Thursday, February 07, 2008

Early Preview of the New Assignment Plan

So, I, along with a few other stalwart folks, went to the 4-hour Board Work Session on the new student assignment plan. Unfortunately, I only managed to stay for 2-hours (as did Charlie). I do have the complete presentation which is likely to show up at the district website at some point although I'll warn you, without the explanations from staff, it is not altogether easiy to understand.

I don't want to go into it minutely because I need to ponder what was presented. Here are some basic understandings about it:

-they plan on starting with high school assignments. Meaning, next spring, 8th graders will be using a different plan than middle/elementary students to enroll for high school for Fall 2009. Some of it is because of pure logistics; fewer high schools and less software to try to manipulate. This software issue is a big sticking point because the assignment and transportation and student information data isn't all on the same software plan and they need to move carefully.

-Michael de Bell expressed some concern over how these plans would work for alternative schools. Dr. G-J sought to sooth him but he remains concerned.

-all the Board members were there but Sherry Carr who was out of town. Michael de Bell and Harium asked the overwhelming majority of questions. Harium, who works in software, was particularly troubled by trying to create a software plan for the assignment plan from various other ones. He didn't believe it would work.

-the timeline is to start community engagement in March-April with recommendations to the Board in May, Board action in June, implementation planning and public info in the summer/Fall of 2008, with enrollment in Jan/Feb of 2009 and the first freshman using the new plan to start in Fall 2009.

-Here's a big one in answer to many who wonder how/why many south end students end up in north end schools. You may remember I said special ed but I forgot about bilingual students. Each high school (or every school for that matter) has different seats for different populations. The largest, of course, is general ed, but there are also Special Ed "self-contained", Special Ed Resource, and bilingual. Each set of seats is assigned separately and, I believe, students can request any school for the seat they want. Meaning, bilingual students in the south end can request Ballard or Roosevelt, for example, and get in if seats are available. There are far more seats available in the north end because the north end has fewer bilingual students.

-Staff had many slides that had graphs, reasoning, etc. These did get challenged by Board members who thought some of them somewhat simplistic. As well, the reasoning on something like "why a significant % of students do not attend their nearest school" was not backed up by how staff made these judgments (i.e. what survey was ever taken of parents?). It is likely staff has heard many stories about why some parents make choices but you can't take it as fact across the board.

-They had charts that showed the attendance circles for high schools. For example, in 2007-2008, students within 1.85 miles of Roosevelt got in but in 2004-2005 it was 3.85 miles. For Ballard it was 1.94 miles in 2007-2008 and 2.28 miles for 2004-2005. Those circles have been closing up.

As I said, I left halfway through at a break time. What I can see from the slides is that they won't be using the circle model but will draw boundaries (which will likely look odd) based on how many students live in an area and where their closest high school is. In their example, one area (which was labeled "Anytown USA), its shape looked like Indiana.

I would have liked to hear the discussion for the slide "Key Drivers for the Size and Shape of Attendance Zones". It was divided into "Factors Impacting attendance zone size excluding capacity" - those were: change in market share, area population change (to be covered at Feb. 20th work session on demographics), number of choice seats, late registration set-aside, academic safety net model. The other part was Factors Impacting Attendance Zone Shape - students with a single walk zone, students without walk zones and metro/yellow bus routes.

I think the number of choice seats/late registration set-aside seats are likely to be rather contentious especially at popular schools. Will the district low-ball those choice seats (like 10-20 at each school depending on size)? How many for late registration (by this I believe they mean people who move into the district during the school year)? I can imagine parents getting upset by living somewhat near a school's boundaries and not getting in on a choice seat and knowing that there are a couple of empty seats just in case someone moves to the neighborhood.

There was a handout labeled "Implementing the Framework for the Revised Student Assignment Plan" which has three grids for staff responsibilities, Board responsibilities and timeline. Oddly, one under staff is "Update Board policies". That's odd because staff could suggest updates but the Board creates policies, not the staff. The Board isn't there to rubberstamp work done by staff that is the Board's domain. I hope the Board realizes that.


98112 said...

Purely selfish question...

My kid will start K in the fall of '09. Reading between the lines here, it sounds like there will be no change to Kindergarten Assignment before then. Is that right?

