Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Reactions to Closures

I sat through this 4+ meeting. I also served, during the last round of closures, on the Closure and Consolidation Committee. And, I get that we have too many buildings for too few students. But there is a lot to disagree with on this list and once again, staff, not the Board, is making the calls. To their credit, the Board is asking hard questions but the staff is manipulating data to get what they want. The Board should not fall for it nor stand for it.

What's good:
-Thornton Creek would make a fine K-8 so that move isn't bad. However, they were promised if they moved they wouldn't displace another alternative program which they are (Summit). Creating a new and exciting elementary at Thornton Creek's old site will likely help with capacity issues in the NE.
-a building needed to be closed in the Central area and TT Minor is a building that is not in good shape.
-there will be more room at Salmon Bay K-8 because Thornton Creek students would not get preference there anymore because TC would become a K-8. A win-win situation for this one.
-Leaving APP students at Washington Middle School and Garfield High School. Only problem, it is not likely that Washington can continue to fit all these students.

What's bad:
-requiring people to have to call to sign in to speak at the upcoming public hearings for each school that is closing. A simple pre-sign in before the meeting should be enough.

-NO handouts for the public trying to follow the thread of discussions at this meeting. ALL this information should be on the district website pronto. UPDATE: here's link - all documents are under November 25th meeting

- Dr. Goodloe-Johnson seemed to draw a line in the sand with saving Summit. She said, repeatedly, that staff's choice was to close it but they did co-house it with Rainier Beach High School. They did that not to save Summit but to save RBHS which would have stuck out like a sore thumb with its underenrolled building. Director DeBell honed in on this issue of not closing a high school which would save a lot more money than an elementary or middle school. He was not satisfied with the explanation nor was Director Carr. There are other places to put Summit (John Marshall and Lincoln come to mind). As well, staff, when asked about other locations such as these for Summit, ALWAYS says, those locations don't have a playground. Well, neither does RBHS. Additionally, that move of Summit to RBHS would mean 2 high schools, 3 elementaries, 2 middle schools all in just over a 1 mile area (Summit K-12, RBHS, Van Asselt, New School K-8 and Dunlap elementary). Too much competition in one small area.

-There is capital money attached to the Secondary Bilingual program. That better go into making Meany a good building for Nova and SBOC. Directors also made this point.

-Staff cherrypicked data for their own ends. Director DeBell, once again, honed in on this. For example, apparently only AS#1's number of first choices was listed and no other school's. Why was this Director DeBell wondered? Oh, just an "interesting" fact was the reply. They also cherrypicked NCLB status. There are two Level 5 schools in Seattle (this is the most serious stage of No Children Left Behind) but only African-American Academy is being closed and not Aki Kurose. They again used AS#1's Level 4 status to close them. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson alluded that Aki was at Level 5 but said "more work had to be done". If it's a bad enough reason to close two schools, then it's enough for Aki to close as well.

-The district has had the APP program co-housed at Lowell with a Special Ed program for YEARS. Now, suddenly,those kids HAVE to be part of a general ed population. They did try this experiment, many years ago when Madrona was a K-5 and guess what? It didn't work. If they need to split Lowell, there should be half in the north end and half in the south end. And what do not one but two schools think about co-housing with another program? Are there going to be two principals at each school? Who knows?

-Dr. Goodloe-Johnson seemed to try to blame "choice" for our situation. That may be part of it but the real problem lies, based on their own criteria, on lack of basic maintenance. Plain and simple, and noted in the State Auditor's recent report, this district has NOT kept up on basic maintenance. We are drowning in backlogged maintenance and the district simply has to close buildings to get them out of the way (and likely sell some of them).

-Moving Pathfinder to Arbor Heights is dumb. First, again, staff said over and over last night what each building's condition score was and 80 was their cut-off for a "good" building. Arbor Heights is at 70 so yes, it's better than the Genesee Hill building that Pathfinder is currently in but not good enough by their own numbers. Arbor Heights has had repeated mold problems. It would need work to make it work for a middle school population. And most of all, Arbor Heights is a neighborhood school.

-staff showed numbers for cost savings for elementary, middle and high school but neglected to tell the Board how much savings has been realized since the last closures (but no one asked). It's an easy question to answer.

