Saturday, November 23, 2013

Overcrowding Cover Letter

Dear BCS Families - 

As we have all acutely felt over the past several months, our school is FULL. Not just a little, but a lot!  So much so, in fact, that it is absolutely critical we find more space for our students next year.  Several conversations have begun within the BCS community about this issue and while we wholeheartedly support and encourage this dialogue, it's important that it be focused on the facts and realistic in its approach to solutions.  To that end, the BCS PTA has prepared the attached document which summarizes the current situation, as well as options that were discussed last spring. We have also flagged some of the solutions PPS is most likely to consider this coming spring, when they make their decision on how to address our overcrowding problem for 2014-2015.  

As you think about this issue, we would encourage you to consider the following:  

   This is one of many crises for PPS: The most important agenda item for PPS right now is the teacher contract negotiations.  Until that issue is settled, all other agenda items are tabled.  It appears that we will not hear from the Facilities Team at PPS until at least mid-January, with a final decision about the short-term solution (for 2014-2015 school year) expected in late Spring 2014.
   We have short- and long-term solutions on the table: A long-term solution (2015 and beyond) will be district-wide and likely centered on boundary changes, as well as adjustments to enrollment and transfer rules.  This is an extremely complicated issue, involving more than 80 schools, thousands of district employees, and more than fifty thousand students.  And yes, it's likely to mean even more changes to BCS.  The issue on the table today is our short-term problem of overcrowding at BCS for 2014-2015.  
   We're not the only ones with space problems: Every school in the Grant High School cluster is feeling squeezed and there is very little, if any, wiggle room in terms of moving students between existing schools.
   PPS wants to work with us: The PPS team has demonstrated a strong willingness to include us in the conversations about our school.  In fact, they listened to our comments and concerns when we had this same conversation last year and didn't move our students to Rose City Park.  Little did any of us know that we would see such explosive growth in one year making the situation even worse today than it was 12 months ago.  PPS remains committed to working with us to find a reasonable solution and fully understands the urgency of our situation.  
   Beverly Cleary continues to excel despite our overcrowding: In many ways, we are blessed with a wealth of high-achieving, super-motivated students, teachers and parents!  We have our problems, for sure, but it's important to remember that our school continues to succeed in spite of them. 

Please read the attached document carefully.  The goal of this document is not to promote or endorse any particular solution but to present information regarding a complicated situation and to offer discussion items.  The points made in this document should not be considered as an endorsement by individual board members. 
We encourage you to consider and discuss the information.  When PPS is ready to talk with us, we want to be sure we are all well-informed and focused on solutions.  We must keep in mind that there may be other concerns and possible options that we have yet to consider.  To find a solution, it's important that we maintain a respectful dialogue.  Yes, we may disagree about some things, but again, the ultimate decision is up to the District.  The only certainty is that our school will look different next year than it does today.  It simply has to -- we don't have any more room.  
Where our kids go to school is a fundamental part of our identity, both as a family and as a community.  It's hard not to become overwhelmed by the emotions associated with changing schools, teachers, friends and classmates.  We need to be mindful, however, that what does/doesn’t affect you may greatly affect another family, and may even affect other schools in the Grant cluster.  The bottom line is that we all want what is best for our children. The only certainty here is change and we must remain flexible and measured in our thinking -- both as individuals and as a school community.
Please feel free to contact us with questions or concerns.  When we have more information we will make sure that it is shared with our community. 

BCS Overcrowding Summary (11/23/2013)

Beverly Cleary School Overcrowding Summary

The Problem
The current Beverly Cleary School (BCS) campus buildings, Hollyrood and Fernwood, are extremely overcrowded.  We do not have enough space this year, and in the 2014-15 school year we expect a large Kindergarten class and a growing First Grade class that will each compound the problem.

Why has this happened?
·      BCS has excellent programs and results, which attract more families into our neighborhoods;
·      Targeted increased density within the BCS catchment (new apartment buildings, etc.) has also added more families and students;
·      When BCS was made into a K-8 (in 2006) and the boundaries expanded, we immediately started to see an increase in numbers;
·      The BCS capture rate has jumped dramatically (capture rate denotes the percentage of eligible age appropriate students within the BCS boundaries that actually attend BCS).  See chart below:

We have seen consistent growth (an average of 10.2% per year) for the past five years. 

