Monday, December 29, 2008

Confusion and Finger-Pointing

In a previous thread, a reader (Jamie), provided a link to Cooper Elementary's "Cooper School Works".

It's a great page (and I have to wonder why they were complaining about not being able to get information together - this is very professional looking). On this page they list all the reasons that picking Cooper is wrong. Some of it doesn't make sense like

"Is it because of undercapacity (empty classrooms)?"

They say no because if Pathfinder moves in, there won't be room at other schools for Cooper students (I'm thinking the district is hoping all those students will go to underenrolled West Seattle Elementary but that isn't likely). They also say that their enrollment is rising and yet,

"Many of our students come from the High Point housing development. This development is not yet complete, so the number of families from there opting to bring their children will increase. Also, if another school closes Cooper could take on many of these students."

That kind of puts forth that (1) Cooper IS underenrolled even if the enrollment is slowly rising and also that (2) High Point is by West Seattle Elementary so if anyone will see a rise once the development is done, it is more likely to be WS Elementary. But no school can ask the district to count on future enrollment at this point. (I also have to wonder about Cooper's cries about Arbor Heights throwing them under the bus when, in their last sentence, they say they'll take on students if another school closes.)

They also say:

"Is the reason Cooper is on the closure list because the voices of white, more affluent school communities are being listened to more than ours?"

And they single out Arbor Heights and Lowell. (And what Lowell has to do with their issue, I have no idea.) At any rate, it never works on the district to use this argument and, in fact, it seems to irritate Board members when it is used.

But really what they are missing is the central tenet of this round of closures -
IT'S ABOUT BUILDING CONDITION AND NOTHING ELSE (except maybe for Lowell which seems to be ALL about equity/access - I'm being sarcastic here).

Bottom line - Cooper has a newish building that they are not filling and Pathfinder is (and has been) in a crappy building. In short, Pathfinder is a more valuable program to move than Cooper's program is to save (in the district's view).

(And because the Board and staff were so willing to favor New School over Pathfinder in the last BEX election, someone, somewhere has to give up their building for Pathfinder. Sorry New School; your building score was in the low '70s and yet somehow your school still got on BEX. No fair saying you had been on BEX II already- that was for an entirely different project. And, of course, the irony is that none of the suffering that the communities of Cooper, Arbor Heights and Pathfinder are going through now had to happen if not for New School. Because sure enough, as predicted, AAA is being closed, New School could have been moved there and Pathfinder would be getting a new building as we speak. But money and power ALWAYS win out, no matter what the venue. And New School has those two items in their pocket. And before anyone wants to call me out on this issue - better go read the New School Foundation website and their MOU with the district. If you can read it and still defend New School getting a new building, then we can talk.)

51 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I couldn't help noticing that, according to the information presented to the Board at their meeting on December 7, the New School will have an enrollment of 387 in a building with a capacity of 1,000.

Now I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

Re-reading the final portion of the Cooper School Works website, I'm not so sure that they are pointing a finger at the Lowell Community regarding why Cooper is slated for closure.

What it says is that the district's proposal "has changed to accommodate the interests of ... the Lowell community." And given the district's current proposal to keep the kids from north of the ship canal at Lowell (rather than move them to Marshall) this appears to be true.

To my knowledge, the Lowell community - and certainly the Lowell PTA - has not spoken out regarding the situation at Cooper.

Maureen said...

Ok, so what is preventing SPS from relocating the New School to the AAA building and Aki Kurose to the 'New School Building'? Surely the new building will be cheaper to maintain than the current Aki building and the move may fulfill the NCLB requirements for Aki? Also the move may activate that 'shiny new school magic' and draw in students. From reading the Van Asselt testimony it sounds like they aren't thrilled about moving anyway.

From another thread, it sounds like MoUs are not legally enforceable. Does The New School Foundation have any enforceable legal rights in this issue? Do they have any real objection to being at the AAA building?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, New School Foundation will tell you that their capacity in the building will be something like 850-900 (for middle school it would be a 1,000). Still, that's one big preK-8 for this district.

Anonymous, why did they bring Lowell up at all? That's the question except to maybe cement this idea that only white, middle-class parents can make the Board change their minds. I just don't know.

Great questions, Maureen. You'd have to ask New School. But like many non-traditional schools with a new building, they all seem to say the building is being designed specially for them (it is) and so no, Aki couldn't possibly use it (even though, yes, it says it is being built as a middle school). Aki would then be right across from Rainier Beach (but separated) and it would probably work better than if Aki were in the building. Would New School go to AAA? Not if the district wants to keep the money coming in would be my guess.

Yes, that MOU is a legally binding document and either side can decide to pull out. New School Foundation had started with TT Minor and made some great progress only to have Stuart Sloan open up the newspaper one day and find that the district wanted to close the school. (Yes, it's a fine way to treat people who try to invest in schools.) And, like AAA, you had conflicts within the community over what TT Minor should be. New School Foundation continues to support some small programs in the building but has largely turned to what is essentially their school and their vision in New School.

