Sunday, December 14, 2008

West Seattle Closures & Consolidations

Contrary to what I expected prior to the announcement of preliminary recommendations, only one school building (Genesee Hill) and one program (Cooper) are proposed for closure.

I am grateful that the importance of having a K-8 alternative school option in West Seattle is being recognized by both the district staff and the School Board. I'm not happy that Pathfinder's continued existence is proposed to come at the cost of another school program (originally Arbor Heights and now Cooper).

My hope is that, if the Cooper program closes, many neighborhood Cooper students will choose to try an alternative school experience and enroll at Pathfinder K-8. I would like to see Cooper students given priority for enrollment at Pathfinder for 2009-2010, if they wish. And I hope that neighborhood Cooper students who do not want an alternative school experience will be given priority for enrollment for next year in other West Seattle North schools.

One of the things that Rebecca, a Cooper teacher, wrote about in her FAQ sheet (see Cooper Elementary Fights Closure Proposal) I agree with very strongly and passionately. Being in a school with a high concentration of kids in poverty is strongly linked with low achievement levels for individual students, even with all other factors being equal. The research Rebecca cites (and other research) makes this clear. If we want to reduce the achivement gap, we need to make sure our policies (program placement, transportation, reference area lines, assignment plan tie breakers, etc.) push our district away from having schools with high percentages of kids living in poverty.

16 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

The only odd thing here is that Cooper's FAQ sheet is via the district's website. I recall that other schools during the CAC closures were not allowed to use the district website. This might be a problem for them that could come out at the hearing and put them on the defensive. Better it come thru some other website.

Beth Bakeman said...

Really? Putting information on your own school website seems completely normal to me, and I haven't seen any district guidelines against it.

Beth Bakeman said...

Just saw that Cooper has created another website with all the closure-related information: Cooper School Works.

zb said...

Last time around, I remember Charlie Mas suggesting that students in closed schools (closed programs?) should be given priority on enrollment in the next session. I think that's a good idea, too, and wonder how it could work?

The simplest plan would be to give priority assignment to all-city draw schools (i.e. no reference/distance tie breaker schools). This, in effect means priority in alternative programs.

reader said...

Why not spread the pain around? Let them have priority at ALL schools. That way, they wouldn't have to go to an alternative school if they didn't want to, but could get high priority at traditional schools.

Beth Bakeman said...

I agree. Students who are dispersed from any closed program should have priority enrollment for any open seats at any school.

It seems like the least the district can do for kids/families whose programs are being closed.

I think this is what was done last time; the enrollment process was basically run twice: once for everyone displaced by the closures and then, once all those assignments had been made; a second time for everyone else in the district.

I'm going to look through my notes to see if any details have been provided about what is planned for this time.

zb said...

"Students who are dispersed from any closed program should have priority enrollment for any open seats at any school"

I was trying to work this out, and got confused by whether they should be able to have priority enrollment in a school that would not have open seats. Saying they have priority for open seats doesn't really mean anything, right? as long as seats are open people can access them in Seattle, no? I think the key is that we have to figure out where on the tie-breaker rankings being displaced from a previous placement ranks in the tie-breakers.

For alternatives, I'm suggesting that the displacement tie-breaker be placed after siblings, but before anything else (I've never gotten straight whether some alternatives --TC, Pathfinder-- have a cluster tiebreaker, but, if they do, we'd have to figure out where it goes relative to that).

With traditional schools, you have the distance tiebreaker, which is where the popular schools (in NE, for sure) end up filling up. I don't think, especially given the eventual focus on neighborhood enrollment being pushed by the SPS, that allowing displacement to trump the distance tiebreaker for traditional schools would make sense.

zb said...

We'd also have to figure out whether "displacement" affects students who are not current attendees, but are kindergarteners. I think a bunch of details get complicated in working out these details, but I do think we need to consider displaced students in a special category.

Roy Smith said...

For displacements, the bottom line is "do displaced students get access to popular programs (i.e., ones that usually have waitlists) or not?"

