Portland Public Schools won’t displace KairosPDX

A majority of students at Kairos are black

Lydia Gray-Holifield with her daughter Georgy'e in front of KairosPDX charter school, Oct. 4, 2017. (Jonathan House/Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The next version of Portland Public Schools’ boundary proposal for Northeast Portland will keep KairosPDX charter school, a program that caters to African-American students, in the historic heart of Portland’s black community.

That reversal came Tuesday during a school board discussion of PPS’s current proposal to redraw school attendance zones, which school officials released in September. That proposal, which also includes the relocation of several school communities to new buildings, called for displacing Kairos at the former Humboldt Elementary School with ACCESS Academy, an alternative school for highly gifted students who aren’t served well by their neighborhood schools.

More than 120 students currently attend KairosPDX in the Albina neighborhood, Sept. 15, 2017. (KOIN)

A majority of students at Kairos are black. A majority of students at ACCESS are white.

And to several community leaders in Portland, PPS’s proposal looked like the gentrification of a school. Add to that the fact that advocates for ACCESS didn’t want to move to Humboldt, saying it was too small to serve its growing population adequately.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, last month urged PPS board members to rethink the plan, which was put together by PPS staff after more than three years of public discussion.

This week, Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, and nine other school board members of color from districts around PPS joined Wheeler and Kotek in criticizing the proposed move. Hernandez also sits on the Reynolds School Board.

“PPS has a tragic and unfortunate history of displacing black students and their families, and of excluding black communities from the decision-making process,” the school-board members from surrounding districts wrote Monday. “Let us not continue the legacy of displacement.”

Tuesday, school-board officials with PPS signaled they would keep Kairos at Humboldt but they also voiced mild displeasure with the outside pressure they endured, saying the problems of uneven enrollment they face are complicated and they’re doing their best to undo years of poor decisions.

Julie Esparza Brown, the only person of color on the PPS board, pushed back on community leaders’ criticism, saying during Tuesday’s discussion that she and her colleagues always intended to base their final decision on what is most equitable for PPS students.

Julia Brim-Edwards, the board chair, said after the discussion there was no sense continuing to talk as if displacing Kairos were an option.

“My sense is there’s not support [on the board] to move it from Humboldt,” she said.

Staff is expected to return to the board with a modified proposal with a new home for ACCESS in mid-October. A vote on a final boundary proposal is expected by the end of the month.

The Portland Tribune is KOIN media partner