Don't get me wrong for one minute; New School and its staff are working hard and doing good work. BUT almost any school in this district (especially at a K-5 or K-8 level) could do a whole lot better if $1M were being pumped into it. So it is painful to not only see that kind of money pumped into 1 school but that the school is also getting a brand-new building designed with it in mind just down the street from a nearly new building in AAA. How does that make sense? I've never been given a good answer.

Josh Hayes said...

I'm seeing people reporting the district's score for building condition, but I'm darned if I can find it at seattleschools.org; can someone provide a pointer?

I know, for instance, that the Pinehurst building now housing AS1 is supposedly a teardown according to the district -- and yet they put over a million bucks into it last year, with new wiring, a teaching kitchen, a great science lab, and so on.

I know there are other examples of this, but if the district plans to close schools, maybe it shouldn't be dumping money into those buildings? The savings for closing the Pinehurst building, for instance, according to the district, are about 130K per year. And they dumped a couple of million dollars into it last year? Say what?

The whole thing makes no sense: if you're considering closing the building, maybe you shouldn't dump 10 times the estimated savings from that closure into upgrades for the building? Is it any wonder that people doubt the ability of the SPS to plan?

seattle_steve said...

Thanks for your comments on the www.cooperschoolworks.com website, I'm one of the parents behind it.

I can't speak for the "Why Cooper?" article, I didn't write it, but it has a lot of good facts and there are many at the school who feel more affluent schools are being favored over poorer populations. Lowell and Arbor Heights were mentioned because they were removed from the preliminary closure recommendations.

We want people to know that Cooper Elementary is succeeding academically while many of its students come from low income families. Cooper, West Seattle Elementary and Roxhill Elementary have similar demographics. If you compare WASL scores, Cooper dramatically outperforms them. These lower performing schools are where our children will be forced to attend if Cooper Elementary closes.

Cooper Elementary was not on the original closure list because the West Seattle North Cluster has much less excess capacity than the West Seattle South Cluster (Where Arbor Heights is located). Cooper and West Seattle Elementary are the only 2 elementary schools with seats available in WS North. If Cooper is closed, there will be 56 students from Cooper that won't fit into Pathfinder or West Seattle Elementary and will have to attend an elementary school outside of their cluster. This is against Seattle Public School policy and assumes that all 69 open spots at Pathfinder are filled by Cooper Students. Every student is guaranteed a seat within their cluster. When we ask Seattle Public Schools about this they talk about waiving bussing requirements for Cooper's Students and how it fits in with the new Student Assignment Plan. According to their own website, they are still developing the guiding principals for the plan, and won't begin modeling data until next month.

Cooper Elementary's reference area was redrawn a few years ago. There are only 270 Elementary Students in the Seattle Public School system living there, and 268 students attending the school. Compare that to West Seattle Elementary with 489 elementary students in their reference area, and 263 students attending the school. 111 students from the West Seattle Elementary reference area are enrolled at Cooper and another are 116 enrolled at Pathfinder.

Why is a successful program located in a cluster with no extra capacity on the closure list? No one has given us an answer!

Thanks,

Steve Ball
Cooper School Parent and PTA member

WS said...

Worth noting again here, however you want to consider it, that when SPS closed a West Seattle elementary school at the end of school-year-before-last ... it was a North Cluster school (Fairmount Park). And now - that's the cluster without much space left. Fairmount Park, by the way, is just off busy Fauntleroy Way, which until the recent development slowdown had been going through a huge wave of housing-density increase, with more than a few old single-family homes torn down and replaced with groups of townhouses. Must be at least a few more kids coming into the district via those complexes.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Seattle Steve, thanks for writing in.

A correction; Lowell's building may not be closing but half their program will move no matter what (at this point) and a whole new school community (Montlake) will move in (possibly). To say that Lowell was removed isn't entirely accurate. And Montlake is certainly a mostly white and middle-class school. Both schools may experience a lot of upheaval so no one is off the hook. (This is why I say that trying to use the argument about white, middle-class parents being able to win arguments against the district doesn't really work.)

Charlie Mas said...

The Cooper community has a number of reasons that the school should be kept open. While each of the reasons is true, I'm not sure that any of them is strong enough to carry the debate.

For example, the idea that there aren't enough seats in the West Seattle-North cluster for all of the students in the cluster does seem important - until you remember that the District is going to revise the student assignment policy next year and the whole idea of a West Seattle-North cluster may become obsolete.

There are a number of students travelling among the clusters for school and particularly between the West Seattle-North and West Seattle-South clusters. It's really not a big deal.

It is true that there are more excess seats in West Seattle-South (482) than in West Seattle-North (319) based on current enrollment and planning capacities, but Cooper has more (161) than any other school and another West Seattle-North school, West Seattle Elementary, is second with 140.

