The superintendent of Portland Public Schools says the district is working to address a dramatic drop in enrollment at Deering High School and will look at whether changes need to be made to the high school choice process.

“As you may be aware, the Portland Press Herald recently published a story about the shift in high school enrollment away from Deering High School to Portland High School,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a letter to the community released Monday. “High school enrollment numbers fluctuate annually because we allow our students to choose which high school they want to attend, but the number of ninth-graders choosing Deering this fall is markedly lower than usual.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana said a general lack of communication around several incidents at Deering High School has contributed to feelings the school is not safe.

The article published Saturday highlighted an enrollment shift between Portland High, which in recent years has typically enrolled a freshman class of about 190 students, and Deering, which has typically enrolled about 220 freshmen.

This year, Deering’s projected freshman enrollment is 127 students and Portland’s is 272.

In his letter Monday, Botana said the district is taking the enrollment shift seriously and he will work with the school board to lead a discussion on the high school selection process.

Last week, Botana said the shift was partly because of “a number of high-profile incidents,” including a rumor of a school violence threat and a handful of fights last November. He said concerns about the school climate likely led more students to enroll at Portland High.

And a former teacher who left Deering High in January cited problems with student discipline.

“There’s a weird lack of discipline inside the building,” said Tim Eisenhart, who has returned to a career in engineering after teaching math at Deering for more than six years. “(The administration) is too soft and what ends up happening is kids do whatever they want.”

In addition, the district recently completed a facilities and enrollment study that proposes a change in use for Deering in future years. In the article Saturday, Botana said the results of the study are another reason students, particularly those who want to stay in one building for all four years of high school, might have not chosen Deering.

Even so, many Deering parents are happy with the school and have no concerns about the environment.

“They’re both great schools,” said Jennifer Wriggins, who has children at both high schools and is communications coordinator for the Deering PTO. “Both are wonderful communities that have really devoted teachers and strong principals. They are both wonderful institutions that lots of different kids benefit from.”

Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez said in an email Monday he has heard feedback from multiple people, including parents and students, in response to the article.

“I look forward to continuing those conversations and including the greater community in dialogue as we work to find options to avoid another significant shift in high school enrollment,” he said.

Botana did not respond to email or phone messages left Monday.

“As part of that conversation, we will strive to understand and account for the reasons why students select schools and consider options to prevent another single-year swing of this magnitude,” Botana wrote in the letter.

He also touted the diversity of the student body at Deering, efforts to expand Advanced Placement classes and student success in the arts and athletics.

“This reality does not come through in the Press Herald article,” Botana said.

Deering High School Principal Gregg Palmer also posted a similar letter Monday on the school’s website, saying this year’s low enrollment was in part fed by the November incidents.

“We are laser focused on this year and making sure we have positioned Deering for a strong 2019-2020 and beyond,” Palmer wrote. “Let us all join together as a community to support our school and the incredible students who attend every day. In fact, this has already started, with messages of support and Deering pride being sent from alumni, students, parents, and staff since the publication of this article.”

 

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