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Smith rethinks high school schedule -- again

There's another twist in the high school schedule scramble this week.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith issued a press release Friday afternoon, reversing her decision from days earlier.

She announced that "PPS is lifting the current limitation on the number of classes that high school students can take."

On Thursday, May 9, the Tribune published a story about a coalition of leaders who were upset about high school students not being allowed to take eight classes next year.

The parents had sent a lettter to Smith asking her to reverse her position. Numerous parents, students and others also testified at Monday night's board meeting about the need for more instruction time in the day.

Smith says now: "As a result of the 58 additional teaching positions reallocated to high schools for next year, PPS high schools will make 8 credit-bearing classes available to high school students in the 2013-14 school year."

The memo continues: "For the 2012-13 school year, only special education and academic priority students were permitted to take 8 classes, following an arbitration ruling."

The high school schedule is mired in district-union politics, which is why it's been so controversial.

Smith made assurances the district was acting responsibly: "We all recognize that it is important for teachers to have a manageable student load, for the benefit of both students and teachers," she wrote. "We will continue to observe the current student load limitations for our high school teachers."

Portland Association of Teachers Gwen Sullivan says she got the news via a phone message from Smith on Friday afternoon, about two minutes before the press release was sent to the public.

"This is another example of a unilateral decision without including all the stakeholders," Sullivan told the Tribune.

She said she empathizes with parents and approves of the district looking to reallocate money to go directly to the classroom. But she's worried the district could be staffing the high schools at the expense of the lower grades.

"Of course we support kids having full days, we always have," Sullivan says. "But it's targeting one area, and I'm hearing about schools that are cutting positions. There still is room to do more staffing at the elementary, K-8 and middle school level. That's what they haven't told us. We've heard about high schools but haven't been told by the district what the cuts are on the ground in the other schools."

Smith said in her announcement: “We want to do everything we can to expand class options and learning opportunities for students, so students are well-prepared for their futures. We all recognize that it is important for teachers to have a manageable student load, for the benefit of both students and teachers. This step allows us to honor both priorities.”

High school students and families will receive information soon about how students can update their class schedules to include additional classes, if desired.

As in the past, high schools cannot guarantee that students will be able to take their first choice for all eight classes.