Okay, so by my reckoning the District is likely to start community meetings for the new Assignment plan by January/Feb/March. (They need it - finished - by October/November next year to use it for starting enrollment in Jan. 2009.) One thing to fight for is community meetings that are NOT all in one week and NOT all during the week. It needs to be drawn out, over several weeks or a couple of months, to give the most people the awareness of them and the ability to get to them. (When closure and consolidation did Saturday meetings they were well-attended and it speaks to the fact that not all parents have the energy or time to go on a weeknight.)
So, thinking about it here are some of the major problems (that mostly would be there whether we have a choice system or a more neighborhood system);
Boundaries: likely to be THE number one issue (after the ever-present equity issue but that's more problematic). How do we figure out how to draw these? For example, looking at a map with the middle schools, it seems to me to make sense to draw them vertically (silo-like) in the north end (everything east of 65th goes to Eckstein), every school east of Greenwood goes to Hamilton and everything west of Greenwood goes to Whitman. However, it makes less sense to do that south of the ship canal, so we perhaps go horizontal there.
The major problem with boundaries is capacity. Even the district has a hard time figuring this one out. The problem is programs. Some programs need more space and thereby reduce regular class capacity. So it would make sense for the academic side to figure out what programs go where (or stay where they are or move to serve a larger group of students or are installed because of lack of availability in an area). That would give a clearer capacity number. Then, you draw the boundaries.
Also, for popular schools, you create a cap. I don't want to hear how many kids were crammed into Eckstein in the '70s or that we can just drag more portables in. It doesn't serve anyone - kids, teachers or staff - when resources are stretched (because the district isn't going to offer more to a larger school - their projected high school size of 1000-1600 doesn't offer the 1600+ school more). Whitman has been quietly pulling back on its size so it can be done.
Also, once you determine program placement and sizes for each school, is that enough for each area created? Whether its elementary or middle or high, do we have enough capacity for the number of students in each area? The district has got to answer that question as well. Area is key because right now, we have enough capacity for high school but it's really on paper because Magnolia/Queen Anne doesn't have enough and the SE does.
And, if an elementary cluster has enough but one reference school has more kids than it can support, what do you tell those parents? First choice at any other school in the cluster (which might displace other reference kids) ?
Then there's tiebreakers. Is the district going to try a socio-economic one? That's legal and might help retain some diversity. Where would it figure in the line-up order?
Breaking it down, you have elementary, middle and high school enrollment. I believe they may be retaining the reference school to cluster to region to all-city draw methodology but don't quote me. This, of course, doesn't mean every level because, for example, high school is currently all-city draw.
Elementary is the least problematic and there are good elementaries in every region. That said, there are programs people want like John Stanford. It's quite an anomaly because it is definitely a speciality program and yet it functions as a neighborhood school. However, TOPS, another speciality program, is classified as alternative and an all-city draw and yet its neighborhood, Eastlake , didn't get the preference as a neighborhood school. The rule should be one or another. Every neighborhood HAS to have a reference elementary school (except maybe downtown - the district isn't interested at this time and that's another story).
One caveat; demographics. The district hasn't got a stellar record at its projections. (It said the SE would have more kids coming in and that didn't happen. That said, they have many students in that area either not enrolling or enrolling to schools in the north.). But, according to the latest data, the elementary populations are growing in the North/NE. Is there space in most of the schools? No, in the NE just at Northgate, Olympic Hills and Rogers. But that does no good if the kids live in other northern neighborhoods. (Elementary is where most people want their kids close to them.)
There was an opportunity to address this and, oddly, the district even says this but staff didn't recommend it to the Board very strongly. According to the district, it's suggested that each BEX contain elementary/middle/high school to either keep up on rundown schools OR solve a problem like capacity (meaning, rebuilding a school to a larger size). But this last BEX; only middle and high schools. So there's this North elementary capacity problem going to happen in the next 3-5 years (during which an elementary like, say, Laurelhurst or Wedgwood or McGilvra, could have been rebuilt to help the problem) but that's not going to happen. There's always reopening Sandpoint but it's not in a really great condition but we can make do if it's all we have.
Well, at least by the time those elementary kids get to high school, Hale and Roosevelt will be newish and Ingraham will be brand-newish.
For middle and high school the equity issues loom large. There are clearly better (and by perception, safer) middle and high schools. The SE initiative is getting underway but it would take at least 2 years to see progress. I can't see telling these families that they are stuck where they are in terms of school choice.
Middle school. Sigh, the black hole. I am disturbed to see the district is saying a middle school should be 900-1000 which flies in the face of rational thought. One, it's a tender yet volatile age and very troubling for parents. That's a big size for that age. I can't see where say, a 600-800 kid school couldn't have the volume to offer enough offerings to please parents and kids. I get where a K-8 of 500 or less has that problem but not a 600-800 middle school. And yet, that's the size they are putting forth. Two, parents seem to want a smaller size school but I don't see it in the district's thinking. If this matters to you, act now, get a group of parents together and fight for it. Otherwise, no crying about large middle schools.
High School. I think this situation is improving but Cleveland and Rainier Beach are problematic. I think that many people, but not necessarily the neighborhood, would have felt progress would have been made more quickly (or dramatically) had TAF been allowed into RBHS. I wish the whole thing had been handled better but again, that's water under the bridge.
What I think I hear from the district is assigning a high school where each high school have some number of "open choice" seats. How many? Unknown. What about transportation (that is one reason to change the assignment plan to pull back on transportation and its costs)? I would prefer that it happen only at high schools with speciality programs. One, because it seems less complicated. Two, because it seems fairer. You would have kids trying to get into a school because of an interest in a specific program that school has (IB or biotech) rather than just trying to get in. Or, in the case of the jazz bands at Roosevelt/Garfield, an open audition selection process (that's what happens if you are in the school, you have to audition).
You also have the problem of Queen Anne/Magnolia area and no high school. You can't continue to have people clawing to get into Ballard, Center School is fighting to be an all-city draw without the use of the distance tiebreaker (they want more diversity) and where can we locate a comprehensive high school? It has to be solved.
Alternatives. Very problematic for two reasons. One, the transportation costs are unreal (especially for Summit and AS I and AAA, all-city draws). It would make sense to make all alternatives regional except Summit. They would have to survive or not on their region. BUT, the second problem is that these aren't cookie-cutter schools. They all have been designed with specific focuses. So how fair is it to say you can only go to the alternative in your region? (But it's better than no alternatives at all.) And three, location. The SW only has one K-8 and one alternative (rolled into one) in Pathfinder. Is that fair to that region when the NE has more? And speaking of...
K-8's. Many people like the idea of K-8 but how many do we need? Many are alternatives. Is that enough or do we need more K-8s like Blaine or Madrona?
I wish the district would resist the pressure to change the plan now. I think some of it is self-driven - they want to save money on transportation. But it would certainly make sense to wait and see how closures play out as well as the SE initiative.