Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SAP Public Hearing

I attended tonight's Public Hearing on the SAP but very briefly. Sherry Carr, Michael De Bell, Peter Maier, Mary Bass and Steve Sundquist were there (the other directors were at graduations but it was being taped). When I left there were a scant 35 people there. I was surprised.

My remarks to the Board were essentially that
(1) we are already way down the road to go back
(2) predictability was what parents asked for and what this plan delivers (and, if you think about the Supreme Court ruling on the tiebreaker, all those parents really wanted was to know where their kids would be assigned)
(3) BUT, if the Board doesn't have a transition period where they might grandfather sibs during that time AND a detailed plan from staff as to how to handle the various capacity issues throughout the district, then they have no business approving it. The district does have money for portables (although I am told they are "impossible" to buy - I note that whenever Facilities doesn't want to do something, it's too costly or impossible); they just have to redo or limit the projects in BTA or BEX. Or, they can ask Mayor Nickels (up for reelection I believe) to fasttrack any permitting needed to reopen Sandpoint and/or McDonald. In short, the plan has to match every student with their attendance school and if it can't do that in action, then it isn't a coherent plan.

I did point out that there were still questions about the lack of a distance tiebreaker, what happens to early sibling registration and how long the transition period would be and would it include grandfathering siblings during that period?

Lastly, I told parents that while they are anticipating families torn apart from communities that the reality is that it is happening now for hundreds of families whose schools are closing.

There were not big rallies to save those schools and those families from pain. Why? Because as adults we realize there are hard truths and even harder decisions about what we do as a district. If anyone wants to make these closures or this SAP the central storyline for their child's childhood, that's their decision. But it might be a good teaching moment about not always getting what we believe is fair because sometimes decisions are greater than one family and about the greater good.

Did anyone else attend? Did you stay for the Q&A with Tracy?

85 comments:

Carolyn said...

I was there for the whole meeting, but left before the Q&A. All 40 speaking slots filled. Seems that *at least* half of the comments were pleas for sibling grandfathering. I didn't take notes, but someone came up with a great stat from the online maps that nearly 40% of families are from out of reference schools (is this true?!). One speaker requesting a transition with sibling grandfathering quoted De Bell as saying the changes would be an "evolution" and not a "revolution" and quoting MGJ as saying that change takes 3 to 5 years (and so why can't we have a transition?) Several speakers also commented that very few parents seem to know about the proposed change in sibling preference and noted that were the proposed change widely know, the hearing would have been packed.

There was also a very large contingent from Ballard registering their displeasure at the prospect of a nonsensical split of the Ballard attendance area, which seemed to ignore walkability.

Similarly, a group of West Woodland parents spoke out against a rumored plan to feed WW elementary into McClure MS, which would also ignore walkability and would require bussing of nearly all kids.

There were a few other notes about quality of schools and access to programs like special education and Montessori.

At the end De Bell noted that he had definitely picked up on some themes....

but what did others hear?

Deidre F. said...

Where is everyone getting this information about boundaries (in Ballard), and which schools will feed into which schools (West Woodland to McClure)?

Have I missed something? Has the district released the boundaries? It must be more than speculation if groups are testifying at board meetings.

Keepin'On said...

There was a rumor that the boundary line for ballard is going to be drawn below 80th, 85th, or even 67th st in order to accomodate the Queen Anne and Magnolia families who have no high school. Whenever a board member is asked about this, families are told, no boundaries have been drawn, this is all rumor....but then they go onto say - "but you have to realize those neighborhoods have no high school".

Hence the concern> dating back years to when fromer school board member Dick Lilly was going to give those families priority to Ballard High school over kids in the neighborhood.

No one is happy with this. The district needs to close an empty high school, and open Lincoln as an interim high school to accomodate capacity issues. But they wont. So they are pitting neighborhoods against eachother. Its going to get ugly.

zb said...

But where do the rumors come from? I think the school district is assuming that drawing boundaries will allow them to move families around, filling the schools (i.e. buildings) that they want to keep open. I think they're not so far off, because I suspect that the economic situation makes two options (moving/private school) less viable. There's still out of district placements -- I don't know how viable those are going to be for families looking to leave, after they know what their guaranteed options are.

But, I think they're also going to be guided by trying to minimize distance/transportation traveled for all the kids, rather than the scheme currently used, which allows some kids to travel very long distances. So, my guess is people quibbling about being on the wrong side of the 85th street (or 75th) in NE, isn't going to get much traction. It's always been unreasonable to assign QA kids to Ingraham because the school was already filled.

Opening up schools in N seems like it should be considered, but I don't think they will, until they see how changing assignment boundaries actually affects school populations in different areas.

(and, incidentally, I'm just making stuff up about what I think people in SPS believe. I've been right when I've tested occasionally, but I think it's just 'cause I think like them).

north seattle mom said...

I don't think anyone is getting information per se. However, the district has published maps on the new enrollment website that show where all students that currently are enrolled in SPS. With these maps, it is not too hard to figure out where the challenge area are going to be.

Here is the high school map
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/newassign/
maps/08-09/demog/nearest_high_0809.pdf

There are nearly 2200 students for whom Ballard is the closest high school. Anyone that looks at the map would be worried about boundaries without the release of any particular direct info from the district.

Here is the map for middle school.
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/newassign/
maps/08-09/demog/nearest_middle_0809.pdf

It is very easy to see why Eckstein is such a hot spot as well and why the SAP has put pressure on Jane Addams to be a comprehensive middle school. There are already over 1600 students that live closest to Eckstein, even with over loading, they are not going to fit and that does not take into account any growth.

The elementary map is equally enlightening
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/newassign/
maps/08-09/demog/nearest_elem_0809.pdf

You can't look at this map and not begin to guess that all of a sudden NE elementary boundaries are going to undergo some dramatic changes. The northern boundary for Bryant will likely be 65th street.

Pure speculation on my part but the map sure looks that way to me since there is no way that that the U District is suddenly going to be part of Latona or Mountlake so that means it must be part of Bryant and the northern boundary would need to adjust.

Deidre F. said...

"There are nearly 2200 students for whom Ballard is the closest high school."

2200 students live closest to Ballard so why would Ballard have such a small waitlist for the past two years (34 this year and only 3 last year)? It's a "good" and "popular" school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Pure speculation unless there was some secret meeting.

I think Ballard people should be worried, though. The district, for some unknown reason, is not making Lincoln a high school for QA/Magnolia/Wallingford/Fremont. So in order for this SAP to work (a guaranteed assignment for all), every QA/Magnolia kid will get a high school assignment. They are likely to get divided up by Ballard and Franklin and maybe Garfield. (Which is sad for them to no chance to stay with peers.) The dividing line for director districts for De Bell's district is 70th NW, maybe that's where this comes from. Maybe from 70th/75th/80th NW and up, students who normally went to Ballard might go to Ingraham. It's easy to look at a map and start drawing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I meant to add, if Lincoln isn't going to be used as a high school, what will they do with it?

Roy Smith said...

Going into pure speculation land, my guess is that the lines will be drawn in a way that attempts to fill Ingraham and Hale to capacity, thus creating some room at Ballard and Roosevelt for Magnolia and Queen Anne.

A while back, I sat down with the maps and the data that is available on the SPS website, and worked out what that would look like. The numbers basically work, but after accounting for the fact that people will adjust their behavior and choices of where to reside based on the new rules and maps, it is easy to see how it could unravel within a few years.

