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De La Salle’s New Home

Diverse high school plans move to St. Charles Parish

St. Charles Parish Priest Father Elwin Schwab is thumbs up on plans to move De La Salle North Catholic High School to the parish’s former elementary school (above) at Northeast 42nd and Emerson, remodeling and expanding the classrooms to provide a quality private high school in the diverse Cully neighborhood. The move will not impact St. Charles’ current operations, including parish offices and the St. Vincent de Paul food bank. PHOTO BY DANNY PETERSON

The culturally diverse De La Salle North Catholic High School has signed an historic agreement paving the way for its move from the Kenton Neighborhood of north Portland to the St. Charles Parish, a diverse congregation in the Cully Neighborhood of northeast Portland. It means co-locating the high school to the former St. Charles Elementary parish school at Northeast 42nd Avenue and Emerson Street. Future work will be needed to remodel and expand the school’s footprint to accommodate the high school’s curriculum and related activities.

The faith-based prep school was forced to look for a new location when Portland Public Schools decided not to renew a lease for the building it currently uses, the former Kenton Elementary school on North Fenwick Avenue, which expires in June 2021.

De La Salle is focused on providing a high quality high school education to low-income residents and students of color. It enjoys a lower-than-average tuition when compared to other private Catholic high schools in Portland, in part thanks to a unique work-study program.

The St. Charles property includes a former parish grade school that was active from 1950 until 1986. Though its 16 classrooms were used for various community activities since then, that usage has slowed in recent years, St. Charles Parish Priest Father Elwin Schwab told the Portland Observer.

“Suddenly we got a building that doesn’t have enough use. So this is going to work really good,” Schwab said.

Moving the school into the Cully Neighborhood, one of the most diverse and economically-challenged neighborhoods in Portland is also expected to better position the school to serve families in need.

“Getting more people who don't have opportunities into the system… well hey, that all works together,” Schwab said.

St. Charles Church will maintain its current operations, including parish offices for staff members and the St. Vincent de Paul food bank.

The specific terms of the lease are still being worked out by the school and the parish, but they’ve already signed a letter of Intent to a 50-year lease with two 25-year extensions. The school’s move eastward coincides with a similar migration of low income and minority students in Portland in recent years due to gentrification, the state of the housing market, and other factors.

St. Charles Parish serves the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Cully, which is the largest neighborhood geographically of northeast Portland. Sixteen percent of its residents are black, and 21 percent are Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 census. Comparatively, over 80 percent of De La Salle’s student body is comprised of people of color—including 33 percent African American and 38 percent Hispanic.

The selection of St. Charles for De La Salle comes after a search of 40 locations by the school’s board of trustees, a months-long process following Portland Public School’s announcement last May that they would not renew the Kenton lease.

De La Salle President Oscar Leong said he was pointed in the direction of St. Charles by Board Chair Patti O’Mara after taking up his position in July, having relocated here from California.

Leong told the Portland Observer that the opportunity for matching up a diverse St. Charles community with De La Salle North High School became apparent on a day he visited St. Charles for a church service.

“As I sat there, in celebration, and I watched the Mass happen, I looked around,” he said. ”The folks that were present were a collection of diverse backgrounds, racial backgrounds. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for both of us to come together and to bring energy to each other."

Photo by Danny Peterson St. Charles Parish Priest Elwin Schwab is negotiating terms of an agreement to allow De La Salle North Catholic High School to relocate permanently to the former site of St. Charles Elementary at Northeast 42nd and Emerson in the Cully Neighborhood. The grade school was opened in 1950 and closed in 1986. Schwab has deep roots in the neighborhood. His family originally came to the area in the 1940s.

The St. Charles parish campus will have space to accommodate more than 350 students by the time it officially opens as a high school in 2021, a press release from De La Salle North said.

Though nothing has been made certain, Schwab said renovations of the former classrooms, as well as possible structural additions, and changes to the parking lot, may be constructed in the years leading up to the opening.

Leong added that such renovations will need to adequately host high school programs, such as converting classrooms previously used for teaching grammar school, for example, into science classrooms. The school is poised to launch a fundraising campaign to raise donations for the renovations and additions.

De La Salle North Catholic High School has been offering a private school experience to students and families who could not afford to attend the cost of one, since 2001. It uses a work-study component to offset the cost of tuition, making it a fraction of the cost of most other Portland private schools.

De La Salle North students go to school four days a week and work one day a week, which finances 50 percent of their education. In addition, many of the students—all of whom come from families earning 75 percent of the median area income or lower--receive financial aid and full-ride scholarships.

De La Salle at St. Charles will return a high school to near the corner of Northeast 42nd and Killingsworth for the first time since 1981, when John Adams High School was closed by Portland Public Schools due to low enrollment after being opened in 1969.

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