Starting next Monday, Portland's Mayor and his staff will have a different view out of their offices – the halls of Jefferson High School.
While the move will be only temporary – from Jan. 14 to 18 – Mayor Potter will be moving his entire staff to a single room in the school; holding the city council meeting in Jefferson's auditorium; and even presenting the yearly state of the city address before the City Club of Portland at the Northeast Portland high school.
So what exactly is Mayor Potter's motive for such a move? Simply put, he was invited. A group of Jefferson students invited him to come and take a personal look at their school after visiting a City Council meeting in the fall. So did school leaders ever think the mayor would accept such an offer?
"Absolutely not," says Jefferson Principal Cynthia Harris, who thinks the mayor's week will be a learning experience for both Potter and her students.
"I think he's going to learn what it's like to be in an urban school."
Instead of taking the easy way out and making the visit an extended publicity stunt, Potter is diving right in. A significant amount of time will be spent talking one-on-one to students, and city staff will be visiting different classrooms to talk about their duties and get student input about projects the city is working on.
Part of the motivation for Potter's extended visit is to encourage more community involvement in the neighborhood school. The public is invited to several events being held at Jefferson, including an open house, sporting events and several government meetings (see sidebar for complete listing).
In a school where nearly every student says the public perception of the students is wrong – driven in part by negative news coverage over the years – some students say they're looking forward to the Mayor's visit.
"It's not as bad as people talk about," said Jefferson student Louie Tuitavuki.
The fact that Potter is coming to Jefferson in an election year but is not running for reelection has had a positive impact on perception of the event.
"If he's actually coming here, he might actually care," said Kate Raphael, Potter's education advocate, about the way of thinking she's heard from some students. "They're feeling cared for in a new way."
Raphael said the decision to visit with students, teachers and faculty firsthand at an academically failing school was also made out of a desperation to try something different. In 2006-07 Jefferson had only 17 percent of students meet state math standards and 39 percent of students meet state English standards. There are many different ways to work toward education reform, says Raphael, from lobbying at the state legislature to working with the local school board. So far, none have been entirely effective, she says. Maybe walking into the front door of the school for a week and having frank discussions with students and teachers will do the trick, she says.
But the academic news at Jefferson isn't all bad. Last year's graduating class received about $1 million dollars in college scholarships.
A diverse team of community, school and government leaders have been meeting every few weeks since September to iron out the details of the move – a team that includes Charles McGee of the Black Parent Initiative, Shane Endicott of the ReBuilding Center, student leaders from across the district, and the mayor's wife, Karin Hansen, among many others.