If SPS can improve how Ingraham is viewed by those that live on the north end enough that they can fill it with students from the north end that more or less want to be there, and they fill Hale, a fair bit of the north end high school overcrowding could be fixed.

And as far as Lincoln goes, what would make sense would be to open Lincoln and close a south end high school (or make one of the south end high schools a small option high school) in the same year. But this leads us into the always entertaining quick-sand of north-end/south-end politics.

Roy Smith said...

Does anybody know if one of the guiding principles for drawing the attendance area boundaries is going to be a requirement that the attendance areas be contiguous?

If non-contiguous attendance areas are allowed, this could make a big difference in how the high school boundaries are drawn.

seattle citizen said...

There's a high school building on Queen Anne....

zb said...

They have said there won't be middle school feeder patterns -- high school boundaries will be drawn separately from middle school boundaries.

The maps are fascinating. Clearly a mess. Are these numbers numbers of students currently enrolled? They can't be, 'cause there aren't 2100 students at Ballard. So, I'm guessing this is an estimate of where high school students live based on other information? a demographic projection/prediction? On the other hand, it's weird that such numbers could be accurate to 4 significant digits.

(thanks for the links)

zb said...

"Does anybody know if one of the guiding principles for drawing the attendance area boundaries is going to be a requirement that the attendance areas be contiguous?"

I vaguely remember reading in the SAP that the assignment areas would be contiguous. But, I'm not sure exactly what that means when your city is separated by bodies of water. I'm guessing people think that across the Ballard locks is contiguous, but how about across Elliott Bay, or Lake Union? Are you allowed to have discontinuities across bodies of water?

zb said...

We're in the northern zone that might get pushed to Nathan Hale, and I'm pretty sure I can live with that, especially if my neighbors are also pushed in that direction. I do think the culture at Nathan Hale will change as a result, though, and that the district should be supportive of making the school more comprehensive. But, even if it doesn't change dramatically, I think it's a model I could live with (unlike, for example, the Madrona model).

SPSMom said...

"There's a high school building on Queen Anne...."

Where, not the SBOC building, that is an elementary school that has been used as a 6-12, which is one of the reasons they moved them, to a middle school where at least the bathrooms have "equipment" at the adult level!

Keepin'On said...

I think that the legitimate concern for most Ballard, North Beach and Olympic Manor families, is that they can put their kids on a bus or bike to Ballard high school and be there in 15 minutes, no transfers, etc. Assigning these students to Ingraham results in a 45 minute bus ride with two transfers. Not attractive. Add in the perceived low-performing issue at Ingraham, and that school
is not very attractive to many families at all.Plus, they want their kids, who have been at elementary school and middle school together, to get to stay together at their neighborhood high school.I think Hale is a more acceptable option for these families, but with that principal seeming to be able to cap enrollment at the level she wishes, not many folks can get in. Maybe it is time for that to change.

For QA/MAG families, being told that their new reference high school is Cleveland, is also not an popular option. Their kids need an attractive option as well, just like Ballard families, that does not split them off in three directions.

I am sorry , but the time to be polite is gone. We have overcrowded high schools in the north end, and empty ones in the south. That is a fact.

I would propose, and have, that they shut RB or Center school, open Lincoln as a NW comprehensive high school, and assign RB, Center and QA/MAg families there. They would easily fill the school, and I think it could become a high performing and diverse high school.

But that would make sense, wouldn't it.

Keepin'On said...

Sorry - Above I meant Franklin not Cleveland.

Roy Smith said...

ZB, I think the maps are based on compiling the home addresses of current high school students. That explains the level of precision in the numbers - it is information that SPS actually has on hand. No guesswork involved.

Closing RBHS sounds like it might make sense, until one considers that 1,840 students live closer to RBHS than to any other high school - more than any high school except Ballard.

The problem statement in this case is simple: SPS needs to find a way to make RBHS attractive to the families that live near it. If that happened, RBHS would be full to overflowing. Unfortunately, stating the problem clearly is much, much easier than solving the problem.

hschinske said...

SPS Mom, I believe Seattle Citizen meant the old Queen Anne High that got sold and divvyed up into condos many years ago. That sell-off, in my opinion, still stands as the worst decision this district has ever made, despite strenuous attempts to outdo it in recent years.

Helen Schinske (word verification "forsha" -- I take it that means "for sure"?)

SPSMom said...

Yep, agree and the condos are currently being auctioned off! Nice!

Deidre F. said...

ZB, Hale is a comprehensive HS. What would do you feel would make it "more comprehensive"?

Keepin on said "I think Hale is a more acceptable option for these families, but with that principal seeming to be able to cap enrollment at the level she wishes"

Keepin on did you notice that Hale enrolled 312 students for 9th grade this year (61 more than they did last year). If Hale continues to enroll 312 students for 9th grade for the next 3 years they will grow from the current 1050 students to 1248, which BTW will be the functional capacity of their remodeled building.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Deidre, here's what the BEX website says on capacity:

"School enrollment numbers are determined by a different District department, but based on current planning the school will accommodate up to 1,400 students."

Additionally, Marni Campbell told people on tours that the school plans to stay at or near their current size. Why would she say that if she didn't mean it?

They are not renovating for 1200 students. If we are paying $90M for a renovated school, it needs to be at capacity so this will be interesting dilemma by the time the renovation is done and the SAP goes into effect.

seattle citizen said...

yep, I was referring to the old QA High....sigh....

bad humor, I know...

seattle citizen said...

I know, I know! A new alternative high school in....get ready for it...the John Marshall building!

Could easily draw 500 alt HS students from N/NW...

Deidre F. said...

The latest functional capacity pdf shows Hale at 1420 for their planning capacity, but 1229 as their functional capacity.

You can see it here:
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/functional_analysis3.pdf

Aren't we using the functional capacity numbers for enrollment?

If we are then Hale will be over their functional capacity if they continue to enroll 312 students each year, which would be a total of 1248.

I know Marni told people that she doesn't want the school to grow. But, I doubt that with the capacity crisis in the NE that the enrollment. Although, you never know, they are allowing Eckstein to cut back, even with a 160 kid waitlist.

kprice said...

I keep trying the link for the middle school map but it is telling me that the page is not found...anyone else having this problem?

Keepin'On said...

The same sheet shows Ballard with a functional capacity of 1550, planned capacity of 1554, and enrollment of 1642.
Hale: Functional capacity -1229, Planned capacity-1420, enrolled: 1074.
I just find it curious that Hale has a small waitlist, and they are not even at capacity. Ballard has a larger wait list, and they are way over capacity. It would be nice if Ballard had been allowed to keep the school at a lower level of enrollment, but we weren't, because of the QA/MAg situation

I was just saying that I sincerely hope Hale has to enroll to capacity in the future.

Carolyn said...

Issues with the SAP are still not resolved, and we're off to discussing boundaries, which clearly will be an order of magnitude harder to settle on than the SAP.

I would favor a feeder school pattern to keep cohorts of children together through their K-12 education, allowing parents to opt out into other schools on a space-available basis. Theoretically, the district could make decisions once (that is, draw boundaries for elementaries that are based on transportation issues) and then roll these up into the MS and HS boundaries.

But the reality may be that the MS and HS buildings are not configured in a way that will allow something so simple.

Maureen said...

kprice Try Nearest Middleschool.

And thanks to North Seattle Mom--I thought this must exist--but didn't think to follow the 'demographics' link to find it.