-Director DeBell again asked the hard questions. Did they do a walk-thru of all the high schools to determine capacity? No, was the answer from Dr. G-J.

-interesting that the staff used the Meng Analysis for building conditions for this process but insist on doing a new one for the upcoming BTA levy in Feb. 2010. We are paying for a new analysis at a fairly high cost even though their 2006 report is being used here.

-there were repeated comments by staff that displaced students could be assigned to certain schools and then the named schools were alternatives. There are no mandatory assignments to alternative schools so that statement is puzzling.

-A LOT of movement of Special Ed which is especially hard on this group of students.

-The question was asked why not move Center School to co-house with RBHS? We are paying around $100,000 a year to lease it at Seattle Center (about $80,000 to lease plus utilities/cleaning). Dr. G-J said we probably couldn't break our lease but I doubt the City would hold us to it. That is a better pairing than with Summit and would allow growth for both programs. Why, if we are in such financial straits, are we paying to lease space?

-Staff named the "worst" buildings in the district but guess what? When the BEX capital building list came out a couple of years back, none of them were on that list. Why? Because staff wants to do what they want to do and they knew that the Horace Mann building AND the Genesee buildings were the worst in the district but they didn't want to rebuild them. Again, cherry-picking the data for their own purposes and not for the good of the people in those buildings.

-70% of Summit's population is from the north end and they move them to the far south end and then say, "Oh, the population changes every year." Not that much, it doesn't. This move of Summit to RBHS is flawed and will not help either program live on. Plus the transportation costs of busing all those north end students who supposedly will follow to RBHS will be HUGE. I thought we were trying to save money here.

-Question: Was AS#1 helped by an education director when it was apparent that it was not succeeding academically? Answer: Carla Santorno, Chief Academic Officer, no, we could have given it more support to do better.

-Dr. G-J seemed to imply that RBHS and Cleveland couldn't be co-house because of the gang issue (even though that would make sense to close the excess high school capacity).

-Cooper would be a better choice for Pathfinder as its population is decreasing (and I wonder why staff didn't put its first choice number down). Last time around at closures, staff recommended putting Pathfinder at Cooper but somehow now, that doesn't work.

The Board needs to continue to ask hard questions and not go along to get along. They need to not accept staff numbers on face value. They need to protect populations. We have other buildings to move some of these populations into and staff's picks can't be the end of the discussion.


seattlgal said...

"Question: Was AS#1 helped by an education director when it was apparent that it was not succeeding academically? Answer: Carla Santorno, Chief Academic Officer, no, we could have given it more support to do better."

Was the school really not succeeding? The students have been encouraged not to take the WASL for years, so nobody really knows if the school is struggling or not. If they would have taken the WASL perhaps they could have shown that they were doing well, and perhaps the program would still be alive today.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, last time, there are other ways to judge how a school is doing than the WASL. Many other schools have kids that don't take the WASL just like AS#1 but probably not as visibly. What Ms. Santorno was saying was that they did not make the effort to figure this out. AS#1 used to have their own narrative-style report card that clearly let you know how a student was doing but the district did away with that.

But, I think the program is quite small and even with an interesting focus to its program, did not attract parents. I'm not sure the WASL was the real problem.

seattle citizen said...

Did I read somewhere in these comments that Alternatives were (or will be) "out"? This was, I think, a reader's observation, given the changes.

Can we start a thread about alternatives in general, the value (or lack thereof) to the system overall?

If these program changes forebode a large withdrawal of committment to the alts, it might be wise to discuss this as an ongoing thread as we proceed through the next year or two.

For instance, why is Nova moving while AS#1 is closing? Is it a good thing to have alt programs in the extreme south (Summit to RB)? What ARE the alts, and what do they do well? Are they all the same? What do they need? Should we even have ANY? What is the cost? What is the benefit?

If there is a movement away from Alts (towards...common curriculum? cost-cutting? what?), then shouldn't it be based on sound pedagogy?

seattlgal said...

Melissa, the WASL is the only instrument that the district offers right now. There is no more alt report card, or anything else that AS1 could have used. The WASL is what our district has chosen to use to prove accountability to the Government via NCLB, and it is what AS1 had available to them.

I despise the WASL. Most parents I know despise the WASL. I voted for Randy Dorn, just so we had a chance to move away from the WASL. I advocate at every opportunity to have a more meaningful assessment.