But, again, these perceptions are based on the current division of reference areas and clusters which will all be obsolete with the new student assignment plan. These divisions are artificial and plastic. If Gatewood were re-classified as a West Seattle-North school - perfectly plausible idea, then the south cluster would have 415 excess seats and the north cluster would have a similar number, 386, without Pathfinder or a greater number, 488, with Pathfinder.

Moreover, the excess seats in West Seattle-South may reflect the dearth of programs in that cluster as much as anything else. West Seattle-South has no Spectrum program, no ALO, no alternative program, no K-8, no Montessori, no International education, and no magnet schools. Students and families seeking all of these things must leave the cluster to get them.

From a butts and seats perspective there is no getting around the fact that Cooper has more excess seats than any other elementary school in West Seattle. That's a simple fact.

It's also a fact that Cooper seats very few neighborhood students (85, among the fewest in West Seattle. In contrast, Arbor Heights has 150 reference area students and West Seattle seats 116.

I think the Cooper community makes a good case for the academic success they are seeing at their school. The WASL pass rates they post are significantly higher than the pass rates of nearby schools with similar demographics. I'm curious about how Cooper thinks they are doing this. They offer no attribution analysis or hypothesis. So why wouldn't the Cooper students do just as well at whatever school they attend next year?

None of the other arguments on the Cooper web site are meaningful. They oddly misrepresented or misunderstood the under capacity issue by neglecting their empty seats. The cost issue is also misunderstood or misstated as it focuses exclusively on transportation and does not provide an apples to apples comparison. I have no idea where the unique programs argument came from. Every school has unique programs of this type. The equity argument and location arguments are just goofy.

The real bad move politically - and they are approaching this as a political issue so they should be politically aware - is the suggestion that Arbor Heights and Lowell got themselves removed from the closure list because their schools are full of White middle class students and Cooper was put on the closure list because it has non-White students from low-income homes.

Consider this: are the other school communities communicating more effective because they are White and affluent or because they are better communicators? Or could it be because they have a better case?

If Cooper wants a specific ratinale for why their program is being closed, they can use this: 160 empty seats in the building. No further rationale is necessary.

finance guy said...

Melissa,

While I typically enjoy your posts, I do not understand your comments regarding The New School.

While The New School is getting a new building, it is not being built to suit their needs. The New School will have between 500 and 550 students when it reaches full capacity. The new building can accommodate several hundred more students. As a result, the school is a big target for closure or consolidation. They have already been on and off of this year’s closure/consolidation list. Everyone expects round two of closures next year. Any parent of a New School kid would gladly take the old building (let alone AAA) to get off the list and keep the program intact.

The reality is that the new building is being built in a way that allows the District maximum flexibility -- the option of turning it into a new middle school if appropriate. It is not being built to meet the needs of the New School community.

You write “none of the suffering that the communities of Cooper, Arbor Heights and Pathfinder are going through now had to happen if not for New School.” This is flat-out wrong. The reason why schools are being closed is because the Superintendent thinks the way to fix Seattle Schools is to eliminate overcapacity. I agree with Charlie Mas’ comment: “If Cooper wants a specific rationale for why their program is being closed, they can use this: 160 empty seats in the building. No further rationale is necessary.”

hschinske said...

Well, Lowell parents protested and the district is now doing something different than it previously said it would ... but I don't know that many Lowell parents who are happy with the current deal, or consider it a real response to their concerns, apart from the concerns about the special ed program. In addition, the special ed parents, as a group, are not particularly privileged, and probably mirror the diversity of Seattle pretty closely.

Basically the district does not easily change directions for *anyone*, no matter how supposedly rich and powerful (adjectives which incidentally describe a lot fewer Lowell parents than you might think). They are probably in general *even less* responsive to those with little socioeconomic power, but that doesn't mean affluent white people get listened to a whole lot. If they did, we'd still have a high school in Queen Anne.

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

Finance Guy, first of all, as I said in the past, the district WOULD be closing a school in WS/SW Seattle even if Pathfinder had been given a new building. However, the pain is FAR worse because one school will end for another's program. That is very different from having your school closed and dispersed. We have not pitted just two schools but three schools against each other.

The size of New School seems to be in dispute. When I previously questioned the size of the building for a K-8 (at about 1,000), Laura Kohn, the head of the New School foundation, chimed in to say that for New School being a Pre-K-8, it would be sized lower at something like 800. (I'll go back and find her post if you want.) So now you say that it's 550? The district is building a new building for a program that will only grow to 550? And pray tell, what will happen with the rest of that capacity?

And if the New School parents were happy with the idea of moving elsewhere, why have we not heard their voices on this subject previously?

Boy, this just gets stranger and stranger. And I don't think it's the end of the story.

north seattle mom said...

Seattle Steve -- NE Cluster elementary schools are currently 700+ kids over their capacity. This was done by converting all extra spaces into classrooms and by enlarging classroom sizes. It should be fairly easy for the entire cluster to absorb 56 students by adding an extra classroom somewhere. This should work until the new assignment plan when the boundaries are redrawn.