It shows why the West Woodland parents at last night's meeting think they might be sent to McClure! Now we just need to dig out the functional capacity numbers for each Middle School and K-5 (and maybe sketch in I-5 and 99) then we can start drawing boundary lines like the WW folks have.

Deidre F. said...

Keepin on said "Hale: Functional capacity -1229, Planned capacity-1420, enrolled: 1074. "

Please remember that Hale's building remodel is not complete yet. It is only in phase I. Their functional capacity will increase to 1229 once the remodel is complete in a couple of years.

Is 1074 Hale's current functional capacity? I couldn't find the numbers for their current building, only for the new remodeled building.

And believe me, keepin on and Melissa, I hear you. Hale should NOT be allowed to cap enrollment. I don't think any NE school should, and I don't think anyone would approve of that.

It's a sore spot with Eckstein right now, as they are trying to cut back, now, while they have a 160 kid waitlist!

Steve said...

I Tivo'd the meeting last night starting at 7:00pm (on Channel 26), but instead of the June 10 meeting, they replayed the June 3 meeting. Any idea why it wasn't carried live? Will they rebroadcast?

Dorothy said...

"But the reality may be that the MS and HS buildings are not configured in a way that will allow something so simple."

Yup. I don't even see how guaranteeing elementary to middle school feeder pattern can work, given the few schools and large numbers of kids at each. However Tracy said that they would make it work by playing with functional capacity at elementary schools, by moving programs around (since different programs affect functional capacity) to make elementary schools all "right sized" in a way that they can feed into middle schools predictably.

I honestly do not know if that is a good or not-good thing. Sounds like it could be problematic on many fronts, including making decisions on moving programs without considering the best interest of the kids in the program, but just because of their size.

Hypothetical scenario with made up numbers. Let's say Bryant is popular, crowded and has 120 5th graders. No one middle school has room for that sized chunk, so the district moves a space-intensive program to Bryant, effectively eliminating 30 seats per grade. Now the 90 students can move in a cohort to a feeder middle school. That also makes the "right sized" attendance area at Bryant much smaller. Is that a potential outcome of having feeder school priority for rising 6th graders?

I actually would like them to consider no-feeder-school restrictions as an option as they work things out. Most neighborhoods would still all move as a cohort, but not everyone everywhere, depending on geography. I don't know how much of an impact that would be. But I suspect there's a decent impact with limiting decision making to feeder school scenarios.

Maureen said...

One tool they will have to make the feeder patterns work is the Geographic Zone tiebreaker for Option schools:

In the case of enrollment shifts in certain attendance or service areas, it might be possible to revise the geographic zone and thereby prevent or delay the need to redraw attendance area boundaries. This provides a tool to increase the stability of the new attendance area boundaries. (p 19)

So if there are too many kids at Ballard K-5s to fit at Whitman, they can make the Geographic Zone for Salmon Bay really big (maybe just for Middle School even?) cutting back on the number at Whitman and helping to fill the south end MSs at the same time.

Using this on non-chimney model Option schools would take longer to kick in on the middle school level, but will be one of the few tools they will have to balance fluctuations in populations. So I expect the Geographic Zone boundaries will vary wildly from year to year. (so much for predictability and simplicity)

north seattle mom said...

@ Maureen, As there is only one non-chimney (aka mushroom) K8, are you implying that they would move all K8s to the mushrooms style?

Laura said...

My reference (TBA - attendance) school is Bagley, a dual program school, Montessori and "contemporary." Does anybody know how assignments to dual program schools will be handled with the new assignment plan?

Stu said...

SPS needs to find a way to make RBHS attractive to the families that live near it.

Isn't this sort of a chicken/egg thing? If you have mandatory assignment to neighborhood schools, doesn't the school community then have to work to make it a better program? By giving families extreme busing options and district-wide choices, they've taken the community out of the community.

stu

momster said...

zb said "Are these numbers numbers of students currently enrolled? They can't be, 'cause there aren't 2100 students at Ballard."

this is not the number of hs students enrolled *at* ballard, it's the number of sps hs students whose closest hs *is* ballard - many of whom may be enrolled in a different hs.

the data is from october 2008 enrollment.

i went last night too, through the q&a that lasted until 9:40 (directors debell and bass, plus tracy libros were there).

i got there late, but i thought what saw/heard was informative, civil, and sometimes even funny, e.g., when one of the ballard contingent said he wanted his daughter to go to the same hs his father had, and that they'd all been there long enough to remember when the saying went "in belleview it's sushi, in ballard it's bait" - i guess as a wry but proud acknowledgment of ballard's humble and hardy roots.

and another ballard-ite who said that living in that close community meant there was always someone who could report on any of her children, including where they were, when they were there, what they were doing, and what body parts were involved.

one interesting thing i learned - one of the criteria for high school boundaries will be metro accessibility.

Johnny Calcagno said...

Stu said about RBHS:

doesn't the school community then have to work to make it a better program?

Do you really believe that is all it's going to take?

Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps you lazy Southenders!

dj said...

Is it true that nearly 40% of families go to schools other than the one in their reference area?

dj said...

And Melissa, I disagree with your characterization of the Seattle Schools suit. Those parents didn't want a predictable result. They could get that by enrolling at Ranier Beach or any other unpopular school with plenty of room. They were hoping that the system would change so that their kids would have a better chance at getting into the schools they wanted their kids to go to, which isn't the same thing.

zb said...

"Is it true that nearly 40% of families go to schools other than the one in their reference area?"

It varies from school to school. If you look at http://www.seattleschools.org/area/newassign/maps_data.html

(Attendance pattern)

and calculate the % of the total population that comes from the attendance area, you get lows of 20-30% in Madrona & Baily Gatzert, and highs of 72% in Bryant. But, I've never understood how special programs (especially special needs) are accounted for in this data. If some of the numbers include special needs then, the numbers don't reflect the proportion of reference area kids in the general ed classes.

zb said...

"Those parents didn't want a predictable result. They could get that by enrolling at Ranier Beach or any other unpopular school with plenty of room."

They wanted a predictable result within whale spitting distance of their homes, and all three schools, Ballard, Roosevelt, and Garfield, that surround Queen Anne resulted in unpredictable assignments or Queen Anne residents (and, if they didn't get into one of those, they were told to travel past other schools to get to the one their child was assigned to. That's what people find most objectionable -- when they have to travel past another school in order to get to their unpredictable (ad unwanted assignment). That's what's unfair, too. Not that you might have to travel a mile further (i.e. don't get to attend your closest school). That's what guaranteed attendance areas gives you -- the ability to jigger boundaries so that a child from Alaska doesn't have to commute to Florida because all the intervening schools filled up before there was space for them.

zb said...

"ZB, Hale is a comprehensive HS. What would do you feel would make it "more comprehensive"? "

Oh, I have no idea. I'm repeating rumors and hearsay. I guess I'm thinking of things like band programs, athletics, AP classes, etc. But, my kids are in elementary school, and I really don't know what I'm talking about.

(As I said, I don't think I'd have a problem with assignment to Hale, even though it's further from my house than Roosevelt).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Are we using functional capacity numbers for enrollment? Only when it suits the district. For example, Garfield, Ballard, West Seattle and Roosevelt are over their functional capacity.

I disagree about the tiebreaker suit. They wanted a predictable high school near home. It's silly to say they could have had it at RBHS which is nowhere near them. It wasn't about getting into the schools they wanted; they just wanted a high school. And this is precisely why the sale of QA high and the opening of Center School was such a mistake. And, it's one we are still paying for.

dj said...

