Monday, June 08, 2009

Siblings (Part Two)

So we've been having quite a lively discussion over the issue of the sibling tiebreaker in the new SAP.

First, to be clear (and this was reiterated by Tracy Libros at the last Board meeting), there was a sibling tiebreaker in the last plan. There will be a sibling tiebreaker in this plan. There was never a sibling preference but somehow that got to be part of the lingo. People always thought if your child had a sibling coming into the school while your first child was still going to be there next year, that the sibling would automatically get in. No, it meant if a school was oversubscribed, the first tiebreaker was sibling. There was no automatic in but that was as close as it got.

The new plan turns that around by saying the attendance area kids get in first and, if the school is oversubscribed and still has seats, the tiebreaker would be sibling for any spots available. But I hear a lot of people say this sibling preference stuff. It doesn't exist.

In fact, here's this article by two Beacon Hill moms is at the CPPS website. From the article:

"The Seattle Public Schools' new Student Assignment Plan will change the choice model, under which all current students have enrolled, in favor of assignment preferences to neighborhood schools. While this sounds good to people who think they will be able to get into their neighborhood school, there are serious flaws in the new proposal which will split families and re-define neighborhoods.

The school district proposal would eliminate the sibling preference for classroom seats in 2010, reducing it to a tie-breaker. The new system would preference geographic proximity, leaving little to no room for out-of-assignment-area siblings in over-subscribed schools. In order to make the new plan work, boundaries around popular schools will shrink radically. The new plan will create a new problem - divided families - while still not fixing the old problem of space in the schools parents desire. As a result, many current elementary school families will be broken up into two schools."

What is wrong here is that, again, there never was a "sibling preference". It was a tiebreaker. Also saying, "... in favor of assignment preferences to neighborhood schools" ; well, it's called predictability and it's what parents have overwhelming advocated to the Board and district for years. And yes, it will "redefine neighborhoods" and may "shrink boundaries". However, some boundaries could get bigger.

Last, " while not fixing the old problem of space in schools" - the assignment plan isn't responsible for the space in schools. The staff who determine program placement and functional capacity are responsible for the space in schools. Advocating for the right projects for BEX is a parent responsibility (and one I predict might just get more attention in the future, finally). If the BEX list had been made correctly, the NE would probably have more capacity at one or more schools by this fall.

This is the kind of stuff I worry about - people "hearing" something and believing it's true. Folks, before you spread the word on something, fact check it. Who said and who told them? Look it up on the website. Ask a question here. But please don't make what is going to be a tough situation worse by passing along information that is vague or ill-formed.

BUT, in recalling Charlie's quest for getting more information out and communicated, I would advocate that whenever the district sends info to the principals, that if it is marked "urgent" , that info has to go out to parents within 3 days via kid mail (with a robocall telling parents to ask kids for the information) as well as posted at school. If this had been done a year or more ago, more parents would have realized that real change in the assignment plan was coming and gotten involved sooner.

136 comments:

Roy Smith said...

One thing that I see a lot of on this blog (and I have been guilty at times of it too, so this comment is partly a mea culpa) is use of extreme case examples. I wonder how many of the weird and bad situations that people have postulated will happen are going to remain in the purely hypothetical category when this is actually implemented because it will turn out that many of the decisions that families make will be balanced by another family making the opposite choice?

We tend to figure out what is the worst that could hypothetically happen, and then assume that that is what will happen, which doesn't exactly lead to useful dialogue.

rugles said...

There was never a sibling preference but somehow that got to be part of the lingo. People always thought if your child had a sibling coming into the school while your first child was still going to be there next year, that the sibling would automatically get in. .

Now I don't understand.

From Page 34...tiebreakers apply...in the following order.

1. Sibling

And from page 35...Sibling Priority is given to a sibling who is already attending...

Hmmm. Sibling Priority. With a captal S and a capital P. Can't imagine where the idea of sibling preference came from.

I also can't understand how being the first tie breaker is not automatic. No wait, I can. If there were more siblings applying than spots available in the entire class. Those people with anecdotes where this happened please chime in here. Maybe it happens at TOPS or Eckstein all the time.

Otherwise, I would call the myth of sibling preference and automatic placement unbusted.

Marie said...

As of right now, I know of a group of families on the Wedgewood wait list for first grade who all have older siblings at the school. They have been told that they are in order on the waitlist by distance. So yes, it is a tie-breaker, meaning that they are all ahead of the kids on the waitlist without siblings, but it is not an automatic placement because there were more siblings that wanted in then there was space. I don't think this is an Eckstien or TOPS issue, but one that is actually more likely to happen if you are seeking for your child to join a school at a non-entry grade where there may be only a handful of open seats. I also have heard that at time an entire kindergarten class at places like TOPS and Salmon Bay can be made up of siblings. So popular plus a K-8grade span (which means that you have 8 years of older siblings in the school rather than 5, increasing the number of potential students with siblings already in the school) can absolutely mean that an automatic for siblings is a myth.

ps said...

I think the Beacon Hill moms got it right except they used the word “preference" instead of "priority."

One of the problems here is that many people on this blog are so embedded in this that they can't empathize with parents who are new to it and trying to understand. Let alone parents who don't speak English as a first language like many at BH.

Mellissa, blame it on principals, parents in denial, whoever, but the truth is that this will negatively impact BH families and many other thriving schools.

I know there are many amazing families who chose BH long before it was cool and when they couldn’t fill the kindergarten. They were committed to BH - long before it became international. Many of those parents are English language learners and don't have the resources to understand or respond to what is going on. They will be blindsided by this.

They chose this school because it was a welcoming and wonderful place for families of diverse cultures with limited English and limited financial resources. Those families are now going to be crowded out by neighborhood families that would have probably chosen a different school a few years ago when BH did not offer language immersion.

These students and families cannot be ignored becasue they don't have a voice. They need to stay at BH to nurture and keep succeeding academically. It will be just wrong to make them split or leave because of a new AP. It is no different than the students at Meany and TT Minor being displaced unnecessarily, except that their school, teachers and friends are still there. Is that really excellence for all?

I think the NE issues are so severe that they have clouded all judgment regarding the rest of the city. The Central, South and Southeast clusters will have schools like BH where vulnerable families are negatively impacted and that is being overlooked to quickly solve the district created problem with Bryant and Wedgewood.

We can figure out a way to make this work for all. It will take more time, but we can’t put the need for “predictability” ahead of the vulnerable children and families. Siblings need to be grandfathered. Families need predictability. The NE cluster's issues should not drive the process.

emeraldkity said...