% of


(*The PSU numbers in spring 2013 indicated that there would be 767 students at BCS for 2013-14, or a growth rate of 4.9%, rather than the actual numbers of 815 and an 11.5% growth.  Had we grown at the projected rate it would have still been tight but we could have made things work.)

What space limitations mean at Hollyrood
·      No lunchroom. This is a safety issue for children with serious allergies and a cleanliness issue for all classrooms;
·      The “Teacher’s Lounge” is used for storage, the Campfire office, the lunch service room and is the general workroom.  The teachers cannot use this space for lunch as it is always in use;
·      The library is used for library, music, computer lab, literacy breakout space, Campfire and teacher planning space;
·      If there was an additional space this year we could have added another K class thus lowering all the K class sizes.
·      There is no space for meetings with parents or other groups;
·      Campfire uses classrooms after school, which precludes teachers from being able to use their rooms for planning or to meet with parents.

What space limitations mean at Fernwood
·      There is not a single empty space.  Nothing else can be converted into a classroom;
·      There is no computer lab;
·      There are 38 kids in each of the Eighth- Grade classes;
·      The basement rooms are not accessible and cannot receive the mobile computer labs;
·      Campfire has no space of its own;
·      Loss of after-school programs due to lack of space.  There is no more Mad Science, after-school Spanish, martial arts, or dance club;
·      Lunches are difficult to schedule and to manage due to short time frame and lack of space.  Kids have between 18 and 21 minutes to eat.

Current and Projected Enrollment 
Our most current numbers for 2013-14 are:
Kindergarten -- 117
First Grade -- 108
Second Grade -- 85
Third Grade -- 104
Fourth Grade -- 90
Fifth Grade -- 79
Sixth Grade -- 76
Seventh Grade -- 80
Eighth Grade -- 76
      TOTAL - 815

Historically, when kindergarten moves to First Grade the numbers increase over the previous year by about 10%.  That means next year’s First Grade will likely consist of about 129 students.  Moreover, we expect to have 100-115 Kindergarteners for 2014-15. 

Even if other grades do not grow, this takes our school to 856.  But given our 10% average growth rate over the past four years, our enrollment will likely be closer to 890.  All crowded into a building designed to accommodate far fewer students.    

What do we do?
Given planning, timeframe, the complexity of a boundary change, the current enrollment and transfer rules, and the fact that we can’t expand our buildings, we need a short-term solution for 2014-15.  From our past space-enrollment crises, we are aware that many ideas and potential solutions circulate throughout our community.  The following section addresses many of them:

Would a boundary adjustment fix next year’s problem?
No.  The boundaries are not scheduled to be adjusted until the 2015-16 school year. 

When boundary adjustments happen will that solve our issues?
If boundaries were moved under the current rules, it would take years to relieve pressure by attrition. The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer (SACET) is drafting recommended guidelines for new rules for enrollment and transfer.  Their recommendations will be adjusted and finalized by the PPS Board and Superintendent Carole Smith.  Their job is to craft rules that are equitable for all children, neighborhoods and schools.  The goal is to make all schools successful so families will want to attend their neighborhood school thus keeping better balance across the entire district. 

Can we remove kids from BCS who live outside the boundary?
Current rules preclude this from happening.  But even if there was an immediate rule change that would mandate that only kids within a school’s boundary could go to that school, by law it would be applied district-wide and would essentially amount to a “wash” for BCS – or perhaps even an increase.

What about modular classrooms?
This came up last year and it was looked at it from many different angles.  In the end it was concluded that it was not viable last year for the following reasons:
·      There isn’t proper space;
·      The permitting process is lengthy and expensive; in fact, we were told by a Board member that it was prohibitively expensive and that PPS did not have the finances to do this;
·      All units must be fully plumbed;
·      If we could find space, the expense and time line would make it very difficult to have them operational by August 2014.

Could we convert gym space to classrooms?
This was also discussed last year.  The expense is huge and it could not accommodate the growth we are projecting.  Additionally, in 2017, the state laws for physical fitness curriculum are slated to change and we may need both gyms to accommodate the new laws. 

Could we use Fernwood and Rose City Park to create one larger school?
The distance between the two buildings would preclude campus assemblies, reading buddies, shared concerts and programs.  To bus kids from one to the other would be prohibitively expensive.  If RCP were opened in another form (other than the ACCESS program) it would most likely become a self-contained school again. 