Melissa and ZB, I disagree. The complaint in the case specifically addressed the fact that the parents felt that their kids were being denied access to a college preparatory school and that this was harmful to their kids because they could not get the comprehensive college preparatory education they needed (or wanted). Were Queen Anne right next to Cleveland and Ranier Beach High School, and their kids were assigned to a somewhat farther away Garfield or Ballard, they would not have sued. It's the content of the school that is important to parents.

People only want predictability if the predictable result is a good one.

David said...

Does anyone know if Madrona K-8 will be a feeder middle school? Or will all Montlake/Stevens/McGilvra students be fed to Washington?

zb said...

The Queen Anne folks who sponsored the law suit did so for a number of reasons (including, potentially, their personal belief that the use of a racial tie breaker was indeed unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court found). But, I still assert that what burns people in Queen Anne up is that they are regularly denied access to the three schools that are closest to them.

This argument about "predictably bad" is a loser, you know, because it implies that there are schools that are too bad for your own children, but good enough for someone else's. That argument just isn't going to be very successful to someone who is trying to optimize for everyone. A necessary outgrowth of the new assignment plan has to be better schools for everyone (that, too, was the failed promise of the choice model).

BL said...

David,
According to the June 3rd draft of the SAP, none of the K-8s will be considered feeder middle schools.
The feeder system has not been determined yet, so you can't assume that Stevens, Montlake and McGilvra will feed into Washington, but you can assume (unless the rules change) that they will not feed into Madrona K-8.

zb said...

"Were Queen Anne right next to Cleveland and Ranier Beach High School, and their kids were assigned to a somewhat farther away Garfield or Ballard, they would not have sued."

We can't possibly know this, 'cause it's never happened, and it can't in a choice system where distance serves as a tie breaker.

dj said...

It's not like urban school districts that don't have choice don't have lousy schools.

I don't recall ever making the argument that any child deserved to be in a bad school or should be in a bad school, or that any particular child is more or less deserving of a good education. I have said consistently that in my view being able to attend a good neighborhood school versus a good school that is not in your neighborhood is less of a problem than having to attend a bad school, and that the number of parents who affirmatively say, I'd rather bus or drive my kid than have them attend a school that doesn't serve their needs means that certainly there isn't a consensus that attending your neighborhood school is the most important thing.

I would prefer that the focus of any widespread school reform be on improving poor-quality schools. If part of that program is to put schools on the path to being true neighborhood schools, so be it. But taking schools that are already doing poorly, dumping more kids into them, and saying, well, hopefully, now they'll improve, is wrongheaded.

Charlie Mas said...

There is no reason to believe that the new assignment plan will result in a significantly increased enrollment at Rainier Beach High School. All of the seats now available for Southeast Seattle students at other high schools will still be there and available for them. there is no reason to believe that the people now exercising that choice will not continue to exercise that choice.

Rainier Beach would be a different sort of school with 800 students than it is with 400 and it would be more different still with 1200. But "better"? I can't say.

What is a good school? We have no universally accepted measure. I have my idea of what makes a good school, but you might not share that view, and the folks in Southeast Seattle with 8th grade children may have a completely different idea altogether. It may be that Rainier Beach is a good school now, just an unpopular one.

zb said...

"There is no reason to believe that the new assignment plan will result in a significantly increased enrollment at Rainier Beach High School. All of the seats now available for Southeast Seattle students at other high schools will still be there and available for them."

This is why I don't get the numbers in the assignment document. They seem to imply that there are students near all those schools (and someone interpreted those students as already being in the SPS system). I just don't get how that can work. Where are those students? the ones who live near Ranier Beach, but don't attend it. Are they outside of SPS? Or are they attending other schools within SPS?

Keepin'On said...

zb- if you look at the maps page on SPS website (It's in the student assignment plan section), you will see that those 1840 students are going anywhere BUT Rainier Beach. They are going to Cleveland, Franklin, Garfield and Ballard by the maps I looked at.

Megan Mc said...

The enrollment issues at RBHS will not be solved until parents and kids feel safe there. I bet you could move the principal and entire faculty of Roosevelt there and people would drop out (even if distance wasn't a factor). Can you imagine the safety issues if the district suddenly assigned 800 kids there?

The city and the district are responsible for improving the security in and around the school so neighboring families feel safe sending their kid there. Until then, it makes sense to keep the school open to those willing to brave it and at least reward them with a small, personal learning environment.

Charlie Mas said...

Is security the issue? And is it security at the school or in the surrounding neighborhood?

If that's the case, then there really isn't anything the District can do about it, but there may be something the City can do about it.

What can the City do to make the Rainier Beach community safe?

And, if it is the area around the school, then why isn't this risky area impacting the enrollment at South Shore, which is practically across the street and has a waitlist, or at Dunlap, which is two blocks away? Or does it impact their enrollment?

I know that South Shore has been at the Columbia building for the past couple years but it was at South Shore and it will be at South Shore in the fall.

Also, if the neighborhood is like that, then is this a good place for South Lake high school? One of the arguments against moving John Marshall to Wilson-Pacific was that it was a bad environment for "at-risk" youth. Of course, they did end up moving the program there anyway.

What is the deal with Rainier Beach and why won't people choose it? I'd really like to hear it from someone in the area who chose a different school.

north seattle mom said...

zb - keep in mind that the maps show the number of students and the locations of comprehensive high schools. The map did no show the number of students attending The Center School, Nova, Summit, SBOC or a re-entry or safety net school. That is why the numbers don't really add up directly.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Charlie asked the $64,000 Question:
"What is the deal with Rainier Beach and why won't people choose it? I'd really like to hear it from someone in the area who chose a different school."

As someone who would have easily had RBHS as our choice (and who opted for private instead) I can only give you our reasons and concerns. They are varied and many. I am probably opening myself up to a lot of finger-wagging by others on this blog, but I'm trying to let you know how many of us feel down here in the SE.

IN GENERAL:

a.) The vast majority of the teachers/staff at RBHS are doing a great job serving the population they have. On a tour, they tell you things like "we're like parents to these kids," "we work to motivate these kids," "we're working to build their self-esteem."

All good things, yes, but not what my child needs. She has involved parents and is already motivated and has great self-esteem. I can't help but believe she would be looked at as "white privileged" by staff and "ignored" because she would already be on a path to success. My child loves school, but does need to be motivated by her teachers. She'll meet whatever bar is set, but not necessarily go farther on her own. I don't know if the staff at RBHS is ready to set the bar higher for kids who need it. They are very invested in the kids they are currently serving—good for those kids, but bad for mine.

b.) Qualilty/quantity of offerings. Like many schools in SPS, it can't compare with the crown jewels of Garfield/Roosevelt/Ballard (or even Hale). But, it doesn't even come close. The SE Initiative added some AP classes, but the rigor of the other classes is not high. I have no idea about the new AP. Our family want college prep.

c. Cohort. My child expects to do well in school and go to college. Right now, that can't be said for the majority at RBHS. Forced enrollment could change that, but I'm not ready to have my child be the guinea pig. If the attitudes and actions of the kids who hang out at SAARS at lunch time is any indication of the majority of RBHS students, I do not want my child there. (Note, SAARS blasts classical music to try and keep the kids away.)

