Tuesday, June 19, 2007

School Assignment Plan Vote Tomorrow

The School Board will be voting on the revised School Assignment plan tomorrow night at the Board meeting at 6 pm at the Stanford Center.

Today on Crosscut, former Seattle School Board member Dick Lilly has an interesting article about the proposal: Seattle's contradictory school-assignment proposal.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Dick Lilly presents the situation in a well-articulated, thoughtful manner without presenting an opinion about what should happen. He's wise because there is no "should". Some folks favor choice and some favor predictibility and a lot of it depends on neighborhood and the needs of the student.

I honestly cannot argue with his points. There may be some hard decisions once this framework is passed. I worry about the "taxonomy for alternatives" (Tracy Libros' phrase) and the reworking of the boundaries after passing the framework but the framework is not a plan so there should be room for discussion.

Mr. Lilly mentioned the Supreme Court decision about the use of the racial tiebreaker. I was reading the latest Supreme Court decision this morning (about passengers in a car stopped by the police being allowed to assert their 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure - a unanimous vote for that right for passengers by the Court) and it was stated that the final decisions - including the Seattle decision - would be made within the next 10 days.

Charlie Mas said...

I think that there are two important changes that have the potential to dwarf the assignment policy in their importance, and the change in assignment plan that will have the greatest impact isn't being much discussed.

First will be the reference area revisions.

Imagine what the Montlake reference area will look like when it is right-sized. I have been told, at various times, that students had to live within seven blocks of the school to get in. That is going to be one tiny area, and it is not going to be centered on the school, but will stretch to the north to the ship canal. McGivra's reference area will also stretch north and they will pull all of the others north as well, starting with Stevens.

So what neighborhoods will be in the reference area for TT Minor? A lot of Eastlake, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill. What will TT Minor be like when it is the reference area school for those neighborhoods instead of the CD?

The second change outside the assignment plan that promises to have the biggest impact on choice is the new initiative in the district to intervene more quickly and more aggressively when schools fail to meet their benchmarks. I'm really excited about the improvements that will result when the district takes a exerts its academic role again.

Finally, the shift from middle school reference areas with two schools to reference areas with one school. Again consider the central region. Won't it be Montlake, McGilvra, Stevens, and the new gentrified TT Minor that will feed to Meany. What will Meany be like when they start serving that population!?

I'm looking on with interest to see how the District intends to spend the Southeast initiative money. Rainier Beach has the right idea. They intend to use the money to expand their offerings, not to deepen them.

Anonymous said...

The tussle over the new geographic lines for the reference areas has already started, I note in the responses to Dick Lilly's excellent article. Charlie Mas aka Cool Papa is asserting that many of the disaffected Central Area neighborhoods will be sent to TT Minor as a reference school. (Capitol Hill and Eastlakians who have trouble getting into Montlake and Stevens). Newsflash for Charlie...the District has said nothing of the sort. There are other alternatives to shunting these neighborhoods into that school. Proximity, after all, is one of the key pieces of the Framework. Neighborhood schools are all about proximity. (That means that his QA/Magnolia points in the article were also not a good example.) Neighborhoods are willing to commit resources to neighborhood schools. TT Minor is not our neighborhood school. Please allow voices other than your own vociferous one help work through the complicated Central Area issues.

Anonymous said...

Here here to that last comment from Anonymous. I've heard a number of different brainstorms for that same area of Capitol Hill to which Charlie is refering. None of them have involved TT Minor. And no, this isn't an issue of race, so can we please set that aside up front? It's an issue of neighborhood access. Kids that can go to school within a district-approved walk zone save the district money. And their parents are more likely to be involved in the school.

Anonymous said...

I'm an Eastlake parent, and I'll add my voice to the chorus on Charlie's comment. Take a look at a map and see where TT Minor is located compared to where our neighborhood is located. Not even close. And not acceptable when there are 5 schools closer in proximity. Sorry Charlie.

Charlie Mas said...

Okay, I'm loud and I'm wrong.

Then let's hear other voices and let's hear what's right.

There are alternatives. What are they? What other shapes might the reference areas for Montlake and McGilvra take?

