PPSs Zeke Smith faces a crowd of angry ayes
  • PPS's Zeke Smith faces a crowd of angry "aye"s
Portland Public Schools (PPS) staffer Zeke Smith faced the equivalent of a firing squad Monday night in Lents Commons. Fifty neighbors, Marshall High School students, teachers and parents turned up to grill Smith on the specifics of PPS's high school redesign plan to close SE Portland's current Marshall High School and turn it into a "focus option" high school drawing students from all over the city. The plan allows PPS to avoid the firestorm that would follow permanently closing any local schools and hopefully improve Marshall High, which has fallen short of federal test standards for two years running.

But the neighbors and Marshall High families who turned out on Monday see the plan as another blow to an outer SE Portland community that sees itself as neglected and powerless.

"We want what they have," said Marshall parent Paul Pietrzyk, referring to successful schools like Lincoln. He has been sending his kids to Marshall for 10 years. "You strip services from us for 10 years, give kids a bus pass to leave and then are surprised when we fail."

Other parents worried that making Marshall a focus school would end its athletics program. Some students piped up that they would consider transferring to Franklin High School just because the future of Marshall is so up in the air—PPS is asking students and parents to make decisions about which school to attend before it has been decided what kind of focus school it will be. Arts? Sciences? Business? That's still up for debate. "It's really almost impossible to get excited about what will happen there when you can't even tell us what kind of school it will be. The school will be just over 50 years old and already you're changing it," said Marla Rosenberger, a '65 Marshall grad.

"You are absolutely going to kill this community out here. And it's really trying hard to come back," said one mother, to a long round of applause.

Smith took the criticism calmly and quietly, noting that nothing has been set in stone for the future of Marshall because the school board wants public input on the plan. Two more meetings are coming up before the board votes on the88 page proposal (pdf) next month. "The intent is got us to have a core program in these neighborhood school and to offer robust classes," said Smith, confirming that the changes could cost up to $15 million to implement.