Franklin High School: A Local Treasure Enters The Second Century

“Genius without education is like silver in the mine.” Benjamin Franklin

Last month, about 50 local residents and parents gathered in the nearly-60 year old Auditorium of Franklin High School. They mostly kept their coats on because, as students know, the room –though beautiful –is always cold.

Principal Shay James and Portland Public Schools invited the public to this Open House to see the landmark campus, operating since 1915, and to talk about plans for the future of the school. Now that funds are available through the PPS facilities bond that voters passed in November, hopes are high that things like antiquated heating will be fixed soon.

When the current facility opened to students in September of 1917, Franklin became Portland’s fourth public high school.

The original rendering of Franklin High School by F.A. Naramore, 1914. Naramore designed at least 20 public schools in Portland and Seattle in the 1920s and 30s.

The school building was designed by architect F.A. Naramore and is loaded with features common to the Colonial Revival style: brick and terra cotta, federal-inspired doorways and pediments, with a weathervaned clock tower capping the roofline. In 1914, and maybe today too, a building like this was thought to inspire the proper focus for learning and civic-engagement. Original cost of the structure: $156,105.

Girls of Franklin High School, 1920s.

The school has seen major expansions at various times in the last century. What was once the gymnasium is now the science wing. The current gym, auditorium and cafeteria were added in the 50s. The wood, metal and auto shops are from 1981.

Bill Bowerman coached football at Franklin in 1934, long before coaching track at Oregon and co-founding Nike in the 1970s. Future NBA player and broadcaster Steve “Snapper” Jones led the school to a state championship in 1959.

Students greet visitors to Franklin’s Parents Visiting Day in 1929. Principal S. F. Hall (at right) keeps things under control.


Today, after nearly a century, Franklin High School has problems similar to most area schools.

Over 800 of today’s 1500 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches. Test scores from 2012 lagged slightly behind the district and state averages in Reading, Writing and Math, but exceeded both in Science.

For 2011, Franklin graduated 71% of its students on time, beating the districtwide and statewide averages of 62% and 67%, respectively.

But in a series published last summer, the Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond reported on the dropout crisis in Portland Public Schools. Her analysis showed that when transferred students are factored in both PPS and Franklin failed to graduate fully one-third of the students who had started four years before.

Yet Franklin was also the recipient of the 2011 Student Success Champion Award, given to the best high school in the state at helping low-income, minority, special education and limited-English students catch up and excel.

An undated exterior photo from the south, showing “The Bowl.” PPS’s Great Fields program, which matches public dollars with local donations, is helping bring the athletic field back to its former glory.

When the School Board voted to close Marshall High School in 2011, some of Marshall’s future students moved into the Madison High School cluster, but most were moved to Franklin. Although the painful high school redesign process was supposed to remedy the grossly unequal course offerings across district schools, progress at bringing offerings at places like Madison and Franklin up to the standards of Lincoln or Grant has been disappointing.

I spoke to current senior Jackson Packham, who had a very positive view of his experience at Franklin. He said that despite the problems at Franklin and elsewhere, educational opportunities are still what you make of them, and he felt that the opportunities are there at Franklin. He’ll be going to Concordia next Fall and has classmates going to Stanford and MIT.

Many people remember when vocational training was strictly segregated: every boy took wood shop and every girl took cooking, as these Franklin girls are doing in this undated photo. Awareness of gender stereotyping resulted in the closure of most home economics programs during the 1970s and 80s. But Franklin’s Food Program –now, of course, open to both boys and girls –is gaining in popularity as restaurants have become a major employment sector in Portland.


After voters defeated PPS’s massive $542 million facilities bond measure in 2011, the district came back with a more modest $482 million measure last Fall, which voters approved. These funds will pay for seismic and disabled-access improvements at many local schools (see below), and full modernization at Franklin.

What that exactly looks like is yet to be determined, but Principal James has a few ideas. Better heat, a bigger career center and help for the space where medically-fragile students are cared for are all on the list. Students in one of Portland’s few remaining dance programs hope for a new floor that won’t make their feet hurt. The science labs want real electrical lines instead of extension cords strung from the ceiling.

[mantra-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Other Local PPS Bond Improvements:
Arleta K-8: Roof repairs, seismic upgrades, accessibility improvements, science room upgrades.
Atkinson K-5: Science room upgrades.
Creative Science K-8: Accessibility improvements, science room upgrades.
Creston K-8: Roof repairs, seismic upgrades, accessibility improvements.
Harrison Park K-8: Accessibility improvements, science room upgrades.
Lane Middle School: Seismic upgrades, accessibility improvements, science room upgrades.
Lent K-8: Accessibility improvements, science room upgrades.
Lewis K-5: Roof repairs.[/mantra-pullquote]

Shay James also wants to prioritize funding to ensure wheelchair access to the cafeteria. These students currently must go outside and though a parking lot, rain or shine, to get to lunch.

Student Jackson Packham agrees that the building needs help. He won’t see the improvements before he moves on but hopes that the improvements will emphasize safety, accessibility and functionality.

At the Open House, PPS facilities staffers Cameron Vaughan-Tyler and Dan Young promised a robust public process surrounding the improvements to Franklin. They said the most likely scenario is that planning will take place during the next 2 years and that Franklin students will be relocated to the now-vacant Marshall campus for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. Interested parents, students and residents can be added to the project mailing list by emailing Cameron.

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A few notable Franklin alums:
•Three-time ABA All-Star and longtime NBA broadcaster Steve “Snapper” Jones. Snapper brought home a State Championship for the Quakers in 1959.

Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse.

•Proto-rock-and-roll singer Johnnie Ray. Ray had a string of hit records in the 1950s, including this great one from 1951:

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Foster United is grateful to Cameron Vaughan-Tyler of Portland Public Schools and Scott Daniels of The Oregon Historical Society for their help with this article. The old FHS photos are courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society, with the exception of the architects’ rendering, which is courtesy of Portland Public Schools.

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