Thursday, January 11, 2007

Choosing a School: North Seattle Elementary Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about north Seattle elementary schools, share them here with other parents. (including North, Northeast and Northwest clusters)

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Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.
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Since I live in South Seattle, the only school in the North I have visited is West Woodland. I was working at setting up a computer lab at Graham Hill Elementary, and the interim principal (Ed James who used to be the principal at West Woodland) put us in touch with the computer lab teacher, Steve Sorensen, who was generous in sharing his time and information. If you are interested, visit his web site.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

We live in the Northeast cluster. When I observed Kindergartens I just looked at View Ridge, Laurelhurst and Wedgwood. They are all great schools (in my opinion) with very active PTA/strong community which was very important to me. We chose View Ridge since it is walking distance to our house, and was an obvious best fit for my oldest child. They have small class size - her kindergarten class is 21. Small class size is a very strong commitment of the school and they believe very strongly in it. The WASL scores are at the top of the district - 100% passed reading last year. They have an excellent music teacher/program. They have a full time art teacher which is great and a full time nurse. They also have a special ed preschool there, great therapy room and Dyspraxic Kindergarten. It also has spectrum. Let me know if anyone has any more specific questions and I'll do my best to answer, but worth checking out.

I can't say a lot about the other schools, but Laurelhurst seemed like a great school. Class sizes are bigger, but a wonderful community and commitment by parents. They have half day kindergarten and a laser program that you can get your child in for the other half of the day which seemed wonderful/kind of an alternative ed type of program. If this might interest you, tour now so you can get on the waitlist!
Wedgwood has a strong spectrum program and does a lot of mixed grade classes.

serendip57 said...

So much depends on communication- schools with great communication- can be a better place for your family than schools with nicer buildings,with more experienced staff and even more money.
Avenues of communication would include, class phone trees, school directory, web pages, school &/or PTA newsletters, student newsletter/newspapers , phone and email ( and of course snail mail)
The more ways that a school responds to the community, ups the likelihood that the information will be timely and received by the ones that need it.

If parents don't know about goings on in the school, if they don't feel comfortable with email ( or if the teachers never set up their voice mail), if notes left in teacher boxes get lost-some parents will not persist, but step away from being more involved in the school.

This can vary quite a bit by building- and isn't necessarily taken on by the same people or persons at each site.

At Summit for example, the attendance secretary, has taken it upon herself to send out a weekly community communication for many years. It includes anything and everything that staff and parents( & students) want included & is appropriate and timely.

This has been one of the threads that have kept the Summit community together through a great deal of principal transition over the last 10 years (inc 2 diff principals that only lasted a year apiece) and frequent uncertainty from the district regarding the program despite its longterm existence ( since early 80's)


Before looking at schools however- it helps to get an idea of what sort of environment your child and your family need.
IMO many kids, do best with clear expectations and firm boundaries.
However, many children also want flexibility in their day, and their year, and lots of out of the classroom learning.
Both are necessary, I think, but also can be difficult to find in the same building.
Many schools have PTA links on their webpages, and the PTAs welcome ( generally) vistors to their meetings.

Protocol would dictate that you don't take up time asking questions, but you can learn a lot about the school from just attending the PTA meeting and finding a helpful parent afterward to answer your questions

serendip57 said...

Regarding North Seattle Elementary schools- I really don't have updated opinions- many seem strong- have strong communities and are much more diverse in economic and ethnic population than their former reputation.

It can be hard to pick a school based on one program or teacher. Teachers get moved around, programs are cut.
My advice would be to find the most attractive thing or person about the school to you, and think about if that feature was not there- would you still find it to be a good fit for your child?

Thats something that it has taken me years in Seattle public schools to accept. Many of us attended the same elementary schools as our siblings & principals used to stay in one building all or most of their careers. Now, we don't see principals staying much longer than three years- which is to the communities deteriment I think- if they are effective.

I am not trying to just bring up worst case scenarios, but since what the school looks like in Feb, isn't always the same in Sept, it is an advantage to have that in mind.

serendip57 said...

What I wanted to add- was that I like very much the K-8 schools I have visited. While the total size of school is larger than an elementary, that also allows the school to have greater resources than a small elem without charging the fees of a private school.

Blaine in Magnolia- Tops off Lake Union and Salmon Bay in Ballard all have very good programs that are strong academically in and out of the classroom.
Tops in particular, I think would be good for a student who otherwise might be interested in the APP or Spectrum program academic focus. The experiential classroom style and engaged students reminds me of a few local private schools that are geared for "gifted" children.

Melissa Westbrook said...

