Interesting discussion today at Board Work Session on changing the school assignment and transportation plan. Here's what I took away from this meeting:
The School Board members seem to have reached some level of consensus that the systems need to be overhauled and that, probably, will include limiting choice and transportation.
This was an opening conversation, and not a presentation of concrete options or suggestions. Changes to the systems for 2007/08 will be small -- only what is necessary to support closures and consolidations. Major systemic changes will be implemented for 2008/09.
Spent a fair amount of time talking about the purpose of each plan, who is currently being well-served, who isn't, and what some of the issues are for both the transportation and assignment systems.
Surprisingly, when discussion got very focused on dollars and cents, many Board members returned the focus to academics, and what is best for children and families. I was encouraged by comments from Darlene Flynn about needing to take into account the "soft costs" of not serving children and families well. Several people talked about long-term plans, and putting all options on the table to make comprehensive changes to the systems rather than the patchwork system of changes and fixes that have been made over recent years.
Only one reference to the CACIEE plan and only one reference to school closures and consolidation during the meeting makes me feel like each effort is happening in a vacuum.
A lot of talk about program placement, the desire to have a K-8 in every section of town (that might, or might not be an alternative school), to have quality schools and good choices equitably distributed around the city; all-city draws should be located centrally.
Considering redrawing 1-mile walk boundary, maybe making it smaller. Said that many families choose a school farther than 1 mile away so they can get bus transportation. Board wants to explore issues behind this and look for solutions for supervised pre-/post-school care that doesn't involve riding around on a bus. "Walking school bus" system was piloted at Bailey -Gatzert this year where adults were paid to walk groups of children to school following a route like a school bus would in the neighborhood.
Darelene Flynn spoke several times about high concentrations of children living in poverty in a school and the negative effects it has on academic achievement. Made it clear that this wasn't because poor children can't learn, but instead because these schools don't have additional resources (dollars or time) that other schools do. (These remarks lead me to believe Darlene would be supportive of income-based tiebreaker in the assignment process, and exploring pooled PTA fundraising, which are two of my favorite ideas for system change at the moment.)
Brita Butler-Wall brought up the idea of feeder patterns, where a child enrolled in a certain elementary school would be guaranteed a spot in a certain middle school and a certain high school, with the choice to "opt out" of this default assignment and choose something else.
Michael DeBell followed up on this idea with the suggestion of getting rid of Enrollment Centers and having enrollment handled at neighborhood schools, which he thinks would be possible if assignment plan was simplified.
Some interesting random quotes:
Michael DeBell said whatever plans were created would need to "maintain or attract as many families as possible to Seattle Public Schools ...to increase market share."
Irene Stewart said "reference areas are totally artificial...don't make any sense...not necessary for the 'right' assignment system."
Michael DeBell said, "What would it look like to have regional K-8s with assignment preference for the local neighborhood?"
Brita Butler-Wall said "...need to revisit the concept of tiebreakers."
Irene Steward said "Everyone should re-read the Alternative Education Policy," passed by the district in June of this year.
Brita Butler-Wall said the district needs to do "more than just a legally mandated hearing" to get community input on the revisions to assignment and transportation.