Friday, February 21, 2014

A Letter to the Community from Teri about 2014-15

Dear Families,

The past several months have been a time of great challenge for our community, our school and our families.  Change has truly been the only constant, and through it all, we have collaborated respectfully and productively with the school district staff and each other to address the specific needs of our school.  I am proud of the way we have addressed the needs of our entire community rather than allowing ourselves to be individually focused and thus divided. Our united front is respected and admired by many across the district.  I am writing today because now that we know how we will be structured next year, it will take even more patience, time, focus and faith in each other to ensure the successful and historic transition to a three-campus school. 

Many of you have raised questions and concerns about this transition.  I can sense the angst that the impending changes have caused for both our families as well as our staff.  Thank you for your patience, as well as your thoughtful comments.  Now that we are past snow days and a potential work stoppage, It’s important that you understand how the decision to move 1st and 3rd grades was derived, what decisions will be made when and how, and how you can ensure your voice is heard. 

BCS at Rose City Park
Moving children from their current buildings to a new facility is, by its nature, disruptive and uncertain for students, families and staff.  The catalyst for this entire process is the need to free up classroom space – especially for K-2 students, who are limited by city regulations to ground-level floors – at both Hollyrood and Fernwood.  As you have heard me say many times before, we are blessed to be one of the most popular schools in the district and continue to grow at nearly 10 percent each year. It is impossible for us to accommodate new students next year within our existing K-2 classrooms; therefore, we must move one of those grades to a third campus.  Judy Brennan’s comment in the community meeting about “K-1 being the least likely” to move was in reference to those grades both being moved from BCH, not that they would be spared a move at all.  One of those grade levels had to move. 

Although we originally looked at all grades as prospective "movers" it became apparent that the middle school grades were not a realistic option because:
  • ·      Moving these grades would not relieve pressure on “ground level” classrooms;
  • ·      Moving these grades would eliminate daily interaction for students in our Life Skills Classroom (which is part of our middle school) as RCP is not ADA accessible;  
  • ·      Many parents from all grade levels asked us to consider the fact that 5th-8th grade students will have several moves as a result of the Grant remodel. 

Given these constraints, we had limited options. 

It’s all about the math. For the 2014-15 school year we anticipate needing 15 classrooms for our K-2 grades (5 per grade).  Hollyrood has 7 available classrooms that meet code (plus a lunchroom), Fernwood has 8, and Rose City Park has 7. Because of the lack appropriate rooms at these facilities and the large grade sizes we expect across the board, we couldn’t house more than a single grade from K-2 at any one building.  In addition, I made the decision not to split 1st grade because it would negatively impact the success we have generated with existing shared programs. Finally, when we looked at moving 1st grade to Fernwood, the staff was concerned that the children would be uncomfortable if 2nd and 3rd grade were moved and the next class age in the building was 4th grade.

The Decision-Making Process
Immediately after PPS announced its decision to expand BCS, I met with teachers and staff to begin framing our decision-making process concerning which grades to move.  At the same time, I was approached by three parents who, in response to Judy Brennan’s stated commitment to involve parents in this discussion, asked to be included.  Together with a representative group of teachers, I met with these parents – as well as a few others I approached with children in multiple grades to ensure we had representation from each one – to discuss the grade question.  The parent representatives were there mostly to make sure we did not missing something that may seem obvious and important to a parent.  Their timely feedback was extremely helpful to me as I considered my decision. They agreed that the priorities addressed and the direction that the teachers and administration were moving was the right one.

The most important factor in the decision is to ensure the plan for 2014-15 is comprehensive and does not impede learning or a positive school experience for all of our BCS kids.  Therefore, the concerns and input of the teachers weighed most heavily in conversations about our plans. Through many conversations and shuffling of numbers, the first and third grades became the best choice for our whole community.

