Friday, April 20, 2007


I may be jumping into a hornet's nest here but there's a lot of confusion and anger out there over high school assignments. (I may be repeating a few things I said elsewhere but I want to paint a full picture.)

I was at a Site Council meeting at Roosevelt last night and learned that the waitlist, including all grades not just 9th, is over 400. That's a lot of disappointed people.

The big issue that each and every one of us needs to get, that no enrollment plan can fairly address, is that we live in a geographically challenged city. Period.

Wednesday night I was at a PTSA meeting where the changed to Metro was discussed and a scatter map of eligible students given out. I was surprised at how many students come from Magnolia/QA/SE. But that will change in the coming years. Here's why.

First, a little review. When a school is overenrolled, a series of tiebreakers kick in. The first (and most obvious) is sibling. Then, it's region (except high school is an all-city draw so the city is the region). Then distance. Then lottery.

I think what happened this year (and maybe for a few more) is a perfect storm of conditions. New building for an academically successful school with great programs. More private school parents noticing this and applying to get in. The last of the siblings from students who were probably the last ones to use the racial tiebreaker are coming in from all directions. The distance circle got smaller as the sibs/private school students/closest distance students all converged.
But those sibs from other parts of the city are likely to be the last ones to get into Roosevelt. It will become a largely NE, above the ship canal school in the coming years.

But the NE didn't just suddenly sprout teenagers. Roosevelt will likely continue to be successful and continue to draw in private school students.

So what's the answer? It's not packing more students in. The school is already overenrolled, not enough money for everyone who wants a 6-period day to have one, not enough lockers, etc.

So two things could happen. One, the enrollment below the ship canal will ease, allowing more NE students in. (If it doesn't, then I would wonder what was happening and think the district needs to look at each enrollment application from south of the ship canal carefully.) Two, Hale could (and should) open its doors to more students. I don't know how they think they can continue (especially after they get renovated thanks to BEX III) as a 1050-1100 seat school. It's just not fair to Roosevelt to have to continue to expand as Hale holds the line.

I do wonder why Ingraham (according to what I have heard) has no waitlist. It's a pretty good school with a good IB program. Both Hale and Ingraham are comprehensive high schools so there should be a solution to this problem.


Anonymous said...

While you said the NE didn't just sprout teenagers, that Roosevelt probably drew in more private school students - that is probably largely true, but I do know that the NE section of the city student population is expected to grow a lot - and you can see it. The neighborhoods are really turning over, and as a lot of older retired people are moving out, developers are coming in and rennovating or rebuilding homes (or homebuyers themselves) and families are moving in due in part to the good schools. So I believe that the school population is going to continue to grow. I read that the school district is anticipating that planning to rennovate/expand several North end elementary schools to increase capacity to 535 before 2030. Obviously, they will have to increase middle school and high school capacity as well.

Anonymous said...

So why does my only child count less than someone's sibling? I hate to be the one to challenge this "truth," but there you are.

Dorothy said...

I concur with the first poster. My block of 24 humble post-war bungalows in its heyday had a population of 28 kids. When I moved in in 1990, more than half the houses had elderly couples or a widow. There was one family with one child. All the elderly are gone, most of the houses have gotten bigger and we have eleven children under the age of 8 (plus my 13 year old). And that number will rise. We are 1.79 miles from Roosevelt. My kid did get in for next year.

Twenty years ago while I was teaching high school, I chaired a committee to look into IB. Two other teachers and I from a small private school in one of the toniest suburbs in the world spent the day at an inner-city Milwaukee school drooling (and were sad to conclude that we just were not big enough to create such a program ourselves). So why did we choose Roosevelt over Ingraham?

Mostly because my son is hoping to attend high school only one or two years, the transition school is his aspiration. (He is skipping 8th grade so will still be eligible to apply next year.) Young Scholars would be his next goal. So why attend Ingraham with only pre-IB for a year or two when he can get a comparable experience at Roosevelt?

Since he may very well be the youngest freshman on campus, I also considered the fact that he already knows a lot of kids who will be at Roosevelt, it being our neighborhood school. As many others agree, many folks like neighborhood schools.