That said, the WASL is the only instrument a school has to use RIGHT NOW. As1 stomping their foot and refusing to comply with the only form of assessment OFFERED TO THEM, is counter productive to their well being. As is evident by them entering step 4 of NCLB, and being closed. Their lack of flexibility and compromise cost them their school. Their values and philosophies mean nothing now. It is a shame, and was avoidable.

Roy Smith said...

A slightly cynical response:

Five programs are being ended, but only two of them (AS#1 and TT Minor) will have the opportunity to have a hearing on the subject in their own building.

The other three programs which are being closed are having buildings repurposed, so to fight those closures, they have to argue against some other building being closed.

I don't think the state law which mandates hearings for buildings being closed was really designed for a situation in which "building" and "program" are not more or less completely synonomous.

seattle citizen said...

Just an observation:
On opening this blog, I noted that there are about seven new threads, one for each school/program closure/movement. I then noted that a couple schools has one or two comments, a couple had three or four, one had seven...and APP had 23.
a) dividing these threads up is, well, divisive. Can't we all comment generally? Is this "divide and conquer"?
b) I hope that the APP stakeholders can continue to contribute to the other threads;
c) I hope that stakeholders in the other schools can step up their commentary
d) I hope that everyone is advocating for everyone (a repeat of "a", but necessary!)
Carry on.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ah, but see, the staff has cherrypicked the data to skew to their view. AS#1 was the only school to show first choice numbers. Why is that? Oh, staff thought it "interesting". I'll bet RBHS's first choice numbers are not good either. AS#1 was "picked" because it is at level 4 of NCLB and yet Aki Kurose is at level 5 and is not being touched (just "worked on" according to Dr. G-J). AAA was closed for being at level 5. Fine if we want to use the WASL results but use them fairly and evenly.

Charlie Mas said...

Although this was billed as Capacity Management it was strictly Capacity Reduction. Excess capacity issues were addressed, but not capacity shortages.

The shortage of middle school capacity in the northeast was NOT addressed. Providing seats in an alternative school does not meet the needs of families who cannot get into Eckstein. So that job remains to be done.

The shortage of high school capacity for Queen Anne, Magnolia, and both sides of the Montlake Cut were not addressed - at all. So that job remains to be done.

The District closed Meany and suggested that the students could find seats elsewhere, but the other middle school in the Central Region is Washington, and there are NO seats at Washington. The lack of seats at nearby schools for about 30 students was enough reason for the District not to close Cooper, but the lack of seats for about 200 students at Meany isn't even mentioned as a concern.

And, as mentioned, the District did not address the excess seats at either middle schools or high schools in the southeast. They tried to say that moving Summit to Rainier Beach High School took up the excess seats there, but it just isn't flying.


1. Close Rainier Beach and repurpose Lincoln. Place Summit in part of Lincoln and use the other part as a 1,000 seat high school as the new home to high school APP and a program for 600 general education high school students.

This isn't opening a closed building. Lincoln is open (Hamilton is there now) and it has been open for years. There is no new cost to converting Lincoln to a permanent site. It would, however, provide the needed high school capacity for Queen Anne, Magnolia, and the Montlake Cut. It would also give Summit a better location for an all-city draw. The District would save more money from closing Rainier Beach than any school currently on the closure list. Moving APP out of Garfield would create the needed space for flexibility and school choice among high schools in the south-end.

2. Open John Marshall as a new middle school and place middle school APP there along with a 400 student general education program.

This would make room at Washington for the local students after Meany closes. It would also relieve the overcrowding at Ecktein.

Charlie Mas said...

If the opposition to re-opening John Marshall is too great, then the District could consider splitting middle school APP between Hamilton and Washington. That would open up a little more than 200 seats at Washington - which would be enough room for the Meany students.

It would, of course, require the District to double and re-double their efforts to improve middle school APP. It would also push a lot of south-end students out of Hamilton - discontinuing the transportation will save some money - and back into the southend middle schools where there is excess capacity.

Charlie Mas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bottlecappie said...

I have a question - what does it mean that AS#1 was the only school to show first choice numbers?


Melissa Westbrook said...