SAFETY:

Two rapes at the school—on campus—in less than six month (June 2008, Sept. 2009). The school DID NOT notify the police in either case. It wasn't until the victims notified police that the school got involved. (written up in the Rainier Valley Post and Seattle Times)

There are problem kids at EVERY school. I know that, but I can't help but wonder what the climate at a school is where students believe they can rape someone on campus and get away with it—and they almost did. I would not send my child to RBHS with the current administration in place because of that.

Overall crime in the southend is on a horrific upswing—muggings, shootings, home invasions are happening from Seward Park to Columbia City. Most of the perps are youths/young adults—those kids probably go to school somewhere (RBHS, Cleveland, Garfield) in the District. The gang situation is heating up, and I don't want my child to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't want to worry about who her friends are and what they might be involved in. Will I have to worry about this no matter where she goes? Sure, but there's probably less gang activity at Roosevelt and Ballard, or the private school she will attend.

So..as many have noted, the District can't fix all these problems. I KNOW they are great kids at RBHS, and I worry for them as I do my own. Perhaps with forced enrollment, the school can improve. It would definitely take a critical mass of kids/families with higher expectations—but even then the staff/school may not rise to meet them. Think Madrona.

So...what is SPS to do? A couple of AP classes and Broadway Bound aren't going to make up for all the problems the school and the area has. I believe the CITY will need to partner with the District if there's any chance of turning things around.

Deidre F. said...

Thanks for your honesty Solvaygirl. I completely understand, and would do the EXACT same thing as you did.

One of the first things I looked at when choosing a high school for my son this year was each schools graduation rate, SAT scores, college bound rate, and suspension rates. I want the majority of my sons peers to have similar goals (work hard in school, go to college, etc). And I want the school to be safe (or at least as safe as a HS can be).

You're right a lot of people are going to wag their fingers, and say this is elitist, maybe they will even try to say it is racist, (though it's not). But, hey, these are our kids and we have to do what we think is best for them.

Syd said...

We live in the RB area.
Our child is going to Garfield next year because he is currently in the APP program. So lucky us. I had no real idea when he tested into the program that this meant I would not need to worry about RB assignment. Now I do.
I also have a child in kindergarten in the traditional program at Graham Hill (traditional program is code for not the Montessori program that is so popular). I also have a newborn. The idea of assignment to Aki and RB is troubling. Aki is failing school for which the Southeast initiative has shown little progress. RB has security issues inside the school. For both, the lack of a successful cohort is the biggest problem. My experience with my older child and with the kindergartner is that when most of the kids are struggling, the teachers focus their planning on meeting the needs of the most children those struggling children. That means anyone needing a different approach or different curricula is out of luck. It also means those struggling children do not get a glimpse of greater possibilities.


So, maybe having more kids, kids who are successful in school (including all those kids currently fleeing north) would work....except that I think it is more probable that those kids would go private.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Thanks Deidre

And it's definitely NOT racist. We live in the south end because we love the diversity and have many friends of various colors and creeds. It's not just white flight here, but flight by most who are looking for a college prep approach.

Just look at the Rainier Scholars (high achieving kids of color)—most of them end up anywhere else they can. I know many, and they go to Garfield (when they can), but many end up being snapped up by elite private schools looking to increase their diversity. I know Rainier Scholars at Kennedy, Lakeside, Blanchette, Seattle Prep, Holy Names, SAAS...you name it. Many are on full scholarship. I know a wonderful family from Ethiopia who have all their kids at private school. Dad's a cab driver and mom works in a day care—but they care about their kids' education and do what they can to help them succeed.

The problem is that our schools don't always do a good job serving DIVERSE populations—usually one suffers over the other. How well does Garfield do serving the at-risk kids from the surrounding neighborhood? I'd like to see some stats on that.

If RBHS can do a good job serving the at-risk kids, and motivate even some to go on to college, that's great. I want them to succeed. But many of those kids have needs very different from my child's—that can include everything from free meals to home interventions. So, the school has to put its resources into those needs with family support, etc.

If my family went to RBHS and started demanding the things we want and need, perhaps it would take away from those kids. What good would that do anyone?

As I said before, there is no EASY fix for RBHS—or even Cleveland. Our school's resources are spread thin, and if they try to be ALL things to ALL people, they will probably fail. Maybe it's better to have some schools be able to put their valuable resources and energy to work for an at-risk population.

Roy Smith said...

Reading the posts about why people avoid RBHS makes me think that maybe we need to do a complete re-think of how we do high schools. In particular, what is it that makes people think that large comprehensive high schools are a good solution.

I found a lot of interesting research on the Small Schools Project website. Some interesting claims, apparently backed by research:

- Student achievement rises for most categories of students, and particularly for low-income and at-risk students. The achievement gap is narrower than at large schools. There is some evidence that smaller school size makes has a larger impact than smaller class size on improving academic achievement.

- Small schools are safer (as measured by crime statistics) because there is less anonymity.

- Small schools are generally more cost effective than large schools when measured using a cost per graduate criteria (rather than cost per student). This is because they have a lower drop-out rate.

The question I have for readers of this blog: What does Roosevelt or Garfield have to offer that couldn't be offered in smaller schools? No, we won't get a huge variety of AP classes, and award winning jazz programs, and an in-depth drama program all at one small school, but it is fairly easy to see how we could have one of each in a series of small schools. Those small schools could just as easily be high achieving college prep schools - look at the list of where Nova grads go to college.

Having some effective small schools to replace RBHS would almost certainly be an improvement, and although people seem to like Roosevelt and Garfield and Ballard, I tend to think that replacing them with smaller more focused high schools would actually result in better outcomes for those students, as well.

For any one individual student, what exactly is gained by attending a large comprehensive high school?

Deidre F. said...

Maybe it would make sense to move RBHS into the Center School space, where they could continue as a small school serving a niche group of students.

Then move Center School into the RBHS building and grow it to be a comprehensive HS, and then it could serve the SE families and QA/Magnolia too.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Sorry for the long post, but this thread got me insoired with an idea for our SE schools...

Bear with me—Part I

The Center School's lease stipulates an arts-based high school (so says Principal Lisa Eskobar). It also has a lot of partnerships with other organizations at Seattle Center. It DOES NOT have it's own drama teachers/program, for example. Instead it partners with Seattle Rep. That would be lost at RBHS's location even if it does have a great performing arts facility.

I have been advocating an Environmental Science program in combination with a performing arts program (with real drama/dance and music teachers in the school—not a partnership with an outside group). The school's proximity to Lake Washington, Pritchard Beach Wetlands, the Audubon Center at Seward Park and other natural areas makes it a prime location for the environmental program. And the state of the art theater calls for some sort of performing arts. This facility is also used by community groups like NW Tap Conneciton who has put on some fantastic dance programs.

Perhaps, they could make both RBHS and Aki 6-12s. They're doing it at Denny/Sealth. Families could be offered equal access to EITHER school, letting THEM choose their path. They would HAVE to choose; no one would be given a mandatory assignment to either.

RBHS could offer more college prep and specialty classes (poll the community) to attract the people who are currently fleeing to anywhere else.

Aki could offer a program that is geared to what I call the "at-risk population." It could offer a comprehensive academic program, but also services that population currently uses: family support, health services, gang intervention, home visits (RBHS and Aki both do this now). It might even—heaven forbid—offer some trade classes. Electricians, plumbers, master carpenters, mill workers all need a good education—it just doesn't have to be as intense as college prep.

Continued...

SolvayGirl1972 said...