Here's how I reckoned: The north east corner of land south of the ship canal has to be in the McGilvra reference area. The reference area can go south and west from there. The reference area for Montlake will have to start at the west edge of the McGilvra reference area and will have to be bordered on the north by the ship canal. Given the relatively small size of the schools - neither of these buildings can hold 300 students - I didn't figure they could stretch very far south before these buildings are full, and I don't see how it can stretch all the way east to Lake Union. Stevens will pick up where Montlake leaves off, and could go west to the lake if it doesn't go very far south.

Remember, the District is going to guarantee everyone a seat in their reference area elementary school. They can't make the reference area contain more students than the school can contain. They also need to be ready for more students in these neighborhoods to choose public school once their assignment is predictable.

That's why I concluded that the reference area for TT Minor will be pulled north.

I recognize, however, that it doesn't have to be that way.

One alternative, of course, would be to re-purpose Lowell as a neighborhood school. This has certainly been suggested a number of times, but has yet to find much interest. The usual response is that the poor condition of the Lowell building precludes its use as a neighborhood school. Of course, the poor condition of the building hasn't precluded its use by APP and low-incidence special education students.

Another alternative would be to repurpose Seward as a neighborhood school. That plan will be a tough sell to the TOPS community, but it can certainly be tried.

The fifth school that is closer to Eastlake than TT Minor is Meany. Do the Eastlakians have designs on Meany as a K-8?

Are these the alternatives or are there others? If I'm wrong - and I'm wrong a lot - then what's right?

Lake Union Mail said...

Hey Charlie!
What about sawing off the western portions of the old Montlake and Stevens reference areas to share 50% of the Seward campus with a reduced-cluster draw TOPS K-8?
From the Eastlake perspective, all the Lowell, TT Minor, MLK and Madrona options suffer from the same Curse of the Freeway Split.
Let our students and parents grab the 70 Series bus -- save a few Yellow Bus transportation dollars. Let's be the School District that aggessively grabs the students moving into the new housing of Southlake and Belltown.
-Jules James, Eastlake Resident & TOPS Parent-

North Capitol Hill said...

I've never heard a single parent argue for Lowell as an elementary school, perhaps because it sits a block off busy Broadway. Seward sits a block of busy I-5, but also sits in the Eastlake neighborhood. What if McGilvra boarders were pulled further east and slightly further south. Montlake would move its reference area more oriented to the east. Seward/TOPS would take additional kids from the Eastlake and west Montlake and South Lake Union neighborhoods. To accomodate those kids, one cluster from the current multi-cluster TOPS draw would be dropped. The cluster that was dropped wouldn't be pleased (although current students and siblings would be grandfathered in anyhow.) If the program is popular, it could be replicated in the cluster that was dropped. Meanwhile you'd have a lot more kids able to walk to Seward/TOPS as well as ride the 70 right to its front door.

North Capitol Hill said...

Just posted and forgot to add that I also agree with Lake Union Mail about the Eastlake children. (There aren't many now, but when I'm down at Rogers Park, which TOPS uses as its own, it seems to be filled more and more often w/ preschoolers and their parents.) Eastlake, where I used to live, has a distinct disadvantage as far as elementary placement. I-5 puts all the schools on Capitol Hill, other than Seward, out of a safe walk zone. I've never understood why TOPS couldn't accommodate those neighborhood kids.

Alex F said...

Are you suggesting that 50% of TOPs be a reference school for the Eastlake, Montlake neighborhoods? Perhaps I understood that wrong. If I did read it correctly, you do understand that not everybody wants an alternative school. A reference school is a neighborhood traditional school. Alternative models should be by choice.

Anonymous said...

What about an alternative school overlay for the new reference areas. Families within the overlay area would have the choice to attend either the alternative school, or another reference school of the District's choosing. This would encourage interaction between alternative schools and the communities in which they sit. It would also free up spaces in other crowded "traditional" schools. I bet a lot of families would choose an alternative program for their children if they knew the predictable path from elementary to middle school and could have the benefit of walking to a school in their neighborhood. Undersubscribed alternative schools might get additional students. Oversubscribed alternative programs could be replicated in other areas. (TOPS and John Stanford come to mind.)

Anonymous said...

I hope the district is going to look at the definition of alternative as part of this reference redo. This has come up a number of times but it bears examining again. Are TOPS and Salmon Bay and a couple of other programs even alternative schools at this point? Other than their multi-area draws, I mean. Because if they're not alternative, then reference areas start shaping up much more easily in the NW and Central clusters. Although...that overlay idea from a previous poster is also interesting and might avoid the "what is alternative" debate.

