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Parents led charge on ensuring proper class time

For the past few weeks, school districts across Oregon have been scrambling, trying to sort out if their current high school schedules meet the state required 130 hours a year of instructional time for high school classes.

Then, if they come up short, tweaking those high school schedules to ensure that the 130 hours per class (and the 990 hours of total class time per academic school year) is met for what’s left of the 2014-15 academic year, and beyond.

How and why all this occurred, that is, what exactly brought this issue to light has been the most revealing and enlightening aspect of it all.

Turns out the snowball was first formed and then pushed along by a “parent coalition” inside Portland Public Schools, starting about three years ago by Lisa Zuniga, Julia Brim-Edwards, Caroline Fenn, Linda Venti, Valerie Friedman, Mary Welch, Brian Rupp, Mike Rosen, Monique McLean, John Richardson, Laura Smoyer, Darcy Mundorff, Amy Kohnstamm and Tracey Barton, all of whom have (or have recently had) high school-aged kids. The fire that was lit under these parents was the change in 2011 from a traditional, seven 45- or 50-minute periods each day class-schedule paradigm, to what is now commonly known as a block schedule that spreads eight class periods, 90 minutes each, over a two-day period of time. And, many high schools, my own included, are currently on block or modified block schedules.

The strategy and philosophy of all this and how it plays out in the classroom (i.e., number of classes a single teacher must teach in one school day and how many kids might be in those classes) became an issue, involving parents, Portland Public Schools’ district officials and the teachers’ union.

But, for me, that’s not really the seminal issue.

What happened was that this parent coalition did the math — calculated out the shortfall at Franklin, Madison and Grant high schools (among others), and found those schools’ class cumulative hours fell well below the 130-hour mark. PPS’s district leadership argued that “students’ proficiency demonstration” in those classes would “make up the difference.”

In addition, there were claims from the parent coalition that PPS encouraged students not to take a full eight periods of academic classes every two days in their block. Ultimately, all this came down to an Oregon Department of Education ruling in favor of the parents, their math and their cause.

So, it was a savvy, dedicated, well-educated and committed group of parents who led the charge and introduced the elephant in the room to everyone — so we all could meet and get acquainted with this particular public-ed pachyderm.

It could have been others. It should have been others. But, it was the parents!

Public education is about our kids’ education and about “the public” — public dollars, publically elected school board members and communities in general.

A friend of mine, a lawyer actually, once told me that the two most important things for most people are their kids and their money. For a bunch of gritty and very determined PPS coalition parents, it was their kids, thank goodness!

Barry Albertson is a member of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board.




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