SE Schools—Part II

My dad worked in a factory and my mom was a bank teller—but they made enough money to raise a family and send their two kids to college. There are plenty of trades that pay excellent salaries—many with benefits. Why, as a PC society, do we feel that we can't suggest those careers to kids? There is certainly honor in being a tradesman, or a craftsman.

My small-town high school served a community made up primarily of families who were headed by first-generation children of European immigrants (yeah; I'm old). The people ranged from lower-middle-class factory workers to upper-middle-class Doctors and management at Allied Chemical—the town factory. We also had, as anywhere, a few low-income families. Our high school had two "tracks"—college prep and trade. Participation was totally optional. I have no idea if the school forcibly moved anyone from one to the other. I don't think so. If you failed in college prep you failed. Perhaps a teacher or counselor made a suggestion for a student to switch in either direction, but I don't know of anyone who did.

The point being...the school didn't try to serve everyone in the same way. But it was a small system (<800 in my high school) and well-funded by factory-paid taxes.I don't know if every school could offer quality programs to both groups. That's why I suggest partner schools where possible. Aki and RB are almost close-enough that some kids could cross between for special classes (extra math, jazz band, sports).

I honestly believe this could work. The neighborhood is diverse—pretending it isn't is naive and borders on stupid. We are the most diverse zip code in the nation and our population has the resulting diversity of needs that run the gamut from families in multi-million dollar homes on the lake to low-income housing in New Holly and EVERYTHING in between. We ARE NOT like the neighborhoods around Roosevelt or Ballard. The District can't expect to serve us the same fare as those schools.

I believe until we face this reality, the southend middle and high schools will be under-enrolled as the District tries to serve such a diverse population with one item on the menu.

WV: derli — a friend who knocks herself out to provide her kids with a stellar educaiton—both were Rainier Scholars!

Charlie Mas said...

If families are leaving the Southeast (and RBHS) for college-prep programs in other high schools, then why hasn't the college prep track they introduced, SpringBoard, the one branded by the College Board, been enough to meet that need?

I did hear that people don't believe that the school is safe. I think that there are things that the school and the District could do to improve that score. Some public accountability for staff who do not respond appropriately to safety issues would be a good start. There are probably some other things that the school or the District could do to improve not only the safety at the school but the perception of safety at the school.

More than anything else, I heard a concern that there isn't a critical mass peer group of motivated students. That's a chicken/egg problem and would require a special recruiting effort for the school or the District to solve. I think that the school or the District could and should make that effort, I just don't think they will. Instead, I think that effort might go into a STEM program at Cleveland and bypass Rainier Beach. Perhaps Rainier Beach could make their push in Humanities instead of math and science to avoid competition with Cleveland. I think they would do very well to make a special effort to recruit a cadre of 20-30 students with high ambitions in the Humanities. The next year they should increase their goal to 40-60 students.

I don't understand how the Seattle public school culture can acknowledge marketing problems but feel powerless to employ marketing solutions.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

On marketing Charlie...
RBHS was totally unprepared for high school tours this year—didn't even realize they were supposed to have a tour that day even though it was listed as such on the District website.
It's going to take a lot more than some slick brochures to get people to give the school a chance.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Solvay Girl, nice ideas. I'm still not sold on 6-12 however if you had someone with experience (like Trish Dziko) in charge, I'd look at it differently. Pitch them to the Board because someone has to come up with a plan that will work. If not, we can't keep throwing money and efforts at continually underenrolled schools.

Roy, you said:

"Having some effective small schools to replace RBHS would almost certainly be an improvement, and although people seem to like Roosevelt and Garfield and Ballard, I tend to think that replacing them with smaller more focused high schools would actually result in better outcomes for those students, as well.

For any one individual student, what exactly is gained by attending a large comprehensive high school?"

First, we're not going to replace Roosevelt, Ballard and Garfield. They are schools that work and are popular. I'm not sure what better outcomes you want. Is every student succeeding? No, but I don't think that's any different from Center or Nova. I think it's a case of different strokes for different folks and that's why we need a variety of schools.

High school students want to pick what will suit them best and no, not everyone wants a huge comprehensive high school. What a larger school has are resources. The ability to have multiple sports (and don't forget - that's very important to a large number of kids)and to have enough parents to front large music/drama programs is important. The amount of money it takes to keep these programs going is huge and it doesn't come from the district. I'm not sure a smaller school could do it at the level it is at the larger schools.

And if you look into it, many smaller schools within schools have been problematic. NYC tried this (and so did SPS through the Gates Foundation's push of it) and it has been a very mixed bag. No one kind of school can serve all kids.

What benefit is any school to any individual student? That's a very open-ended question.

zb said...

"There is certainly honor in being a tradesman, or a craftsman."

I agree with this, mostly, except that I think that in our changing world changing for a limited skill (any skill, I think that Ph.D's qualify, most of the time) needs to be combined with the ability to flex if needed. That's the worry people have about trades based education -- if, for example, you learn how to use a particular tool, that tool could always disappear.

And, it's no good if we think trades based education is only good for other people's children. I mean, I guess, I don't think it would be good for my children, and I'd like to think I base it on what they are currently skilled at/interested in. But, the correlation between these interests/skills and our SES status is too high for me to think that my belief is purely based on the qualities of my children.

I still think non-prep curricula should be offered.

zb said...

Roy:

Everyone says that the "small schools" experiment in Oregon was largely a failure. I haven't heard about how it worked in other places (like NY). In both places, I think the small schools were co-housed, and there were administrative issues.

I am not interested in a small school (even though I went to one). My small school had the advantages you describe, and, because it was private, it also had advantages of offerings in excess of its size, because it had resources to offer, for example, a fourth year German class for two students. But, we didn't have a band or orchestra, or a second year of physics or calculus or chemistry. All of those were offerings at the large high school my husband went to.

I think a small schools model needs to be option only -- and that the assignment high schools need to be "comprehensive." I think in SE, we have to make those offerings available even if there's insufficient interest, and that resources have to be spent to offer them, even if it means a calculus class with two students.

I think we tried the choice/small schools model and it didn't work very well, because we can't really offer enough of the popular choices and still offer the minority choices.

Maureen said...

For any one individual student, what exactly is gained by attending a large comprehensive high school?

You know what's funny? I went to a tiny (250 total) Catholic school in a small town. My kid is at Roosevelt. The major reason I thought it would be better than a small school is that (as Charlie said) it would provide a critical mass of highly achieving kids who would provide some gentle peer pressure on my (very social) kid.

In practice, I'm not sure it works that way--there were about ten kids in my HS class who were going to get out of town and go somewhere and we egged each other on in every class for four years. My kid doesn't seem to have found even one other kid who thinks that Biology is interesting (or at least worth working hard at). So maybe the critical mass thing is a red herring?

(This is not at all what I expected to write when I started)

Roy Smith said...

So, nobody really answered my question - maybe I didn't state it well:

What is it that particular families gain at a large school that is not and could not be offered at a smaller school? (Looking for specific anecdotes here, not generalizations.)

And, as a matter of public policy, are these gains enough to make it worth accepting higher drop-out rates, wider achievement gaps, and more disciplinary problems?

I seriously am not trying to be argumentative with this question, just trying to gain some understanding of what the real advantages might be of bigger schools. Yes, a big school can offer band and choir and orchestra and drama and 25 AP classes and 15 sports and 20 other extra-curricular activities, but how does this massive selection actually benefit particular students? (Again, looking for specific anecdotes here - how has this range of selection benefited somebody you know?) A particular student, if they are very heavily involved, might take 6 AP classes, be involved in 3 sports, one music or drama program, and maybe one or two other extra-curricular activities (and even that much adds up to an extremely full schedule) - this adds up to only a fraction of the available offerings.