Could the ACCESS program move to Hollyrood?
No.  Their program is too big and Hollyrood was designed for younger kids.  We know how crowded it feels today with our 225 students K and First grades.  ACCESS currently has 246 kids in First through Eighth Grade, and their community has expressed a desire to grow the program.  They have targeted their enrollment to increase by up to 75 additional students  for the 2014-15 school year.  PPS has assured their community that they will remain at RCP at least through the 2015-16 school year.

Is there space at Grant?
There is very limited space at Grant.  Moving kids to Grant would not alleviate pressure at Hollyrood.  We will not know what space is available there until the Grant programs are dictated for 2014-15.

What are some potential solutions?
The BCS community has been informally discussing possible options for several months.  In terms of a temporary, one-year solution, the most viable general direction seems to be to move some grades to the Rose City Park (RCP) building at 2334 NE 57th Ave.  RCP has some empty space and is open.  They currently house the ACCESS Academy with 246 students in grades 1-8.  When ACCESS was moved into that building, it was with the understanding that they would be sharing the space with another program.  While this is not ideal, it is the most likely way that BCS will be able to accommodate next year’s enrollment figures.  A more drastic move to RCP was presented last year but PPS opted to keep BCS in our current configuration.

It is important to note that fire codes currently require all K, 1 and 2 kids to be located on a ground floor with access to the outside.  There is not enough eligible (ground floor) space at RCP to host more than one K-2 grade.  Several years ago, PPS explored a waiver that would exclude Fernwood from those restrictions, but they either withdrew the request or the waiver was denied.

Specific Option 1: Move one of the K-2 grades and one of the 3-8 grades for one year to RCP.  
This keeps Hollyrood open and gives Hollyrood back three classrooms as they will most likely need five classrooms for any younger grade next year.  In addition, it would allow for a lunchroom and space for Campfire at Hollyrood, perhaps even a pre-K program.  Moving an older grade to RCP loosens up space at Fernwood and would continue a reading buddies connection if it were a compatible grade for that program.

Note - We could not move more than one grade from K-2, because there is not enough ground floor room for all of them at RCP.  If we moved one grade from the K-2 grades and one grade from the 3-8 grades, RCP could accommodate those numbers and grade combinations. 

Specific Option 2: Move Grades 6-8 to RCP
This would free up lots of space at Fernwood but not at Hollyrood.   We will need between 13 and 15 ground floor classrooms for K-2 next year or approximately five for each grade. There are only eight rooms at Hollyrood and seven at Fernwood that meet their requirements for fire/life safety.  This means that the First Graders would have to be split.  The lack of a cafeteria and the safety issues that come with it would still be a major issue. 

It is also concerning to PPS that this is a policy statement (moving away from a K-8 school to more of a middle school model).   It would strongly suggest that we are amenable to re-opening a middle school program for our kids.  Many of next year’s 6-8 kids started at Hollyrood when it was still an independent K-3 school and then had to adjust to a K-8 program.  The parents, teachers and administrators for these kids have been through program adjustments and worked very hard to make BCS the successful K-8 program that it is. Our growing numbers are a testament to that fact.  A K-8 program is much different than a K-5 and middle school program.  Additionally, all of next year’s 6-8 grade kids will also be displaced during the Grant High School rebuild.

Other PPS owned spaces* exist that are currently closed to students.  These are not in the BCS boundary but could house students with some updates.
·      Harriet Tubman Academy
·      Rice School
·      Humboldt
·      Edwards Elementary
(*None of these schools have been discussed with the district.  We do not know the condition of the buildings, nor do we have any idea of what the cost would be to get them up to current fire/life safety codes.) 

There is no perfect solution to this issue.  Some children and families will be affected by any change put into place.  Ultimately, the Beverly Cleary community does not get the final say in what happens but we can have measured and balanced discussions with PPS leadership and staff to ensure our opinions are considered.  As the PTA, we felt that we needed to inform our parents about the challenges and issues as we understand them and what is happening to date. 

It is unlikely that District staff will be prepared to discuss the issue in more detail until early 2014.  When they are available, we will convene a meeting with the facilities team and our community to discuss options.  Until then, we encourage you to join the online discussion on Facebook to stay abreast of any changes. (

This information is for you to consider and discuss.  It is hard to think about how it will affect you and/or others.  There are many moving parts and perhaps some that we have not been made aware of as yet.  We need to be mindful that what doesn’t affect you may greatly affect another family, and may even affect other schools in the Grant cluster.  We all want what is best for our children.  This can be an emotional subject but it needs to be approached with a measured response from us as individuals and mostly as a whole school. 