My sons went to Whittier and we were pretty happy. The teaching corps is very strong and they have a fantastic PE teacher who does fun and innovative things. They have a Halloween carnival that has been around, under various names, for 50 years. It's a highlight for current and past students alike. The Spectrum program is also strong but Whittier integrates Spectrum and regular ed students in PE and music so all kids know everyone in their grade level.

Briefs:
Laurelhurst-strong parent involvement (they even have a foundation)
Bryant - strong science fair, they bring in scientists to mentor students through their projects, the only NE school with any renovation in the last 20 years
Sacajawea - strong parent involvement, perhaps more diverse than most NE schools
Bagley - very strong Montessori program, strong principal
John Stanford - strong parents, strong principal, it will be good when this program is duplicated
as it is very popular
B.F. Day - principal would like to be an international school (perhaps just in one language) to take Stanford's overflow - oldest operating elementary school in the city
Green Lake - has a solid special ed program for physically disabled students
Greenwood - has a new principal this year who was previously in administration in the district
North Beach - has a student journalism program
Salmon Bay - a more laid-back program, opens more spaces at middle school so that there is "new blood" for the middle school kids to interact with (versus TOPS which does not expand at middle school)
TOPS - says it's alternative but it's the least alternative of all of them. Good arts program, solid parent base.

Someone mentioned liking K-8s and the district is bringing a few more on-line (New School and Orca in the southeast). I had a discussion with Carla Santorno (the Chief Academic Officer) about K-8s as parents in our district are saying they want more of them. She said in terms of student achievement, there isn't a lot of data to support either 6-8 or K-8 middler schoolers as doing better. TOPS, Pathfinder, soon Orca, AS 1, Salmon Bay and African-American Academy are all alternative schools while Blaine, Madrona and New School are regular ed.

What to keep in mind is that K-8s are generally smaller (although New School wants to grow to 750)and have a smaller community feeling. There are opportunities for older students to work with younger students and possibly act out less because of the presence of younger students. However, what Carla said is that parents have to accept that K-8 generally cannot offer the array of classes/programs that large middle schools can. As long as you go in understanding that and accepting it, you'll probably be happy with either choice.

serendip57 said...

Being interested in "alternative" education, since I attended an alternative high school in the 70s, and in Summit K-12 in particular, since my oldest was K age, while I would agree that while TOPS isn't "alternative" in the way that some of us think of that term, I would also say neither is Summit.


"Alternative"- in a district which is trying to align standards/curriculum across the district and with state/federal, and in buildings where administration doesn't have a common idea with staff and community what "alternative" means- ends up attracting families, who become disenchanted fairly quickly when the reality doesn't mesh with their vision.
Pretty disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I have visited most of the schools in the NE cluster and all seem very strong, community-wise and academically. I live in NE and have neighbors at 4 different schools in the cluster and everyone seems happy with their school and community. Each school has its feel/focus, and the advice I'd give is go on the tours and take in the info, but pay special attention to that gut feeling about which school feels "just right." All the schools seem to have great parent participation. Wedgwood and View Ridge may have the highest test scores, although scores everywhere vary year by year. Wedgwood and View Ridge also have a focus on special needs- I think both are medically fragile sites and serve a high percentage of students on IEP / special ed. Bryant has fabulous after school enrichment classes and a high quality after care program, in addition to a wonderful parent community. John Rogers has a very close knit community and many smaller classes, also one of the top music teachers in the district. Laurelhurst has a strong community and lots of innovative math programming. I hear it was first choice in the cluster last year. Sacajawea is known for its supportive community (with many, many educator parents) and strong creative arts programs. AE2 has a great theme-learning model and a wonderful campus with lots of green, fun play opportunities. (Neighbors say shovels are provided for kids to dig at recess.) I don't know much about Summit or AS1. Basically, NE is a set of schools where there's not a lot other than good things to say. Of course every school has a couple of downsides, but nothing worth much lost sleep. And what's a downside to one person may be a plus to another.

My kids are also at View Ridge. I value the same things the parent above mentioned as pluses about the school. But there's one other "intangible" that's fun- lots of kids/parents stay to play on the playground after school (it helps that the after care program also has kids playing on the playground too). It's fun to see third graders holding babies and kindergartners playing with second graders. Because the campus is so much of a hike end to end, once people have bothered to walk all the way from the car to pick up at the class door, many hang around on the playground for awhile. The principal helps with bus duty and patrol then and it's a good time to say howdy. So the unwieldy campus layout has actually probably increased the sense of community.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have information on Adam Elementary,the Principal Anne Johnson and the teachers? They are an arts rich community.