Also, if Roosevelt, Garfield, and Ballard even vaguely resemble any typical high schools that I am more familiar with, there is probably a sizable fraction of students who do not participate in ANY of the additional offerings that are available. What does being in a big school do for them?

SolvayGirl1972 said...

ZB makes good points about the trades—that's why I believe that even a trades-based education would include serious academic rigor. It just means the school might not offer advanced physics, or a fourth year of all languages, tons of AP classes, etc. It's upper levels of math might be more business-based and not calculus.

And as for having skills become obsolete...that can happen to anyone, anytime. As a schooled graphic designer, I have seen the skill sets for my industry go from nimble hands with a T-square, ruling pen and X-acto knife to some serious computer chops running difficult software programs. I learned what I needed along the way; not one second of my college education prepared me for the changes in my field.

I just think the idea that having every high school in Seattle only stress college prep (with some doing it much better than others) is a bad idea. We need serious career counseling so kids can have a clue as to where their aptitudes lie and what options there are.

And I would have no problem with my child entering the trades if that's where her path led her. She wants to be an actresss/performer right now (or maybe a marine biologist...). But as she is entering high school next year, that can all change.

Charlie Mas said...

So what's the calculation here? If every single student doesn't participate in a large number of eclectic programs or sports, then there is just no positive to any large school? Where's the finish line, Roy?

You ask "Yes, a big school can offer band and choir and orchestra and drama and 25 AP classes and 15 sports and 20 other extra-curricular activities, but how does this massive selection actually benefit particular students?" Uh, it benefits the particular students who participate in those activities. Moreover, it benefits the particular students who go to the performances, events, and games.

I went to a high school that would be regarded as massive by local standards - about 2,500 students. My graduating class was 748. Our school offered a wide array of sports, arts, activities, clubs, and classes. I took advantage of a lot of it. I played two years of football, wrestled for all four years, and was on the track team one year. Our track team was no cut. I was the number four Soph shot-putter and about the number six Soph pole vaulter. I did it because I could. When else in my life was I going to have the opportunity to pole vault? I was in school plays and a musical, and was the stage manager for another. I took a Shakespeare class. I took classes in Business Law and Business Math. I took a few dance classes and performed in the school dance company.

There was an astonishing universe of opportunities at that school, but still there were a lot of students who didn't really take advantage of any of it. Does the fact that some people didn't take the opportunity somehow negate the value of the opportunity for everyone else?

Roy asks, "And, as a matter of public policy, are these gains enough to make it worth accepting higher drop-out rates, wider achievement gaps, and more disciplinary problems?" I see no evidence to support a direct causal link between large comprehensive schools and the ills that Roy lists.

Rainier Beach is a small school, but the disciplinary problems are double the District average. Rainier Beach is a small school but their achievement gap is greater than the District average. Rainier Beach is a small school but their drop out rate is essentially the same as the District average. I don't see Rainier Beach doing better on these measures. So I must ask: how are the reported benefits of a small school appearing at Rainier Beach?

dj said...

Roy, I can only speak from my own experience of attending a fairly large (2700 students) high school. I was in AP/honors courses, and my school was tracked (college prep, general education, and vocational education, with ability groupings by honors/advanced/X/Y/Z in core classes like English and history). At the end of high school, I got my yearbook. I had absolutely no idea who about 3/4ths of the kids in my graduating class were.

I am not sold on the idea of small schools, necessarily, either. And I am not saying my experience is representative, or that there aren't all sorts of possible social, political, academic, and other benefits to large comprehensive high schools. But I think it's worth giving some consideration to whether, where schools don't seem to be working, the big comprehensive model is the best one to aim for. Although the district's desire for bigger schools may make that exercise more of a rhetorical one than anything.

Roy Smith said...

Bringing RBHS into the discussion of small schools is a red herring if there ever was one. RBHS is a small school because it is a failing school, and people do anything that they can to avoid failing schools.

Charlie, would your education have been harmed if you had had 20% (or even 50%) fewer choices available to you? Would a shorter menu have made you less involved? What was the drop-out rate of your high school? It's interesting to me that you didn't bring up as advantages of your big school things like academic rigor, which is the sort of thing I rather thought you were focused on.

I see no evidence to support a direct causal link between large comprehensive schools and the ills that Roy lists.

Here's some evidence: Student Achievement; Safety; Cost Effectiveness. Learn about or ignore as you see fit.

zb said...

"My kid doesn't seem to have found even one other kid who thinks that Biology is interesting (or at least worth working hard at"

Wow, that's frightening. Not even one more kid in all of Roosevelt? That is what I'd hope for from a large school, and am saddened if there really aren't two. I hope that they just haven't found each other!

Maureen said...

zb I'm reading your post sarcastically, and it still makes me smile! I'm POSITIVE that there is at least one more kid at RHS who likes Bio, and who knows, she may even be a cute girl!

I guess my point is (big population=critical mass=motivated kid) can be outweighed by the (big population=kids who like Bio are tiny little particles zipping around in a giant volume =so kid looks around and finds (insert less geeky group here) instead). And that came as a surprise to me. Probably, in case you can't tell, because I am a HUGE geek myself!

adhoc said...

"Yes, a big school can offer band and choir and orchestra and drama and 25 AP classes and 15 sports and 20 other extra-curricular activities, but how does this massive selection actually benefit particular students?"

Large schools have something for everyone, generally speaking. They have a wide array of offerings so more students are more likely to find something that interests them.

If you have a child that has a unique gift, interest, or talent, such as playing an instrument, or acting, you may want a more advanced or even competetive opportunity. You just can't find this in a small school, you need a larger mass of students to create such opportunities. Look at some of Seattle's top ranked, elite, small private schools like SAAS. SAAS prides itself on offering a strong arts and science program, but they pales in comparison to Roosevelt's drama program, or Garfields Jazz band, or Ballard's bio tech.

And what about a young gifted athlete? He/she will generally seek schools with stronger, more competetive sports teams. A school has to be a certain size to qualify to be in a 3A or 4A (the more competetive) division. That just can't happen at a small school.

How about the academically gifted student who needs the rigor and challenge that honors and AP courses offer? Smaller schools may offer a handful of advanced classes, but they certainly can't offer the wide variety that larger high schools do.

And how about kids who want to join an Italian American club? Be a school Senator, or class president? Join the PTSA, or DECA? Be on a debate team or mock trial? Join an Aviation club, or black student alliance, or a Gay/Lesbian club? Or Key club? Or?????

They may find a few clubs or interests in a small school but certainly not the vast array found at larger schools.

Now, I'm certainly not arguing that all schools should be large schools. Not at all. I think there is a place for both. Some kids NEED and want a small school as much as other kids NEED and want a large school. I advocate for both models. Lets think about ALL kids needs.

Many Small schools are very successful...think Center School, NOVA, AS1.......and some large schools are also very successful....think Roosevelt, Garfield, Ballard. Both models can work well.

I do love that Seattle has so many options.

Dorothy said...

