Sunday, September 24, 2006

Say Goodbye to Alternative Schools?

The Phase II closure recommendations would have a huge negative impact on alternative schools in Seattle.

#1) AS #1 and Summit K-12, schools with different educational philosophies, would be co-located, effectively diminishing the options for alternative education in North Seattle, and downplaying the individuality of each alternative school. As one parent said on Thursday night, the attitude seems to be "Oh those schools are both "weird" so let's put them together." From what I have heard, the two schools have different approaches and different strengths. The AS#1 community clearly values its small size, and that piece would obviously disappear in a co-location with Summit K-12.

#2) And those of you who read my previous post about SW capacity carefully saw the news that the Pathfinder/Cooper recommendation is now being "clarified" as a proposed merger, combining two schools with different educational philosophies (one traditional and one alternative). It is my understanding this would mean teachers and other staff being assigned to the building based on seniority. And it is completely unclear whether the "new school" would be an alternative school or a traditional school, and what it's educational philosophy and approach would be.

From the school district's Alternative Education policy adopted in June of this year, comes the following information.
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While alternative schools share many values with other schools the following characteristics in combination define alternative schools as unique:

1. Students, families and staff share and support the school’s philosophy, values, practices and mission to educate the "whole" child in a community based on a high degree of personalization.

Indicators:

• Students and families have informed themselves about an alternative school and requested placement.

• Instructional, support and administrative staff are at the school by choice.
***************

The newly clarified Pathfinder/Cooper proposal clearly violates this policy, both for the children and the staff. I know Charlie is going to say the district violates its policies all the time, so this is nothing new, but it is still appalling.

#3) The School Board is tackling choice, transportation and reference areas this week. The handwriting is on the wall that TOPS and Salmon Bay will likely be affected by the proposed changes. The previous district proposal was to limit TOPS to the Central cluster, taking away a very desirable middle school choice for many South and Southeast families, and to limit Salmon Bay draw to north of the ship canal, while adding Queen Anne cluster, destroying the racial and economic diversity valued by the middle school staff, parents and children there. I don't know what this week will bring in terms of recommendations, but I'm willing to bet the recommendations will have a negative effect on these schools again.

A city with nothing but alternative schools would serve the children as poorly as a city with nothing but traditional schools. Let's recognize and honor the value of both types of educational approaches in meeting the needs of Seattle's children. If Seattle residents want to maintain quality alternative schools around the city for the children for whom traditional educational approaches are not as successful, now is the time to join together in protest, before it is too late.

8 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know how much "clarification" is necessary.

This sentence is a direct quote from the Superintendent's Report on the Phase II closures and consolidations:

"This recommendation is not to co-locate these programs, but rather to permit Cooper students to
enroll in Pathfinder K-8 and fully utilize the Cooper building."

This sentence is also from the Superintendent's report:
"The other recommendation is to close the Genesee Hill
building and relocate the Pathfinder K-8 program to Cooper Elementary School and incorporate
all Cooper students who wish to stay and become Pathfinder K-8 students."

The intention is very clear: the traditional program at Cooper will end and the only program there will be Pathfinder.

Charlie Mas said...

I seem to recall a staffing quesiton in there somewhere. The staffing is all by location, not by program.

This means that if the "merged" Cooper/Pathfinder has too many teachers (due to Cooper students leaving for other traditional schools), the Cooper teachers will have the option to stay.

If all of the Cooper teachers choose to stay, then any excess Pathfinder teachers, in seniority order, will simply not be hired to the new location and will be laid off (since their building is closed).

This is the same for ALL of the closures and consolidations. All of the Whitworth teachers have the option of staying in that building and continuing to teach there when ORCA moves in - even if it displaces ORCA teachers now at Columbia.

eric b said...

