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Benson freshman class to grow more than 30 percent by 2017

District has a plan to add more spots at the technical school

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Benson Polytechnic High School is located across Interstate-84 from Lloyd Center mall.

Benson Polytechnic High School will see more students in the coming years as the district plans to continue adding students to the lottery-based career and technical education (CTE) program.

Building on efforts from 2014, the district will add 25 spots to next year’s freshman class and an additional 65 to the 2017-18 class. This would ultimately boost the incoming class size to 365 students from 275 this year, a 32 percent increase.

Portland Public Schools board member Paul Anthony, who pushed for an expansion plan to be presented to the board by the end of 2015, said he was satisfied with the report presented Jan. 12.

While popular and successful, the Benson career-technical program was capped at 850 students in order to staunch the bleeding of students from community high schools, particularly a number that were underperforming and under-enrolled.

“What the district decided — something with which I very strongly disagree — is that the way to address that is to limit the opportunities at Benson,” Anthony said. “Historically what was going on there was an attempt to pacify Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Madison (high schools). They felt that they were losing all their good kids to Benson.”

Anthony added, however, that now that the district is adding students — particularly in North and Northeast Portland, where those schools are located — this has become less of an issue. An ongoing enrollment balancing and boundary change effort is underway to address this shift in demographics.

Fewer students from western and southeastern Portland

According to the report, the district continues to struggle to balance the enrollment at Benson to be more representative of the entire city. In 2014, most of its students — 68 percent — came from Roosevelt, Madison and Jefferson high schools. Those schools are all in North and Northeast Portland.

After applying a different weight to the lottery process last year, the district was able to award more spots to the other high school clusters. However, students from Southwest, Northwest and Southeast clusters tended to turn down their acceptance to Benson while North and Northeast Portland kids seized the opportunity to leave their neighborhood high school.

After offering spots to those on the waiting lists, 53 percent of Benson freshmen now come from those three northern schools, compared to the 49 percent who were initially accepted.

The district is also planning a marketing plan to middle school families in underrepresented areas. Wilson and Lincoln high schools in the west had fewer than 10 applicants each.

In order to make room for the new strand of Benson students, one or more of the district’s alternative programs will move from the building.

The Portland International Scholars Academy, for bilingual students, is already planning to move from Benson for 2017-18. Alliance High School and a slate of other alternative programs might be moved as part of the master planning process in anticipation of a 2016 School Improvement Bond to redesign Benson, Lincoln and Madison high schools.

The master planning process currently underway for Benson Polytechnic High School anticipates a student body of 1,700 students.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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