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Charter school for BIPOC students set to open in Portland with aim to 'decenter whiteness'

"HOLLA School will intentionally decenter whiteness in the curriculum, policies and culture of the school," an informative flyer about the school notes.

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Portland, Oregon, is opening a school specifically and especially for children who do not identify as white. The Holla Public Charter School will open in the fall of 2022, in the Reynolds School District. Charter schools in Oregon are funded by Oregonian tax dollars and "do not discriminate in either admissions or programs." Holla appears to be the only charter school in the district with a race-based admissions mission.

As for the teachers, the school intends to "prioritize hiring staff reflective of our student demographics while simultaneously creating an environment and community reflective of their lived experiences and culture."

The mission of the school is "To change the academic narrative of Black, Brown and Indigenous youth by honoring lived experiences, catalyzing genius and centering joy; To explore student identities, nurture their curiosity, ignite their criticality and orient them in the world; To systematize the use of a comprehensive anti-racist, culturally and historically responsive instructional framework that centers literacy and relationships through mentoring, entrepreneurship and acknowledging the contributions of our community."

The school, which emerged from the HOLLA not-for-profit, run by executive director Eric Knox, will be "specifically for BIPOC students," reports local news. The school is "an effort to make a space specifically for BIPOC students where they feel seen, heard and their experiences are reflected in curriculum."

Knox said that hip-hop will be on the curriculum. "Hip-hop is what our kids understand," he said of the school's prospective students. "HOLLA School will intentionally decenter whiteness in the curriculum, policies and culture of the school," an informative flyer about the school notes. The school will start with K-2, adding grades 3-5 over the next few years.

Knox founded HOLLA in 2013 with the intention of eventually founding a school, though it's mission has been to partner students with mentors. Of the need for the school, Knox said: "It's very hard to learn when you don't see yourself in the curriculum. You don't see yourself in educational model."

"We felt like if we were on a campus with our kids, doing life with them the way we do life with them through mentorship, we could get the academic outcomes," Knox said.

"We know Black and Brown and Indigenous kids will learn equally as well if they have a space that they see themselves in their history, their culture, and all of that is honored."

"In 2022," reads the HOLLA Mentors site, "Holla will launch a culturally responsive public charter school in East Portland centering youth of color. The school will begin with k-2 adding one grade each year until it serves pre-k-5th grade and will focus on entrepreneurship, steam education, and culturally responsive curriculum."

"HOLLA is partnering with the Reynolds School District in building an educational space where Black, Brown and Indigenous people are able to come together and build a unique school community," read a November press release. "HOLLA School will work symbiotically with the Reynolds School District to advance and actualize our shared vision and values for our local community including goals we share with the district related to anti-racism and student achievement."

Knox said at that time that "The HOLLA School is a major way we will unapologetically advocate and celebrate our Black and Brown babies. It is a school that will allow youth to step into greatness.

"We all know the effects of gentrification, the pandemic, the glaring racial injustice and the worsening inequities that have exacerbated achievement and opportunity gaps, and our Black kids in our district and community have been hit the hardest. HOLLA is an utterance - a call and response cultural tradition that invokes invitation and participation. If HOLLA is the call, then the HOLLA School is the response," he stated.

The Reynolds School District is comprised of 16 school serving more than 10,800 students in the Greater Portland Area cities of Fairview, Troutdale, Wood Village, North Gresham, and East Portland. English, Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese are the primary languages spoken in the school district. 11 elementary schools feed into three middle and high schools.

On charter schools, the school district says that they are "widely diverse in philosophy, mission, and style of instruction. Every charter school reflects the vision of its founders: the arts, technology, basic skills or exploratory learning, for example."

Per federal law, "Educational 'programs and facilities' that receive any form of federal financial assistance from the federal government are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of a protected characteristic with regard to any of the services or benefits they offer. Programs and facilities to which the federal civil rights laws are applicable include secondary schools, colleges, universities, vocational schools, libraries, museums, and activities that receive funds from the Department of Education. Protected characteristics under federal education law include race, gender, age, national origin, and disability."

Holla Charter School does not as yet have admissions criteria listed, or its own website, despite being slated to open in less than seven months.

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