Thursday, February 05, 2009

District Responsiveness

So far, my experience has been mixed. I wrote a letter to all of the board members, the Superintendent, and the School Improvement Supervisor, reminding them that AS#1 has been asked to increase its enrollment as part of the Closure Recommendation approved on January 29th. I described all the work that the AS#1 community is doing to increase awareness of our program:
New Website
FAQ sheet
New Brochure
Outreach to Preschools
Open House Extended tour dates 

And asked for a commitment from the district to:
  • Have Enrollment Staff visit the school or at a minimum read the pamphlet and website information so they can speak knowledgeably about the school .
  • Discuss AS#1's restructuring at a future board meeting so that prospective families can hear from the district that they support the program and what work is being done through the restructuring.
So far, I have heard back from Sherry Carr and had multiple communications with Scott Whitbeck, the School Improvement Supervisor. He was great about answering some specific questions and asking around to find information. He said the fact that the district is working with AS#1 to restructure is a vote of confidence (they could have just discontinued the program) and that a commitment to improved academics will lead to improved enrollment. 

I also wrote to Tracy Libros making the case to increase the exposure of alternative schools in the enrollment guide and website by including them in the lists of elementary and middle school drop down menus and on future enrollment guides (I noticed this is done for Broadview Thompson K-8). This would allow parents who were not initially seeking an alternative or non-traditional school the opportunity to look at AS#1's program in their search for a school nearby. Having the separate link for alternative schools does not give alternative schools the same exposure as traditional cluster schools and limits the number of families that visit  our program or website as a result. 

Her response is that Alternative Schools are not listed in the cluster guides because they have no reference area and students cannot be assigned there. The district's solution is the statement on the enrollment guide that: 
"All elementary school, K-8 schools and Summit K-12 offer kindergarten. School descriptions provide details about services offered. Information about kindergarten options at alternative/non-traditional schools starts on Page 34."

I still believe that having AS#1 listed in a separate section puts us at a disadvantage in terms of exposure - especially for families that don't know what to expect from Alternative/non traditional schools. They may have the misconception that these are schools for problem kids that can't cut it at other schools or they may be so overwhelmed by the whole enrollment process in the first place that they aren't inclined to look at another set of options. Having our description listed with the other elementary and middle schools would give parents a chance to see that we really offer. The fact that AS#1 doesn't have mandatory assignment doesn't mean that it can't be placed with the other schools. It would be better to have an asterisks at the end of the description explaining its multi-cluster transportation and that students cannot be assigned there but have to choose it, than to be placed in another section. Now that our reference area is limited to the N/NE clusters it will be even more important for us to increase our exposure to families in those clusters. 

I can't tell you how many times we hear that people have never heard of the school - even people who live blocks away from it. My kids started at Broadview Thompson and we had never heard of AS#1 - I only knew about Salmon Bay because my doctor's kids went there. The current enrollment system isolates alternative school and deprives many families of the opportunity to check them out. 

On the positive side, when I contacted the enrollment center about putting our new tour dates and open house night on the Tour Dates PDF on the district site, I got an immediate response. 

My biggest frustration at the moment is that the district link to our new website does not work and I haven't had any luck getting the webmaster to respond to repeated inquiries. Please check out the site!

Update: district link is now working!

14 comments:

SE Mom said...

Cool. I think the new AS#1 website is one of the best around. Good graphics and layout. Really, really liked the Learning and Growing tabs which provide clear and concrete information for prospective families. I really had no clue about AS#1 until looking at the new site.

I've looked at the Summit website serval times in the past few weeks and to be honest, I don't find alot of info there that describes what happens in classrooms and why.
There are activities and photos and all, but not enough specific information about how their mission statement translates to how kids are taught and what they're doing in specific classrooms and activities.

I think overly generalized descriptions of schools on a website only supports families misconceptions of alternative schools as being not well organized or structured.

I think that having alternative schools listed with other elementary and middle schools and not only as a seperate category makes alot of sense in terms of marketing.

seattle citizen said...

I agree. Good point about putting alts in with other schools. They could add a bold note in the header explaining about reference areas.

SE Mom - Summit is closing. Using that as an example of a poorly maintained website might not be the fairest.

(word verifier, a thespian burp? "therp"?)

North-end Mom said...

I checked out the NE schools tours website link from the SPS enrollment website, and noted that Olympic Hills had been added, because of its designation as a N/NE draw this year.

It seems logical to me that the alternative schools and K-8s within a cluster should be added to this list, too, so parents have an easy reference guide when scanning their available options and scheduling tour/open house dates.

anonymous said...

Your new website is great, now I can't wait to visit AS#1 next tour.

Laura said...

I really like your new website! I checked out AS#1 three years ago for my son's kindergarten and while the school wasn't the right fit for me, I was left with the impression that it could work very well for many children.

In particular, I really felt an older child could thrive at AS#1, so to that end, I encourage you to also reach out to North End elementary schools, as a middle school alternative. I don't know how many middle school seats you have, but do know that many families are searching for smaller environments for their kids.

I'd also like to mention that the principal had us all in his tiny office during the Q&A portion of the tour, and the space was too small -- we couldn't even fit. Having parent volunteers greet touring families and providing a good area to assemble and then ask questions would make a good first impression, IMHO.

And I'm most thrilled to know that AS#1 will be getting a new name.

Lara said...

Just felt the need to jump in! I'm an AS#1 parent, and I've been attending all of the tours. We've got coffee for everyone, and we now meet in the cooking room which has ample seating for the groups we've had come through. Should we ever need a bigger space, we're right next to the cafeteria, so problem solved!