But it feels wrong that not everyone in the neighborhood, in the community, can get in. All the APP arguments about how APP ought not be split up, since it forms a community and other kids get to remain in their communities just doesn't hold up when other kids do not get to remain with their community. (I am not saying APP should be split up, just don't claim that not splitting it up would be the norm and not a privilege.) There are five Integrated III kids at Eckstein, they've been in many classes together, they are teaching themselves Int III together as a semi-independent study, they participate (and do well) in Math competitions together, but alas, one lives just a few blocks too far east. What's Hale going to be like for a student who comes in ready for pre-calculus?

Not only is Roosevelt closer, it is also centrally located on metro bus routes to everywhere. Ingraham is very difficult to get to by metro from our house. Yes, there will be yellow bus, but for how long? And that limits after school choices. It will be much easier for him to have autonomy for after school activities at Roosevelt. I think that's an important aspect of growing up.

Melissa is right that the only way kids outside the 1.81 mile boundary can get in is as a sibling. The map she refers to states that 836 kids, about half the school, are outside that boundary. That number will definitely fall as the siblings graduate. Good news for Laurelhurst, since the 1.81 boundary may expand as the siblings in other parts of town graduate. Bad news for many others though, who mistakenly believe Seattle has school choice.

Beth Bakeman said...

Melissa, what exactly do you mean by a "geographically challenged city"?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I just meant we are a long, skinny city with various land masses that stick out in different places. We are a very north/south city even though people live west(hello Ballard!) and east (hello Laurelhurst!) and in the far west (hello Magnolia and West Seattle!). I think it definitely presents challenges for an enrollment program that uses distance.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, so what brainstorming could we do to make the enrollment plan better? Keep in mind that 90+% of people, in any given year, get their first choice. For a choice plan, that's tremendous.

From what I'm hearing there are pockets of problems getting into some elementary schools (and some of that may be because the schools are so small) like McGilvra and Montlake or TOPS/John Stanford (because of popularity). Middle school is a real problem because there are not many "popular" schools - Washington, Whitman and Eckstein come to mind. But I'd like to hear from parents at other middle schools about how they feel. The other middle and K-8 schools aren't exactly empty. And then you have the high school issue.

Should we have different enrollment procedures for the different levels of schools? Should the district believe that "one size fits all" for an enrollment program?

If we changed high school enrollment from an all-city draw to region, you'd sure have a lot of unhappy people (just a different group than who are now unhappy). You'd have to have a lottery process for the bio-tech program at Ballard and the IB programs at Ingraham/Sealth (if demand warranted it). You'd have to have an audition process for the music programs at Roosevelt and Garfield because it would be beyond unfair to deny access to those nationally-ranked programs because of where someone lives. You'd likely have to put more AP at all the schools whose parents demanded it (or help students with navigating taking AP online which, apparently, is a growing trend). It's logistics such as those that the district would have to plow through and I'm not sure they want to given the high first-choice rate already in place.

I'd welcome any ideas because it is going to be discussed this fall and we might as well get a jump on it. This district, even with a high first choice rate, shouldn't be alienating any neighborhood so it's worth making the effort to discuss it.

Brita said...


Clarification--the student assignment plan is being overhauled this spring. The board has had at least one work session and several committee discussions of it. It is on the agenda for our next Student Learning Committee meeting next Tues. at 5:30 PM (entire meeting starts at 4:30).

We are discussing what a student assignment plan needs to look like to optimize student learning. The Board's operations committee is looking at the operational details.

Everyone is welcome to attend and observe the discussion. The current system is cumbersome, unfair, and hard to understand, with more of an illusion of choice than real choice.


Roy Smith said...

Would having regional high schools, combined with lotteries/auditions for the popular special programs, really be any more logistically challenging or result in a lower rate of student/parent satisfaction with the assignment process than the current mess? For one thing, I think that this alternative would probably make it possible to completely get rid of the enrollment centers, which in itself represents a sizable savings of money and manpower, not to mention being less frustrating for families.

