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.