Ben said...

This non-rich and non-powerful Lowell parent is still not happy with the latest proposal.

TwinMom2003 said...

Overall, I believe if you are white and middle class it actually works against you within SPS.

Honestly, the vast majority of Seattle is white and middle class - what is it, like 70-80%?

I believe the Lowell parents presented valid arguments -- their building has recently been renovated but not reflected in the building scores presented. If building condition is the primary reason for closing a building/program and you can show otherwise?...Plus, your children are thriving, scoring well on measurement tests, actually bringing money into the district...who can argue against that?

You can stick a pin in a map of Seattle in most any place and hit a white middle class family. Can we get beyond that and advocate for the best education for our children no matter their skin tint or economic strata?

TwinMom2003 said...

To add to the above. It is not color or money, it is knowing/understanding the rules.

In previous posts about Chris Jackins - who testifies at every school board meeting - he gets on the agenda because he knows and understands the rules. Nothing else.

Kirsten Wild said...

I'm a New School parent. I can't even begin to address many of the nasty comments that have been posted recently about the New School. But one I can not let go of. Melissa notes "Don't get me wrong for one minute; New School and its staff are working hard and doing good work. BUT almost any school in this district (especially at a K-5 or K-8 level) could do a whole lot better if $1M were being pumped into it." This is incredibly unfair to the teachers, families and students who have put a huge amount of effort into the school. The fact that this country and state haven't funded education properly is a disgrace & I totally believe that all schools should have the benefits of the small class size and pre-K education that the New School Foundation money allows for, but to belittle the efforts of one school simply because they do have the funding is very hurtful. I'm disappointed that a blog that prides itself on working for the good of all schools can be so negative about a particular program, rather than making use of the lessons learned at TNS to prod the State into providing adequate funding for all students.

Keepin'On said...

Look, the bottom line for the New school, is not only do they get a whole lot of private money, they get small class size and now they jumped to the front of the list for a new building. Why they are getting all this special treatment, is I think a valid concern that the rest of us in Seattle Public schools have the right to ask.

You will have to excuse us, you put-upon New School parents,for the "nasty coments" that those of us have made. Perhaps we with kids in North Seattle, who have children who go to school in buildings with leaky roofs, attend overcrowded high school and middle schools and have32 kids in a class for elementaries, if we don't exactly feel sorry for you.

AutismMom said...

To my mind, the problem with New School, and other similar "private money" for "public schools" endeavors, is that they systematically exclude their obligations to students with disabilities. New School has THE LOWEST service rate to students with disabilities in the district(less than 5%), counting all disability levels and preschool. And, it has managed to dodge serving ANY students with severe disabilities... A number of families have indeed tried to set this up, but the principals have always managed to thwart these efforts.

Essentially, we have allowed a few private stakeholders, including New School, to pay for disability-free zones in our public schools.

Charlie Mas said...

Kirsten Wild wrote that she had read "nasty comments that have been posted recently about the New School" and that a comment by Melissa served to "belittle the efforts of one school simply because they do have the funding is very hurtful".

I have to say, however, that I haven't read ANY nasty comments about the New School on this blog and that, from my perspective, Mel's comment was not belittling in any way.

What are you talking about, Ms Wild?

Mel wrote: "New School and its staff are working hard and doing good work." How is that belittling?

Mel wrote: "any school in this district (especially at a K-5 or K-8 level) could do a whole lot better if $1M were being pumped into it". Is that the belittling part? If so, how is it any different from Ms Wild's comment that "The fact that this country and state haven't funded education properly is a disgrace & I totally believe that all schools should have the benefits of the small class size and pre-K education that the New School Foundation money allows for"?

It seems to me that they are saying the same thing - that every school could get the sort of results that the New School gets with the funding that the New School gets. So how it that either belittling or nasty? I'm just not seeing it. Could you please point it out to me?

I have no interest in nasty remarks about anyone who is working to advance education, and I have tremendous respect for work, but I just didn't read anything nasty or belittling here. Please point it out so we can avoid it and discourage it in future.

Kirsten Wild said...

The way I read Melissa's comment was that other schools could do better with the money than The New School is doing. I may have misunderstood it. I hope I did misunderstand it - Charlie's interpretation makes sense. I apologize for jumping to conclusions.