I am not so sure about either comment Charlie. I first read the proposal as you did, but then it was pointed out that the statement says "the Cooper building could accommodate a majority of the combined populations of these programs.." indicating that they see two programs and furthermore "This recommendation is emphatically not to reassign Cooper students out of their building. Rather,
we hope that the infusion of a K-8 expeditionary learning-focused program into Cooper school
would be an attractive option for Cooper families" indicates that they still see a Cooper school and that Cooper students would not have to chose to stay but rather to go, which would clearly contravene the alternative ed. policy. The things you point to and these statements seem contradictory.

As for the other question, the use of terminology is critical - in the case of a "merger" the SEA contract clearly says that seniority will dominate and Pathfinder, with many new and young teachers (a consequence of a growing program), will lose many teachers. On the other hand, if the Pathfinder program is "moved", current Pathfinder staff would get priority:
"1. Instructional staff associated with a program that moves from one work site to another are assumed to move with the program.... " (Section H of Article 8 of the SEA contract.)

Of course SEA and the district could also negotiate a separate agreement. I wouldn't be surprised by this and it has been brought up by several people.

Melissa W. said...

I agree with Charlie; this is ending Cooper's program and replacing it with Pathfinder's. I don't know the staffing ramifications but it seems Eric has researched it. I don't know if the district wants to call it a merger so they can have more control over the staffing but, to me, it is clearly the end of Cooper's program.

Beth is probably right about her assessment about assignment and transportation. Like having too many schools, the transportation is hurting this district in costs. And again, this Board, because previous Board didn't have the courage, will have to tackle a difficult issue. It is difficult because some people do not perceive a good elementary or middle school choice in their area. I don't have much sympathy for people with good choices in their area who will whine over not being able to have a bigger selection.

The hardest issue is what to do about alternative schools. In the last go round, the staff tried to make it seem that if a region had an alternative school that was enough of a choice. But every alternative school has a different focus so it doesn't seem fair to only get one choice. It could be the death of some alternative schools who pull from all parts of the city.

One assignment issue I'm standing firm on is high school. The high schools are very different from each other and students have to be able to at least have the opportunity to try to get into the high school of their choice. High school kids can take Metro so the costs are not as dramatic as K-8.

Anonymous said...

Alternative school definition and placement rules in the district are a mess. What is one of the boldest and most successful alternative programs in the city? John Stanford (Latona)language immersion. But that's not even defined as an alternative school. It's a neighborhood school.

Look at TOPS. It's a great K-8 program, but it was supposed to be a school that served under-served populations (economic and racial). But 1st it became a program that wanted to be a K-8, and the minority aspect was defocused. Then it became a community that places most of its emphasis on staying in its own building. The clusters it draws from don't even make sense...just a historic artifact from earlier years when certain clusters wanted more school choices. Meanwhile, North Capitol Hill residents are requesting more access to that program and the TOPS folks are digging in their heels.

Here's an idea: Make sure every large cluster (or 2 smaller, geographically adjacent clusers) offers a strong K-8 program. Parents are begging for them. Just call them K-8s and forget all the flim-flam around what else makes them alternative. Make each one serve about the same population @ 500 kids, plus or minus. Teach the same standard curriculum at each. LIMIT ENROLLMENT TO THAT CLUSTER.

Then, move on to alternative programs...allow any program that wants to have its own academic program emphasis...or to have a standard focus (K-5 or K-8) at a non-traditional size (small) or classroom set up (multi-grades, same room) be located "wherever"...but with an overall goal to put one of these, also, in each cluster, so that families have at least one alternative choice school close to home. However, these would still have multi-cluster transportation draws, to allow access to all the different programmatic choices...but via a different transportation system than is currently in place, in order to save $$. (More detail needed here.) Once they're placed, leave them alone. Don't move them. Allow physical plant predictability. Examine alternatives every 3-5 years and get rid of the ones that fail to keep their market share.

Market the heck out of the K-8s and alternatives to keep families weighing "private vs public" in the system. Allow the rest of the schools to have a strong focus on connection to the neighborhoods in which they reside. This too can and should be a strength of "traditional" elementary schools. Eureka. Something for everyone, even if not the perfect solution for everyone. Hey, that's democracy.

