Monday, July 31, 2006

Phase II and APP

Written by Charlie Mas

One of the buildings that may be closed in Phase II of the closures and consolidations is Montlake. The Montlake program may find itself relocated, not to Seward as the CAC initially suggested, but to Lowell. Elementary APP, now at Lowell, would be relocated to another building or buildings.

Lowell is one of the largest elementary schools in Seattle. The building has a planning capacity over 500. Because Lowell is home to a low-incidence special education program, would be room there for no more than 350-400 students in a general education program. Lowell could house all of the students at Montlake plus 100 more. That's room enough to provide students from Capitol Hill and Eastlake with the access to a neighborhood school they now lack. This neighborhood sends a higher percentage of their children to private school than any other neighborhood in Seattle. They use private schools, to a large extent, because their cannot gain entry to any of the public schools of their choice. Repurposing Lowell as a neighborhood school would have the potential to pull up to 100 students from private schools into the public system.

The tricky bit, of course, will be finding a new home for the 460 elementary APP students projected for Lowell next year. There is no other elementary school large enough to hold them all, yet APP is a community like any other. Just like Graham Hill, Viewlands, or Pathfinder, they do not want to be split up. Aside from reasons of community, splitting the program could damage APP's effectiveness, there would be extreme difficulties in finding new locations and re-creating the program. There would be inequities, real and perceived, between the two halves of the program.

APP may be leaving Lowell, but it is definitely leaving Washington. Washington middle school is overcrowded and it has been decided that the students who have to go are APP. Again, this will be tricky. Not only is there no middle school with room for all 440 of them, there is no middle school with room for half of them. As with the elementary program, the community does not want the cohort split, for reasons of community, reasons of academic effectiveness, and others.

Acceptable solutions for elementary and middle school APP are possible, but it is unclear if the District will work with the community to find them. Little time remains before September 18 when parts of Phase II are announced.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are a number of people working on the North Capitol Hill access issue and none of those folks seem enamored with the idea of turning Lowell into a neighborhood school. It is removed from the neighborhoods most affected by the perceived shortage of seats. I've heard some communities sent a letter to the Super in the 1st round of closures rejecting the idea of repurposing Lowell, which with its location in multi-family zoning and a traffic-busy area is much better-suited for a multi-cluster draw program than a neighborhood program. What's the facility that sits smack in the middle of that area that would work as a neighborhood school? Seward. Of course the most vocal of the TOPS folks would be outraged by this suggestion, but has anyone yet identified why TOPS is alternative? Latona, right around the corner, with its John Stanford Language Immersion offerings is more alternative, and it has a neighborhood draw. TOPS is making its multi-cluster lottery its main reason for existence, when it was actually founded to service under-served socio-economic families who wanted to be heavily involved in their child's education. It wasn't even a K-8...it just became one when the current building allowed it to spread out a little. TOPS wants to claim Seward as its own, but isn't part of the alternative philosophy the idea that the program, not the building, matters? Why not move the TOPS program into a different building, grandfather in families who are more tied to the facility than the program, and use Seward as a neighborhood school. That might grab more enrollment from nearby families. I doubt carting the kids a couple of miles up Capitol Hill will. PS: This isn't an attack on alternative programs. There is a need for them. But other alternative programs have and are moving around. Why not TOPS?

Melissa Westbrook said...

My suggestion had been that Summit move to Lincoln and be co-housed with APP 1-8. This would accomplish a number of things. One, it finds a home for APP 1-8 and allows a continuity in programming. Two, it allows Summit a more central location and a better chance to flourish. Three, it puts together two programs in a large building, thus freeing up Addams (to become a K-8 for the north end) and Lowell (to move Montlake into and expand their popular and successful program, attracting back parents from private school). The only thing Lincoln does not have is a playground and that's not a insurmountable problem. But the problem is that the district wants to hold on to these larger interim sites. They have rebuilt all the larger high schools (Garifield being the last)so I'm perplexed as to why a good facility, centrally-located cannot be a permanent site especially with the benefits I noted.
One interesting thing I learned from our consultants during my CAC work was that Seattle School district has many more interim sites and leased properties than other districts. The consultants were quite discreet so for them to say that must have struck them as odd. This is one reason why I believe there are two parallel tracks in district management; academic and facilities. It seems like the facilities just run their own work and have considerable sway over what happens within the district.

Charlie Mas said...

Anonymous makes several good points.

First, the community would prefer the Seward building to the Lowell building. That's not surprising. But let's not pretend that it has anything to do with multi-family housing zoning or traffic; it's a much newer, better building. When you are asking for things from Seattle Public Schools you should only expect a compromise, not everything you would like.

Second, TOPS is NOT an alternative school. We now have an alternative school policy with a definition of an alternative school, and TOPS doesn't meet it.

Third, the TOPS people are deeply connected to their building. We really saw that at the community meetings on closures when a TOPS move was on the table. They acted like a move to a location a mile and a half south was the end of the world.

Seattle Public Schools is a highly politicized institution. When you are determining what moves are possible and what moves are not possible you need to consider the size of the programs, the size of the buildings, the locations of the buildings and, yes, the political landscape.

The district really should create a new middle school in the John Marshall building, but they won't. They can't, now that Joe Drake has publicly proclaimed it racist to do so. It has become a political impossibility. The option is no longer available. Elementary APP cannot move into a closed building in the Central District. It would be a political impossibility.

Similarly, re-defining TOPS as a neighborhood school - which would be SO EASY to do, is a political impossibility.

That leaves Lowell as the only option for a large neighborhood school for Capitol Hill / Eastlake. Does it make sense? Some. Not as much as Seward. Is it exactly what the community wants? No. But good enough is good enough.

Melissa is exactly right when she notes that the facilities tail wags the academic dog. The last two Superintendents rose from the operations side, not the academic side. The Superintendent's plan last year was entirely driven by facilities without any regard to academics or community input.

Summit K-12 and an APP 1-8 could share Lincoln. Would it be ideal? No. But, once again, good enough is good enough. Nobody gets everything they want from Seattle Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

Lowell sits farther away from most of Montlake than Stevens Elementary. Or Seward. Since that is the case, Lowell as the new Montlake is never going to fly with that neighborhood as a neighborhood school. The Eastlakians will add their voices to the chorus, I think. You would have to redraw the Stevens reference area, if Lowell became a neighborhood school, but that would upset yet another program. Can someone explain why TOPS can't be moved?

Charlie Mas said...

UPDATE:

A document provided by Holly Ferguson to the Board Executive Committee on 7/8/06 made reference to a "Phase III" of the closures and consolidations "process that will work in conjunction with the levy, and at that point we will need to have a discussion of the capacity needs of the North Capital Hill/East Roanoke areas."