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Portland superintendent criticizes unhappy parents

  • Associated Press
  • May 8, 2014 - 10:45 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Superintendent Carole Smith has criticized a group of parents for their complaints about an African-American principal and recommended diversity training for them.

Smith is backing Metropolitan Learning Center Principal Macarre Traynham in the conflict with parents at the Portland alternative school, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/Run9u8) reported Wednesday.

They have filed complaints and spoken against her at school board meetings, criticizing her leadership style. Some say she doesn't understand the unique culture of a non-traditional K-12 school.

A district investigation this year concluded Traynham follows district policies.

Smith sent parents a letter May 1 saying the conflict was about more than policy. "It is about the experience of your school community with a strong leader who is also a person of color," she wrote.

The school's website describes a school for kindergarteners through high schoolers where students are encouraged to set their own directions. Students in elementary grades spend "some afternoon time exploring areas of special interest in a wide-range of student choice elective classes," and high school students build their own schedules.

Smith's letter infuriated parents such as Bruce Scherer, who has criticized the principal's attempts to reduce electives at the school and said she has been dishonest with parents.

District officials are raising the issue of race to paper over the actual sources of conflict, Scherer said.

"If someone is being inconvenient for them, they can put a 'racist' label on that person and they don't have to look into something," he said.

The district's 47-page investigative report in response to parents' concerns offered a different interpretation.

"Parents seem to be used to a school where they make or contribute extensively to all decisions, administrative or otherwise and are now upset because Traynham is taking a strong leadership role in the decision-making process," said Christina S. Tubb, an outside investigator hired by the district.

Tubb said her investigation revealed concerns of a "larger racial problem within MLC."

Dana Brenner-Kelley, a parent at the school, called the investigation a "sham."

The investigator failed to follow up with crucial witnesses, she said. She also characterized the report as "retaliatory" because it listed parents by name.

© 2014 Star Tribune