I am on edge by all the comments that seem to question the Foundation's motives for the new building. All the school parents/teachers (in coordination with TNS Foundation) ever asked for was a safe, dry and warm building to house the program somewhere in the south end, preferably without displacing another school. We were told by the District that middle school capacity was needed in the south end, and a compromise was worked out in BEX I & II between the New School's desire to be K-8, the District's desire for expanded middle school capacity, and the need to house the South Lake High School. Money that had been slated for TNS in BEX I was used for other projects due to escalation/cost overruns elsewhere, leaving enough to construct the South Lake High School, but not enough for a K-8 with expanded middle school. We were told by the District that renovation of the South Shore Building was not cost effective. Now we learn that in actuality middle schools in the SE cluster are under capacity. I can't explain this aspect of things, other than to say it wouldn't be the first time the District miscalculated. I expect there was some hope they could build on the success of TNS. To be honest, I have the same hope. It makes sense to grow successful programs, as long as the growth isn't antithetical to what made the program work in the first place.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Perhaps I should have left out any comments about New School itself. I don't feel I belittled it at all. I, like Ms Wild, wish all schools had more funding. There's some common ground right there.

So what I should have focused on (and thought I did) was the building itself and all the benefits that seem to come to it (almost) unbidden. If you stand back and take an honest look at it, you have to wonder:

-how did the South Shore project in BEX II (when New School wasn't there) morph from converting the open classrooms to regular classrooms (and adding a cafeteria/auditorium) at a modest $16.7M into the $62M+ project it is today?
-why didn't changing the scope of the project change where it was on the list of BEX projects?
-this building was not, is not, in the worst shape and yet it is being rebuilt while other schools (Pathfinder, Nova, etc.) are losing their buildings outright?
-interesting how the original project was for South Lake and the modest upgrades were good enough for South Lake (including adding 800 seat capacity that the district claimed it needed in the south end - this is in 2001). And, South Lake came out it with ITS own building (although at a modest $14M)
-why is the South Shore project on such a hopped up schedule? No other project is (even Ingraham's modest upgrades are scheduled for 2 years and that was before the permitting issues)?
-why is the South Shore project getting done on extra money (Saturday work costs at least time and a half)from BEX when we are staring down the large number of closure issue costs?

Don't shoot the messenger.

Kirsten Wild said...

I'm sorry, I meant BEX II & III, not BEX I & II.

Dana said...

Regarding any school in the district, there should be equal funding and equal opportunity for all students. I don't mind private funds- there will always be inequity in the world- if you can afford to buy yourself some extras- but there should not be inequities in how we fund public school. I think alternative schools are a great idea- but why should the students who go there receive millions of dollars in extra bus funding? They do not have disabilities. They have preferences. When our PTA has to raise money for a recess monitor, I object to paying millions for "choice". We need to strengthen our neighborhood schools and offer the same money/opportunity to each child depending on their needs, not their wants.

uxolo said...

If closure is now a function of accessibility, academic success, and creating diversity, then the New School needs to be in the mix of who goes where and when. The original mission included talk about serving lower income south end students. The only way families can be responsible for the "extra benefits" is if it tolerates exclusionary practices or discontinues efforts to be inclusive, that is, recruiting low income population. Are families aware that special education students are not being admitted equitably?
As to quality, it may be of interest to study the teacher survey. You will see that the scores for the 2008 principal are not meeting up to the district averages.
40% of the New School teachers have over 10 years of experience, higher than the district avg. and these higher salaries are paid for by the public.

Rudy D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Westbrook said...

So let me get this right if any New School parents know the answer: Is New School going to grow to 800 as Laura Kohn as said, going to top out at 550 as another NS parent said here or what? I just don't see building a huge building and putting in a program that won't fill it. It almost flies in the face of what the whole closure issue is about.

Charlie Mas said...

Perhaps I can clarify a point about the capacity of middle schools in South Seattle.

There are two comprehensive middle schools in the south-end, Mercer, with a planning capacity of 1,022, and Aki Kurose, with a planning capacity of 974. That's a total capacity of 1,996.

The enrollment at these schools are currently 699 at Mercer and 434 at Aki Kurose. Yeah, how about that? With all of this talk about excess seats, no one has mentioned the 540 empty seats at Aki Kurose, have they?

So it sounds like there is a lot of excess capacity in the south-end middle schools, right? Well, there isn't. There are 1,731 middle school students who live closer to Aki Kurose than any other middle school and 568 who live closer to Mercer than any other middle school.

In short, there are 2,299 south-end middle school students and only 1,996 south-end middle school seats.

Here's a couple questions for the District Facilities folks to answer:
1) If Mercer has 323 excess seats right now, why does the school have ten portable classrooms on the site? Is that an efficient use of our portable buildings?
2) If Aki Kurose has 540 excess seats, why does the school have two portable classrooms on the site? Is that an efficient use of our portable buildings?

When the District does their capacity managment calculations and they count butts and seats, they count all of the butts that live in the area whether they are enrolled in the area schools or not.

If all of those south-end students at McClure and Hamilton every try to enroll in their neighborhood school, they will swamp it.

With the closure of the AAA and the Seahawks Academy a few years ago, the only non-reference area middle schools in the south-end are ORCA and The New School. The New School, of course, does not yet offer classes through grade 8. Even when it does, there will be no excess middle school capacity in the south-end.

Kirsten Wild said...