Roy Smith said...

Charlie -

Looking at this map, the data on kids who live in each reference area, and the enrollment figures (from the school annual reports) I get the following info about McGilvra and Montlake.

McGilvra: 144 elementary SPS students live in the reference area; it is the closest school for 127 students; enrollment is 257.

Montlake: 219 elementary SPS students live in the reference area; it is the closest school for 178 students; enrollment is 236.

From this data, Montlake's reference area seems to be pretty close to the right size; McGilvra's could actually get quite a bit bigger.

Of course, this does not account for the number of private school students that probably live in these neighborhoods. If a significant number of these students are attracted into SPS by greater predictability, then the dynamic may change.

It seems to me that since demographics continually fluctuate, the reference areas for elementary schools should be updated every two or three years (if not annually), so that we can avoid repeating the problem of poorly sized reference a few years from now.

Anonymous said...

My kids go to Salmon Bay. Believe me it is ALTERNATIVE. So much so that we are moving our son to a traditional school next year. Our younger son is in a traditional school so we have the experience to compare. Salmon Bay is alternative in many many ways. Too much to go into detail now on this blog. I don't know much about TOPS though.

Anonymous said...

My opinion differs from many of the authorities that be, in where they define alternative schools as progressive models of education. They argue that schools like John Stanford, Bagley (Montessori), The New School are not alternative because they are not following a progressive education model such as AS1 does. I believe that anything that is not traditional is alternative. The definition makes a huge difference because alternative schools get all city and/or multi cluster draws (in most cases). So as it stands now the John Stanford school is not classified as an alternative. They are the only school in the Seattle school district that offers Spanish and Japanese immersion programs, however only the kids who live in its reference area can get in. Same for the New School, Bagley Montessori, etc.
To make it worse some schools that are not using a progressive model of education are classified as alternative, such as the African American Academy. It has an all city draw. The lines are very confusing and definately need clarification.

Anonymous said...

Have never been in TOPS, but my friends who've had children there say it is not alternative and hasn't been for a long time.

Good luck getting the community there to give up more seats for the neighborhood!

Charlie Mas said...

Roy, I see what you're looking at. Officially, since McGilvra has annexed the M L King reference area, there are 214 students in that area, but that's still under the number now enrolled.

I think there are a lot of people from Eastlake and Capitol Hill who would find that map very interesting and might dispute the conclusion that there is room in these schools for all of the children in the reference area.

Most of the alternative ideas I read involved making Seward the reference area school for some students. While TOPS does have some set-aside seats for Eastlake area students, it is NOT their reference area school. In the new plan, the District both default assigns and guarantees enrollment at the reference area school. The District has not indicated that they would give a student a default assignment at an Alternative school. That would represent a big change.

It was also suggested that the lost capacity could be replaced by replicating The Option Program somewhere else, but where? The only available buildings south of downtown are the three vacant recently closed schools (Rainier View, ML King, and Fairmount Park), and none of them are big enough or appropriately configured for use as a K-8. Of course, another path would be for a school to convert from neighborhood to alternative. This could be done, but I fear it would require better public relations skills and responsiveness than the District has demonstrated to date. Could it work as a co-located program within a building?

The only examples of co-located programs within a single building that I can think of are the Montessori programs at Bagley and Graham Hill. I don't know if the language immersion programs at Stanford include every student or not, nor do I know if the students in the Spanish and Japanese programs are kept in discrete and separate groups. Some Spectrum programs work that way, but many don't. For it to work, the school has to be big enough for the separate classrooms yet empty enough to spare the set aside seats.

Set aside seats, by the way, are a whole other discussion. When the District right-sizes the reference area for Lafayette, for example, they will have to reserve five classrooms for Spectrum.

That sounds okay, but what will the District do in West Seattle-South? Won't the District have to reserve some capacity at which of those schools is designated as the Spectrum site when right-sizing the reference area? Which school will it be? Will they have to change the reference area every time they alter a program placement?

If the District has Spectrum at Lafayette, and they have a feeder pattern that sends Lafayette students to Madison, does that mean that Madison will have to offer Spectrum?

Melissa Westbrook said...

The district does use both the terms "non-traditional" and "alternative". For example, Center School is non-traditional and TOPS is alternative. I don't see what is alternative about TOPS (when I was on the CAC, the principal had a hard time coming up with anything except it's a K-8 school which, by the district's reckoning, is non-traditional). It might help if those terms are explained.

