Monday, June 19, 2006

Consider All Options

The most recent message from the district is that the school closure plan is focused on creating better schools. If this is true, then it is time to consider all the possible options. That means considering closing schools that weren’t included in the CAC’s preliminary recommendations, considering changing the configuration of some K-5 schools to K-8, and, in general, expanding the pool of possible solutions by moving outside of the narrowly focused parameters placed on the CAC's work.

For example, in West Seattle, two schools (High Point and Fairmount Park) were slated for closure. When they chose to merge, that reduced the number of schools being closed in the Southwest cluster. With the earlier recommendation of moving Pathfinder to High Point no longer possible, instead of considering another school to close, the CAC came up with the bizarre recommendation of putting Pathfinder in the Boren building. If the CAC had considered all options, I have no doubt they could have come up with a better solution.

And in the Northwest quadrant, the CAC could have suggested changing Viewlands to a K-8, as has been discussed in the past. But because the closure process did not include looking at middle school capacity and issues as part of the discussion, the city could lose a successful elementary program in a unique location, tearing apart an Aspergers/Autism inclusion program as children are placed in various schools around the quadrant.

At last week’s Board work session, one School Board member commented that community members are coming up with more creative solutions than the Board or district staff. I completely understand the need to follow through respectfully on a process that has already taken months of hard work by community volunteers and district staff. And I can empathize with the feelings of some Board members that expanding the number of options just makes decision-making harder. But we should not rush to conclude the closure process, sticking with proposed solutions just to make it easier.

In his preliminary recommendations, the Superintendent called for “renewed clarity in our educational vision and the bold leadership necessary to make change.” This is a moment for both the Superintendent and the School Board to live up to these words, considering all options before making final school closure recommendations, measuring the choices always by the yardstick of academic excellence for all.

9 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

It would have been so much better if the CAC had been given the time and resources to make an assessment of the demand for public school services in Seattle and then reallocate the facility inventory to meet that demand.

Imagine the result of that exercise:
* Enough dual language immersion schools for everyone who wants one
* Enough K-8's for everyone who wants one
* Enough advanced learning opportunities for everyone who wants one
* High quality programs close to students' homes - even in South Seattle
* Right-sized capacity for the district
* Reference areas that actually reflect the size and demand for buildings

Instead, the CAC was directed to take a couple weeks and find the eleven buildings that could be closed with the least fuss and expense.

Anonymous said...

You can classify the Pathfinder to Boren move as bizarre but I don't think the CAC thought it was or they wouldn't have suggested it (and the Superintendent backed it up). Your words betray your bias (and that's okay but if you are trying to make a logical argument, well, not so much). You want K-8s out of K-5s when, in fact, it is easier to reconfigure a middle school to include elementary use. So you want a K-5 building for Pathfinder, okay.

Viewlands a K-8? Nope, not when,just to the north exists Broadview-Thompson, built as a middle school. Viewlands is not a great building and B-T can become a K-8 if the district wants it to. No one is suggesting dispersing the Aspergers/Autism kids and, again, the words you use make it sound like the CAC and the Super are out to hurt these kids. To the contrary, it seems to be front and center to the Board. They, and some of their teachers, can be moved intact and the same inclusion program set up at another school.

I agree that the Board should be listening to all options and suggestions. Community members may have more creative suggestions but it doesn't mean they are workable.

Anonymous said...

You can classify the Pathfinder to Boren move as bizarre but I don't think the CAC thought it was or they wouldn't have suggested it (and the Superintendent backed it up). Your words betray your bias (and that's okay but if you are trying to make a logical argument, well, not so much). You want K-8s out of K-5s when, in fact, it is easier to reconfigure a middle school to include elementary use. So you want a K-5 building for Pathfinder, okay.

Viewlands a K-8? Nope, not when,just to the north exists Broadview-Thompson, built as a middle school. Viewlands is not a great building and B-T can become a K-8 if the district wants it to. No one is suggesting dispersing the Aspergers/Autism kids and, again, the words you use make it sound like the CAC and the Super are out to hurt these kids. To the contrary, it seems to be front and center to the Board. They, and some of their teachers, can be moved intact and the same inclusion program set up at another school.