A critical factor will get getting the parent assignment centers to give accurate and timely information.
I remember when my daughters Girl Scout troop met at Sacajawea about ten years ago. They were underenrolled, but the assignment center was telling parents they were full.
I remember the principal saying that even though he called the center and told them of openings, parents were still told- no openings. ( john Rogers same thing)

I also remember when Olchefske was superintendent and he came to Summit with the " proposal" for the school to admit at least 30 additional 6th graders each year for " three or four years". this was after numerous articles in the neighborhood papers about " reopening the Jane Addams building", because of overcrowding at Eckstein. I also believe this was after the district decided to overenroll Eckstein or rather , the stated limit of the building because of pressures from parents who had Eckstein as their first choice school.

Since middle school is only three grades, you would have to have your kids pretty close together to make use of any sibling priority for middle school.

StepJ said...

From a district page describing the difference between the current SAP and the new SAP. Under current...

"Sibling:
Preference is given to student with a sibling living in the same residence who is already attending and who is expected to continue in a chosen school. Linkage is provided when all siblings applying are new to a requested school - if one gets in, the other(s) may receive linkage credit to the same school. Sibling preference is ranked higher than sibling linkage."

And here is the link to the page,Sibling Preference

There is a history of it being called Preference vs. Priority.

What I wonder about it the very uncharacteristic behaviour of late of Tracy Libros.

She has been very vague when answering questions concerning the sibling tiebreakers in the new plan.

She was very vague in answering questions at the JA meeting.

And now saying that the term, Sibling Preference never existed?

seattleopen said...

I think Melissa's description of current practice is a little misleading. Siblings are definitely first before reference area in the current policy. This is directly from the district's 2009-10 Elementary School Enrollment Guide:

"What happens when a school doesn’t have enough space for everyone who wants to go
there?
Sometimes a school’s target enrollment
cannot accommodate all students who list
that school as a choice. When this happens,
tie-breakers determine which students will be
assigned to the school. Tiebreakers apply
during the Open Enrollment period in the
following order:
1. Sibling: A child gets priority to attend a
school where a brother or sister living in the
same household attends in 2008-09 and will
continue to attend in 2009-10.
2. Reference Area: Students who live in the
school’s reference area get priority over those
who live outside the reference area."


As Charlie Mas pointed out so clearly on this site earlier this week in an informative posting by Melissa, the new policy reverses the order of tiebreakers (which is a misleading term in and of itself, because there is never actually a tie, just a priority list in these cases). The new policy before the board reads:

"Entering siblings of current students are not 'grandfathered' but are eligible for the sibling tiebreaker, which is the first tiebreaker for available seats after assignment of attendance area student."

anonymous said...

Oh there definitely is the myth of sibling preference/priority... or the simple idea your children can attend school together. My younger child attended a private preschool-K. My child did not get into her older sibling's school in first grade. Nor was she even first on the waiting list... she was third. I believe the current "tie-breaker" doesn't even apply at most grade levels... only the so-called entry grade.. which really doesn't make sense to me either, nor did I know about it at the time. The grade you need a school, should be your "entry grade"... what if you just moved in? what if you homeschooled until you thought your child was ready? what if your child has special needs? These are all factors in determining a given child's "entry grade".

Robert said...

wow? whoa? what?

MW/ If my daughter goes to school A in 2009-10 so shall my second daughter... They are the first in, Then ELL and then distance in reference and then cluster and sometimes lotery/distance.

By definition that is the priority. If enrollment is saying otherwise for today's assignment plan it would really be misleading.

anonymous said...

BUT... you do have to admit, going back to the octo-mom reference. Somebody with 8 kids, (or more than 1 for that matter), should not get 8X the preference/priority for an option school... and then pull all 8 into the highly prized assignment because one of the 8 made the lottery. The whole "twin fiasco" wasn't a real problem. The "twins" only had a problem being assigned together, when the mom wanted a highly selected school. The district was very willing to assign the twins together at a less desirable school. Why should people with multiple siblings have an enhance priority on all the spots that are the most desirable? I see the reasoning in limiting that access.

Johnny Calcagno said...

Melissa said:

… it's called predictability and it's what parents have overwhelming advocated to the Board and district for years.”

Some parents, in some neighborhoods, maybe. But I think this predictability notion is being way oversold, and many more families throughout the district are going to be negatively impacted, both in the short term and long run.

And from my perspective, the new SAP doesn’t even solve predictability. With boundaries needing to be continually evaluated, classes being added and taken away, that doesn’t seem particularly predictable to me.

I agree with ps, who said:

I think the NE issues are so severe that they have clouded all judgment regarding the rest of the city. The Central, South and Southeast clusters will have schools like BH where vulnerable families are negatively impacted and that is being overlooked to quickly solve the district created problem with Bryant and Wedgewood.

Cecilia said...

I'm not sure it matters what you call the old system, the reality is that younger siblings will have a lower probability of attending the same school as their older siblings under the new plan than they had under the old plan, if the older sib goes to a popular school. The old system used sibling before geography, the new system will use geography then sibling. Depending on how the geographical lines are drawn, that change could have important implications for younger sibs and their families.

As an example of how things work under the present system, please consider the "Early Sibling Application" program that has existed for middle and high school students.

The Enrollment Guide to Secondary School (p.39) says:

"When will I find out my child’s
school assignment?

If you submit an Early Sibling Application in the fall for an eligible student, you receive
assignment information in January. If you apply during Open Enrollment, we will mail your
assignment information (and waiting list information if applicable) at the beginning of
April."

I know families who successfully used the early sibling application. Seems to me this is a sibling preference if you can find out your assignment before others are finished applying.

But, whether you call it a "preference" or not, I doubt this will exist under the new plan (it doesn't appear anywhere). That is an important change.

I understand that it can be frustrating for people with only one child who see a sibling take a spot in a popular school. However, please keep in mind that many of us have planned based on the existing system, and important decisions were made based on the status quo. Also, many families will find that in the transition period between the two plans they will be forced to transport multiple children to different schools, not to mention, of course, after-school activities.

Please keep families together at all grade levels.

Elizabeth said...

on 6/8/09 at 8:42 PM anonymous said...


Why should people with multiple siblings have an enhance priority on all the spots that are the most desirable?


...

For the most part, families with more than one child don't have an enhanced priority on "the most desirable" spots. The greatest majority of these families will have one or two children entering after an older sibling. These younger siblings have enhanced priority for whatever their family already has, whether desirable or not.

You may argue that we should remove any and all sibling-based priorities from the assignment procedure. Algorithmically speaking, this would make the assignment process ever so much simpler to implement, administer and verify. It's almost certainly not a political possibility.

Once you choose to accommodate some sibling preference, whether as first priority or farther down the list, unpleasant trade offs between honoring your published priorities and using your capacity to tight margins will arise. Trying to fit siblings crossing multiple grades into a system with few open spaces for them is very likely to result in an assignment which many people find unfair.

