Facing Reality and Moving Forward Together

Neighborhood Partnerships has had the opportunity to work over the past year with many talented and capable advocates who are advancing policy initiatives that promise a better future for Oregon communities.

Part of our work and thinking has focused on the question of talking about equity, about the disparities that exist between population groups and communities, and about race and institutional racism. As we all know, conversations about equity and race are challenging conversations everywhere, perhaps particularly challenging for those of us who live here in the northwest. But, change and progress depend on these challenging conversations helping all of us develop a more complete understanding of reality.

As a City of Portland resident, I find the current controversies about high school re-design illustrative of the ways we all lose when we allow inequity to pervade our systems. For years, the Portland Public Schools lauded themselves as one of the more successful urban school districts, and took pride in their ability to keep middle class kids in the public schools. But the ugly side of that is that the systems offered unequal access to opportunity and provided drastically different educations to kids based on their home address and the ability of parents to negotiate the maze of transfer policies and magnet schools.

While many kids received exceptional educations in Portland Public Schools, far too many kids dropped out, received substandard support or opportunity, and lost their interest and engagement in learning. We have failed those kids, and we have failed our communities.

The real tragedy in this story is of course the kids. We know that kids who don’t  graduate from high school have drastically lowered expectations for success.

The second tragedy, though, is that as a community we’ve allowed ourselves to pretend that things have been better than they are. By not acknowledging our inability to adequately serve all kids, and by spreading the financial cuts to schools in ways that protected opportunities like Advanced Placement classes for some schools while offering none in others, we’ve been ignoring the full impacts of state and local funding shortfalls. We’ve lost years of opportunity to work harder for adequate resources and for the structural and programmatic changes that would help all kids succeed, and help us build a stronger future for our neighborhoods, our cities, and our states.

It’s time we all got better at listening to one another, facing reality, and finding solutions together. I’m grateful for the many talented colleagues who are willing to engage with me in this conversation and this work. I look forward to collectively building a better future.