I truly enjoy this blog and the honest feedback shared between parents. Thank you!

sterne said...

The school I know is Greenwood Elementary. I have a Kindergartner at Greenwood, and my 3rd-grader spent her K-2 years there, before qualifying for APP and moving to Lowell.

Greenwood is a school on the mend after years of strife - throughout which the school did a good job educating our child, mind you. But the refreshing lack of strife this year, as our new Principal moves us forward on a common path, is welcome.

Greenwood has a vibrant, active PTA that maintains the school web site (www.greenwoodpta.org), runs several afterschool clubs (drama, science, cookng, art, jump rope, girls on the run), puts on an auction every year, and is always hungry for new ideas and new blood. Overall, the atmosphere at the school is warm and welcoming. We embrace our ethnic and economic diversity, and there is room for everyone to contribute.

The school provides both traditional and multi-age programs. I credit Mr Shook's multiage classroom with preparing my daughter for the APP program - and she has been extremely well prepared for the more rigorous program there.

Our new Principal, Walter Trotter, has served as a high school, middle school, and elementary school principal - as well as serving as one of three Elemntary Education Directors for the Seattle School District, with 21 Principals under his supervision. He is arguably the best qualified Elementary School Principal in the District, and he's got our school working together enthusiastically. About 60% of our teachers have advanced degrees, which is among the highest percentage for schools in the North Cluster.

So, consider Greenwood. I have no doubt that the other schools in the North end have a lot to offer, but I know that among some in the community, Greenwood has a "black eye" which has no basis in the current reality at the school. Come and tour the school; come and visit the classrooms outside of the tours. We welcome you.

Anonymous said...

I have three kids, past and present Seattle students, with a combined attendance at four northend schools: AE2, Laurelhurst, Wedgwood, Summit.

Summit was a terrible experience. There was a constant disconnect between the administration and teachers/counselors. Dedicated teachers, dismissive and hostile administration. I can't consider giving them another chance for my younger children, given the principal they have now. He's a lifer who will be shuttled around and retire rather than really do the work serve a school and it's students. This seems to be the case with so many principals in Seattle. Incompetence just keeps getting kicked around the block to become someone else's problem.

AE2 was a great school for my youngest child. He loved the expeditionary learning model. The playground is made of ground, not asphalt. What it lacked in after school clubs and programs it almost made up for in field trips.

Laurelhurst is a rich school. Yes, they have priority list for ESL, but it's a school in one of the wealthiest neighbhorhoods in the city and it shows. The PTA subsidizes four foreign language classes before school. I don't know of any other elementary school that does this. That said, I found the teaching staff a bit hit or miss. Obviously, the classes with most popular teachers fill up fast. I was surprised at how poor some of the teachers were, given that it's a school whose parents have such high expectations for their children. This is the kind of school that *nneds* to preserve citywide enrollment.

Wedgwood was dreary, and I don't just mean the building. It's known for it's music program. I guess it has to be known for something because it's the notheast cluster school for kids who are waiting for a spot in View Ridge or Laurelhurst. My daughter's teacher was dreadful. I never once saw her look a child in the eye or engage with them. The principal was very unimpressive and also had a way of avoiding conversation of substance that made me wonder if avoidance of contact was part of their "culture."

We visited AS1 and I liked it. If/when we move back to Seattle, I would hope they'll still be in existence. If not, I'd move a mountain to live in W Seattle if Pathfinder manages to survive intact.

Anonymous said...

FYI Wedgwood used to get a bad rap a few years ago but has a new fabulous principal who has boundless energy and a great way of connecting. It's becoming a real draw now. Wedgwood is in the process of a playground remodel and has a real active parent community with lots of fun social events.

Anonymous said...

RE: Wedgwood comments, my review of four NE cluster schools is based on attendance over the past 3 years. The principals I knew are still in place. Certainly, your experience may vary dramatically from my own.

To be blunt, I think Roy Merca is a perfect example of why Summit could shut its doors and not be missed. You could do a lot with that school that's isn't being done right now. Veronica Gallardo at Wedgwood has a promising resume but I found her a perfect match for the school: dull.

No matter where you live in Seattle or choose your school, more often than not you will learn to cut your expectations off at the knees. Seattle Schools has a way of sucking enthusiasm out of the most optimistic student or parent. You'll learn to settle very quickly. That said, our crisis is nothing compared to cities where life is harder than we have it here. What I call "dull" or incompetent might be embraced as hopeful or brilliant in Pittsburgh. I chose to expect more than we were getting in Seattle. The comment from a teacher on another thread, telling an unhappy parent to "homeschool if they didn't like it," is precisely why many of us decide to school at home.