Carolyn said...

And this is all in the name of neighborhood schools, right?

so what happened to the distance tiebreaker?

NE Parent said...

Carolyn said: "And this is all in the name of neighborhood schools, right? so what happened to the distance tiebreaker?"

That's what I've been wondering as well, especially at the elementary level. Not only would this not give any preference to someone who lived just out of the new attendance area (picture kids across the street from each other in different attendance areas), but it also would presumably increase transportation costs. Instead of a preference that would prioritize distance (to some much lesser extent than now) the new plan gives an equal shot to people clear across town. That may make more sense at the high school level, but for elementary I can't imagine a rationale that justifies this.

A geographic tiebreaker for elementary also would likely help decrease transportation costs (as nearby students could walk to school) and we would not be busing as many people across the service area.

I would recommend the elementary tiebreakers go (1) siblings, (2) distance, (3) lottery.

Under the current proposed SAP, I also wonder how they distinguish between siblings. If there are more sibling applicants than spots available, is it a sibling lottery? I think it is currently based on the closest distance, but under the new plan it must be lottery.

zb said...

"That may make more sense at the high school level, but for elementary I can't imagine a rationale that justifies this."

The rationale is diversity & access -- it means that anyone throughout the city can have access to extra available spots at high performing or popular schools & it gives opportunities to people who have underperformed neighborhood schools.

I don't understand the transportation issue, because I don't understand who will be provided with transportation (if they're not in an attendance area school). What's the scoop on that?

zb said...

I think all aspects of the school choice system, including sibling preference has been learned by the most involved families who were looking to move to more desirable schools. As mentioned in a previous thread, having multiple children allows you more chances at the desirable school, and then the child who gets in can be used as a "anchor" to get the other children in. And, as others have pointed out, this is a particularly effective technique at K-8's.

I think the only real question the school board might consider is grandfathering sibling priority for kids who are *currently* in an out of attendance are a school. This would give something extra to those families (compared to the new assignment plan), but could be justified on the same grounds as allowing those kids to stay. I'm generally against grandfathering, since it creates different classes of people, but it's often used to placate a particularly interested population, and it might be done in this case.

But, I do not think grandfathering sibling preference should be allowed to delay access to entering students in attendance areas. That, logic, in turn, means that K classes in popular schools would have to be unusually large during the period in which grandfathering is accommodated. I think that people are underestimating the number of siblings when they imagine that grandfathering will be simple. But, it's possible that the pool of non-attendance area siblings (attendance are siblings don't matter, since they are guaranteed entrance because of their attendance area status) is small enough to accommodate them, with some over-crowding.

Shannon said...

This discussion seems to be quite divisive in the school community and yet hard for me to conceptualize without boundaries and capacity issues worked out.

On one hand, in past years I have felt upset that there are kids (with siblings!) in 'my' neighborhood school when and other friends in the local area did not get assigned to it.

Why should kids be coming from far away when my kids can't get in? People don't say that as much on this forum because there are more parents who have children who have been in the system for a while.

The new assignment plan would guarantee new K kids access to 'our' local school (or the reference area into which we are defined). So, that would have made me happy.

Also, it would have helped the many parents who tour private schools wondering what their choice will be. They will know at least one public school option before they start out.

IF NEW K siblings were allowed to continue at the elder siblings schools are people suggesting that those non-reference area kids displace new K-kids from the 'reference' area.

If so, I think that is wrong. What is the point of having this new plan if you are distorting its fundamental premise from its inception. Would we then grandfather in the siblings of those bumped out of reference area into the new schools?

Effectively, this holds two spots for all the now-defined-as-misplaced kids - their siblings' school spot and there own reference spot.

Anyway, I am clearly confused and not enjoying the way that its now an US vs THEM situation:
those who have siblings in schools they are committed to and are happy to have secured a spot in vs those who are excited to be able to return to the local school.

I have two kids but won't benefit from either side of this debate since they have a 5 year span. BUT I faced all kinds of problems trying to figure out our chances of finding a place for my new-to-SPS 3rd grader before APP became an option.

ps said...

It is surprising how worked up folks are about protecting their territory from "outside" kids when they might be the ones outside the boundaries when they are redrawn. We are on a border. We are quite close to our school and walk/bike there most days. However, it is quite possible we get drawn out of the border this summer. Yes, I want sibs to be grandfathered before they re-draw borders. That only seems reasonable. We did not game the system. We attend a school very close to our house. I just want our kids to go to this local school together. Please be reasonable.

Roy Smith said...

I know this would be an extremely hard sell because of political considerations, but here is a little bit of out of the box thinking:

Why not have two Student Assignment Plans? One which applies to the portion of the district north of the ship canal (perhaps including Magnolia and Queen Anne), and one for the area south of the ship canal.

By and large, the demand north of the ship canal is for predictable access to a nearby neighborhood school.

The demand south of the ship canal seems to be for easy ways to avoid assignments to Madrona, Aki Kurose, and schools like them.

A plan which pushes families into neighborhood schools is a tough sell in the Central District and south Seattle, but any plan that doesn't include some elements that push families into neighborhood schools doesn't do anything for the Northeast.

Or maybe three SAPs: Elementary & Middle School North, Elementary & Middle School South, and then one plan for High Schools that is consistent across the city.

For whatever it's worth, I think this idea has the proverbial snowball's chance of actually being pursued or implemented, but it seems to me that when one is trying to address different (and sometimes contradictory) needs in different areas, one shouldn't attempt to use the same approach universally.

schmich said...

We have amazing non-reference area families at our reference school. Any school would be lucky to have their children and their involvement. But it was ridiculous (and irritating) that more than one neighborhood child was denied a K spot last fall because of non-reference area sibling pull.

Once the reference area families have seats (at whatever grade their children are in), then work through the list (as NEParent said) using siblings, distance, and then lottery. If the school overfills with reference area families (let alone outside the reference area), then SPS needs to step up and drop in portables until enough schools are online in that particular area.

Many PTAs buy down class size (for reading and math) and I'm not sure that they would be able to continue, especially if some families were given grandfathering privileges. I believe that is a very large bucket of kids (based on the 4 schools we've been involved with).

zb said...

"IF NEW K siblings were allowed to continue at the elder siblings schools are people suggesting that those non-reference area kids displace new K-kids from the 'reference' area."