PS: In this scenario, the Stanford School becomes an alternative school w/ a multi-cluster draw, so that more folks than those 3 blocks away from the facility can hope to gain entrance. For TOPS: folks can choose to remain at the Seward building (where TOPS is currently located) K-8 or move to a new alternative TOPS program where the emphasis is valuing diversity (and which ultimately may or may not be K-8). (Hey, here's an idea...Madrona is a semi-failing K-8 school. Forget the K-8 part (or keep it) but put the TOPS program there.)

The other K-8 programs decide whether their emphasis is "alternative" or K-8, then physical plant decisions and enrollment draw decisions could follow accordingly. It would take about 1 more year of pain in terms of siting both K-8s and alternatives, but then it would be done...and according to a plan that everyone could understand, even if good folks wouldn't always agree with the outcomes.

Sign me: "Getting Exasperated"

Charlie Mas said...

There are a number of undeniable truths that shape the outcomes at Seattle Public Schools.

One of these truths is that Seattle Public Schools is an intensely political environment.

TOPS is what it is and is where it is and enrolls whom it enrolls all entirely due to political considerations, not rational or academic considerations.

John Stanford is the same.

The politics always become more convoluted and more irrational when they include race.

People weild victimhood like a battle-axe. The Board meeting on September 20 was like watching the old TV show "Queen for a Day". It was a race to the bottom. People were getting up and telling the Board how their community should be favored because they are more pathetic than any other.

And in those rare instances when the District tries to make a rational decision, the political types come out and protest it. Check out this convoluted logic: the closure plan should not be allowed because it is a race-based decision. In place of the rational plan, those who decry it as a race-based decision insist that the District replace it with a plan that truly is race-based.

Even more common are the perfectly rational and efficient ideas that don't even get spoken out loud because they are contrary to the political climate. For example, the District needs additional middle school space in the North, but can't use John Marshall because it would be perceived as racist to move out the predominantly minority programs now there and move in a predominantly White program. For a lot of people that is, all by itself, proof positive of racism. Efficient use of the facilities has nothing to do with it, I suppose. It's all about race.

Anonymous said...

If every cluster were getting an alternative school, which was promised space and time to nuture its program, and in addition was allowed to draw from a citywide enrollment pool to pull together students from a variety of socio-economic background. AND if every cluster (or 2) was getting its own K-8, why would this be viewed as race-driven? Wouldn't it be welcomed as distributing educational opportunities to all areas of the city? I get it that Marshall (or any of these moves) in isolation causes concern among those who feel racism pervades the district. But as part of a larger plan? Really? And, what are the politics at play in TOPS and Latona? I guess I don't understand...

Roy Smith said...

Compounding the race issue is the perception that the alternative schools exist mainly to cater to wealthy white families. The New School got viciously attacked at the last school board meeting, and my impression was that at least some of this was driven by that perception. (I personally know nothing about the New School, so I have no opinion one way or the other.)

The Phase 2 Preliminary Recommendations has this to say about capacity: "In our analysis it became clear that while there is current excess capacity in the North, our projections are for increase growth between now and 2014. We wanted to make sure that a closure recommendation in the North would not result in a shortage of seats in the future. . . We recognize that some people may believe that the North part of the District has been given a reprieve from closures solely because it is the North." Taken together, these statements to me appear to be a tacit acknowledgement that closing schools in the North might not be a good idea, but the district lacks the political courage to say so.

A couple of other things are also becoming apparent as a result of this discussion. One, we need to develop a mechanism by which alternative and neighborhood schools receive equitable levels of support, and by which we can avoid putting alternative and neighborhood schools in direct competition for resources. As the Pathfinder/Cooper debacle has shown, nothing positive is gained by putting the alternative school communities and the neighborhood schools in the position of one side winning and the other losing.

Second, the fact of the matter is that if the school district is hemorhaging upper income families, then they aren't doing enough to meet the needs of those families. Other school districts do a fairly decent job of keeping children of upper-income families in the public school system, and it really isn't unreasonable to expect that Seattle could have the same level of success.