Beth Bakeman said...

I think both posters comments about Wedgwood are valuable. Neither assessment of the school is "correct," but they are both valid opinions.

As I said in the original posting on this thread, what is a fabulous school for one family is an awful school for another.

Julie McCoy said...

We also looked at many schools in the North and we ended up at Greenwood because of a couple things that I think set it apart from other schools that can't really be measured or written about in a brochure.

First, I totally agree with the earlier post about communication and your school. I was so impressed with the school's website run by the PTA, with almost daily updates to the calendar, and news sections as well as a weeky bulletin that goes out to the whole school that anyone can contribute to. I check our website several times a week to see what is happening at school.

We also have several very innovative programs such as an after school Drama club for all kids, including kindergartners, with incredible parents who wrote & directed an original play.

I also think we have the best PE teacher in the district. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to eat and live healthy in this day and age and our PE teacher goes above and beyond to teach the kids about healthy eating & excercise by giving the kids "homework" every month focusing nutrition and excercise.

And finally, the biggest selling point to our family was the diverse community. Several times a month we have all school events from movie night, to reptile man to poetry slams, which brings everyone together. We have a relatively small school which is great because the teachers know all of the kids and not just the ones in their class. Our new principal Mr. Trotter is everywhere around the building and the playground talking with the kids, the parents and the teachers. The multi-age classes also lend a very open environment that brings parents and kids together.

Choosing Greenwood has been a great experience for us because at the end of the day we know that there is a team of teachers and parents starting with the classroom teacher and going all the way through the librarian, the PE teacher, the Art teacher, the Principal and all the way to the volunteer parents who run the after school programs looking out for my kids and their education.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reading all these comments, it backs up something I have believed for a long time. I believe that most parents, the majority of parents, in this district like the school their child attends. What most people don't like is the management of the district. It's a reflection of the power of a group of people - teachers, principals and parents - who strive to make great communities even when they doubt the decisions made that govern them.

Anonymous said...

Someone above said

"Laurelhurst has a strong community and lots of innovative math programming. I hear it was first choice in the cluster last year."

I completely agree with Laurelhurst having a strong community and are known for their math, but as far as being first choice in the cluster last year, I wanted to add my opinion on this..their tours were amazing last year. Everyone I spoke to was impressed. It blew all the other school's tours away. You can't take away that Laurelhurst is a great school, but you can also give marketing a lot of credit as well.

Anonymous said...

Poster who commented on "home schooling" suggestion . . . if all you have are complaints, what other choice is there? Seems you're unimpressed even though you admit that Seattle schools seem to be heads and shoulders above others you're familiar with.

Regarding the marketing at Laurelhurst . . . please let us know what they did! It sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the marketing that is done during the school tours can greatly affect parent (and community) perception of a school.

I did not visit Laurelhurst, but I had a similar experience at West Woodland last year. Now, West Woodland is an excellent school in a beautiful facility, so it would probably look good no matter what. The tour, however, was the best I saw.

What was so good about it? There were over 50 prospective parents on a weekday morning, but they made sure we didn’t feel cramped. The library was set up ahead of time. There were presentations of student work that were of interest to prospective parents. All the relevant school information was collated into folders, including more student work. The principal made an effective presentation about the school during which she focused on the excellent teaching staff. When it came time for the actual tours, we broke out into groups of 4-6 with a current parent leading the group and talking about their own experience.

Contrast that with Broadview Thompson where the principal was late, the one parent volunteer didn’t even show up, and most of the information was about programs that most of the prospective parents didn’t seem especially interested in.

Anonymous said...

Today I attended a school tour at AEII. I was very disappointed in the principles representation of the school. It was dull and it didn't seem to offer anything special or alternative. Weak art program, typical music, math, and science programs offered in other schools in the district. I had heard this was a very strong program and a good school. Maybe it just wasn't their day to shine. However, I have to say that most parents seemed to be as impressed as I was. Does anyone know if this was just an off day for this school or have there been major changes?

Anonymous said...

I should spell principal's correctly.. :)

Anonymous said...