If yes, then those programs are either overcrowded, or somebody else gets bumped - and then what do we do with that displaced student?

If no, and they just get "any school where seats are available", well then, they don't get anything at all because they already have access to any school where seats are available.

zb said...

"or somebody else gets bumped - and then what do we do with that displaced student?"

Well, if we're talking about alternatives, they go back to their school (i.e. the one that they are currently attending). This is a choice not available to kids who have to leave their current school.

(and, that analysis implies that the "displacement" tie breaker would apply only to people who are currently at a school that's closing, not in coming kindergartners).

Beth Bakeman said...

The enrollment process is complicated and I'm probably not explaining what I'm thinking well, but as I'm imaginging it, displaced students absolutely would have an advantage because they would get assignments before all the other open enrollment applications were processed.

What I'm proposing is that students already in a program wouldn't get bumped out, but then for any remaining open seats, all students displaced from closure would get priority for those open seats. Then, once all those open seats were assigned, the rest of open enrollment applications around the district would be processed following normal rules.

Do I have this wrong in my head? Wouldn't that be giving priority to displaced students? Or is there something I'm completely missing here.?

Roy Smith said...

Beth, I think you are explaining it fine, I just am wondering how many open seats there are from year to year in the more popular programs. Is natural turnover due to transfers/moves/etc. enough to really provide viable options, or are most of the displaced students simply going to end up at less popular schools where they could get into without a preference?

Beth Bakeman said...

I think that's a good question for Tracy Libros. I really don't know the answer. But I do know it is easier to get into a popular program/school at later grades than at the entry grade.

Jennifer said...

If Pathfinder takes over the Cooper building there will only be 69 spots for Cooper children to continue at Pathfinder. About 30% of the Cooper population is bilingual, and Pathfinder has no bilingual services. So, the children that can then attend Pathfinder cannot be bilingual. And there’s also the issue of our autism programs. There are 24 children in the autism programs, which uses four classrooms at Cooper. (Three individual classrooms and an additional room for occupational therapy) Taking that into consideration Pathfinder will have to compromise their space, and those children will be included in the 69 that get accepted to Pathfinder. Maria Goodloe Johnson actually addressed this issue in her initial proposal to the school board when she recommended looking at Arbor Heights and not Cooper. On page 40 in that document she states a case as to why she does not recommend closing Cooper.

“Past closure processes recommended that Pathfinder
be placed at the Cooper building. However, given current enrollment and placement of programs that have reduced the functional capacity of the buildings, we recommend placing Pathfinder at
Arbor Heights.

In order to put Pathfinder K-8 into the Cooper building one of two things would have to happen. Either Pathfinder would need to become an elementary school, or West Seattle Elementary would need to accommodate an additional 140 students.

Pathfinder is the only K-8 in West Seattle. Becoming a K-5 would mean that families who wanted a K-8 would have to leave West Seattle. Because of a desire to have access to K-8 programs throughout the city, this action is not recommended. ”
-Preliminary Recommendation Report November 25, 2008, Maria L. Goodloe Johnson

Further into the document she states that West Seattle Elementary based on it’s functional capacity only has space for 75 of Cooper students. So where will the children go? I guess when reading the latest round of recommendations they want to spend more money to bus the children further and violate the student assignment plan. Good luck kids, sorry you have to wake up earlier and get home later. But, hey there’s only 65 of you and you guys might be bilingual so it’ll take a while before you notice.
Thanks for the dialogue.

Charlie Mas said...

All of this talk about students getting bussed out of their cluster is only meaningful for one more year until the student assignment policy is re-written, the reference areas are redrawn and the transportation clusters are redefined. I don't think it is good practice to base long-term decisions, such as the new location of Pathfinder, on short-term conditions, such as the current student assignment and transportation policy.

What do you think?

Roy Smith said...

I think that Charlie's last comment is an excellent example of why doing closures before redoing the assignment plan may be just inviting more trouble in the door.