I think this cannot happened -- as you say, it creates a continuing problem, if attendance area K's are not guaranteed entrance to their attendance area schools. But, a possible solution is to allow both attendance area K's & *current* non-attendance area siblings access to the K class. This will create over-crowding for a period of time, because the attendance areas still have to be drawn without the K siblings in mind. I do not know how well this over-crowding can be tolerated in different schools (and suspect that it might be nearly impossible in the really small schools, like Montlake & McGilvra). I believe, having seen the schools, that over-crowding can be tolerated at schools like Bryant & View Ridge. Yes, people will be unhappy. But, giving up music rooms, and holding classes in libraries, though unpleasant, is something to consider trading for people being able to keep their children together in a school they've supported and attended over the years.

But, as I've said, I'm not sure if it's even possible at places like McGilvra & Montlake (and don't know about places like Whitter and John Hay). And, if it's not, then, I can't see any way that siblings can be guaranteed priority in preference to attendance area children, since that will create a continuing problem.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Cecilia, excellent question on the early sibling enrollment. Ditto to those who questioned why there isn't a distance tiebreaker between sibling and lottery. We should ask Tracy about that.

I think I may have not been clear but my point was that the sibling "whatever" is a tiebreaker. It is not a given or an automatic anything. (I readily admit the district has used the word preference but I think when Tracy spoke to the Board she too was trying to saying it's a tiebreaker.)

I absolutely agree that no one area or region should drive this plan and that's why I didn't mention the NE at all. In fact, it's a HUGE issue that everyone needs to wrap their head around. It's not about one child or one school or one region. It's about the whole district. (Roy, I'll get you that snowball if they create multiple plans.)

Some of you will find your reference/attendance area changed (enlarged, decreased, whatever). Some of you will find your alternative will no longer serve as large a region (and that's likely to be TOPS and Salmon Bay). But whatever it is to your school, it's part of a district-wide plan that we will all have to live with.

Not that you can't argue the case for your school/area. But you can't expect staff or the Board to shape the plan or give your area some special exception. I can honestly say I believe they will not go down that road.

Again I say to you - this assignment issue was in the works for years. To make an assumption that it would remain the same except for boundaries now leaves many in an unhappy place. But government entities make changes all the time and there is no good time for major changes but all the same, they have to be made.

On the issue of grandfathering, there seems to be the question of whether we grandfather all sibs of current students OR should there be a transition period whereby both the district and the family have a time to get used to having this plan? And, if it's a transition period, what is that period of time? One year? Two, three, four?

momster said...

zb, at 7:09 you said "I think the only real question the school board might consider is grandfathering sibling priority for kids who are *currently* in an out of attendance are a school."

does that mean after the attendance boundaries are established, and you find that "your school" (where your childis enrolled) is not yours anymore (i.e., it's not the school for your address), then grandfather those not-yet-enrolled siblings?

it seems as if most of the people in distress are in that situation and that's exactly what they want the board to do - if you are in a school you think will be your attendance area school and you have younger siblings, you're assured of having a seat, aren't you?

or are you suggesting they grandfather siblings for families who are now in their *reference* area school and get re-boundaried out? that would seem a smaller population - and it seems that population would be bearing the slighter greater breach, i.e., "ok, i enrolled in my reference area school - i moved here knowing/because of that, i'm doing what the district really wanted me to do in spite of offering all of this choice, and through no fault of my own, my address now means that my younger children may not have a seat there"

Jen said...

This is going to be painful for someone. I guess I just think the grandfathering actually delays AND increases the pain. Why, do you ask?

If current siblings end up getting into a school, they presumable take spots away from neighborhood kids. These kids then have to bus or be transported, often, 3-4 miles from their homes (firends & activities all over the place.) Then, the siblings of those kids get into a reference school and end up in a "split" family, or they don't get into the reference school at all because they don't qualify for the sibling tiebreaker, because their first child never got into the reference school in the first place. Does everyone understand my point? This will cause this family to have "pain" longer because from the start the family never got a reference school OR sibling priority.

If a current family doesn't get a sibling preference, yes, they will have pain with busing, etc. But this should all be worked out within a couple of years. If you grandfather in siblings, this pain will continue for possible many more years than that.

Roy Smith said...

I agree with Jen. The transition period should be as short as possible and the grandfathering minimized to the maximum extent possible, because as long as we are in transition and/or dealing with the effects of grandfathering, then the pain is still being inflicted on the district. I'm in favor of more pain now so that the healing can get started sooner, rather than spreading the pain out over a longer period of time.

Also, one thing that has been pointed out a couple of times is that many families do not completely understand the assignment plan, so there is much confusion. If there is a long, drawn-out transition, then that will add to the confusion. For instance, if a family that is new to the district does little or no research on the assignment plan, but does talk to their neighbors who have been in the district for a while, and those neighbors are operating under rules that are a consequence of the transition plan, but that isn't clearly communicated to the new family, how is the new family going to take it when something unexpected (to them) happens because it is something different than what has happened to their neighbors?

If a change is going to be happen, make it happen all at once to the maximum extent possible.

Carolyn said...

Many families *just* got their K assignments, and I am sure that most assumed that younger sibs would likely be able to join them when they reached K. The new plan will blindside them.

Since so few people understand the changes coming, I suggest the district postpone rolling out this plan, so that it can be put in place more thoughtfully. Such a thoughtful transition would include a firm plan that:

1) Includes lines for new reference boundaries

2) Communicates - via snail mail, email, media, internet, community boards - the assigned schools a year or two out (say 2011 or 2012)

3) Has a very clear plan for how siblings would be placed together as well as a clear transition plan for families whose attendance area schools change through redrawing of boundaries.

4) Allows the district to appropriately form plans to address the inevitable overcrowding at some schools (placement of portables, usurping of music rooms, etc).

5) Includes a distance tiebreaker. This will help achieve the "neighborhood schools" goal.

JWING said...

Tracy Libros says there won't be any "grandfathering" for siblings. She says doing so would defeat the purpose of the new plan. Also, she says the district is trying to figure out the number of siblings who aren't old enough for school yet to help determine the boundary lines. It appears they want to plan ahead to minimize the impact on families with more than one child. That being said, Libros warns the boundary lines for popular schools such as John Stanford and others will be drawn pretty tight. Should be an interesting Summer.

Central Mom said...

Melissa...Don't forget last I heard the District was saying that its IT systems couldn't handle the mechanics of maintaining sib grandfathering AND moving to the new plan. Has that changed?

Also, as far as TOPS and Salmon Bay and all other alts...The District isn't restricting enrollment areas. It's actually *broadening* the enrollment areas in many cases. For instance, not all clusters have had the right to enter the lottery for TOPS. The new plan says lotteries will be district-wide.

The "gotcha" in opening up enrollment is that the district is restricting transportation at the same time. You can enroll in TOPS or Salmon Bay or Orca from the NW or SW corner of the District, but your family will be driving. This is likely to affect the type of families who choose an alternative school. There are many families who do not have the means or the luxury to drive kids to school or to participate in carpools.

