I have now attended two of the meetings for the new Assignment Plan. I am pretty impressed with how Tracy Libros is making this a low-key discussion-based process. Plan to attend one of these meetings between now and January (some are listed in other threads and the later ones will be listed as we get information) or forever hold your peace. Tracy is giving us all the opportunity to say what we think as parents on many topics.
The meeting I attended on Friday at the Northgate Community Center had 13 parents and 3 staff members. There were many scatter maps available for viewing. It's always interesting to read and analyze where students go to school versus where they live. (The maps are to be available online and I'll link them when they do.) There was a bit of confusion about them because they had maps for alternative schools (but left out Nova). Additionally they had maps for some schools only because they served certain populations or had all-city transportation (JSIS and New School but not Beacon Hill or Center School and, oddly, Kimball).
Tracy put out a few facts before us. For example, grandfathering will make the assignment plan rollout time longer. This means we won't really see true patterns for the new plan until all the siblings of current students make it through their schools (unless they don't enroll because transportation is no longer available which may be the case). She also said that 80% of students live close enough to one or two or even three schools they could walk to. I think it's that kind of knowledge that is hard for the district understand with the high transportation costs they have.
She handed out a working draft of a document called "Seattle Public Schools Academic Services Options for Consideration in a New Student Assignement Plan". It was a chart format detailing issues for consideration for elementary, middle and high school overall, then, for all those grade levels, issues for alternative schools, bilingual services, international schools, K-8 Schools, and Special Ed.
Our group talked a lot about alternative schools. Interestingly, I had thought there would be a lot of pushback from alternative school parents about transportation and choice. But these parents seem to see that the transportation costs are way too high and are already trying to think of ways to make their schools accessible even if transportation is cut back. They also seem to see that it is likely that alternative school choice is likely to be whatever is in your region (despite the fact that ALL alternatives are very different - it's not one size fits all).
There was a bit of tension in trying to get info from Tracy and Tracy trying to get ideas from us. For example, I said I couldn't speak to the best way to figure out how to offer Special Ed. Some of it is lack of knowledge of where the programs are currently located, trends in Special Ed (I think I am hearing that there are more autistic students and more types of autistic students in the system) and if parents would be happier if students were grouped in a region thus allowing better services because of the higher number of students OR do parents want services within their cluster to keep their student closer to home at the cost of maybe less service because of fewer students. Tracy didn't know some of the district side.
She, on the other hand, heard from our group on what we see as problems but she was trying to lead us to find solutions. We weren't much help.
This was also an issue with bilingual programs. Parents don't know how many kids there are to serve (and how many for each language) and how the dual language programs work. I was surprised to learn that all three of the language schools (JSIS, Beacon Hill and Concord) are doing things differently from each other. Concord has real immersion while JSIS and Beacon Hill are much less so. Are these schools for children whose first language isn't English? Should they be?
We also talked about high schools. After thinking about it, I realized that under a new assignment plan (where, for high schools, you enroll where you want but students in that area get are first in line) if we have lottery seats, it's a better opportunity than using the distance tiebreaker. Under the distance tie-breaker, if you live say in West Seattle, you have no chance but with a lottery, you have some chance depending on how many students are in the pool. I did point out that Director De Bell had said to me that they had to decide how many lottery seats there would be but it might be 10+%. I know that many parents in the NE would be mightly put out if 170 seats at Roosevelt were lottery seats. Ten percent is much higher than what I had thought (I had thought maybe 25 seats per school). But I don't really know what the number should be. Anyone?
Also, the change to Metro has not been working well for high schools. I can say from my older son's experience that it was frustrating when the bus was late or didn't come and he was late for school. They have glutted routes (and King County Metro has buses on order but when they will come is unknown) and the cost of bus passes has gone up significantly. So the savings the district expected is not really there plus the issues of students trying to access buses.
I'm favoring moving the district more towards 5-6 areas in order to view this discussion. Something like SW, SE, Central, QA/Magnolia, NW, NE. If we narrow it down, then we can see what is already in each area, what needs to be there, and the challenges for each.
Does anyone have input or even a grand plan about how we start with operational guidelines?