I confirmed the numbers with Laura Kohn: the new New School building is expected to have a capacity of 750 as a PK-8 or 1000 as a middle school. If the New School converts to a "mushroom" PK-8 model in which the cohort size at the middle grades is larger than the cohort size PK-5, then the total students would approach 750. The building was designed with this "mushroom" PK-8 in mind, and the District has never indicated that this will not happen. However, if mushrooming does not happen, the occupancy would be something less than 750, which is probably where the 500-550 number came from.

Charlie, thanks for clarifying the SE cluster middle school capacity issue. It really emphasizes the need to get the SE Initiative in gear so that there isn't a big backlash of SE parents pulling middle school kids from SPS when the new assignment plan is initiated.

anonymous said...

Kirsten, what can you and Laura tell us about plans to start serving students with disabilities, per Autism mom's concerns and the statistics that your school serves the fewest students with disabilities in the district by a wide wide margin.

AutismMom said...


I think the Cooper community makes a good case for the academic success they are seeing at their school. The WASL pass rates they post are significantly higher than the pass rates of nearby schools with similar demographics. I'm curious about how Cooper thinks they are doing this. They offer no attribution analysis or hypothesis. So why wouldn't the Cooper students do just as well at whatever school they attend next year?


Cooper does make a good case for itself based on academic performance over nearby schools. Why does it have to spell out every reason or methodology? This isn't a demographic we would expect to perform well (as Montlake is)... so, I don't think anyone would doubt that the instruction-school-community combination is being successful. Nor should we expect that Cooper's students would "do well at another school". The school's students would be forced to attend West Seattle Elementary, and Roxhill... which are arguably the worst schools in the district. To go from a struggling school, into a "worst" school, especially for an impoverished demographic does seem unfair. Although Cooper has been home to an autism inclusion program that has forced students out... (by closing) and then forced students back in again (by openning again midyear)... the situations at Roxhill and W. Seattle Elementary are much worse. Roxhill had around a 30% disability rate. That rate is so high as to be a civil rights violation. The school as a whole is like a giant special education self-contained program. Same with West Seattle... only 15 families selected it as a first choice... as well as an exceedingly high disability rate. The experiment, blend two of the most failing schools togehter, and "hope" that it all works out... was doomed, and should be put to rest before a whole generation of students suffers through it. Both of these schools should be ahead of Cooper on the chopping block... and closing them would actually be providing their students with better opportunities. It certainly would provide the students with disabilities better educations. And I'm sure it would provide all other students a better education too.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, if New School ends up being only 550 students, again, I ask; what happens to all that extra capacity? I would think the size for PreK-8 would indicate that the New School would have to be 750. Otherwise, how do you justify a huge building for a program that cannot (or will not) fill it? AAA never filled its building (even brand-new) and that's just one of their problems. I would have thought this would be worked out BEFORE building. Odd that the district and New School haven't figured this out yet.

Autism Mom, please keep in mind that the joining of Fairmount Park and High Point was an idea generated by their communities. It was not forced on them.

It seemed like having similar communities would help direct solid resources to the building. I don't know enough about how they are doing to say it isn't working.But, yes, it probably was too many students with challenges for one building.

Charlie Mas said...

Far from not asking, I think that discovering the cause of extraordinarily high achievement at Cooper is one of the most important questions the District can ask.

What are they doing there to get these results? We need to know. And then we need to see if we can get the folks at West Seattle Elementary and Roxhill and Highland Park and Concord to all start doing it too!

AutismMom said...

Uhhh. Merging 2 failing, impoverished schools together into W. Seattle has only concentrated the LACK of resources. Supposing you can get more resources out of nothing, is flawed thinking. Is that what people really want? A super-poverty sink-hole? And the fact nobody's selecting it, proves the point. 9% pass the 4th grade WASL... (ok, WASL isn't everything, but sheesh, 9%). It's the same reason we don't merge Cleveland and RBHS. If community engagment created the situation, perhaps community engagement is a problem, to some degree.

AutismMom said...

Sure, it a great idea to figure out why one school works better than another, if possible. But figuring that out would probably take a fairly long time. If they close Cooper, they'll never know or see it work it does turn out to be model. Your post seemed to doubt that Cooper's achievement was due to the school, requiring some special proof. Notably, Montlake was spared last time around, with far less proof.

Maureen said...

Are the capacity numbers for the New School that are being thrown around (550-750 depending on mushroom or not) based on their current small class size or on the District standards for other schools (25 for K, 27 to 30 for upper grades I believe)? Is the building being designed for 20 kids per class or 30?

Also it seems like we should KNOW whether or not it is a mushroom model by now. Isn't the first class in 6th grade?

Laura Kohn said...

Re capacity: still being worked out with the district, and I agree this is an overdue discussion. The current 6th grade class is small - only 40 kids - due to the severe space constraints of the current temporary site at the Columbia building.

