Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Public Hearing on School Closure Plan

After a few days of camping with my family near Mt. Adams, I jumped back in the school closure discussion by spending the evening at the public hearing tonight on the school closure plan. As was the case last week, the majority of the speakers were from Viewlands speaking passionately about the value of their school and the case for keeping it open. Below is a short summary of what I heard tonight. Please post your comments and reactions.

Viewlands - Current problems at Greenwood that will be exacerbated by having Viewlands community arrive like "uninvited house guests." Concern over the welfare of Aspergers and Autism students located in the same building with EBD (emotionally/behaviorally disabled) program. Success of Viewlands in serving children who are from families that qualify for free-/reduced-price lunch. 90% of staff at Viewlands more than 10 years. High parent involvement.

The other school communities with multiple speakers were Rainier View and Orca.

Rainier View - Anger at being put on the closure list at "11th hour." One speaker wants Rainier View program to "take over" Emerson building, letting Emerson staff stay only if they want to "buy into" Rainier View program. Spoke of academic success at Rainier View and failure at Emerson.

Orca - Three speakers support move to Whitworth building and expansion to K-8. Spoke of promises made and action delayed in the past. One speaker wants Orca to expand to K-8, but not at expense of Whitworth program.

The rest of the speakers represented other affected schools (Pathfinder, MLK, Thurgood Marshall) and/or addressed the closure plan in general, advocating for keeping all schools open. Interesting phrases from these speakers included:
  • Closing schools is an "unimaginative solution." Appears that district has "given up" on idea of recruiting more students and "given up" on idea of lower student-teacher ratio.
  • "Fear of doing nothing has been played up so high" that Board feels compelled to close schools when that might not be the best solution.
  • Need to "roll out potential closings as part of a comprehensive plan."
  • Phase II of closure process and future difficult district discussions on issues like school choice and assignment plans need to be "transparent."
  • Potential enormous future costs of buying back school property or buying new property.
  • Equity issues. Low-income and African-American community members have "lost faith" in School Board and district.
  • Need to focus on "how did we get here" or else will face the same situation again in the future.
  • Suggestion of moving First AME Head Start to MLK building and keeping Montessori program there.
  • Several speakers mentioned their support for the recent Mary Bass plan. (see "Mary Bass Proposal for School Closure")

I spoke near the end, even though I really planned not to speak tonight. While some people interpreted my request as one for politeness, I was really asking for respectful communication. That can be angry, that can be loud, and it should be the unvarnished, emotional truth. But I can't imagine we, the community members, are really making any progress at working for change when we call the Board members racist or insinuate they are stupid or in any other way demonize them.

The School Board is not the enemy. They may not be the solution either, but School Board members are potential change agents. And when we take time to engage them in conversation (after meetings, before meetings, during breaks), we can learn from them, getting facts and opinions to fuel our advocacy work.

4 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

It's unclear to me how anyone could speak in support of the Mary Bass plan when I don't believe that the Mary Bass plan is available for review anywhere. Does anyone know where I can find a copy and read it?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mary has not released her "plan" to anyone, not even Board members. If she has, it is certainly being kept secret. Mary likes to play it close to the vest which makes her look good when she says she has a plan but she never has to stand scutiny if she doesn't bring it forth.

Viewlands wants to see this move as bad. They don't want to close. The district is asking all schools to be open to change and to work with any school that will be merging. I'm not sure that any merge is a perfect one (the closest would be Fairmount Park and High Point) but that's the reality. Viewlands was very unhappy about its students being dispersed so the district identifies a place where they could all go and it isn't right. What to do then? Leave them open even as their enrollment continues to decline? See, that is one basic question that many schools cannot answer clearly.

Why is your enrollment continuing to decline if you feel your program/building/area/community is so worthwhile? What are the factors that make large numbers of parents in your reference area (and beyond) not choose your school and what have you done to work on them? There are schools in less-than-great buildings that are full. There has to be a better reason than that.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't see how the Board can vote to relocate the programs at John Marshall without knowing where they will go.

A yes vote is particularly impossible in light of the recent experience with South Lake High School.

How can anyone say with any certainty that the students will be better served if the programs are located elsewhere without knowing where that elsewhere is?

How can anyone trust the District staff to find a new home for these programs when the District staff tried for five years to find a new home for the similar South Lake High School programs and failed?

GiGi said...

I was afraid to post this because of the response people will have to it. However, I think it is too important to ignore.

When I was first looking at schools, my friend, who is a social worker, showed me the Seattle Times School Guide. She showed me how to find schools geographically and how to look up and compare test scores. Then she showed me the “subsidized lunch” statistic and she told me that when she and her husband were looking to buy their first home outside of Seattle (not because of the school district, but because the rising cost of housing makes it difficult for two social workers with two children to buy a home within city limits) they did not look at any homes where the school had more than 45% of students qualifying for subsidized lunch.

Children living close to the poverty line have more (and different) needs than children who don’t. No one is in disagreement that additional resources should be allocated to them (well, maybe someone is, but I’m not), but many parents fear that their own students in the same school may then lose out on resources.

Many, many parents in Seattle look at this figure as a deciding factor for school choice. That’s why the Seattle Times publishes the statistic. You can call the parents who do “racist” or “classist” but that doesn’t mean they are going to stop. And that’s why schools that have a higher number of students living close to the poverty line will often have lower enrollment numbers than schools that don’t.

When I was looking at schools, I could go 2 miles to the north to Viewlands which has a building with maintenance problems and 39% of students qualifying for subsidized lunch or I could go 2 miles to the south to West Woodland which is in a beautiful new building and has a PTA that raises truly amazing funds year after year.

Do I think that West Woodland should close instead of Viewlands? Absolutely not. However, I believe it is naïve or disingenuous to ask why Viewlands has lower enrollment numbers than other schools in the area. If we are looking to enrollment numbers as a deciding factor to close schools, a school that serves populations with high-needs (which Viewlands does both with its income level and with the Autism inclusion program) will always have a disadvantage. Consequently, those students who most need a stable school environment will be the hardest hit.