We had the same feelings about the tour as prospective parents, so we're doing what we can to be more welcoming. My goal in the coming weeks is to run out of coffee! :)

It's wonderful to get positive feedback about the website. Thank you! It's been a lot of work (for one parent in particular)! We really do have a very special program.

Did anyone check out the videos? There's one in the "experiential learning" section and one in the "forum" section. They make me cry, they're so cool!

WenG said...

General AS #1 question: Do you anticipate keeping your principal? I'm not asking this to be objectionable, I'm just curious. I've read the comment that the "old" AS #1 had stronger leadership with Ron Snyder. Is this the case? We have friends whose children attended and they liked Ernie Seever, so this isn't a slam against him, but has the school changed direction since Snyder left? If so, why? What's the general climate? I'm asking because I'm interested in the school, but not sure when we can tour.

WenG said...

Amending my first post, I just read that you're losing Ernie Seevers. I'm very sorry. I don't want to say anything more about your new principal until AS #1 parents post on this choice.

Another school question: do you still have a teacher that offers Japanese?

Megan Mc said...

WenG,

The teacher who taught Japanese left last year but I believe one of the middle school teachers has/had an Italian language elective this year.

As for the new principal assignment, I don't think the community has really had a chance to digest the information or at least I haven't. I read on another thread that you are not a fan of Roy Merca and are would not consider AS#1 with him as principal.

I still hope you'll take the opportunity to check out the school - I don't know if Roy will lead the tours from now on since people will want to meet him. He might be different in a new environment.

Sahila said...

I like Ernie Seevers and I am sad he has been posted elsewhere...

I think Sanislo is lucky to get him - he has an authentic, from the inside out commitment to diversity and social justice and to doing whatever he can to support children in whatever situation they find themselves...he makes himself totally accessible to students and AS#1 children love him...

I have had differences with him about the school moving further towards the mainstream, but I agree with him that 'alternative' does not equate with 'illiterate' and I appreciate why he has felt he has had to nudge the school more towards District parameters... His views conflict with those of many of the families that were there under the principalship of Ron Snyder and there has been a great deal of tension around that....

Nevertheless - I personally am shocked that Ernie has been replaced by Roy Merca, whose negative reputation regarding his leadership style and lack of commitment to alternative education precedes him...

Many AS#1 parents are concerned that this is the nail in the coffin for the school - that he's being sent to 'mind' us during this next year and that the District truly does intend to close us down, regardless of how well we do in meeting their criteria for improvement...

And we wonder if they thought Ernie was too much of a pushover and that this person will be able to keep us in line better...

As I wrote on another thread, we are quite apprehensive but we are attempting to keep an open mind and to set up a dialogue with him as to the character of our school and how we want to move into the future...

And its very disconcerting because we have been working hard to market the school - the new (parts still in progress/refinement) website, enrolment flyers that are being distributed from today, brochures being completed, name change process underway, changes to the programme with perhaps an after school component being made available, an Experiential Learning Fair Open House planned for March 11...

We are worried that unhappy Summit families who may not have liked Roy will not follow him to AS#1, further impacting our enrolment issues....

Wouldnt take a paranoid personality disorder to come to the conclusion that there is a definite intent to kill off AS#1... a long slow death by deliberate neglect and sabotage...

Megan Mc said...

Sahila,

I don't think you can generalize that Roy was "widely- recognized as unpopular" at Summit based on the few 2nd hand posts from a listserve.

I would like to hear from Summit families first hand what their experience with Roy was like. It may be that the very things that turned some people off from him are what others are looking for or vice versa.

AS#1 is a powerful community and he may end up more changed by it than it is by him.

As for Ernie Seevers going to Sanislo, there's going to be many AS#1 students who will be devastated by this news (mine included). He is extremely well loved by the kids and is a kind and compassionate administrator. Parents either loved him or were frustrated by a passive communication style and a lack of commitment to "true" alternative education.

WenG said...

Megan: My daughter is specifically looking for Japanese. I'm sorry, I forget the teacher's name, but you had a teacher who taught Japanese. I spoke with him two years ago when I was first looking at AS #1.

As for Merca, I have experience with him, and because of him, I won't enroll my younger children in Summit. He falsely accused my son of vandalism and expelled him. The charge was later dropped, but the damage was done. We were ready to hire a lawyer, but my son left for another school and we had to focus on keeping him in school. He never apologized; his manner was always hostile and unaccomodating. This is a school, bear in mind, where we have to work with a variety of people. I'll work with anyone, listen to their perspective, but I never understood why he was installed at Summit. And I will never tolerate an adult who hurts a child and won't admit their error or do anything to make it right. We expect this of youth. Adults are not immune to this standard, and that he has burrowed in to this school tells me the system stinks.

Merca was vice principal when Cathy was principal in the mid-90s. When he became principal, it told me the school was on a downward slide. That's when their wait list started shrinking.

beansa said...

I am sad to hear that Ernie is leaving AS#1. The way he interacted with students and staff during my tour of AS1 was a big factor in why I chose the school for my daughter. While I thought that he could have been a stronger leader, I also thought that he had the school & students best interests at heart.

Now I don't know what to think. I had heard from friends that Summit was more structured and strict than AS1, which is not really the environment I want for my daughter. For now I'm going to reserve judgment until I meet the new boss I guess.

Josh Hayes said...

Just FYI for everybody here, the district did finally make the change on the seattleschools.org web page, and now AS1's web page points to, well, AS1's web page. Well done all!