Re special ed, the New School will finally be moving into a building that has appropriate facilities to serve all students, regardless of disability status. So the special ed situation at the school will certainly change in the future, and that's a good thing. One side note is that the New School has tried hard through its history to support students early and often so that students are served officially as special ed students only if absolutely necessary and appropriate. That has suppressed the school's special ed rate relative to other SPS schools (even others that do not currently house special ed programs, like the New School).

Eric B said...

One small note: considering the merger of High Point and Fairmont Park as voluntary is not really accurate. They were both slated for closure at the time, so their merger was a desperate move. (A gun to the head analogy comes to mind.) It also was, IMHO, a bad idea. I believe those students would have been better off being dispersed to the many more successful schools in the area. It was a last minute change to the proposal, and that is an example of how rushing the closures process can cause more harm than good.

uxolo said...

New School money is reduced each year, number of students increase, and the agreement expires in 3 years. Class size would increase and dollars per student decreases.The capacity report underway should most certainly provide the public with a finite number, not be pending discussion.

Percent of low income students is half of our neighboring schools' low income population. Will that change, too?

AutismMom said...

I'm very suspicious that the reasons for the New School accepting NO level 3+ special education students is building capacity. It's true that the open facility at New School isn't ideal for autistic students... just like it isn't ideal for any other students. And that hasn't been a stumbling block for New School to serve all the other students. Further, the current New School building is certainly comparable to the open arrangement at Green Lake, which houses many disabled students in both ultra self-contained medically fragile programs and in inclusion programs. We are NOT seeking some new, really spiffy room in the basement (or any other special building arrangement)... for a new self-contained location to warehouse a few students. We seek integrated programs, to benefit students with disabilities equally in school programs, in line with the district's special education review.

We should be very clear, there's absolutely no special capacity required for autism inclusion programs or any other inclusion programs. Several parents in the last few years have requested this.. and the different principals have always demured and fought off these attempts. The big love for diversity, and "serving the underserved" didn't seem to mean ALL diversity. And given that special education students are very disproportionately of color and poor, it's impossible to claim to serve challenged populations... but then, fail to serve disabled students.

If the New School is indeed trying to reduce special education referals, then that is a laudable effort. Most schools over-refer level 2, and do almost nothing in the SIT process. This practice drives up the sped costs and reduces general education teaching capacity. But, the real reason for a suppressed disability service is the exclusion of all level 3 and level 4 students. You can hardly find a school anymore that does this. Laurelhurst (5.9%), John Stanford (6.0%). Maybe a few others.

SPSMom said...

Personally I am thrilled to see such an innovative school starting in the southend. I hope the best for the New School. I am sure they will work out all the kinks, given the chance, and emerge down the road as a great option for southend families. Good luck!

Josh Hayes said...

I hear what AutismMom is saying; at AS1 we've had a terrifically successful program with a whole bunch of "Special Ed" kids (that is, kids with IEPs), with an inclusive approach that had core classrooms, taught by our SpecEd specialists, with a mixture of kids with and without IEPs. It worked great! IEP kids felt much less stigmatized, and all the kids in the school felt the sense of community that is engendered by breaking down those walls between the "normal" kids and the "Special Ed" kids.

But guess what -- it was illegal. The story we got, and I'm sure others will correct me if I'm wrong, is that Special Ed instruction is paid for by federal dollars entirely, and the strings attached to that require that those teachers teach NOBODY but Special Ed kids.

In short, isolation and stigmatization are written into the laws. Isn't that special? It's a sad fact: The law is an ass.

It's enormously frustrating to our teachers and families. Our program was so successful, teachers were coming from all over the district to see how we were generating the results. I guess it's just like the old saying: if it ain't broke, fix it.

No, wait, is that really how it goes?

AutismMom said...

No Josh, special education is not funded entirely by federal funds. The federal govt supplies very little of the educational costs for disabled students. Something like 10% of the EXTRA costs.

Special education students are funded with the BEA (basic education allocation like everyone else) and a special education supplement. Students with disabilities are GENERAL education students, first and foremost,... by law, and by funding. Special education AND BEA funds are supposed to follow special education students where-ever they go, including into self-contained classes.

It is true that special education supplemental funds are not supposed to be used outside of special education. But no, isolation is not "written into the law". Far from it. AS1 should have simply funded it's special education teacher with the BEA provided (or general education funds)... and there should have been no problem.

So, the claim that the arrangment was illegal, sounds very fishy. Co-teaching arrangments exist in a number of places in the district so it IS certainly possible and IS actually done. Not sure why somebody would say it was illegal at AS1 in particular. My guess is that they don't want to use general education funds (funding the students without disabilities) in that way... and so they say it is illegal.... instead of changing the accounting.

But really, the way it should be done is that the CORE classrooms you describe should be the general education classrooms, not the supplemental classrooms. All students are funded there... and it is the recommendation of the special education review. But, it is too bad that something that worked well couldn't be maintained, at least in some form.

uxolo said...