Additionally, I suspect that the "90+%" figure for first-choice assignment is not really representative, as it does not account for folks who either go the private school route rather than take their chances on maybe getting what they want in the public schools. It also does not account for those who don't even put their real first choice on the form because they look at the system and conclude that there is no chance they will get it anyway, so they put as their first choice the one they like and feel like they have a realistic chance of getting into (yes, this really does happen: I have talked with people who have done it). All this adds up to significantly less than 90+% satisfaction with the assignment system.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Brita. I had talked to Michael deBell on this issue and he had indicated that there would likely be public hearings about it in the fall and that's what I meant. Thank you for the update.

Anonymous said...


Do you know if Roosevelt has made more seats available (like Ballard did yesterday)for 9th grade general education students wait listed there? Thanks,

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes they have. I think it may have been around 20. It doesn't sound like it will move anymore for awhile. The school is asking, if they have to take more kids to do it now rather than in the fall. That is because they are setting the master class schedule and it completely throws the schedule and budget out of whack if the district puts more kids in the school in the fall rather than letting the school know by the end of this school year.

Charlie Mas said...

The District needs to assess the demand for public school services, broken down by program and location, and then re-allocate facilities and resources to meet that demand.

Nothing else would be data-based.

It may mean that the District needs to re-purpose some buildings. Perhaps Old Hay is converted from the Secondary B.O.C. to use as the Center School. Perhaps the Monroe building becomes an adjunct to Ballard High School and Salmon Bay moves to Viewlands. Perhaps Marshall becomes an adjunct to Roosevelt High School.

I don't know what changes will be needed, but whatever they are, they will be driven by the demand, not by bureaucratic fiat.

Anonymous said...

My guess why INgraham has no waitlist and Roosevelt has a 400 kid waitlist it two fold. First, there are not as many children in that geographic area, and enrollment isn't growing as fast there as in the NE. And, two, they still have dismal test scores, and I think parent use test scores to judge a schools success. Wonder if you could pull out the IB test scores, and see them seperate from the general program?

Anonymous said...

Melissa writes......"From what I'm hearing there are pockets of problems getting into some elementary schools (and some of that may be because the schools are so small) like McGilvra and Montlake". I venture to say that the problem is disparity in academic performace and all of the "extras" that go with being a wealthy school. Not because they are small. They are two of only a few above average performing schools in the central cluster, and everybody wants in.

Anonymous said...

Melissa you said "If we changed high school enrollment from an all-city draw to region, you'd sure have a lot of unhappy people (just a different group than who are now unhappy). You'd have to have a lottery process ....etc"

Why do we have to change enrollment at all? Why not just add capacity at the few places in the city that need it? If Roosevelt is over-crowded, then perhaps we need to duplicate it, band and all, so that families can be accomodated. And it still begs the question....why doesn't Hale have a waitlist? Parents want AP, band, great test scores etc. And, Hale with it's acadamies and lack of AP courses etc, has taken on an "alternative" persona, and families that want a traditional school are turning away. Many of the AEII and Salmon Bay wind up at Hale. They say it is compatable with an alternative program. It appears to me that we have enough alternative capacity, and that families are saying they want more traditional HS seats.

Dorothy said...

Brita, in the upcoming discussion of student assignment plan is there any discussion of the sibling tiebreaker? Have to say while I am sympathetic to it, if the values of the district include having more students able to choose to attend their neighborhood school, that sibling thing gets in the way.

I agree with the comment uneasy with accepting the 90+% getting their first choice at face value. I think the board (and the public) needs more information before buying this figure. The district makes all kind of pretty maps and data analysis. Are there maps about who gets first choice schools? Let's see some real information about choice and how many people at what grade level and in what section of the city get their first choice? Could younger siblings (for whom there is no concern) possibly be miscounted here? Or, if you think siblings ought to be counted, how about a breakdown of what percent of first children vs subsequent children get their first choice? I'd be very surprised if this analysis ended up showing 90+% at first choice schools spread out all over the city.