It does not behoove us to formulate a “solution” before meeting with the district as there may be more information and other potential solutions proposed at that time.  We suggest you discuss the “possible solutions” shown above and formulate others.  When we have more information we will make sure that it is shared with our community. 



Prepared by the BCS PTA to help inform, educate and encourage balanced discussions in our community about the overcrowding issues facing our school.  Questions about this document should be sent to

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 14, 2013

On Tuesday we had our PTA meeting and started talking about boundaries and over crowding.  A few things to consider.....
  • We will not fit into our current buildings next year.
  • We need to think about a one year solution.
  • The boundaries are slated to be redrawn for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Kindergarten, first and second grade levels must be located on a ground floor.  
  • Access Academy is newly relocated to the Rose City Park facility. 
James Robertson proposed a "Discussion Draft" (DD) that he developed.   All are welcome to discuss but we need to understand there may be moving parts that we are not privy to.  As in nature, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  I appreciate James' dedication to the cause and willingness to discuss options.  

Access Academy moved from Sabin to Rose City Park last year with the understanding that they would be there at least through the 2014-15 school year and they will have the ability to grow their program.  Access currently has 236 kids in their program.  We have 215 at Hollyrood.  The DD proposes moving Access to Hollyrood and I don't see how that program could fit.

I don't believe that next year's one year solution will affect any boundary decisions going forward.  A 3 campus solution sounds like a nightmare but it may be the only solution for a single year.  A boundary review in the scope that is being proposed has not been done for many years.  I actually don't know when or if it has been done to this scale.  

I believe that if BCS was split between RCP and BCS Fernwood on a permanent basis PPS would create 2 schools.  The distance between the buildings is too great to make a functional, single school.  Hollyrood and Fernwood are difficult enough to manage but we are within walking distance and can share programs (i.e. Reading Buddies, plays, concerts).  If we were to function as one school it would require bussing for any of those programs and it would be very expensive on an ongoing basis.  Perhaps they would/could do it for one year but long term the expense would preclude this option form being viable.  

I walked the RCP building last week and saw 5-6 empty class rooms so there is some room there.  Perhaps we could move 1st and 4th grade for one year.  This gives Hollyrood back 3 class rooms as they will most likely need 5 classrooms for kindergarten.  It allows for a lunchroom and space for Campfire.  Perhaps a pre-K program as well.  Moving the 4th grade to RCP loosens up space at Fernwood.  It means they could continue Reading Buddies and the like.  It keeps Hollyrood open and creates space at both existing buildings.  It also means that not all kids displaced  to RCP have to be on the ground floor.  

There is also some space at Grant HS.  I don't know how that could be used but I know it's there.  

Modular units were brought up in the past and we have been told they will not be considered.  There is not space, the permitting process is lengthy, they must be plumbed, and they are very expensive. 

SACET is working on proposing new rules for the Enrollment and Transfer process.  When the boundaries are redrawn the new rules will be in effect.  I don't know what the rules will be but I know that equity at at the forefront of their minds and is their goal.  Neighborhood schools are very important as well.  This is a difficult balance because some neighborhoods are more or less equitable than others. Trying to create equitable schools in all neighborhoods is a lofty goal but very important for all children in Portland.  

As boundaries are considered PPS is working with PSU on growth trends and projections.  They are also working with the city and metro to develop growth projections and new boundaries.  The new boundaries will consider equity and what is good for the whole of our city.  Individual property values will not be considered.  I know this is difficult to hear but this process is bigger than BCS and our issues.  It will be done to benefit all schools and children. 

The district is currently in negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers and until a contract is in place, it will be  their top priority.  I don't believe we will hear from the district on a solution for 2014-15 until the new year.

These comments are my opinions and observations.  I don't have access to any more or less information than anyone else.  I have been working in the system for nine years and have been through boundary adjustments, the threat of building closures (twice), was part of a program restructure to a K-8 and have spent many hours in meetings and talks with district facilities personnel.  I encourage open conversations and shared information.  I will continue to attend meetings and share what I learn with this group.  

The Oregonian's web site had this article today and it gives the current time line for the boundary review and discusses different aspects of the process.   It also links to other articles that have good information.  

I look forward to further discussions and ideas.

Heather Leek