Self Enhancement, Inc. announced earlier this summer it is closing SEI Academy – the only charter middle school in the city – and will begin phasing out services this year.
The nonprofit provides culturally specific support for African American students in schools throughout the city, and opened the middle school 10 years ago following the closure of other middle schools in the Portland Public Schools system. Tony Hopson said SEI made the decision in response to the school district’s recent announcement that it would reopen some middle schools, including Harriet Tubman and Ockley Green in North and Northeast Portland in 2017.
“The charter school, which has been up and running for over 10 years, we did that strictly out of need. There was a time when the middle schools in the Jefferson [High School] cluster weren’t doing that well with African American kids. There was a time when middle schools weren’t even available in the Jefferson cluster,” Hopson told The Skanner.
The school was primarily funded by Portland Public Schools, though SEI contributed between $200,00 and $300,000 annually. But Hopson said the closure isn’t based on funding. He sees the district’s pledge to reopen middle schools as an opportunity for SEI to return to its core mission.
“Our model is not to do schools but to help the public schools do better,” Hopson said. “It gives us a chance to go back to our original model and provide direct support there.”
SEI Academy had the capacity to serve 150 students. The school won’t offer sixth grade this year, and Hopson expects an enrollment of about 70 students this fall. In the end Hopson estimates about 30 students total – those enrolling in seventh grade this year – will need to find another school to attend, most likely the ones in their neighborhoods.
Hopson said most live in Inner North and Northeast, but some were bused to its North Portland campus from East Portland.
“There is a large percentage of our kids who do come in from the numbers. There’s a number of our kids, African American kids, that have been pushed out that still want to go to Portland Public Schools and bus in,” Hopson said. Jason Trombley, co-chair of Portland Public Schools’ District Boundary Review Advisory Committee, said some of the current SEI students who bus in come from the Parkrose or Reynolds school districts and may attend schools there instead of in Portland.
Right now there are just five middle schools in the district – Beaumont and George Middle Schools on the East Side and Robert Gray, West Sylan and Jackson on the West Side. There are 28 schools offering kindergarten through eighth grade.
Hopson is particularly encouraged by the reopening of Tubman, and hopes SEI will have a role in providing support to students there. Portland Public Schools closed Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy, a middle school for girls only, in 2012 over protests of parents and community members.
Trombley told The Skanner the district has not made a final decision about how many middle schools it will open. He said the closure of many middle schools and the placement of middle-grade students in K-8 programs, was prompted both by declining enrollment in Portland Public Schools and by a decline in resources from the state.