Word that Jefferson High School is back on the Portland Public Schools' closure list has touched off the most explosive community backlash in years.
As The Skanner News went to press Thursday, more than a hundred Jefferson supporters filled a morning news conference at the school and a sit-in was planned for that day's school board work session meeting, 5:30 p.m. at the Blanchard Education Center.
Boosters are also calling for a massive showing at the Portland Public Schools board meeting Monday, June 21.
It remained unclear at press time whether the School of Champions, which just wrapped up its 100th school year, would still be on the board's agenda or whether the item might be moved into the future. Marshall High School is reportedly under consideration for closure as well.
The press conference featured speeches by Herndon; Hopson; retired State Sen. Avel Gordly; Albina Ministerial Alliance co-Chair Rev. T Allen Bethel; State Rep. Lew Frederick; and Harold Williams of CH2A.
On hand to lend support were African American Alliance co-Chair Joyce Harris; African American Chamber of Commerce Chair Roy Jay; James Posey of the Coalition of Black Men; Urban League President Marcus Mundy; and former school board member Sue Hagmeier.
Rev. T. Allan Bethel, center, flanked by Harold Williams and Avel Gordly at Jefferson High School Wednesday morning
Hopson criticized district officials who he said have just wrapped up a two-year high school redesign process, and then thrown out the results.
(Watch video of his speech here)
"When you look at Marshall and Jefferson, we're talking about two of the schools that based on free and reduced lunch, are the poorest schools in the entire district -- so again we would look at enriching the rest of the district by taking from the poor and giving to the rich," Hopson said.
Gordly, now a professor in the Portland State University Black Studies Department, chastised board members for their "ignorance," and suggested they should read the current issue of the Oregon Historic Society Quarterly, which includes a detailed article about race and class in the Portland school system written by PSU Professors Ethan Johnson and Felicia Williams (read the piece here)
"It is apparent that the Portland Public School Board is on an arrogant path, on a path that clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding, a lack of willingness to understand the history of the relationship between the Portland Public Schools and the African American community," she said.
"Read. Understand. Internalize," Gordly said. "Don't move forward in ignorance."
(Watch video of her speech here)
The largest crowd response came from esteemed, lifelong education activist and administrator Ron Herndon, who spoke eloquently, and at times bitterly, about Jefferson's history. Yet he consistently returned to the power of the school's community.
(Watch the video here)
"For the past 40 years, children in this community have been treated like lab rats for the Portland Public Schools' academic experiments. During the 70s – Rev. Bethel alluded to it – they took schools in this community that were K-8 and got rid of all the upper grades, got rid of them. And the children who were in those upper grades were scattered and bused out all over this city.
Educator/activist Ron Herndon describes the recent history of the Portland schools and the African American community
"There's no other community in Portland who had children who were mandatorily bused all in the name of that lab rat experiment 'integration.' No other children had to get on a bus, and go miles away to another school. And not only bused, but they were scattered. "And if you think that this is some kind of romantic retelling of history, pick up an old Oregonian, in which they quoted an administrator of Portland Public Schools who said 'We bus em out, we don't want more than one or two niggers in a classroom.'
"That was an administrator of Portland Public Schools. And when the kids were bused out, their parents were made to sign a document that said when they get to be high school age you will not return them to the community to go to school. Nobody else in the history of the city ever has had to sign a document that said I will not bring my child back to the community school," Herndon said.
"So when you begin to talk about changing Jeff, all you are doing is coming up with another newfangled term for segregation. This community will have less than any other community. You won't have a comprehensive high school in your community while others will.
"And how are we going to work this? Once again, our children will get on a bus, another ill conceived, ignoble ideal about education. And you are the ones that have to suffer while we play games about where boundaries are going to go, how many people are going to be in a classroom.
"We need one thing: extraordinarily quality education at this institution. And don't let people fake you out: when we begin to talk about quality education don't let them say, oh, the only thing you need to do is put a Black in, you've got quality education.
"We've been through that before," Herndon said. "When they begin to talk about a principal here, someone deserves to raise the question, have you ever had high school kids achieving at grade level in your life? If you have not you should not be the principal here. It's simple, it's not complicated."