Keepin'On said...

This is all so fascinating! At first I thought, grandfather siblings. Then I read all these post, and now I just don't know. My kids did not attend their neighborhood elementary. The oldest got in a program at a cluster elementary. I was able to use sibling preference or whatever we call it, to then have the younger children in that school, also in the program. However, as I look back, I can see that my kids may have taken a space away from neighborhood kids. (popular school) Was that right? Was that fair? Probably not.

My opinion now: I made a choice to go out of my neighborhood, and I think that for the new plan to work, we need to not "grandfather" siblings, but instead use the preference as written in the plan. I would assume (and this could be a big assumption) that most siblings will get in the school, after attendance area kids are allowed. Some will not. But those parents, like myself, may have to just realize that they made a choice to go out of neighborhood and that choice will have consequences. Not fun, but if the district can communicate this effectively (a BIG if) people can in the future understand the consequences of choices. This does not make it any easier for those of us already in the system.

And just for disclosure, I am now dealing with multiple schools as the kids are older, and it can be done. I look at it on really busy days as - wow, look how I have widened my circle of friends!

As for busing from large areas to alternatives - I say this is a whole lotta money we are wasting that could be in the classroom. If you choose to go out of neighborhood, find your own way to get there. Alternatives included.

That all said - I think we are all in for surprises when the plan is implemented. It will be painful,and difficult to manage. Re-drawing boundaries every few years sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Until ALL schools in this district are great, people are going to be unhappy , and rightly so.

Roy Smith said...

Carolyn,
One of the major sources of frustration in some quarters surrounding the new assignment plan is that the roll-out has been delayed repeatedly.

I agree that more communication is necessary. That being said, there will always be somebody who starts paying attention at the last second, realizes that they are going to be adversely affected, and demands that the whole process be stopped until their concerns can be addressed.

This process has been underway since at least 2006 (see this post about a school board work session on the assignment plan in 2006), and the roll-out has already been delayed once (it was supposed to be in effect this coming fall, with the open enrollment this year being conducted under it). There have been many, many meetings, presentations, and work sessions open to the public over the past three years, and a whole lot of people have participated and given input. Could this work have been communicated better? Probably. But continual delay because "people are going to be blindsided" seems a little unrealistic.

So I say yes to more communication and clearer transition plans (that are brief in duration).

But I say no to delaying the roll-out.

FHS85 said...

Carolyn,

Your plan sounds great to me. I would add that it would make sense to delay the new plan until additional capacity is added in the NE cluster. I don't know if they are truly considering making JA a 6-8 and adding Sandpoint, but the boundaries would have to be redrawn if that capacity comes online. I am aware that they have been working on this plan forever and the district wants to get it done, but once again they are exchanging doing it RIGHT for doing it NOW.

It really bothers me that people have to debate which students deserve a seat - kids who live in the shadow of the school or sibs of students who are already entrenched in the community of that school. If we had adequate capacity there would be no need to bicker.

Johnny Calcagno said...

I probably should resist the temptation to get into all of this, but if you weren’t around a couple of years ago for my Neighborhood Schools: Separate but Equal? post on this blog, you might consider taking a look at it and the comments.

Unless there is huge increase in funding in our underperforming schools to accompany the new SAP, we are making a colossal and tragic error that is going to hurt this city for years.

If the Southeast Initiative is an example of such an increase, start worrying now!

TechyMom said...

So, I'm probably in the minority on this, but I LIKE the current choice system. I like that every school has its own personality and you can find one that is a good fit for your kid and your family. I don't like the idea of all schools having to meet the least common denominator. I've almost never felt comfortable in any environment that was geared towards some mythical average. I don't really care about the distance, though within 2-3 miles is certainly easier than farther away. I don't really care about all the kids on the block going to the same school.

I don't think the problem is the current assignment mechanism. There are two real problem: over-crowding in the north end, and a few low-quality schools in Central and South. Changing assignment doesn't fix either of them, and it requires that all schools be similar and bland. To fix capacity in the north end, you need to open schools, and/or assign some kids south of the ship canal (again, within 2-3 miles of home). To fix quality, you need to close or re-invent the schools that no one chooses, preferably duplicating popular programs. The current plan does neither. To play devil's advocate for a minute... Why are we even considering it? What's the point?

NE Parent said...

Keepin on said: "I made a choice to go out of my neighborhood, and I think that for the new plan to work, we need to not "grandfather" siblings, but instead use the preference as written in the plan....But those parents, like myself, may have to just realize that they made a choice to go out of neighborhood and that choice will have consequences."

But this does not address the families (1) who are now in their reference area school and are drawn out when the new boundares are drawn this fall, and (2) who are not in their reference area school, but only because they did not get in and were assigned to a lower choice or given a mandatory assignment--and now want to stay where they are currently assigned. For many people, it's not just about an earlier choice to go out-of-reference.

But under the new plan, I absolutely believe fewer families may choose to go to another attendance area school (unless it's to such an unpopular school that their sibling is bound to get in later).

Aurora said...

Another thing that the district needs to consider is a case in which a special ed child cannot be handled by an attendance area school and is assigned to a different school. Through no fault OR CHOICE of their own, a family with a younger sibling will be placed in a difficult position. I suggest the school district treat the special ed placement school as the assignment area school for siblings in cases in which families in this situation do not want siblings to attend separate schools. Again, this would be an option only for families which have no choice in assignment and are dealing with a non-attendance area school. Thoughts?

Keepin'On said...

I like the idea of distance being the tiebreaker before lottery for all schools. IMHO that way we stay more in the focus of promoting neighborhood schools. Preference should be attendance area, distance, sibling (?), lottery. Or something like that. Maybe?

This may solve or alleviate the problem of the constantly shifting boundaries of reference areas right?

Sahila said...

You guys think you have problems... the border line between the state of Queensland and the state of New South Wales runs right through the small town of Coolangatta - a small town on the east coast of Australia, about an hours' drive south of where I used to live...

kids on one side of the road go to school in queensland, kids on the other in NSW... the states have different school systems, different vacation schedules...NSW has daylight saving, Queensland does not...

some families, elementary kids go to school in one state and then transfer to high school in the other...

they make it work, people....

Sahila said...

I think that if you spend the money to make all schools desirable schools, you will solve half this problem, because families and couples planning families wont all be forced to congregate to certain neighbourhoods to try to get a better than middling, abysmal even, education for their kids...

Carolyn said...

Roy:
I checked the 2006 post and didn't find anything indicating that sibling preference would be changed. I don't think it's fair to expect parents to read between the lines, especially when SPS has repeatedly stated the importance of keeping sibs together. SPS needs to communicate a CLEAR plan well before they implement it.