I agree that the Board should be listening to all options and suggestions. Community members may have more creative suggestions but it doesn't mean they are workable.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous 1,

I think we're pretty much in agreement here. My suggestions may not make sense, and definitely display my bias.

And we agree that the superintendent and the Board should be considering all options.

But I cannot agree when you said, " No one is suggesting dispersing the Aspergers/Autism kids and, again, the words you use make it sound like the CAC and the Super are out to hurt these kids."

I do not believe for a minute the Superintendent, the CAC, or the Board want to hurt any kids, and certainly not the kids in the Apsergers/Autism program. But, as I learned at a recent Board work session, moving the Aspergers/Autism kids together to another school IS NOT maintaining the successful Aspergers/Autism inclusion program. The point of an inclusion program is that the kids are included in the rest of the school, and have made friends and connections with students in the regular education program. So when the kids from Viewlands are placed at several different schools, the inclusion part of the program is destroyed.

Anonymous said...

What makes you think the program cannot be successfully replicated elsewhere? Greenwood is getting a new principal, may be taking almost half of Viewlands (including the Autism kids). That's the problem in this district; no one believes anything can be moved or duplicated and is "unique" to a school. We have this problem with TOPS and John Stanford. With the high incidence of Aspergers/Autism, it means almost every school needs to be prepared for these students and, if parents want inclusion, need to support those goals.

Anonymous 1

Anonymous said...

I have taught in Seattle Public Schools as well as other local districts and I can tell you that Seattle Public Schools has been living on the edge of what is reasonable spending for a school district for many years. All the other school districts bus fewer children to schools and have larger school populations because it is expensive to have small schools and bus children to the school of their choice. It angers me to listen to parents selfishly advocating for their school to remain open. My family and I are in the process of moving out of the city because I no longer want to work in this district and I definitely do not want my child to attend these schools until this mess is totally cleaned up. Schools must close. Busing must decrease. Instead of looking at it from only your own point of view and trying to save your own school, parents need to focus on what will benefit the district as a whole.

The administration also needs to step up to the plate and make deeper cuts. Teachers do not need to have so much training in times of financial crisis. Committees do not need to be so large. There does not need to be as much administrative staff.

Finally, I believe the most pressing problem of all is indecision on the part of district officials and the school board. Witness the recent near failure to adopt a math curriculum. This district cowtows to special interests so much that it is virtually incapable of making a decision. These are difficult decisions to make but they have to e made and no matter what happens someone is going to be unhappy. There is absolutely no way to please everyone. The district officials should, as impartially as possibly, make a decision and stick to it. If people are unhappy, they can deal with that later. Just make a decision. This district's financial woes are beyond serious and they are only going to get worse so long as nothing is done. Take a look at the other districts in this state. None of them waffle so much in doing what is financially best for everyone.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the person who suggests SPS is mismanaging $. Yeah, I'll bet there are some efficiencies to be had somewhere. But how can you argue with our state being 42nd nationwide in per-capita spending for public schools? That's scandalous. By the way, our child started in private school; I had heard so many bad things about SPS, before we even entered parenthood, that I was hellbent on avoiding the district. Then through various turns of events, we wound up having to move our child to public schools, and we are far more pleased with the education he is getting there than in the private school we were paying beaucoup bucks for. "Our" school incidentally is not in danger of closing so I have no direct stake in all this, except that I believe it's shortsighted; don't close a few schools to save meager bucks, go find more $.

Anonymous said...

Reconfiguring a middle school to elementary is easier? Sure, for the middle schoolers, who are more social and can handle the stairs, higher toilets and door handles.

Earlier school transitions are harder and for new families, moving a preschool/K from an area with many low-income, diverse and special-ed families makes it harder to transition smoothly across grades and schools.

Does anyone realize that ALL 3rd graders are going to be "hit" twice by this closure plan? As proposed, a current 3rd grader will attend 4th grade at the current school, then transfer to a new school for 5th grade, then transfer again to a middle school for 6th grade, unless there's a K-8 school available. This doesn't get easier for the special-ed 3rd graders, who depend on the comfort and stability of routines over time to make progress in their education, both social and academic. All 3rd graders should be allowed to transfer to K-8 schools AND more preschool-8 schools should be created to minimize future transitions and consolidate building as well as staff resources.