Yesterday, Lisa, Melissa and I met with our Regional Administrator, Karl Logan and David Wood, administrator at ACCESS. As you might imagine, there are literally hundreds of decisions that must be made in extremely short order. It’s important to understand that this is a fast-moving process and given the amount of coordination involved, many decisions will need to be made quickly.  Although this is new territory for PPS, our community and me personally, I believe my 30+ years of experience has prepared me well for this challenge.  While community input has been extremely important, the pace of these decisions precludes me from having the same level of parental involvement that we have enjoyed on other major issues. That said, I want to give you a quick update about where we are on some of the key decisions:

·      Transportation: one of our first priorities in working with the District is to craft a bus plan.  This is closely tied to start/dismissal times.  Many of you have asked us to consider staggered start/dismissal times in order to make it easier for families who will have students on two or more of our campuses and we have conveyed that to the District.  The multi-campus scenario has the transportation team in overdrive working on a viable solution that works for our families.  Some of our youngest students will be riding the buses and their safety and security come first. In addition, we want to honor the strong community bonds that are reinforced during drop-off and pick-up times. We are mindful that the transportation piece must fit that core value.  Teri Brady, the Director of Student Transportation, is working with us to come up with some routing options. 

·      Open House at RCP: In response to several of your requests, we look forward to hosting an open house at RCP for all BCS parents. From what we have seen, it is a great facility and our community is lucky to have that space available.  The gym, the cafeteria and the vast outdoor spaces will be a welcome addition for our students, especially our 1st graders who have been without these amenities.  We are working with the ACCESS team to find an open-house time that works for both of our communities.

·      Budget and staffing: Many conversations will be needed with ACCESS leadership and the District to determine what programs can be complementary to one another, which can run in tandem, and which can be combined.  When it comes to staff and administrative positions, support staff, “specials” (i.e. music, library, art, reading specialists, etc.), the situation gets very convoluted.  We are working diligently to utilize our resources and create feasible solutions that best suit our students and teachers. Conversations with PPS have centered around providing some additional staff to give our kids, teachers and administration at all locations proper support and resources.  I am confident the District will make every effort to ensure the success of our programs. 

Next steps
Decisions going forward are very complex.  They will involve another program and will need to be made quickly.  We are making history. PPS has never run a school with three campuses so we are mapping new pathways.  It is important to keep the decision making group small and on task.  I will be meeting with administration and PPS for most decisions.  When needed, I will get input from our teachers and staff.  If there are other questions or logistics I may meet with the existing parent group again if need be. 

·      Parent input: I look forward to the March 11, 2014, PTA meeting as an opportunity to next share updates with the community.  In the meantime, if you have specific questions or concerns, you can email me or write them down and put them in the white box in the main hall BCF or the pink box in the office at BCH. I will address these issues communally, not individually, as that would make it very difficult to manage my day-to-day responsibilities.  I have also asked Heather Leek, BCS PTA President, and Kieren Porter, BCS Foundation Chair, to serve as additional points of contact for the parent community.  They will ensure your comments and concerns are shared with me and the decision-making team in a timely manner. 

·      Boundary discussions: It is our fervent hope that this three-campus model is indeed a one-year solution.  The District Wide Boundary Review (DWBR) involves the City, Metro, the Mayor's Office, the City's Planning Office, PSU and PPS. If you are concerned that this will be a longer "solution" and that the boundary issue will be postponed, I encourage you to write to Judy Brennan’s team in the Enrollment and Transfer Office at and urge them to keep moving forward in their boundary review and implementation.  They continue to tell us that they are on track with the set time line for implementation in the fall of 2015. 

I know these are frustrating and uncertain times. I trust this letter has addressed many of your concerns and questions, although there will undoubtedly be more. As a former student of this school and a lifelong resident of this neighborhood, I am deeply committed to making this transition a success and will lead this community through the District process of finding a permanent solution to our overcrowding.  I have been an administrator for many years and have seen major changes in programs, teaching methods and school structure, but I have never seen a school grow at the pace at which BCS has grown.   Our school went from approximately 450 to 830 students in 6 years. That is unprecedented and has pressed us to these extreme measures. In spite of this, I am nothing short of confident that BCS will continue to be a school envied by many.

With gratitude for your support, patience and trust -

Teri Geist

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