Johnny:
Excellent point about school inequity. Shouldn't inequities be addressed before families are forced into under-performing schools?

Aurora:
You've identified yet another important gap in the plan as proposed.


I am not proposing that the plan be stopped. I am proposing that the board continue to work on the details of the plan so that they can - as FHS85 notes - get it done RIGHT rather than get to done NOW.

Elizabeth said...

Several commenters have said that they feel the geographic distance tiebreaker should be included in the new plan. I disagree.

I believe there are two good reasons to employ a distance tiebreaker, but that both are already accommodated by the new plan.

The first reason is to decrease transportation costs by encouraging students to attend schools close to home. The new plan will determine transportation eligibility separately from assignment priority. While this raises some questions about equitable access, it provides parents the opportunity to adjust their school choices to include whatever commute they believe they can handle. I think our culture values this type of increased agency and I think this will please most families.

The second reason to include a distance tiebreaker is to make the typical family happier by increasing the chance their children attend school close to home. The new plan already guarantees every student one placement in a school close to home -- the attendance area school.

Adding the distance tiebreaker to this system will increase inequity. As we have seen in the current plan, the distance tiebreaker creates "dead zones" in which families have little or no choice available to them. Under a new system with a distance tiebreaker added, these families would have no hope of attending an attendance area school other than their own.

Eliminating the distance tiebreaker provides the possibility of access to any family who is willing and able to cobble together a communte plan to get their child to a school they feel will suit her better. I am reminded of the best speller in my second grade class, Leslie, whose single dad put his children in a taxi every morning to get them to the "best" school in my district.

In an ideal world, all schools would be excellent and serve all students well. Given that ours currently don't, I can't see why those of means should have every advantage when they already have a substantial one in being able to choose any attendance area they choose to move to.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Techy Mom said:

"and it requires that all schools be similar and bland. "

Why are you surprised? That's exactly what Dr. G-J was hired for (well...maybe not EXACTLY). Standardization of curriculum was her claim to fame in her past position. I saw the proverbial writing on the wall as soon as she was hired.

AND Sahila said:

"I think that if you spend the money to make all schools desirable schools, you will solve half this problem, because families and couples planning families wont all be forced to congregate to certain neighbourhoods to try to get a better than middling, abysmal even, education for their kids..."

Note her use of the word "DESIRABLE"—that's what we all want for sure. But my desire may be your aversion. Hence we get Techy Mom's "bland and similar" to try and make everyone, everywhere happy.

I DO agree with Johnny though...the real issue is the lack of quality/desirability/rigor/program access is what got us into this mess. For too long, the District allowed families to migrate far from their neighborhoods to keep them in the system.

I have always contested that EVERY quadrant (remember those?) needs:
• An AP Program
• Montessori
• A TOPS-type
• An AS#1-type
• A Summitt-type
• A Roosevelt/Ballard/Garfield
And ...
• A quantity of quality "neighborhood schools" for those who want a more traditional approach.

Pipe dream? At this point in time, absolutely. But we can dream, can't we?

WV: nocked...but no one answered!

Roy Smith said...

I am aware that they have been working on this plan forever and the district wants to get it done, but once again they are exchanging doing it RIGHT for doing it NOW.

What is it (with regards to the SAP specifically) that they are doing wrong?

TechyMom said...

I'm not surprised, but neither am I happy. I do think that we needed to define a minimum set of things that every school should offer. MGJ has gone well beyond that, too far IMHO. I do think that we needed (and still need) to restructure some schools that are very unpopular, and replace their programs with duplicates of programs that are popular. I do not think that Summit, Meany, or TT Minor were such programs, but I do think that Madrona is. I don't know enough about the other closed schools to say if they were or not.

However, that is not the same as making all the schools bland and similar. It is not the same as restricting choice based on address. Yeah, I know that most other districts do it that way. Our innovative approach is one of the things I like about living in Seattle. In another district, we probably would have ended up at private school, in order to find a fit. That may still happen and the schools become more bland. I don't think a good fit is something that should only be available to people who can pay for private school.

I also don't think that the new SAP fixes the real problems.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Agreed Techy Mom...in a district as large and diverse as SPS, we need a variety of options and the new SAP doesn't do anything about any of that. Not quite sure what it does do besides getting everyone in a tizzy.

Roy Smith said...

Our innovative approach is one of the things I like about living in Seattle.

I suspect you may have a minority viewpoint on this one, based on the sheer number of parents that I have met who are stressed-out and/or confused by school choice. It is also a bit surprising to me how many people live in or move to Seattle with young families that have no idea about our school choice system until they go to register their oldest child for Kindergarten, when they just figured that their kids would automatically go to the nearby elementary which many of their neighbors have said such great things about.

For all the talk about "blindsiding" people with the proposed changes, there is no discussion of the numbers of parents new to the district who are blindsided annually by our byzantine choice system.

I don't think choice should be eliminated completely (certainly not for option schools - those should be strengthened and expanded), but there really is a big chunk of the population whose only concern with the SAP is that they have guaranteed access to their neighborhood school.

TechyMom said...

The thing is, Roy, that if there were enough capacity in the North End, they would be able to get into their neighborhood school. Reference area is one of the first tie-breakers. They'd also be able to get into a nearby school that they like better. The problem is not choice. The problem is space.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Where to start?

"Why are we changing the plan" or how we were to know that they might change the assignment plan beyond the boundaries?

Interesting that we can't get beyond "I don't like this plan because of no grandfathering" to what would you be willing to accept from the Board? Because honestly, they are so unlikely to grandfather all the sibs in. It would make the technical problems worse, it would take up more staff time, transportation, etc.. I just can't see the Board buying it. BUT they might allow a transition period and that's what I would fight for (not grandfather every sib of every child currently enrolled).

(And by the way, you can tell staff and/or the Board that you will take your child(ren) and go to private school. It never moves them, they don't care. It has never worked as an argument or threat. I wouldn't waste my valuable talking points on it.)

Don't believe me on predictability but it was and has been a huge cry by large numbers of parents and not just in the usual places. The Board and staff heard that loud and clear so discount it at this point is too late. You forget that QA/Magnolia has no high school. This is huge for them. There aren't just a couple of problems in assignment in this district and no plan will solve all problems anyway.

I would agree that if this had been done earlier then they could have allowed a year for explanations and rollout. I also agree that they better have all their ducks in a row about the NE because they cannot just stuff kids in a building for a couple of years while they figure it out (you do have leverage here much more than on the grandfathering issue). However, the plan will have boundaries. Just because they are creating the plan in two parts doesn't make it a bad plan.

I do find it somewhat charming that people actually believe this district would create a plan and then take a year or so to explain it to folks. That has never been how it has worked in this district and if you can get them to delay it (again), more power to you.

