The Schools Portland Students Demand

“[Too many political leaders] are saying that we students are the future, but then are setting us up to fail. We want to be as great as we can be. We want to be the generation that changes things, that makes this a better world. But we can’t do that if they aren’t letting us…They’re not giving us what we need to be great.” Said Jefferson student Anna Robertson in support of the PAT’s contract.


Photo by Bette Lee

Tonight at the school board meeting, the Portland Student Union presented “The Schools Portland Students Demand”. This list was compiled by Portland students and outlines what we believe will make our educational experience the most enriching and successful.

1. Class sizes less than 20

2. Proper funding of the arts

3. More time with guidance counselors

4. Student-teacher collaboration in building curriculum

5. Rich, relevant curriculum – not common core

6. Democratic process in the allocation of funds

7. Restorative justice – not suspensions and expulsions

8. Funding for wrap-around programs

9. Support for all teachers

10. No School Closures

For us to reach our goals, an immediate agreement with the PAT and “The Student Focused Proposal” is necessary.

Here you can find recordings of our mic checks, where Steve Buel also gives a great speech: Portland Student Union Mic Checks

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Article about the Jefferson Student Walkout on Friday

From the Socialist Worker:

Jefferson demands respect 

Sarah Levy reports from Portland, Ore., on a walkout at a high school the media has smeared as “failing”–while the teachers’ struggle for a fair contract goes on.

January 13, 2014

Jefferson High School students march through the streets of Portland after walking out (Bette Lee)
Jefferson High School students march through the streets of Portland after walking out (Bette Lee)

ABOUT 200 students at Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore., walked out of classes on Friday, January 10, in support of their teachers who arelocked in an increasingly heated contract battle with the school district–and to reclaim respect for students and the school in general against media claims that Jefferson is a “failure” and a “gang” school.

The protest came during a week of action to build support for the teachers, whose contract campaign has taken up issues of education justice, challenging swollen class sizes and the standardized testing mania. Called by the Portland Student Union and Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign, the week of actions will culminate on Monday, January 13, with a rally and march on the Portland Public Schools (PPS)board meeting.

On Friday, Jefferson students chanted, “We’re the future of this nation, we deserve an education!” as they blocked both lanes of traffic for several blocks on North Killingsworth Street, a busy thoroughfare in North Portland. The signs they held read “No more racist school closures,” “We support our teachers,” “More art, less OAKS [Oregon’s standardized test]” and “Black student power.”

“We want to show that students are standing up for their teachers, but also standing up for themselves,” said Jefferson student Sekai Edwards. “We want the district to know that they can’t treat our education this way, and that we are aware of what they are trying to do.”

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AS THE only majority Black school high school in Oregon, Jefferson has been painted by the media as an example of “failing” public schools that need to be shut down and reconstituted.



Portland teachers and their supporters are asking for solidarity on Monday, January 13.

If you live in Portland, come to a demonstration at the school board meeting sponsored by the Portland Student Union and Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign–the protest begins at 5:30 p.m. outside PPS headquarters at 501 N. Dixon St.

If you don’t live in Portland, but want to show your solidarity with Portland teachers, please wear blue on Monday and upload a picture of yourself to this Facebook page.


Over the last 10 years, more K-8 schools have closed in the Jefferson cluster–elementary schools that filter into Jefferson High School–than in the rest of the district combined.

The Jefferson area is majority Black and low income, as are the students who attend the high school–in a city and school system that is increasingly segregated. In addition to the “failure” myth, the school and its students have been labeled as gangsters, with police regularly attending sports competitions–contributing to the school’s negative reputation and fueling the drive to close the high school and its feeder schools.

The federal No Child Left Behind law and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program have helped to systematically defund schools like Jefferson, leading administrators to support parents’ decision to transfer students out of Jefferson, rather than address the lack of equity and resources. With fewer students, there are fewer programs and fewer options for those who remain. Popular classes are often overcrowded or unavailable, leaving teachers to solve the problems as best they can, while students miss out on the education that should be their right.

As Jefferson sophomore Mikey Garcia said at the rally on Killingsworth Street:

I’m here because I love my teachers, and I love my school. But you know what’s not fair? It’s not fair that there are 43 kids in my anatomy class. It’s not fair that my teachers don’t have prep time to prepare lessons for me. It’s not fair that the district is trying to take these things away, not give them more.