I attended an all-girl Catholic HS, graduated about 200 a year. I taught at a small independent K12 down the street from one of the best large comprehensive HSs in the country in one of the most wealthiest zip codes. I have a tenth grader at Roosevelt. I know kids who thrived in all three situations. In each situation it seems like the size of the school mattered, but mostly it boiled down to relationships. Meeting similar kids and a teacher or two who could spark a passion for learning. That's the key, building relationships. That can happen anywhere and it can fail to happen anywhere. I understand it is the crux of the small school movement. They recognize that relationships are key but make the false leap that simply regulating the size of the school will maximize the opportunity for that relationship building. I do see some value in the small schools movement, but there are pitfalls.

Maureen's biology example. My son says the same thing about Chemistry.I think that's a direct consequence of no self-selecting honors courses, what the faculty often erroneously calls "tracking." Sure, there are others who embrace Biology or Chemistry, but it's too dilute, so the chances of one showing up in any one class section is too small. That's where a large school CAN offer a better opportunity, but RHS chooses not to. This is one of the complaints about the small-schools movement, it loses the opportunity to support the kids with high achievement who need the cohort of high achievers. (Incidentally, although I never looked at Hale, friends who did, who examined it very closely and talked to many happy parents, concluded that Hale is great for the child who had not shone in a large comprehensive middle school. Hale encouraged them to thrive. However, for a child who did excel already and thirsted for more, well, their needs were not as well met. That seems to follow Nina Shapiro's conclusions as well in her small-schools article.)

Some kids will be like Charlie, full of carpe diem and energy and take full advantage of variety. Some would do better in a very small environment that's more nurturing a larger part of the day. The key is that the kid gets nurtured. Charlie got nurtured in a different way than some other kids need. The other key is flexibility.

Here's one example from RHS this year, A., a graduating senior. In the past year A has composed the soundtrack for a video some friends made, a string quartet for his Senior project and a concerto he performed with the orchestra a couple weeks ago. One could easily argue that the size of RHS, the access to a strong orchestra and flexibility in scheduling helped him tremendously. In a smaller school without strong strings, brass AND woodwinds, could he have written the same concerto? My son said he went around to all the sections and picked their brains about their instruments. Here's a case where the carpe diem was much more focused in one area.

Oh, and A's senior year, he took orchestra, chamber orchestra and piano, giving him the time and nurturing he needed. Core 24 would have negatively impacted that. And yes he's going to college. Can we embrace some of the quality rigor and expectations of Core 24 without losing the flexibility to nurture all kids?

Dorothy said...

Continuing with my previous comment... The AP Euro debacle impacted my son in regard to finding peers. And even though it is a large school with lots to do, there are some artificial limits. Last year, based on his writing skills, he was invited to join the newspaper. But with LA Options, Newspaper is a class. So since he is a sophomore, he couldn't schedule it. Too bad, because I do feel he could have built relationships there. He has been lucky though in two areas. Orchestra and Japanese.

With only one year of middle school Japanese, last year he was placed in Japanese 1, the right place for him at the time even though there was significant repetition. But the teacher recognized his abilities and pushed him. She gave him work to do over the summer and put him in Japanese 3H this year. Relationship and a large enough school to have flexibility in scheduling.

My son is leaving Roosevelt. He's been accepted at UW as an Honors student. Now instead of 1700 students he'll be with 35,000. The key will also be building relationships and that is what the program (Academy of Young Scholars) has as an explicit goal, the main goal. Otherwise, he'll be lost in the crowd. Same is true for all students, no matter the size of the school.

Roy Smith said...

some large schools are also very successful....think Roosevelt, Garfield, Ballard. Both models can work well.

On time graduation rates:
West Seattle: 83%
Ballard: 81%
Garfield: 79%
Hale: 77%
Roosevelt: 74%
Franklin: 69%
Ingraham: 57%
Cleveland: 44%
Rainier Beach: 37%
Sealth: 37%

Pity our standard for "what works well" is so low. One out of every five failed by the education system - in the "good" schools.

The high performers are apparently well-served by the large comprehensive high school model. I was one of those kids as well, and I was reasonably well-served by that model. Much of the readership of this blog probably falls in that same category. But I rather think that we may be a minority, and that in fact the majority of the population could be better served in smaller schools.

Yet we insist on making that model the default model. The students that most need the intentionally small school model (which are currently found only in our option schools) may also be the ones who are least likely and whose families are least likely to shop around for a good school fit.

What if smaller neighborhood high schools were the default schools, and we made two or three large comprehensive high schools option schools? Granted, even if it were accepted as a good idea, this idea would probably take a decade to implement properly.

Dorothy said...

Roy, what should the target percent graduating be? 100%? I posit that some of the kids who don't graduate do not reflect poorly on the school system. Some do, but some don't.

I also recently found out that these numbers of dropouts are artificially low because they don't account for kids who drop out before entering high school. That's appalling. I was shocked, but two people who know more than I do asserted that it is true.

I don't see smaller schools as the simpler answer. We need a variety of answers, a continuum of services.

About a year ago, Jay Mathews interviewed a fellow with a very different take on drop outs. Said to wish them luck and let them go. BUT also say that they are always welcome back and no matter how old, they are entitled to a free high school education. That we need to revamp the idea that all students are capable of making the "right" decisions educationally before then turn 19. Some kids need to leave in order to earn money, deal with life and grow up. But then they should always have access to a strong curriculum and a high school diploma later. Would need some specialized classes or schools for the older population, but it seems like a great idea to me.

As someone who has taught advanced calculus to undergraduates in regular university AND taught remedial math in the evening division of the same university, I cannot stress how much more those older adults got out of class than the youths. It's not the only drop-out solution, but it ought to be considered as a potential one.

SPSMom said...

"Then move Center School into the RBHS building and grow it to be a comprehensive HS, and then it could serve the SE families and QA/Magnolia too."

Great idea, force QA/Magnolia students all the way to the southern part of the district...problem solved.

adhoc said...

"What if smaller neighborhood high schools were the default schools, and we made two or three large comprehensive high schools option schools?"

Roy, I think families that seek the small school model are in the minority.

Most families that I know want comprehensive schools. In my neighborhood almost everyone wants Eckstein, even though AS1 and now the new JA, two intentionally small schools are right down the road. Eckstein has a 160 kid waitlist, while AS1 will have about 90 empty seats this coming year, and Jane Addams has tons of space. Now AS1 is a fine school and I'm sure JA will be too, but it appears that the majority of the community prefers the larger, comprehensive, Eckstein.

Hale is a smaller comprehensive HS (1050 kids), that performs very well by all measures, yet it just barely fills up. Meanwhile Roosevelt HS, right down the road, with 1650 kids, has a 200 kids waitlist.

And NOVA is generally able to accomodate everyone that applies, as is Center School, so it's not like there is a shortage of small schools. They are there and available for families who want them.

And, RBHS is no red herring. It is small. Very very small, with a freshman class of 33 kids. Shouldn't it work well, if the only thing that matters is school size???

Melissa Westbrook said...

"And, as a matter of public policy, are these gains enough to make it worth accepting higher drop-out rates, wider achievement gaps, and more disciplinary problems?"

I'm not buying this one either. It isn't true at Roosevelt.

I would echo what someone else (Adhoc, I think) said. Roosevelt has so many clubs and kids find their "tribe". We have the Jew Crew (very popular), every other cultural/racial club, Harry Potter, Lego club. It's a little hard at a small school to do that much.

Roy, there are yin and yang to all types of schools. No one is saying the large model is the best. It is the norm so yes, some parents may have a comfortable level with it. If they have any brains, they will allow their child to visit many schools and be the large part of the decision-making. In the end, it's the student's comfort level that will keep them engaged and happy. That's how you keep them in school.