New School fans: if the $16 million were not spent on a new building, much of this mess would not be happening right now.

The point is to listen to where dollars were and will be allocated. Where will the resources (the funds and the time) come from to run a Design Team when all of these people are currently fully employed? This is not a time to experiment. It is a time to learn from past mistakes.

What about closing up other buildings the district operates (the one in Wallingford where science supplies are stored) and putting that in some empty classrooms? Are there others?

Melissa Westbrook said...

So SPS Mom, I'm interested in understanding your thoughts on New School. I, too, am glad for an innovated program in an area of the city that needs it. But by the same token, do you not see that their program has received favor for its actual building? I am glad for the funding to create and maintain such a great program and would like to see more public/private partnerships. However, I don't want to see more given to a school that already has a lot more than other schools. It's not a matter of "getting the kinks out"; it's a matter of fairness and equity.

AutismMom said...

Is it really so innovative? Most schools would do absolutely fabulously if 1) they had class sizes in the teens 2) there was a professional assistant (TA) in the classroom at all times and 3) they cherry-pick their student population, leaving out anybody hard to serve including those with disabilities. and possibly 4) extra instruction time in class is good too, but hard to say that it is a comparable benefit to the first 3.

Nobody's saying those 3 or 4features aren't good for the lucky families, but no, it's not "working out the kinks".

adhoc said...

"I, too, am glad for an innovated program in an area of the city that needs it. But by the same token, do you not see that their program has received favor"

But Melissa aren't there many other examples of schools getting preferential treatment and extra funding? For starters, The SE initiative gives millions of dollars in extra funding, extra transportation, low class size, etc to only 3 schools? And how about the compensatory dollars that follow low income schools? Aren't they in essence receiving something that other schools are not? I acknowledge that they need the extra compensatory dollars, but so do the students of The New School need the extra funding.

I don't understand the constant ragging on New School. Yes, they are getting a whole lot of extras, but Shouldn't we be glad that at least some kids are getting that advantage instead of no kids? Especially low income south end kids. Personally, I think it's a great experiment to see what a school serving low income, inner city, minority kids can do with the proper funding. I would have loved to see what TAF could have done too. I know that we will probably never be able to fund our schools in this way, and personally I am thankful that we can at least see a few schools benefit from proper funding.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Read my last post. I begrudge those kids nothing. It's great that we have a few public/private partnerships. However, what the SE Initiative funding is to New School funding is apples and oranges and therefore there's no comparison at almost any level. New School's funding is to advance kids while SE Initiative is to stabilize 3 schools so they can go on. The amount of money per student can't be compared either.

I'm asking about the building. We all now know that the South Shore building was not one of the worst buildings in the district; the district has said so in this round of closures by what buildings it wants to close (and giving building condition scores). We all know that the money first allotted to South Shore was for modest upgrades that somehow morphed into something much larger and much more expensive. And, we now know that the district is willing to pay extra BEX dollars to get the South Shore building done sooner than almost any other project in recent memory by paying for overtime on the project. (I note that Rainer Beach's modest project has fallen right off the BEX III schedule. What's up with that?)

Extra BEX dollars for a building not in the worst condition while other schools fight to save their programs. Extra BEX dollars while we all know that the district needs dollars to aid the closure and consolidation process for schools soon to receive students from closing buildings. Where will that money come from? Tell me, where will that money come from?

These are hard, cold truths. Perhaps I should have been clearer that I find fault with the New School Foundation and not New School itself. I do not believe the district has acted this way of its own accord and indeed, what I would consider favoritism should be noted so that it doesn't happen again. No regular school should get less than any school involved in a public/private partnership with the district.

Josh Hayes said...

AutismMom explained the nature of Spec. Ed. funding with admirable clarity. Thank you so much!

Some one at AS1 was either misled or elected to mislead me. I wonder which.

uxolo said...

adhoc - New School does not serve the same proportion of low income students as in the neighboring schools. It was introduced to the public with that intention, but that's not who has enrolled.

AutismMom said...

Thanks for the compliment Josh.

Washington State's "education for all act" was actually first in the nation, and predates IDEA. So, the obligation to fund disabled students has always fallen squarely on the state. When IDEA was enacted, the federal govt promised to pay 40% of the costs... but never has. The feds never said it would pay for all of it.

The BEA + supplement formula applies only to the district. The district then sends the monies out at a variable (and largely unaccountable) rate to each school. It is interesting to note that a handful of districts recently sued the state for more "sped supplemental funding". (All the districts which have the worst sped in the state) The districts lost resoundingly, and state advocacy agencies argued against the districts. The judge pointed out that each and every district had stripped the BEA (basic allocation) from the special education students. The districts were trying to fund their programs with the sped supplements alone, and then complaining when they had to use the BEA... (which they were supposed to use) When a sped kid leaves a classroom... his BEA and his supplement is supposed to leave with him. But that never happens.