Many students spoke to the connection between the problems they face in their education, and what’s at stake in contract negotiations between PPS and the Portland Association of Teachers. Their stories illustrated clearly how when teachers get cut short, so do students.

With the teachers’ struggle heating up and headed toward a showdown in the coming weeks, organizers of the Jefferson students’ rally hoped to channel energy toward the school board meeting on January 13–an action aimed at forcing the board to listen to what students, parents and community members want to see in the teachers’ contract and in our schools.

“We will back our teachers if the district tries to take away their rights,” shouted Sekai Edwards to a street full of cheering students. “We will let the teachers know that we will be here for them, just as they are here for us every single day.”

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DURING THE rally, students gave numerous examples that show how–as the PAT has also insisted during its contract campaign–teachers’ working conditions acutely affect students’ learning conditions.

One stunning example: Jefferson High School has a single art teacher who is in charge of yearbook, photography, beginning and advanced art and drawing. She is forced to teach two different subjects to two whole classes at the same time.

As senior Edith Moore said:

If she’s having to teach two classes at once, that means she has to give half of what she would be able to give for one class. And half is not enough for us. I want to see teachers able to actually teach us–to be able to teach what they’re passionate about, what they know about, and be able to teach the right amount of students so we can grow up and do something with our lives and give back to our community.

Students also addressed the stereotype of Jeff students being failures. “Right now, I’m taking my third Portland Community College (PCC) class,” said junior Anna Robertson. She added that she was one of many Jefferson students enrolled at PCC:

We’re taking college classes while we’re in high school, so obviously we’re capable. It’s just that we don’t have the resources we need at our own school. It’s not that our teachers aren’t doing their job–because they are. And they’re doing their hardest. But the problem is that the school district isn’t helping them…

[Too many political leaders] are saying that we [students] are the future, but then setting us up to fail. We want to be as great as we can be. We want to be the generation that changes things, that makes this a better world. But we can’t do that if they aren’t letting us…They’re not giving us what we need to be great.

The energy felt by all at the Jefferson walkout is adding new fire to fight for the schools Portland students deserve. This couldn’t come at a better time, as the district continues to follow an aggressive strategy against the teachers’ union and displays an unwillingness to compromise. It seems more and more likely that the district will try to impose its contract on the union, possibly forcing teachers to strike.

If it comes to this, students could play a pivotal role in a crucial struggle to defend public education. But Jefferson students, as well as many more across the district, have already shown that they are ready to take a stand.

Lauren Steele, a Jefferson junior, drove this home in a spoken-word piece, titled “Teach Me,” which she performed at the rally:

You can’t leave our education in the hands of a few folks with degrees
We are all perfectly capable of achieving what this system needs
I’m tired of artless, colorless schools, same syllabus every year
Don’t support our future leaders and your future is unclear
Your answer to worldly crisis could lie in this city
There are young potential leaders in need of more than just your pity
So we’re gonna walk out here in hopes of contributing to this fight, ’cause maybe with a little help
Our generation
Will get it right

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Week of Action + Jefferson High School Walkout!


Tomorrow, January 10th at 12:15pm students from Jefferson High School will be walking out of class in support of our teachers, and to be part in a greater fight for educational justice. Students will walk out the main entrance that lead out to the football field. The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) is currently facing a difficult bargain with Portland Public Schools (PPS), and we fear that teachers will be faced with the decision to either accept the unacceptable, or strike. We hope this walkout puts pressure on the district to settle a fair contract with the PAT without a strike. “Not only will we be walking out in support of our teachers, we’ll be walking out to reclaim our school” says Sophomore Mikey Garcia. “Jefferson is too frequently demonized by the community and thought of as “failing”, we want to walkout on that reputation and let Portland know that we are done being silent.”

Wilson High School will also be having a smaller rally beginning at 11:40am. Students will meet at the intersection of SW Sunset Blvd and Capitol Hwy to rally in support of the PAT and “The Schools Portland Students Deserve”.

These events are leading up to a greater “Pack the School Board” Action for Monday, January 13th at the PPS School Board Meeting. Students and community members will meet outside the Blanchard Education Service Center (BESC) at 5:30pm and enter the meeting at 6pm. We hope to encourage the School Board to keep talking with teachers until we settle a fair contract. We do not want the contract imposed on teachers, and we do not want a strike.

