Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Portland Maine Students Vote With Their Feet

Deering High School
School choice is a good thing, and it is highlighting problems in Portland, Maine. The city has two large high schools and students can attend whichever one they choose. The Portland Press Herald ran a series of articles over the summer indicating why so many students and their parents are choosing Portland High School over rival Deering High School. Most cited student discipline, or lack thereof.

Meg Baltes (Portland Press Herald photo)
They like Portland High School because, as Meg Baltes — president of the rising junior class at Portland High School — put it to Press Herald reporter Rachel Ohm: "I think things are handled very swiftly and very aggressively at Portland. Any kids who get into trouble are dealt with pretty immediately. It’s a very no-nonsense policy. I know students see that and that helps a lot with problems being diverted.”
Students at Deering (from Press Herald)
It’s a different story at Deering. As former math teacher Tim Eisenhart put it in the same article, “There’s a weird lack of discipline inside the building. [The administration] is too soft and what ends up happening is kids do whatever they want.” Eisenhart resigned mid-year and went back to his engineering career. “I think you will find there’s a lot of shoveling it under the carpet, because [administrators] didn’t do anything. They send kids back [to class] less than 15 minutes later with a cupcake without doing anything.”

As a retired teacher with two years teaching delinquent high school students in Lowell, Massachusetts and thirty-three years in Maine public schools, those two quotes sum it up. If teachers aren’t backed up by building administrators when disciplining a students, everything breaks down. If I sent a student to the office (which I rarely did) and a principal sent him back with no consequence, I’d send him out again and inform the principal that he was not allowed in my classroom until an appropriate consequence was enforced, and I would not continue teaching otherwise.

From Portland Press Herald
Projected enrollment for the freshman class in Portland next month is 272, while at Deering, it’s only 127. Nine years ago the numbers were roughly equal with Deering at 245 and Portland at 232. Clearly things have changed at Deering. As Meg Baltes went on to say: “A lot of students at Deering feel the administration is chill and relaxed. They feel they can talk to them and have a more honest relationship, but it also means there’s less discipline and a feeling they can get away with stuff.”

Principal Gregg Palmer in drag (Press Herald photo)
Neither Deering Principal Gregg Palmer nor Assistant Principal Abdullahi Ahmed would answer specific questions from the Press Herald. Principal Palmer did, however, perform in Deering’s Gender Sexuality Alliance 2nd Annual Drag Show dressed as a woman. “This is all about them [the students],” Palmer said. "They are brave and they encourage the rest of us to be brave,” as he told the Press Herald. Too bad that bravery didn’t enable Palmer to back up teachers dealing with his problem students. One parent said to the Press Herald: “I think they’re too scared to discipline students in a way that would have an impact, so they just let things go a lot of the time without even a slap on the wrist.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana (Press Herald photo)
Deering administrators referred all the Press Herald’s discipline questions to Superintendent Xavier Botana who tried explaining it away as a lack of communication regarding violent incidents at Deering last year. Then he indicated that, “[H]e plans to start a conversation with the school board about capping the number of students that can attend each school.” In other words, Superintendent Botana wants to limit school choice. He doesn’t want students voting with their feet because that’s making his job difficult.
School board Chairman Rodrigues
Even if Superintendent Botana were to pressure his administrative team at Deering to toughen up, he may not be backed up by his school board. Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez told the Press Herald: “It’s difficult to change the expectations of what discipline truly means. If we have an old-school expectation of what discipline is, something like zero-tolerance, then yes, you’re not going to see that today. That’s not how we want to discipline our students.”
Really Mr. Rodriguez? How would you do it? It looks like Deering is in for another tough year.

From Portland Press Herald
Complicating all this are changing demographics. Though it used to enroll the poorest kids in the city a generation ago, Portland High School is located on Portland’s peninsula where real estate values have skyrocketed. The Deering neighborhood used to be more prosperous but has lately absorbed a high concentration of so-called “refugees” and “asylum seekers,” many of whom speak no English. The Press Herald reports: “In 2018-2019, minority students accounted for about 47 percent of the Deering student body. Twenty percent were English language learners and 57 percent were economically disadvantaged, according to school district data.”

Portland from South Portland
Big city problems have arrived in once-placid Portland, Maine.


Uber_Fritz said...