Also, why was John Stanford designated as a reference school but not TOPS? I know JS used to be Latona but it seems folly to have shut out neighborhood kids from TOPS if it's their only close school. As I recall, staff wanted to restrict TOPS area anyway so maybe it could become accessible to neighborhood students.

So many issues and yet just a skeleton framework. I wonder what the new super will think (and do) when she comes in.

Anonymous said...

Melissa said:

"I don't see what is alternative about TOPS (when I was on the CAC, the principal had a hard time coming up with anything except it's a K-8 school which, by the district's reckoning, is non-traditional)"

Sadly, I don't think the TOPS principal is the best person to ask about what makes TOPS alternative. Keep in mind that Seattle schools do not pick their own administrators.

Anonymous said...

In response to "North Capitol Hill," I'm one parent who would love to see Lowell as a neighborhood school, because it's close by. My family and the other nearby families with children are quite used to being near Broadway; that's why we live here.

The argument I have always heard for using Lowell as APP/not neighborhood is that there is historically a very small number of elementary-age children in the neighborhood. I remember hearing that at the time Lowell was changed to APP, there was only one student in attendance who walked to school. (I have not verified this and do not have a source.) For me, it's disappointing to have a school within easy walking distance that my child is barred from attending because it houses an extremely selective program, but I guess this would be true for families near any building that housed APP.

Lowell Neighbor

Roy Smith said...

The single most frustrating thing for me about the current assignment plan is the fact that the language immersion program at John Stanford is inaccessible to my family because John Stanford is a reference area school and the program is extremely popular. Unlike most of the other alternative/non-traditional programs in SPS, there is absolutely nothing similar to this program elsewhere in the district, and there clearly is not enough capacity to meet demand.

To me, until there are adequate seats district-wide to meet demand for language immersion programs, it seems the only equitable way to manage access to this program would be to hold a city-wide lottery for admission.

Anonymous said...

I just posted this on another site, but their is a good definition/taxonomy of what is considered "alternative" in SPS through work that was done two years ago by the Citizen's Advisory Committee on Alternative Education, and is being continued by the new standing committee on Alternative Education. It is available on the school district website at

as well as on several of the alternative school websites (I know it is on Salmon Bay's website under "Committee on Alternative Education"

Anonymous said...

sorry, "there," not "their"

Anonymous said...

I live in the ML King reference area (now McGilvra), in Madison Valley. This neighborhood is FULL of young families with pre-school children, including mine, who will start K in 2008/9.

I just don't believe the population predictions that say this area has a dwindling school-age population. In the last 5 years, there has a been a very large turn-over of houses owned by elderly people to new families with little kids. I don't think the projections take this into account.

If the district sizes the McGilvra refrence area for 2008/9 based on the number of school-age kids in 2007, they may be vary surprised by how many Kindergartners show up in '08, '09 and '10.

I asked Raj about this on a radio call-in show during the closure process, and he didn't really answer it.

So, do any of you know?

Are the numbers of pre-school aged kids in an area going to be considered as part of right-sizing? If so, where does the district get these numbers? Can we see them?


Roy Smith said...

The last anonymous post is a perfect example of why right-sizing the reference areas should be a very regular occurence (every 2-3 years at the most), not a once-in-a-generation exercise. Demographics shift over time, sometimes quite rapidly. Failing to update regularly to account for these changes makes reference areas somewhat less than useful.

Wendy said...

Six years ago, when I was preparing to reigster my daughter for kindergarten, I went to a community meeting about school choice. The district representative there emphasized that all the future school growth was happening south of the ship canal. She told us to expect that the NE cluster schools we were looking at, would loose more and more students each year leading to half empty buildings.

I'm not so impressed with their predictions.

Anonymous said...


There is another school starting a dual-language program that mirrors the Stanford school model. For the life of me I am blanking as to which school it is, but I am pretty sure it is a South End elementary.


Roy Smith said...

Anna - I had heard rumors that this was in the works. As far as I know (does anybody have more information about this?) it will also be a reference area school with no special assignment procedures, thus still keeping language immersion inaccessible to anybody who does not live in one or a few specific geographical neighborhoods. That is the same problem I have with student assignment at John Stanford.

I am glad that SPS has recognized that this program is popular and should be duplicated. That is a step in the right direction.