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Students meet to plan a week of action in January

We had an excellent meeting yesterday and started planning our week of action for mid-January. Our teachers are currently faced with accepting the unacceptable or going on strike. We want to let the district know that we support our teachers and their contract preamble “The Schools Portland Students Deserve”. With that said, we are planning a week of action in support of the PAT’s bargaining team and contract proposal. We hope that it will put pressure on the school district to settle a fair contract with our teachers in order to avoid a strike. More details will be posted soon. Get ready!


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Wilson High School Walkout

December 13th, 2013 at 10:15am over 60 students walked out of Wilson High School to protest the contract Portland Public Schools is offering to the Portland Association of Teachers. Both sides are claiming that their contract is best for students, we are walking out to make clear that the school district is not working on our behalf. Wilson High School Junior Gillian makes this clear “One of the thing’s the district has been doing in these negotiations is claiming they’re trying to protect the rights of the students and their parents, but this isn’t true. One example is the district’s desire to remove the limit on class sizes. With an unlimited class size, a teacher could end up having to teach hundreds of students, something that reduces the ability of the teacher to teach and the students to learn.”



This is the third student action in support of our teachers. On November 15th the Cleveland Student Union hosted a lunch rally in support of PAT’s contract, and on November 22nd over 250 Roosevelt High School students walked out to demand a fair contract for their teachers.

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Reminder about Opting Out of OAKS Testing

Simpsons comment of standardized testing - Season 20, Episode 11 Simpsons comment on standardized testing – Season 20, Episode 11

Once again students in Portland Public Schools will be asked to take the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS). The Jefferson Student Union would like to remind students of their right to opt out. We have started testing this week and want to encourage all students to opt out.

Why Opt Out?

The Jefferson Student Union is taking a strong stance against high stakes standardized testing. We believe that standardized test scores inaccurately depict a student’s knowledge, have an extremely high correlation to a student’s family’s income, have a high correlation with race, are expensive, and in all are taking up class time that we could use learning things that are more applicable to our lives.

A test score cannot give someone the same insight to a school as a discussion with students, teachers, and parents can. The ideal solution would be to eliminate high stakes standardized testing and replace it with a more comprehensive evaluation system developed by the community. That would free up millions of dollars in the district that could be used to fund more teachers, electives, wrap around services, and other supports we need to learn.

We are not test scores. Our intelligence isn’t exclusive to how well we can pick A,B, C, or D. Let’s send a strong message to our principal, our school board, Governor Kitzhaber, and the rest of the country that this testing agenda stops here.

How to Opt Out

Ask any Jefferson Student Union member for an opt-out form or print one out here. Check off the areas that you would like to opt-out in, obtain a parent signature, and turn it into your vice principal.

Juniors and Seniors should know that students must demonstrate proficiency in the areas of reading, math, and writing in order to graduate. That can be proved in a number of ways that are listed on here. Demonstration is science is not required for graduation. That means you can opt-out and do not have to worry about submitting additional scores or work samples.

Freshman and Sophomores, you will be starting a new standardized test in coming years. Therefore, your OAKS tests have no effect on your ability to graduate. You do not have to pass them or demonstrate proficiency in any alternative ways because they will not impact graduation. Therefore, you can Opt-Out to your heart’s content!

If you have additional questions, feel free to contact us:

PPS Parent Exemption from Required Tests*

Alternative Ways to Demonstrate Proficiency

*Know that the form says your parent/guardian need to schedule a meeting with someone at the school. In our limited experience we’ve found that students showing up with them signed has worked. In the case that you turn yours in the day of the test and are told that your parent/guardian must meet with the school, simply refuse to test that day and find a time to have your parent/guardian speak with the school.


Jefferson Student Union

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PAT Solidarity Rally Thank-You

Thank you to all of you–students and allies who attended today’s rally at Cleveland High School. The Portland Student Union currently stands behind our teachers in their contract negotiations, and we will make our voices heard. We as a community need to fight for the school’s that students truly deserve, and it is important to us that the district actually talks to our teachers and does not declare impasse. There is no need to force a strike.

More coverage of this event will come soon. Feel free to send us any photos or videos you may have.

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