As you know, I taught for 36 years. My first 4 were at a parochial school an the remaining 32 were in the public sector. As a Northeastern University undergraduate, I was part of the cooperative education program. Fortunately, I was placed in public schools and completed in a summer semester in a recreation program. Why have I mentioned this background information?

I brought this information to light because each and every supervisor throughout the cooperative education experiences expected discipline and would accept nothing less. I fully subscribe to the philosophy that to educate, discipline must first be established. Does it sound harsh? It is not; it is a necessity.

As a result, I enjoyed my career in education. In fact, I recently had one of my early students retire from education. He was an Assistant Principal at Canton High School. The principal of Canton High School is also a former student and he has a condo in Intervale. I am on-call for him at all times concerning any events at his condo. Frankly, most students seek order and discipline. I sure wish I could post a card I received from a former student. I was invited to his retirement from the US ARMY at the Pentagon. Why? Because I coached him in track and he appreciated the strict structure.

Now, we can easily anticipate the implosion of public education. I wonder what will become of history since there are periods that do not meet the standards of today?

Anonymous said...

I am currently “doing time” in California for my work. Like most parents, we chose a city to live in here that had some of the highest school rankings. Our son is now in high school. Over the last three years this high school’s rankings have fallen dramatically. We recently received a letter from the school board that I can only term as an “apology” for this large drop in rank. The superintendent said that during this period, the demographics of the city, and this the student body, have changed dramatically.
They said that currently 40% of the households within the school district do not speak English as a primary language.
Most are not US citizens, but the school lamented that they must do their best to educate these children.
My son has two “dreamers” or DACA “kids” in some of his classes. He said they are both in their mid to late twenties and have children. They show up to school intermittently (because they must to remain in DACA), but they can barely communicate and their grades are extremely poor.
This obviously brings down the average scores significantly.
For the life of me, I cannot understand how this situation helps anybody concerned.
These kids are not being properly educated or prepared for their future, and the other students (as well as the school) are being dragged down. There are also significant discipline issues arising as well.
Many parallels to the Portland Schools story.
The problems are obvious, but the solutions don’t seem to be.

Kafir said...

I heard, but haven’t verified, that Deering can’t even field 5 players for a golf team. Also heard that Portland and Deering had to combine football teams because of the lack of players. Is this what they mean by the beauty of cultural diversity?

Jared James Bristol said...

As a retired former middle school teacher, I applaud Portland High. Without discipline you've got anarchy, no reasonable teaching environment, and no learning for anyone. The disruptors ruin school for everyone. Deering is pandering to the troublemakers at everyone else's expense. Discipline was very much on the decline when I retired in 1999 and I'm aware it is much worse these days.

Anonymous said...

We weren't allowed to chew gum or use profane or obscene words. What passes for acceptable behavior now is a result of undermining parental authority, religious authority, and organizational authority. You cannot take children for most of their waking hours and then blame parents when the kids are confused about who they should obey. You can't belittle parental religious values and humiliate kids in the classroom for being religious, and then expect that they will over time keep the morality that is the underpinning of discipline and internal self-control. Kids are not adults. They are not able to defend themselves from adults bent on destroying their modesty, values, and family. I find the "anti-bullying" campaigns as reprehensible as the SIECUS sex "ed" classes. The extent of that program is to put up posters saying they want a bully free campus. If a student complains of being abused, they ignore them and the bullies. If a victim decides to defend themselves when cornered, they expel the VICTIM! This is Orwellian training to teach our children that they will not be protected if they do not conform to evil and convinces them that resistance is futile. THAT'S A LIE.

Nobody with any conscience should send their kids to a public school while this kind of leadership is in control. Learn to economize. Stop wasting money on trips or new cars. It's amazing how a second paycheck simply gets wasted on clothing/travel/lunches at a job outside the home instead of enriching your home.

Get your priorities right. Your kids are your future if you don't want to wind up alone in a nursing home. Your kids are far more important than the difference between beef hot dogs ($5/lb) and chicken/pork hot dogs ($2/lb), or a night out at a fancy restaurant. You don't need another pair of high heels.

And public schools are not your damn babysitters! If your kids aren't well behaved, YOU'RE the problem if you continue to refuse to deal with them and neglectfully push them off on the better teachers in the school system. A kid cannot have two authority figures. It's parents or teachers. And guess what? YOU'RE ALWAYS the better choice!