Wednesday, May 31, 2006

We Deserve Better

If you haven't already, read the article today by Trish Millines Dziko in the Seattle Times, Seattle schools in crisis.

I agree completely that the board should be held accountable for the school closure mess as it stands. Trish also emphasizes the point I raised in my "I Supported School Closures" posting about the mistake of pursuing this one initiative in isolation.

Where I disagree with Trish is on her optimistic assessment of the superintendent. If Raj were truly "doing everything the CACIEE asked," he would have formulated and articulated a vision.

We need a new superintendent, but I don't trust the current board to hire one. So let's get rid of all of them and start with a clean slate. We deserve better --- better schools, a better plan, and better leadership.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Make Some Noise on Wednesday!

from an e-mail message by CPPS (Community & Parents for Public Schools) of Seattle

5:00 p.m.
Closure & Consolidation Opposition Rally: CPPS has heard that many parents and school communities who oppose the closure and consolidation process will hold a rally at the John Stanford Center at 5 p.m. before the special school board meeting at 6 p.m.

6:00 p.m.
School Board Special Meeting on Garfield Renovations & Transportation: The School Board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. at the John Stanford Center to discuss the Garfield renovation amendment and the extension of the student transportation services contract. They are taking public testimony only on those two agenda items.

7:00 p.m.
Special CPPS Meeting – Stanford Center, Room 2700: Please join us for a special CPPS meeting at the John Stanford Center in Room 2700 following the School Board meeting. This will be an opportunity to come together as a community to discuss the Community Advisory Committee’s final recommendations, formulate a strategy for community response, and discuss a comprehensive approach for Seattle Public Schools.

Revised Closure List

Quick reaction to the CAC's revised closure list:

  • Thank goodness the CAC dropped the ridiculous plan to move TOPS to Thurgood Marshall and Montlake to the TOPS building.
  • Glad to see Summit K-12 left in its current building. Staff and parents want to be more centrally located, but were opposed to the decrepit Wilson-Pacific building as a new location.
  • Pleased that High Point and Fairmount Park have agreed to merge.

However, we still have:

  • Two of three autism programs slated for closure. (Graham Hill and Viewlands)
  • A school with strong community support (Sacajawea) slated for closure despite demographic predictions of increasing student population in that area.
  • No suggested solution for the only south end Montessori program (Graham Hill). The report says "opportunities for relocation may emerge during the District's closure process." Vague and unhelpful.
  • No suggested solution for the 4 programs currently in the John Marshall building serving very difficult to serve populations.
  • Not sure how appropriate the Boren building is for Pathfinder.
Also, the unstated fate of the vacated buildings will continue to fuel rumor and speculation. Which building will the Orca program get? (Whitworth or Graham Hill) Will the APP program get the John Marshall building?

Overall, while the revisions are positive, this plan is still too aggressive and flawed, with key details missing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Press Largely Uncritical

Overall, press coverage in Seattle has been uncritical of the school closure plan. Both the PI and the Times, had editorial statements in support of the plan issued before any of the Town Meetings happened. Were the editorial boards so knowledgeable about Seattle schools that they could draw a conclusion about the worth of the plan without hearing a single public comment?

After the editorial statement, the Times treated Seattle readers to articles like Closure strategy is valid, which described critics of the school closure plan as "lost in emotional diatribes and conspiracy theorizing." Other prominent stories covered the emotional upheaval in the community, but didn't dig deeply into the facts.

Tomorrow, the PI publishes the first article I have seen that actually questions the statements being made by the district. Be sure to read Will school closures do job?.

We need more articles that:

  • Explore the hidden costs of the proposed closures and consolidations.
  • Question the data, particularly the demographic data, presented by the district.
  • Discuss the political pressure that is motivating the closure plan.

Thank you, Jessica Blanchard, for writing an insightful article on school closure. Here's hoping we see more.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thank You CAC Members

A sincere thank you to the 13 community members who have spent so many hours grappling with the complicated and emotional issue of school closure.

