kids has been a fairly well documented INTENTIONAL effort for decades. If you look at text books from the early 20th century, the subject matter is far superior to what is being taught today.

So by the time kids reach the 8th grade, they are not prepared for high school (or what used to be taught in high school). So the school board has to keep eliminating higher level classes to keep the percentage of graduates from looking completely dismal.

At a school like Benson that is based on technical learning, this has become a travesty. I agree with the email that programs need to be reinstated, but disagree that they should let anybody in who doesn't want to go to an even crappier school. If kids are not prepared to do basic math, English, and science then they will drag Benson down even further.

And this issue is endemic to the USA, not just Portland. Here is a headline from NYC:

"Nearly 80 percent of New York City high school graduates need to relearn basic skills before they can enter the City University’s community college system."

Even those elitists that planned this dumbing down have realized that they have gone way too far - thus the efforts by companies like Exxon to fund science and math are being put in place.

Idiocracy here we is.

Here is a very good summation of the issue

Did that guy learn to write at Benson, or what?

Like Lincoln HS, Benson HS must be sitting on property with high 'vibrancy' potential.

you guys are so racist.

Why end up as drudge welding for profit making corporations like Gunderson

when you could be a Jefferson dancer?

There has been a call from both business leaders and political leaders to increase technical training in schools.

Message to the PPS Board: Close Jefferson (it is a money pit that has been failing for decades), turn the campus over to PCC and increase programs and enrollment at Benson.

Lessee - A marketable job skill like CAD or reserving the space and funding for the LGBTQ group?

You should already know the answer to that. They don't even teach basic life skills like personal finance at PPS.

Again, anyone who wants to send their kids to public skills does so at their own risk.

The things I learned at high school in mechanical drawing and shop classes have served me well over my years in business. Latin and biology classes....not so much.

I had a front row seat to the insanity that is PPS management as General Manager of KBPS radio.

During my nearly 8 years there I watched as one of the best principals in the district (Christie Plinski) was forced out in favor of someone the district could manipulate to help implement their transparent plan to destroy Benson.

One by one programs that kids flocked to were cut, including architectural drafting engineering drafting, and computer technology. Things finally hit the radio station when they eliminated my position and opted for a part-time person to try and keep the lights on.

With the national push for more, not less, career technical education, you would think the focus would be to do everything possible to improve Benson. But instead Benson suffers while futile attempts continue to rescue a dying Jefferson High School.

Here's what most people are unwilling to say out loud: Jefferson needs to be closed and the building bulldozed. Most of the kids from the Jefferson area either are current Benson students, or want to be. Jefferson will NEVER flourish. The experiment there is a failure.

The Portland School District has a long history of ignoring its critics and blindly doing whatever it wants. Sadly, their actions have resulted in harming, not helping, students. Its time to clean house at PPS and get someone into the superintendent's office who really cares about the educational future of our kids.

Today's definition of equity. Equity = equal outcomes.

It's hard to have equity when one party is succeeding. To fix it, it's much easier to down the successful rather than build up the one that's struggling.

We need more Bensons, not to discourage the efforts of the one we've got. Not all students are well-served in current model that assumes everyone is headed for a four-year degree at an expensive university, often one that won't help them get a job in today's economy. Most vocational tech careers pay well and can't be outsourced. Kids who disrupt traditional classes often find direction with a focused hands-on learning program with a goal in sight. Mr. Obama and others, quit acting like the goal of every American student should be a traditional 4-year college education. Our Voc-Tech, business partnership and journeyman programs deserve respect and support. They work. Another commenter made a good point (in a backhanded way): It may be fun to be a Jefferson dancer (hey, I'm sure it's fun to be a cheerleader, too) but it's not a sustainable career move.

Well said by a fellow classmate.
I've written stupor Carol before on the trashing of Benson and gotten nothing but platitudes and denials they have any intention of harming the school.
Anyone with half a brain can see that the PPS school board and the administration is doing just that. Be it by neglect or malice it really doesn't matter, that is the result of their actions.

What is happening to Benson and in school districts nation-wide is a result of a monopoly of k-12 education using our tax dollars. Making all schools independent charter schools would be a great start to giving students and parents opportunities to select the schools of their choice. Vouchers that parents could take to any school, even private schools, would be even better.

The only thing holding this back are the teacher unions and the entrenched administration and bureaurocracy that value their power and jobs more than doing what's best for the kids. For some, this is just a game of politics, but other educators believe that what they offer is best for everyone and that by making popular schools like Benson disappear they can force students back into the pure path of their choosing. Religious fervor mixed with union tactics is doing as much harm in education as it is in transportation where planners ruin streets for popular automobile travel to get people to take politicly correct trains instead.

Privatizing education as much as possible with vouchers and/or an all-charter district will finally give parents the clout they need. If I had a kid in school today... I'd enroll him or her in a community college for a high school degree (yes, they offer diplomas) and the trade-oriented education being squashed at Benson. The main problem with this plan is that only those who can afford tuition and books will have that opportunity, and those who might benefit the most will be doomed to suffer the worst kind of education public schools have to offer - the kind where the system is going to "help" them.

Benson class of 72. The PPS is killing Benson with the death of one thousand cuts. No single cut is fatal but the aggregate is. When I started the Freshman class was 500 students and my Graduating class was over 400. Some families had moved and a few were tossed out for behavior issues. I strongly support allowing all who apply admission.


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