If you live in Portland and don’t apply to go to another middle school, your kids will be sent across town to either Westport or Kammerer Middle school by default. It’s not because the schools closest to the neighborhood are full, and can’t take any more kids. The 2019-20 enrollment projections for Western Middle, show a program capacity of 825 students, but a projected enrollment of 613, leaving space for 212 more students. The next closest middle school at The Academy @ Shawnee, shows a program capacity of 225, and a projected enrollment of 125 students, leaving space for 100 additional students to attend that school. So, there is space for 312 students at middle schools within our neighborhood, or right outside it. Westport Middle currently has 171 students from our neighborhood, and Kammerer Middle has 60. Those 231 students could easily fill the 312 empty slots in schools close to their own homes instead of passing 5 other middle schools on the way to their assigned schools. However, you must apply (and be accepted) to attend school at Western or Shawnee Middle schools. This wasn’t always the case, of course. Neighborhood kids attended Western Middle for generations until it was converted to a Magnet School around 2010. Western Middle by most accounts was plagued by serious issues and was not performing well by any standard. To avoid a state takeover of the school, it was converted to a magnet school and the neighborhood students sent to Westport or Kammerer, unless they applied to (and were accepted) to another school. With an influx of new, hand-picked, students Western Middle is now a thriving Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts, and avoided further scrutiny from the State. While we should certainly celebrate Western Middle’s successful turnaround, one has to wonder what the outcomes have been for the population of students who would have formerly attended there.
I recently asked JCPS to provide me the “School Report Card” data for students at Westport and Kammerer Middle, but with Portland neighborhood students’ data and outcomes separated from non-Portland students. So, demographics, attendance, test scores, discipline, etc. I’m sorry to report that the numbers do not show significant improvements in the outcomes for these students in any category. In the 2017-2018 school year, 54.1% of the Portland neighborhood students at Westport Middle were Chronically Absent, meaning they missed more than 10% of the school days. 31.4% missed more than 25+ days. It’s difficult for working families with means to drive a kid who has missed the bus across town in traffic. It’s impossible for families without a car. 33% of Portland households don’t have a car. It would take two TARC buses and over 90 minutes to travel from the middle of Portland to Westport Middle.
With attendance numbers so low, it’s no wonder that Portland students’ test scores lag behind not only state averages, but also non-Portland students at the same school by sometimes more than 500%. Only 6.9% of 2016-17 Portland students at Kammerer Middle achieved Proficient or Distinguished in Math, while 40.3% of the non-Portland students did. It almost seems as if the students were sent to larger schools in order to dilute their test scores so no one would notice. Since scores aren’t published by neighborhood, there was no way for anyone to notice.
Outcomes at our neighborhood middle school have improved, but outcomes for many middle school students from our neighborhood have not. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and point fingers at JCPS for engineering a system that seems like it was designed to set up our kids to fail. However, these kids presumably sit in the same classrooms and receive the same education as the kids that outperform them. What can the citizens of our neighborhood do to make education a priority in our neighborhood and help close that gap? Are you involved in your child’s education? Your grand-kids, nieces, nephews? Your neighbor’s kids? What is our neighborhood ready, willing, and able to do to improve the outcomes of all of our neighborhood’s students? If we, knowing what we know now, continue to stand by and watch the majority of our neighborhood children fail in school, we are complicit in their failure and have just as much blame as anyone else. No one is going to advocate for our neighborhood kids better than we can, and it’s time for us to start.
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