And that's not even considering polling parents citywide to find what percent didn't even apply for their first choice, thinking it impossible to get.

Melissa Westbrook said...

That's just a great point about the 90% first choice. Just because you got into the school you put down as your first choice doesn't mean it was your "real" first choice or that 90% of people are satisfied.

About Montlake and McGilvra, I just meant that because they are small, there are fewer spaces available. They are, of course, very popular. I had hoped that McGilvra would make the BEX III list because it would be a tremendous boon to that area and likely to draw back many private school parents in that neighborhood as well as be a great choice for displaced MLK students. Maybe next round which is about 6-7 years down the road.

If that's true about Salmon Bay kids going to Hale because they perceive it is more alternative then there's a problem because Summit, an alternative K-12, is right across the street.

We are coming back to the same question, though. Why can't successful programs be duplicated? Why can't the district listen to what parents want instead of having schools go off in their own directions? As Charlie says, the argument can be made to follow the successful (read: full) programs.

It's interesting because there are schools in our district that may not be popular and/or full but are well-liked by the families in them. For some kids and their families, a supportive school community is very important even if their academics are not strong and they have little in the way of enrichment. The question then to ask is can we have schools that are liked by a small segment of people but are not necessarily academically successful and may be taking capacity away from parents who want something different in that area?

Anonymous said...

I think, having been an alternative school parent (AEII and Salmon Bay) that Summit has the reputation for taking socially or behaviorally challenged children. They have no real alternative philosophy (IE AS1 is a democratic school, AEII is an expeditionary learning school). Summit does have a strong focus on the arts, but so do many traditional schools. Put that together with horribly low WASL scores, and you get an under enrolled school. I don't know one family from AEII or Salmon Bay that went to Summit for middle or High school!! Hale on the otherhand, is more of a middle ground. They are not quite traditional, small learning communities (acadamy), get decent WASL scores, have the same philosophy as alternative schools in thinking "all kids are gifted", no need for AP classes, and are in the neighborhood. This makes the alternative families feel much more comfortable at Hale than at Roosevelt or Summit. I live across the street from Summit. We have 11 families on our block, and not one of them goes to Summit. In fact, I do not know one Summit family, even after spending 6 years at AEII and 1 year at Salmon Bay.

Dorothy said...

Summit certainly has lower wasl scores than lots of schools, however, check out their value-added scores. They are very good. Summit does work for some kids. They are hampered geographically and have been hampered by high principal turnover and of course the district's slap --- they were the only program that was to be summarily eliminated in the first set of closures.

I think it is good to have a K-12 school and I wish the district could have kept their promise and moved them back to a central location. That said, it would be nice if they had more effective leadership to re-establish a mission and identity.

Anonymous said...

I wish Summit would move back to the central part of Seattle too. It would make so much more sense for them with an all city draw, and it would open up the Jane Addams bldg., to add much needed capacity for middle or high school in NE Seatte. And, it is about time the district gives them a stable, permanent principal. The turnover is appalling, and set them up for failure.

classof75 said...

I will say that my oldest who attended private K-12 did so for two main reasons
One was that the district stated that she would not qualify for either gifted or disability support programs, despite being able to benefit from both.

The logistical reason even though we did identify a couple programs that we thought could work for her, assignments were not given until after the deposit for the private school was due, and while private school wait lists move during the summer, public school doesn't move their wait list until fall and I didn't want her to attend school for one or two months at one school and then switch, even if it was a school that we wanted.

I will also say, as a long time resident of Seattle, I had never known anyone who had attended private school except for a few peers who were Catholic, and never imagine my child would attend private.
However,since the private schools that value economic diversity have very good financial aid, we found it to be a more manageable choice than moving to the suburbs for better schools.

I do appreciate the menage of students in SPS, but I feel the city loses a lot, when families can't afford to live here, or when the ones that can, don't choose to, because they are frustrated with the lack of communication and continuity in SPS.

We are blue college- very moderate income, but if I had to do it over again, I would still live in the city, but I would keep both my kids in private school, not because of the students or families in public school, but because of a failure to put the child at the center of education at the district level.

