Uniforms remain popular at Springfield school


Twelve years ago, President Bill Clinton fostered a move toward school uniforms when he praised them in his State of the Union address.

Several districts already required them and others joined in, hoping to lessen violence and bullying, improve attendance and boost academic performance.

Springfield's Mount Vernon Elementary was one, just the second public school in Oregon at the time to adopt such a policy.

Ten years on, Principal Jim Keegan says uniforms are not a cure-all and appear to make little difference in most aspects of school success. "There's no evidence I can find that says it increases student achievement," he said. "However, what people believe is powerful."

But he along with most of the school's staff and parents say uniforms have had a positive influence, helping transform the school to one where children show respect and routinely exceed district averages on attendance and state test scores.

"I really didn't know how I felt about it when I came," said fifth-grade teacher Deanna Jacobson, in her sixth year at Mount Vernon. "But this is what children need."

The school's 544 pupils must wear plain, collared shirts, blouses, turtlenecks, sweaters or unhooded sweat shirts in white, navy or hunter green; navy pants, capris, walking shorts, skirts or jumpers; or plaid skirts or jumpers.

"There's no more Abercrombie vs. Goodwill," Keegan said. "That's off the table."

"We have a very widespread range of families, with the very, very poor and the above middle-income," said fourth-grade teacher Pat Gagnon, who always favored the switch to uniforms. "At the old Mount Vernon, it was very clear who was who."

Some parents and staff opposed uniforms and the school lost a few of both. But a most accepted it.

A survey last year found that 83 percent of primary-grade teachers and 86 percent of intermediate-grade teachers believe uniforms help the school's behavior program, and roughly similar percentages said they want to continue the program.

As for parents, 79 percent to 92 percent, depending on their children's grade level, favor the uniforms.

The school tries to ensure that no parent will struggle to acquire uniforms. Through a clothing exchange families can bring in outgrown uniforms to trade for new. The school also sells new clothes it buys at department store sales or online.

At many retail outlets parents can find an outfit for no more than $20, Keegan said. The school, with donations from local businesses and organizations, gives vouchers or clothes to families that can't afford to buy their own.

If kids arrive dressed out of code, the school has plenty of extra uniform parts on hand.

The mother of three boys and one girl, Rocio Sanchez is a huge fan of uniforms.

"You just get up and go, it's just blue pants and a white shirt. There's no 'What-am-I-going-to-wear?'. It's easier, and the boys say everybody is the same, we don't tease each other."

Some parents dislike the uniforms, and Mount Vernon lost 12 students to other schools because of the uniform requirement. But it gained 13 for the same reason.

Stephanie Morgan thought hard about transferring her first-grader, Angelo Heitzman, but decided to give Mount Vernon a try. She's glad she did but still opposes uniforms, mostly on philosophical grounds.

"I just don't agree on putting a Band-Aid on something and saying, Let's just have everybody wear the same thing and that will be that."

"My paradigm would be to teach tolerance."

If the school's behavior program has been successful at doing that, she said, "then people should be able to wear what they want to wear."

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