The school board gave you an impossible task. With incomplete and inaccurate data, an unreasonable goal of closing 12 buildings, and an unrealistic time frame to deliberate and develop a plan, you were set up for failure. And you were set up, conveniently, to take the brunt of public anger.

However, thanks to your work, parents and community members around the city are organizing and planning, not only to counter the closure plan, but also to improve the things they know could be better about their schools. Parents with children not yet in public school are connecting with current PTSA members at schools they hope to attend. Principals and teachers are crafting plans to address school shortcomings suggested by the CAC's data.

We are motivated and united, across schools throughout the district. And for that, we thank you.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I Supported Closing Schools

When the CACIEE was taking community input, I supported the idea of closing some school buildings. Based on the data, it made sense to me to close a few buildings in poor condition, combining school programs where possible.

The final CACIEE report did recommend closing "a number" of active schools. That recommendation, however, was in the context of a comprehensive plan of other cost-cutting measures, along with recommended investments in Seattle Public Schools.

The CAC school closure plan, by contrast, is being pursued in isolation; a single awkwardly implemented initiative, not a sensible step as part of an overall, thoughtful plan. It has an overly ambitious goal of closing 12 buildings, and it focuses on closing schools in poor shape, as measured by test scores, instead of buildings in poor shape. This disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods.

The CACIEE report mentioned that "Breakthrough thinking will be required, such as creating an incentive system to grow community support for building closures." The district has clearly failed in this area.

Like virtually everyone I talk with, I am completely opposed to the CAC school closure plan. Seattle children deserve better than this.

Citywide Organizing

From the CPPS (Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle) website (www.cppsofseattle.org) comes the following organizing info:

Wednesday, May 31st from 7 pm to 9 pm at the John Stanford building – CPPS will hold a public forums so that the community can come together to discuss the CAC recommendations and to formulate a strategy for community response. Please spread the word!

Friday, May 26, 2006

School Closure Process Invalid

Let’s be clear. This is not a “citizen-led plan” (Seattle Times). CAC volunteers are community members, but they are working under the wrong criteria with unworkable constraints imposed by the district.

It is obvious that something is wrong with the school closure process when:

  • Schools are pitted against each other, fighting for decent buildings or even for survival.
  • The majority of schools slated for closure or consolidation are in the south end, lower income neighborhoods with mostly non-white children.
  • Schools with scores of parents at closure meetings (like Sacajewea) are cited as having low parent satisfaction.
  • Schools with beautiful, recently renovated buildings (like Graham Hill) are proposed to be left empty.

We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we can’t fix it that way either. We need to take the time necessary to come up with better ideas and solutions.

This closure plan does not come “from the people” (Seattle Times). It comes from 13 community volunteers selected by the district to provide a public face on the process, to make it more palatable to the community, and to sell everyone, including the press, on the idea that the process is valid, when it most certainly is not.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Savings Estimates Questionable

Supposedly about 4.5 million dollars will be saved by closing 12 Seattle schools. However, the district admits this doesn’t take into account initial mothballing costs. It also doesn’t take into account millions of dollars needed to:

  • Renovate two elementary school buildings (High Point and Thurgood Marshall) to accommodate two K-8 programs (Pathfinder and TOPS).
  • Renovate the decrepit Wilson Pacific building to accommodate the Summit K-12 program
  • Renovate many (as yet unnamed) buildings to accommodate the three autism programs in the districts (Viewlands, Thurgood Marshall and Graham Hill), all of which are in buildings targeted for closure.

The rationale of saving money also does not address the real costs incurred just from discussing the closure issue over and over. With each family that leaves Seattle Public Schools in frustration and disgust, so does money the state provides to the district on a per pupil basis.

And future school levies are doomed if schools like Graham Hill, which have been recently renovated at a cost of more than $4 million dollars, are left empty as recommended.

This school closure plan is short sighted. It will cost a lot of money in the long run.