And the wisdom of closing and transferring Graham Hill, Thurgood Marshall and Viewlands with their special-ed and improved academic scores, using the District's own data? Fix what needs fixing, don't close down what works or shatter what took years to create and spread the rubble across the other schools, hoping it will just settle in nicely.

The reason for success of any special-ed program such as the autism inclusion ones, the only ones in the District, at these schools is maturity, acceptance and skill to bring the appropriate set of students, both typical and non-typical, parents and faculty together.

Consolidate special-ed faculty and OT/PT equipment, convert special-ed school to preschool-8. Find and transfer only the middle schoolers who are willing to participate in the special-ed inclusion programs.

With 1 of 166 children today being diagnosed with autism or similar, the preschool-5 or preschool-8 schools are the first step towards helping these kids become functional and hopefully meaningful parts of society. Transferring only the programs, ie. only the non-typical students and faculty without the supporting typical students and faculty plus the enormous OT/PT equipment overhead sets up this simple transfer plan for failure and potentially more lawsuits.

Other school-unique issues such as the major remodel/upgrade at Graham Hill, the fairly new facilities at Thurgood Marshall and the back-door location of 200-acre Carkeek Park to Viewlands would make them popular all-city draw schools, if the District chose to consider them as centers of excellence for special-ed, upgraded them to preschool - 8 and used 'capacity for tolerance' as a guideline to encourage the success of the special-ed programs.

The former principal at Greenwood was a problem to the parents and faculty, took a medical leave and decided not to return. Greenwood's new principal (Trotter) is the former supervisor of the current Viewlands principal and with their poor academic performance, he and the PTSA leader there have sent out a letter announcing their support of the community by removing the fee-for-kindergarten to encourage "business" at that level. In regular business, this is called poaching and the private schools in the area booming kindergarten enrollments plus the new residential buildings prove there's no slack in the population moving to the north area.

Special-ed is not for every school but it should be supported in each corner of the District to consolidate the resources needed to support it and provide a choice for the typical students and families who are willing to support it.

The District should use the effective gardening technique of trimming their tree from the top down at all levels and push staff to the schools for improved support and progress.

The current closure plan reports $3M in savings and half of that, $1.5M, will be returned to the schools, resulting in less than $17,000 per school.

Let's aim a little higher for savings and fairness across the District. If there are about 90 schools, identify one teacher or administrator at each school, who is closest to retirement or is planning to move out of the District. Then do the same at the District for about 10 or more staff. Using the District's model teacher salary and benefits figure of $70,000/year, that's 100 x $70k, or $7M in savings.

Then, let's take that $50M District headquarters building and sell half of the building for $25M, keeping the other half for centralized applications such as payroll, human resources and management. Decentralize the remaining staff across the District to make up for the one person they "lost" and use that excess capacity in those schools to house them or more effectively use the space.

Wow, $7M in savings and $25M in revenue. Putting even half of that into the creation or consolidation of preschool-8 schools would be insightful.

But who will ensure this doesn't just go down the same drain as the last time? Yes, the players have changed but only the names are different. All I would like is some real accountability.

What is amazing to me is the consistent concern I've heard from the teachers at the schools to be closed - they want the students to be ok. If only the District had that same thought in mind.

Sleepless in Seattle, thanks to Seattle Public Schools District
060620 rw

jennifer said...

In response to the first comment by anonymous, I will go back once again to the point. PAthfinder doesn't care what building it gets as long as it is a building that will overcome the single biggest barrier our school faces in fulfilling its potential... a better facility.

A move, if we're going to make one, has to move our entire K-8 into permanent buildings (we're willing to have pull-out, rotation classes in portables). But, it also has to ATTRACT families, as the District may not mandate that anyone go there. Right now the building we have struggles mightly to attract families. Where is the sense in moving our program to another building that will struggle even more to attract families? Boren is not a move that shows benefit, minimizes disruption, or increases academic excellence. The move to Boren, as stated, will dismantle our current program and diminish rather than strenghten our school.