Anonymous said...

Did they say exactly what the new boundaries will be for each school?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, does this mean that the boundaries will be drawn up to reflect you having automatic assignment to the high school closest to by distance?

Charlie Mas said...

They did NOT say what the new boundaries will be for each school.

They did say what set of inputs will be used for determining those new boundaries (average class size, programs, classroom utitilization, set-asides, etc.). They described the possible ranges for those inputs, and they asked the Board to make some of those determinations.

Once the Board has set the things that the Board sets and the Superintendent sets the things that are her job to determine, then they will be able to draw the boundaries.

You WILL have an automatic assignment to a high school, it will be a close one, but it may not necessarily be the closest one.

For example - and this is just an example, not a prediction - let's say that they decide that the reference high school for families in Magnolia were Ballard, the reference area for Ballard would have to be pulled to the southwest. This may mean that some families living north of Ballard High School will be in the Ingraham reference area even though they live closer to Ballard.

Ingraham is a close high school for them, but not the closest.

Anonymous said...

Did they discuss the accuracy of school capacity numbers?

Melissa Westbrook said...

98112, correct, your application for your incoming kindergartner for Fall 2009 will enroll under the old plan. There will only be a new plan by then for high school.

There was a bit of discussion about capacity and the apologies for differing figures in different places. I think drawing up this plan will force everyone - Enrollment and Facilities - to put a number on each school as it is defined what programs they have and what seats are needed for their programs. Building size gives you only part of the picture - programs determine how many students you can put in a building.

Anonymous said...

Was the issue of disparity in the quality of some high schools addressed at all? I assume that this will be one of the hot topics with parents in regard to choice seats set aside.

Anonymous said...

Yes, disparity will be a hot topic. We live across the street from Nathan Hale, and I want my son to have access to a full array of honors classes, however Nathan Hale does not offer them. Roosevelt, which is 2.5 miles from us, offers many many AP classes. Hale does not offer an advanced, competitive band, which my son really wants, Roosevelt does. How will the district justify these types of situations and this disparity????

Charlie Mas said...

I think that one of the products of this process will be a set of classes that ALL high schools must offer.

Let's remember that Hale does offer preparation for AP tests, but they offer that AP curriculum within an inclusive classroom where other students in the class are working on a less challenging curriculum. I don't have first-hand experience with it, so I can't say how well it works for anyone in the classroom.

I don't think you'll see a standard set of courses outside the core academics of language arts, math and science. World languages may have to be available, but I don't think they will specify which ones. Some music will probably have to be available, but I doubt they will require it to be "competitive".

What would be best, of course, would be if the CTE courses were set-aside programs and the competitive music programs were qualified as CTE courses. This would give everyone more equitable access to specialized programs such as the biotech academy.

Anonymous said...

"Harium, who works in software, was particularly troubled by trying to create a software plan for the assignment plan from various other ones. He didn't believe it would work."

Given the vast wealth of programmers in the area and the Seattle Foundation charity, School Board members' connections to big money, etc., why wouldn't this be a place to plead for some real support? It will no doubt take time to design and implement a new system. Why not use local experts to create a state-of-the-art user friendly program? Trusting the supt to spend money on outside consultants hasn't brought a drop of progress. Do we need to suggest this?

Anonymous said...

I will be very curious to hear about the demographics part of the session. I just learned today that there is a 25% increase in Kindergarteners in the NE cluster for the 08-09 school year. I heard 10 schools in the North are increasing their number of Kindergarten classes by 1 whole class including my child's school for the 2nd year in a row. There are issues with fitting that many classes in the school much less letting all the classes have the regular amount of art, PE, music, etc etc.

What is going to happen to Eckstein when these kindergarteners reach 6th grade - it is already overcrowded. NE Seattle needs more capacity at all levels.

Melissa Westbrook said...

There is going to be a specific work session on demographics and the assignment plan so it was not discussed this time. That work session is Wednesday, Feb. 20th (likely from 4-6 but check the website).

I have to say that the district has always had tremendous problems in their demographic forecasts (it was a problem during school closures) so I'm hoping they will do better on this issue.