I haven't looked through the entire document (it was not available at the meeting) but Director DeBell took pains to say that the only school whose first choice numbers were presented was AS#1. When he asked why, Holly Ferguson of the district said, "Because we thought it was interesting."

Fairness and consistency and then they can stand behind their choices. Cherrypicking only makes it look skewed.

Charlie Mas said...

I've had some time now with the report. While much of it still looks pretty good - clear, correct, and honest - there's a lot of stuff here that doesn't really add up.

1. Where will the Central Region Meany students be assigned? They can't go to Washington - it's full. The District should move middle school APP to Hamilton - all of it, intact. If they send general education students at Hamilton back to their home regions, APP will fit easily at Hamilton and would make it a more attractive choice for Northeast families, thereby relieving the pressure on Eckstein.

2. Pathfinder should go to Cooper instead of Arbor Heights. The long narrative about why they can't or shouldn't do this is all guff. I don't know the real reason (Because it would put an alternative school in a good building? Because they want alternative schools on the edge of the district?) but it is all predicated on a student assignment plan that will be replaced next year, and to keep from bussing 55 students when they bus hundreds of students for much slimmer reasons without hesitation.

3. I don't think they recognize how APP families will swamp Hawthorne and Thurgood Marshall with their students in the program and their siblings in the general education program. With siblings, the APP families will account for over 80% of these schools' populations.

4. Moving Summit to Rainier Beach is not only an obvious effort to kill Summit, it is a feeble attempt to keep Rainier Beach open. Both are dishonest. Summit should go to Lincoln along with high school APP and a 600-seat general education high school. Rainier Beach should close. Opening Lincoln and closing Rainier Beach makes it a wash for high school capacity and is therefore consistent with the long story they told about why they couldn't close a high school. Only with this ending the story makes sense.

5. Moving S.B.O.C. and NOVA to Meany will only be okay if they use the capital committed to the S.B.O.C. to renovate Meany. Otherwise Meany has a building condition score worse than that of schools that were closed based largely on their poor condition. Maybe they think that fixing up Meany may be assumed, but they should explicitly state it as part of the plan.

The School Board resolution for relocating the S.B.O.C. states that the new location must be "recently renovated or renovated immediately prior to occupancy". The emphasis here should go on the word "prior".

6. The list of buildings in poor condition proves how completely dishonest the BEX project selection process has been. There needs to be some accountability there. At the very least there needs to be an acknowledgement of the past dishonesty. The District should not be silent on this.

7. The District needs to put a hold on the BTA II work scheduled for Jane Addams (condition 50.53)and Meany (condition 47.34) and, instead, completely renovate these buildings - using BEX IV for Jane Addams and the money already allocated to the S.B.O.C. for Meany. Otherwise they will be tearing up new work when they eventually do those renovations. The same for any other new program locations with bulding condition scores of less than 60.

8. With Decatur, the Northeast cluster will have three Spectrum sites. The West Seattle-South cluster doesn't have any. Where's the equity of access there? The District could - and should - put a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights. That would take up about 80 of the empty seats and save the school. The only reason that Arbor Heights isn't a Spectrum site is because the principal rejected it. How's that working out for you?

9. Throughout the document the District uses planning capacity when its suits their purpose to do so, but discounts planning capacity in favor of functional capacity when they don't like the conclustion they get from planning capacity. Although they claimed that a building walk-through is required to assess functional capacity, they admitted at the workshop that they hadn't done any. This is dishonest. They should either always use planning capacity or always use functional capacity. If they use functional capacity they should do the work to get a real number.

10. The District acknowledged that it was not necessary for them to close the Lowell building. They did it, specifically because "Closing the building offered an opportunity to relocate the program and increase access for APP students in the South, Southeast and West Seattle parts of the District." This is dishonest.

Putting south-end APP students at Hawthorne might incrementally reduce the transportation time for South end students, but it doesn't improve access or reduce travel times for West Seattle students. Putting north-end students at Thurgood Marshall increases their travel time and distance by a similar amount and therefore makes the change a wash on that account. The District, so impressed and delighted with a similar change in travel time and access for south-end families, described the increase for north-end families as "negligible".

These moves are ones in which the District intentionally exceeds the planning capacity of the buildings (nevermind the smaller functional capacity) but brushes off the problem with blithe statements about "creative use of PCP spaces" for teachers.