I happen to be a current parent at AE2 and just stumbled upon this blog for the first time tonight. I can't comment on what might have happened with the tour today or why the principal's presentation might have been "off." I can say that my son is absolutely delighted with the school and bounds out of bed each day, ready to learn something new. What appealed to me about the AE2 community was that it seemed to be a good match for my son. He is energetic and creative and when he is interested in something, he has incredible stamina for learning. But, he isn't interested in everything, and I wondered how he would do in a very traditional program. At AE2, I believe his enthusiasm is encouraged and used as a jumping off point for all kinds of study and exploration. The school seems to allow for all styles of learning and teaches children a lot about self evaluation and learning for the sake of learning -- rather than to make a grade or pass a test. Not that academic performance is not important, but pride in self, respect for others, etc. is also stressed. Most of the parents I have talked to love the school and have had very similar experiences to mine. The Expeditionary Learning model, where classrooms pursue a single theme/topic throughout the year (in addition to core academic subjects) really seems to inspire a love of learning. They also discover that there is something to love about any subject. And that the core skills of reading, writing, math and science have application to the real world. I have talked to two parents in the last couple of years, however, who have found that AE2 was not a good fit for their children. Although they loved the school, they found that their children would thrive in a more structured environment (both children had minor learning disabilities.) I have heard that AE2 is appropriate for most kids, including those who have a lot energy, are kinetic learners, verbal processors, etc. However, children with high-end ADD and other learning challenges may do better in more rigid environments. If you are still interested in the school (or any school), I would suggest attending an additional tour and/or asking for phone numbers or e-mails of other parents to get the "insider's view." Good luck in your search.

Capt. Shook & The Flying Tigers in Room 105 said...

Hey, thanks for visiting our multiage classroom. Greenwood School continues to grow with a passion to be the best. We are proud to be here because of the huge support from our parent/guardians/and people who live with us. Also the strong principal & staff who care about everyone. They all make the difference.

Anonymous said...

My partner and I are looking at elementary schools in the Northwest cluster. Does anyone have any information on B.F. Day and Adams elementary. Our daughter will be starting kindergarten and we are looking for a school that is strong in academics and the arts. It is also important to have a school that has a strong family community and is welcoming to all families. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

My family and I are relocating to the seattle area this summer and our son will be starting kindergarten in the fall. I was wondering if anyone has some insight into AS1 at all and how it differs from AE2? It seems that AE2 is in higher demand... is there a reason for this? Thanks so much for any info!!!

Anonymous said...

Let me just add a good word for Wedgwood. The principal is incredible, and our daughter's kindergarten teacher is also incredible. We chose to send our daughter to Wedgwood even though we live in the Bryant area. I absolutely agree with the poster who said that it's a personal decision and everyone has different needs. We were concerned about a strong academic program, and Wedgwood has that, in our opinion. Our daughter came in barely reading, and now she is reading everything she can find-- signs, cereal boxes, readers, the newspaper. For this we can thank her teacher-- who works individually with the children at their own level (some are reading Harry Potter, and some don't know the alphabet!), and who stresses "environmental print"--i.e., words in every day life. At lunch she was sitting with the children and they were handing her empty milk cartons, wrappers- you name it- and reading them. The test scores are superb, as another poster noted.

Another advantage of Wedgwood is the Spectrum program. If your child tests into Spectrum, she or he will have priority to getting into Spectrum if she or he is at the cluster school hosting Spectrum. Spectrum starts in first grade at Wedgwood but not until third at View Ridge. At VRidge, kids get pulled out to go to Spectrum. Wedgwood's principal worked very hard to erase the differences between Spectrum, regular and special ed classrooms. So the children do not seem to be aware of any tiers.

True, Wedgwood doesn't look as bright and crisp as Bryant, but we have been really impressed by its can-do spirit. Its family programs (math night, astronomy night) also are academically focused.

One last comment: I wasn't expecting to have the kind of community-building at Wedgwood that Bryant describes in its presentations, or that other people discuss in their postings, but in fact my daughter has been taught to believe--and she really believes it!--that everyone in her class is her friend and that it is her obligation to be kind to everyone. There is a wonderful sense of community.

By the end of the week off for Thanksgiving and teacher conferences, she asked every day, "When can I go back to school?"

Not Happy said...

Sorry

We have been at Wedgewood for two years now and are leaving.

We do not like the Principal at all and are thrilled she quit to move onto some other role.

She was difficult, made us feel totally disregarded, and our needs an opinions were never heard.

The education in my opinion (and other parents I've spoken to) is SUB PAR! My son is not learning anything in that school. And he's light years ahead of what they are teaching. He came home the other day and I asked if he had a new math workbook. He said "I finished them all and they ran out of work for me" WHY? Because he's 6 years old and doing 3rd grade math in 1st grade but they can't teach him anything more! He just has to sit unoccupied while the rest of the class catches up. What a waste of my son's time!!

We are signed up for 2nd grade but will be moving as soon as the house sells.

Kirsten said...

Does anyone have information/opinions on Sacajawea?