Johnny, I just talked to some people from the Alliance about this issue of some schools not being great and they are working with the district on some new ideas. We've heard this before but since I heard it from the Alliance (rather than staff), it gives me hope. I do wish this plan would work in a manner to restrict the number of free/reduced lunch kids at any given school. That would help.

My understanding on special ed is that they are going to try to have it be in as many schools as possible both for families and to reduce transportation costs. There may be, however, a few services that can only be at certain schools.

Roy Smith said...

The problem is not choice. The problem is space.

Fair enough. And the space problem definitely needs to be fixed, independent of what happens with the assignment plan.

But even accepting that, if all a family wants to do is send their children to their attendance area school, why should they have to participate in the choice system at all? In general, why shouldn't every child have a seat at their attendance area school if they want it, even if they move into the district the day before the start of classes?

And if the answer to those questions is, well, they should have a seat in their attendance area school, then that will definitely impact how the choice system works.

I really think that a lot of families, at least on the north end, want to be able to attend their attendance area school, no questions asked. Is preservation of maximum choice important enough to override that expectation, which, for better or worse, is met by almost every other school district in the state? Other districts have guaranteed access to neighborhood schools while simultaneously having option schools, so it can be done.

zb said...

So, I'm bemused by people who suggest that we wait to change the plan until we've solved the problem of under-performing schools. When, exactly, would that happen? And, how should we go about doing it?

Roy Smith said...

And is Madrona an under-performing school? Or is it a school that meets the needs of its current student population?

zb said...

I think I commented on this before, but choice really does require extra capacity, unless you're going to lock the late comers/unsavvy into the least palatable options, or, alternatively, you've magically figured out how to determine the exact choice preferences of your entire population.

I think that is one of the issues that the district is facing. Families want smaller schools, more choices, but those things require extra capacity. We have no money for extra capacity, or, at least, that's what the school system has decided.

zb said...

Glad to hear that saying that you're going to pull your children to a private school doesn't move the district.

zb said...

"I also agree that they better have all their ducks in a row about the NE because they cannot just stuff kids in a building for a couple of years while they figure it out (you do have leverage here much more than on the grandfathering issue)."

As I've said before, I think that "stuffing more kids in" is going to have to be part of a guaranteed attendance area plan: 1) they are going to try to fill buildings close to capacity. 2) they will not be able to predict perfectly how many children will be in an attendance area each year. 3) they will need to make room for everyone. 4) attendance areas can't be redrawn too frequently (for a variety of reasons, that have already been mentioned). All these factors mean that the student population in schools is going to have to fluctuate.

Elizabeth said...

On 6/9/09 at 12:54 PM TechyMom said...


The thing is, Roy, that if there were enough capacity in the North End, they would be able to get into their neighborhood school. Reference area is one of the first tie-breakers. They'd also be able to get into a nearby school that they like better. The problem is not choice. The problem is space.


...

From a mathematical/algorithmic/statistics viewpoint, I absolutely agree with this assessment. The old system could have given us guaranteed placement at our attendance area schools had the capacities been appropriately managed.

Aside from the current re-ordering of tiebreakers/priorities, there aren't any announced differences between the old and the new plans which are mathematically interesting.

The real differences show up in the human engineering including:

* there is now a guarantee that families will make it into their attendance area school,

* families don't have to participate in choice, and

* families that do choose to participate in choice need never list a school they like less than their attendance area school (no more listing seventeen schools "just in case").

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, you say a number of interesting things like parents want smaller schools. And yet, that is the opposite direction that the district is going in both the new SAP AND in renovations. They are never going to renovate another elementary for less than 350 and their goal is more like 450 (it's in the Facilities Master Plan). Frankly, I don't think we have the luxury of small schools and I think any school that is below 300, is in a poor condition building AND there is no room to grow bigger might keep that in mind.

Yet we COULD have extra capacity, coming on line in the fall, in one or more NE schools, but staff made poor BEX choices. And now it's come back to bite us. Something to keep in mind for future levy votes. (Oh and we might have had some stimulus money from the feds for shovel ready jobs but the state took that to backfill the lost 728 money. Was that right? Probably not. Did they do it? Yes.)

Robert said...

Seriously are the NE elementary schools all that different such that involved local parents couldn't bring them up to similar levels? And every NE kid is going to get an assigned entry level school including all the NE kids right?

Under the old plan and because of siblings from outside the reference area we ended up fourth on the wait list for our current reference school which we live .6 mi from. With the new plan that shouldn't happen. Unless they draw us into a circle that has the next closest school our reference school (and three times as far away) we will be happy with the certainty, quality and distance of our reference school.

TechyMom said...

Those are all true. However, Montlake and McGilvra have different cultures, they have similar social-economic makeups, and both are full. I like Montlake's culture better, but live closer to McGilvra. Montlake is a better fit. When I get assigned to McGilvra, I'll be pushing for things Montlake has (technology program, after school language) that are different from what the families currently at McGilvra have prioritized (small class size). That will lead, over time, to the cultures being more similar, and for families who value one or the other to find instead something kind of in the middle, and not what they want. And, I think that's a big loss for the city, probably bigger than people realize.

Elizabeth said...

On 6/9/09 at 1:22 PM zb said...


I think I commented on this before, but choice really does require extra capacity, unless you're going to lock the late comers/unsavvy into the least palatable options, or, alternatively, you've magically figured out how to determine the exact choice preferences of your entire population.


Not true. You can convince yourself by imagining a district with only two attendance areas and working through what will happen with and without choice when the total number of students is exactly the same every year, there are families in each area who prefer the other school, and the distribution of children across the two areas regularly differs enough to "max out" one of the schools.

Without choice the odds that a school becomes over-full will be higher as there is no opportunity to shift kids out from the over-subscribed school. Locking the "late comers/unsavvy into the least palatable options" would be a product of bad planning and projections and not choice itself.

The situation you describe is the result of filling schools to absolute capacity during open enrollment. A well managed version of the proposed new plan would include an estimate of how many "late comers" will arrive each year and never allow choice placements beyond that threshhold.

I doubt this was done in the old system. I would say the proposed system implicitly gives the enrollment folks the power to hold back those seats on the grounds that everyone is guaranteed placement in the attendance area school.

zb said...

Hi Melissa:

Yes, I said I think parents want smaller schools (though not all of them -- smallness conflicts with another desire, for multiple choices for things like advanced learning, music, arts, etc.). But, I also think that parents can't necessarily have everything I want. So, I wasn't saying that there *should* be small schools.

In fact, for other reasons (my interest in diversity/equity), I think that neighborhood schools need to be bigger in order to diversify the geographic area from which they draw.

rugles said...

