Jefferson High School has witnessed another setback. Last week, school officials were forced to disband the sophomore class at the Young Men's Academy due to lack of enrollment.
According to Academy Director Ricky Allen, there were only six students enrolled in sophomore classes.
"We couldn't serve their total needs," he told The Skanner. "We acted in the best interest of the kids."
Those students are now enrolled in classes in the main Jefferson wing of the school. Allen said feelings about leaving the close-knit academy were mixed among the students – some were okay, but some were upset at having to reintegrate into classes that have a lot more students in them. He said many of the students still come by to visit their former academy.
"I almost see them more now," he said.
But with only 33 students remaining, is the academy's future in question? Allen was hired this year to take over the embattled single-sex academy after former Director Willie Holmes stepped down and Marshall Haskins took the job temporarily. Now in its second year, the Young Men's Academy has never attracted the number of students that Jefferson's Young Women's Academy has, but Allen says he hopes to change that.
Improvements are occurring, he says.
"It's been a much quieter year," he said. "I have no reference point, but that's what I hear from teachers and others in the building."
He said he's received much support from Principal Cynthia Harris, Area Director Toni Hunter and Superintendent Carole Smith. While he's now only entering his fourth week of the school year, Allen says he plans to do more outreach to churches and community groups and always encourages male students to apply to transfer. He's also working with Volunteer Coordinator Daniel Capuia to bring in mentors and study help.
Across the neighborhood at the Harriet Tubman Young Women's Academy, Principal Aurora Lora says things are progressing at an even pace. They ended the school year with 138 girls and now have 155 enrolled. Part of the advantage Lora sees in the school is lack of turnover. She was an architect in the academy's design, she was the principal of the Harriet Tubman Middle School before it was reassigned and she's traveled the country observing similar single-sex academy structures.
She says the Girls Academy has instituted a five-year plan to grow an Advanced Placement program. "We're on track to offer our first AP class next year," Lora said.
The main Jefferson campus also sent a number of teachers into AP training and hope to offer AP classes soon.
But the most basic keys to Lora's success have been stability and long term planning.
By contrast, the Young Men's Academy's first administrator left before the conclusion of his first year. The academy suffered from low enrollment before the first class was ever seated.
The Young Women's Academy has recently unveiled a new engineering program in which 15 students are enrolled. They're starting a robotics club, put together their first student newspaper and started a student government.
"There is huge demand for this kind of program," Lora said.
Alumni Step Up for Change
The Jefferson High School Alumni Association is planning a lot more than a 100 year anniversary and a homecoming celebration – they're trying to help plan the rejuvenation of Portland's oldest high school. Director Maggie Mashia said Superintendent Carole Smith agreed to allow the group to craft a 10 year success plan and present it to the superintendent's office in about 7 weeks.
"Something has to change if you want it to be a healthy school," she said.
In addition to the extracurricular organizing that the group is spearheading, much of the grounds improvements have been the result of volunteers from the alumni group.
This Friday, the school celebrates the homecoming game against Roosevelt High School at 7 p.m. The Jefferson Alumni are having a tailgating party on Friday afternoon on the school's west side. The celebrations will last until the homecoming dances start at around 9 p.m. in the school's cafeteria and community room.
For more information about Jefferson's Alumni Association, visit www.jeffalum.com.