Posted on April 19, 2023

Students Walk Out Over Alleged Treatment of Black Teachers at North Portland Middle School

Courtney Vaughn, Portland Mercury, April 14, 2023

Hundreds of students at Ockley Green Middle School in North Portland walked out of class Friday, April 14 to protest their school placing two Black staffers on leave. {snip}

Ockley Green students held signs, circling the building, chanting, “Black teachers matter!” before eventually making their way off school grounds.

Students say Damon Keller, a dance teacher at the school, and Phyllis Harris, a librarian, were both recently placed on administrative leave from their jobs. {snip}

“Recently, they’ve been firing mostly all of our Black faculty members at Ockley Green and around PPS, too,” a student at Ockley Green said Friday. Portland Public Schools staff cited a “personnel matter” and declined to say why the staffers were put on leave.

Parents say they were told Keller used up an excessive amount of sick time, despite clearing the schedule with administrators, but district staff could not confirm.

Earlier this year, Chris Riser, another Black teacher at Ockley Green, left the school mid-year, to take a job at an emerging charter school geared toward students of color. {snip}


Riser left around the same time the school hired Spencer Crum as the new assistant principal last fall.


In 2018, while recounting his experiences growing up as a white kid in “pre-gentrified” North Portland on a podcast, Crum said having exclusively African American friends made it difficult for him to feel like he belonged around white people. Through his youth and up until his early 20s, he said culturally, he identified as Black.

“I’ve always felt more comfortable around people of color than white people,” Crum said on the “Socks & Sandals” podcast. “Going into the University of Oregon, I registered as Black, non-Hispanic.”

He also marked his race as Black when taking the SATs.

That was a red flag for some Ockley Green staffers.


Despite Crum spending the bulk of his life in Black-dominated spaces, some say it hasn’t helped create a more welcoming space at Ockley. Riser noted at least one teacher at the school plans to ask for a reassignment next year.

“At the same time the district is talking about retention, they’re actively hemorrhaging educators of color,” Riser said.

Ockley Green parents say the school has demonstrated a pattern of racist treatment of its teachers in one of the city’s most diverse middle schools.

“Ockley is one of only a handful of minority-majority schools in the state and the building is literally falling apart,” Shannon Shambaugh, an Ockley Green parent, wrote in a letter, noting “huge class sizes and unfilled teaching positions.”

“Students cannot learn in this environment,” Shambaugh wrote. “The principal does not seem to have experience with culturally responsive instruction or an understanding of how white supremacy culture operates and how it has caused great harm in North Portland. PPS has invested in at least 15 YEARS of racial equity training for district staff and THIS is the best they can do??!!”