Anonymous said...

Allowing geography to be the only dictator, besides having a sibling at a school, of whether or not a kid gets into a high school is ridiculous. Our daughter is at Eckstein, we live 2.1 miles from Roosevelt and didn't get in......we have a kid who is a gifted theatrically , and we live in a city with one of the top 10 high school theater programs in the country, but we can't get in. Geography should play a part, but access to specialty programs around the city should be a consideration for kids who have a special talent, whether it is in math, trobone, voice or drama.

Anonymous said...

"Geography should play a part, but access to specialty programs around the city should be a consideration for kids who have a special talent, whether it is in math, trobone, voice or drama."

I appreciate how people say that the school district should consider audtioning to allow students to get priority in certain schools due to the school's programs ie drama, music, etc. I spoke to someone yesterday whose daughter is going to Roosevelt in the Fall. The dad said that they didn't even list another school on the application because of the jazz choir was very important to their daughter. They are fortunate to live close enough,in the Bryant neighborhood, to not even worry about it. Then I heard a mom at my daughter's school talk about how they lost a house in Bryant that had multiple offers and went $70000 over asking (and was already way overpriced given the condition of the house) and was doing another inspection for another Bryant house with 2 other inspections scheduled for that same house that day. I had no idea the market was still that hot and I jokingly thought if these were families wanting their kids to get into Roosevelt who figured the extra mortgage cost/investment was less than what they would otherwise pay for private school. I know someone in Laurelhurst who already said they would buy in Wedgwood just to assure their children got into Roosevelt - it was that important to her.

Seriously though, the audtion idea sounds good unless you are a neighborhood kid who doesn't get into the school because your spot is taken by someone across town with a better musical talent. If your child is really great in theater, there are so many other programs in Seattle for youth to participate in.

I feel for the 2.1 miles though - that is what we live from Roosevelt too, and my oldest child is only in lower elementary school and LOVES drama and is already activly taking classes - so we could be in the similar situation.

I still believe you should be given priority to the school closest to your home period. Then at least when you buy a house, you know for sure (unless a new school is built/opened) which school your child has a 100% shot of getting into, and if it's not the right school, either take your chances or move.

Anonymous said...

"Take your chances or move". This is why the North end gets the bad rap it does in the south end. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the resources to move just for a school. There has to be a middle ground.

Anonymous said...

Well that's why we need to make all our schools better, isn't it? That comment about moving was just because if you have an automatic assigned school as your first priority, but then can apply to other schools, it takes away the surprise that lots of families don't want. My first choice would to bring up every school with these great programs.

Bottom line - geography is already what is being used to determine what school your child attends so people on the South end would not get into Roosevelt unless they had a sibling. My post was all about predictability - not about having all the affluent people buy houses where they want to get into schools - that happens, but my whole thing is I want my child at a school in his or her community and not have the inconveniences of driving across the city to go to school with kids that live in other parts of the city rather than the kids he or she grew up with. That's one reason we didn't do private school - (money was a factor of course too, but financial aid can be quite good)- we wanted that community factor/to walk to school.

Anonymous said...

I 100% agree with the above poster. We need predictiblity. Period. Our children deserve to go to their neighborhood school. It's healthy for the children, the community and the school (parents are much more active). We chose, Salmon Bay for middle school (it's an all city draw), but don't live near the school. My child had friends all over the city, rode the bus for an hour an d a half each way, and our parent involvement dropped drastically due to the distance from our home. I think there are many benefits to neighborhood schools, and I think families deserve predictibility.

Charlie Mas said...

Predictability is good when the predictable outcome is good.

When the predictable outcome is bad, predictability is bad.

Would those who wanted to get into Roosevelt and found themselves assigned to Cleveland have been happy if they had been told that they could 100% rely on being able to get into Cleveland?

Well, I have good news. They already HAVE that predictability because Cleveland is underenrolled. Anyone who wants to enroll their high school student at Cleveland is assured of access. There's your predictability. Happy now?