PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Parents of students in the Mandarin Immersion Program at Woodstock Elementary School say they feel ignored by Portland Public Schools and fear their students could become isolated or resented if the district moves forward with proposed boundary changes.
“Woodstock is a very successful school. The kids are doing well. So why dismantle something that’s working?” asked Xiaofeng Fu, whose kids attend Woodstock’s Mandarin Immersion Program.
It’s a question several families are asking, according to a poll conducted in November.
About 34% of families at Woodstock, both in the dual language immersion program and the neighborhood school, participated in the poll. Overwhelmingly they said they would like Woodstock to remain a co-located school with both the Mandarin immersion and neighborhood programs.
However, at the time of the poll, the only two proposals PPS had drafted both involved moves parents did not support.
Proposal A suggests moving the Mandarin program out of Woodstock and placing it at Bridger School with the Mandarin Immersion Program from Harrison Park. This would make Bridger School a “whole school” with just a Mandarin dual language immersion program and no other programs.
Proposal B suggests moving the neighborhood school out of Woodstock and replacing it with the Creative Science School program.
Parents told KOIN 6 News they opposed both these options before the proposals were drafted and felt the district did not listen to them.
“The constant having to organize and get our voices heard as you know, it’s kind of wearing down on a lot of the community. I get a lot of sentiment from native [Mandarin] speakers that they’re already feeling very defeated,” said Eddie Wang, the Southeast Guiding Coalition representative for Woodstock Elementary School.
The Southeast Guiding Coalition is a group of representatives from each school who collect feedback about the enrollment proposals from families and relay it to district representatives.
Parents at Woodstock have told the SEGC there are several reasons they want the school to stay the way it is. They said they are worried if the neighborhood school is forced to move out, those families will resent students in the Mandarin program.
Mandarin parents said that with a lot of Asian American cultures, it’s important to integrate in the community, and at Woodstock they feel integrated.
“Just having this co-located school with both the Mandarin Immersion Program and the neighborhood program my son goes to, I think it’s a great opportunity just for my son to learn how to become a global citizen at a school,” said David Jellis, whose son attends the neighborhood school at Woodstock.
Mandarin parents also said they fear they could be targets of racial crimes if all the students in Mandarin Immersion Programs are moved to one school. They went so far as to say that putting all the Mandarin speaking students in one school felt like segregation.
“Woodstock is a really genuinely integrated community where we feel very comfortable. We don’t feel marginalized. So, to us, taking kids who look alike and putting them under one roof feels like segregation because it’s taking away from this integrated experience and sending a message that this culture only exists and should be appreciated in isolation,” Fu said.
In the 2020-2021 school year, 25% of the students who attended Woodstock Elementary School were Asian.
Portland Public Schools said it’s heard the feedback from SEGC and took it into consideration when it drafted Proposal C, which was released Thursday.
Proposal C would not separate the dual language immersion program from the neighborhood school at Woodstock. District officials said it does not balance the middle schools as well as the other two proposals, but it was drafted in response to feedback they’d been receiving. It also focused on drawing school boundary lines along major roadways, in an effort to not divide neighborhoods.
“Now remember that these are not final proposals,” said Claire Hertz, PPS deputy superintendent of business and operations at PPS. “We’re taking them out now to get another round of feedback, so that we can incorporate the input and our Southeast Guiding Coalition members will come up with the best possible proposal to then bring forward to the board.”
Hertz said Proposal C also put a focus on creating more dual-strand language immersion programs, which is what the program at Woodstock is. She said their research has found dual-strand programs perform better than single-strand programs.
Parents at Woodstock were concerned PPS was only looking at single-strand language immersion school performance for its research.
PPS is holding a virtual open house session at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8 to get more feedback on the three proposals from Southeast Portland families. Hertz said this feedback could determine how the proposals are further altered.
There will also be meetings in several languages throughout the week. If parents can’t attend the meetings, Hertz suggests they contact their principal with their concerns.
At an SEGC meeting held Dec. 2, Regional Superintendent Dr. Esther Omogbehin and Hertz acknowledged that they’re trying to do everything that everyone from each school asks for, but it’s not always possible.
“I want to acknowledge that the PPS process of the enrollment program and balancing for Southeast is highly emotional,” Omogbehin said. “We recognize that our families love their schools and their communities and rightfully so we applaud them. That said, our goal is to always optimize academic environments as we center the needs of all students.”
Fu said she’s pleased with Proposal C for the most part, but is still concerned the district could move forward with Proposal A or B.
Wang said he’s worked at PPS before and believes the district has the best intentions and is confident they’re trying their best, even when the proposals don’t make everyone happy.
Portland Public School is making enrollment and boundary changes in Southeast Portland in an effort to balance enrollment at several middle schools. The district’s goal is to convert Harrison Park from a K-8 school to a middle school and to boost enrollment at Lane Middle School.
The district planned to make a final decision on what proposal it would adopt in February 2022, but Hertz said she believes the district will need more time. The district has also decided to push the implementation date back from Fall 2022 to Fall 2023 due to concerns over staffing.