They are never going to renovate another elementary for less than 350 and their goal is more like 450 (it's in the Facilities Master Plan). Frankly, I don't think we have the luxury of small schools and I think any school that is below 300, is in a poor condition building AND there is no room to grow bigger might keep that in mind..

And frankly Melissa, I didn't think we had the luxury of building brand new schools for 450 k-5 that only draw 250. And yet there sits Madrona.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Rugles, that's an altogether difference issue but you're right. We do need to fill our schools especially when we spend the money on new buildings.

zb said...

Move TOPS to Madrona (is it in a nice building?) and reopen Seward as a neighborhood school. Close Montlake.

I always thought moving TOPS made a lot of sense, as suggested by the first closure commission recommendation. I think at the time, it was argued that the alternate TOPS site was unacceptable for a K-8, but Madrona is a K-8, right?

Jen said...

I know I'm getting away from the topic of siblings, but I'm hearing choice, choice, choice. Well, I have to say that in the NE Cluster, there is NO choice. There is no choice for me because I more than likely won't get into my reference school (Bryant), and because I'm not in another reference area and I have no other children already in the system, I probably won't get into my second, third, fourth, or even fifth choice. I will be relegated to Sac or JR (great schools, but I don't want my kids to bus/transport 3-4 miles a day for the next 5 years or more, 8 years if my other kids end up there too.)

I can let you know of at least 10 people this year and last year that didn't get into at least any of the top 3 or 4 choices, and got mandatory assignments at JR. That is just my small circle of friends and acquaintances. I would love to know how many more people had that experience. This is why I don't think choice works. Some get choice and some don't?

BL said...

zb,
I've been thinking the same thing about moving TOPS to Madrona. (They have a similar functional capacity.)
Then reconsolidate elementary APP at the Seward (TOPS) Building, and either close Montlake or create an attendance area for Montlake that includes a small area around the school and include an area north of the ship canal.

Robert said...

I thought the only closure left was a HS? Frankly as a central area parent I'm a bit frazzled by the thoughts of another reduction in Elementary seats in an area that is increasing in kids.

Seriously ZB a child at Montlake or Madrona probably went there from TTM and may have come from MLK before that. Yikes. Good idea though had it been considered in the last round...

ps said...

Roy and Techy Mom you are both right about Madrona. It is not underperforming but it is designed for a population that does not reflect the assignment area and many of the neighborhood families have had a history of being unwelcomed at the school. It has a special program and is more like an optional school. We should call it what it is. Only 27% of the students live in the reference area and the administration likes it that way. I can only hope that it becomes an option school so the students who need the school can attend and neighborhood families are not forced to go to where they are welcomed.

OR it gets completely reinvented to reengage and serve all the families and students in the reference area.
It is insult to injury for the district to leave it as it is and make it the neighborhood's school.

rugles said...

There are going to be more budget cuts, so there is always a possiblity of more closures.

Therefore any new SAP needs to make explicit what happens if a school closes.

I think families with kids currently going to school in the District should be allowed to pick any school in their current reference area in the event their school gets closed. Not just any school with room.

Too difficult?

Good. Then don't close the school. Fix it.

zb said...

"Good idea though had it been considered in the last round..."

It was, though, right? Except that TOPS was supposed to move to Thurgood Marshall.

I don't actually know if there's still plans to close more schools in central. I actually kind of think the capacity issues might have been resolved, except for the unequal popularity of the different schools.

But, I think the arguments about the poor kid who has been changing schools every year is a reason why the plans have to be implemented quickly, and not after a lot of dilly-dallying and thumb-twiddling.

(I know what NE mom says about choice, "pseudo-choice" we call it around our house. And, I remain pretty surprised at how many people think they have real choices now)

dj said...

Instead of moving TOPS, why not do something totally wacky and look at the things that make TOPS so popular and replicate those things at Madrona? It would fill in a flash.

Toni said...

Want to hear about choice in the NE? We applied to Ecktein, didn't get in, got assigned to Jane Addams. Don't want Jane Addams, so called the enrollment office to see what other middle schools were available. There is not one school in all of north Seattle that has even one seat. I was offered McClure in Queen Anne.

That's choice at it's best isn't it.

amsiegel said...

Let me get this right--there are lots of good elementary schools in the NE. Many people get to send there kids to good elementary schools in walking distance; some people get to/choose to send their kids to good elementary schools that are a mile or two from their house; and some unlucky folks in "dead zones" get forced to send their kids to good elementary schools that are three or four miles away. And this is the "problem" that is driving the restructuring of the entire school assignment process? There are an awful lot of people in the rest of the city (and the rest of the country) who look at your "problem" and call it "amazing good fortune."

anonymous said...

Wow Toni! I thought no middle-schooler would be assigned to a non-comprehensive K-8. Isn't that the rule? So, are you going to McClure?

anonymous said...

Yes... I have to agree that all the complaining... that really amounts to: "Oh no!!!! My kid will be going to have to go to Sac or JR. And, *gasp*, my kid will have to ride 3 or 4 miles on the bus! Oh the choiceless tragedy!"

It really makes you want to cry. Who cares. I mean really. How about ride the bike? 3 miles won't kill them.

FHS85 said...

Roy,

You asked about my comment that the district wants to do the SAP now rather than do it right.

In a nutshell, I think it is a mistake to redraw boundaries in the NE before they add capacity. If they are really considering adding elementary capacity within the next couple of years, I think it makes sense to delay the drawing of the boundaries, in the NE at least, until additional capacity comes online.

zb said...

"Instead of moving TOPS, why not do something totally wacky and look at the things that make TOPS so popular and replicate those things at Madrona?"

Well, if I were going to do that, I'd move TOPS to Madrona, and try to "replicate" it in a different site. But, of course, I believe that a big part of what makes TOPS popular is its site & its population.

anonymous said...

Yeah right. And what would TOPs be with the current students at Madrona? Might not be so desirable then.

Central Mom said...

Between Stage 4 NCLB and the new assignment policy, change is coming to Madrona...whether or not change has been supported in the past.

dj said...

Madrona is half empty on a good day. I live here. There is a big population of parents here with school-aged kids who would love to send them to Madrona. The parents in this neighborhood aren't turning their noses up at the school because of its population, and they certainly aren't doing it because of the location. They are doing so because of the principal and the program.

Elizabeth said...

On 6/9/09 at 5:05 PM Jen said...


I know I'm getting away from the topic of siblings, but I'm hearing choice, choice, choice. Well, I have to say that in the NE Cluster, there is NO choice.


...

You're right. "Choice" is not an appropriately evocative term. "Choice" encourages families to believe they are entitled to an assignment at a school they choose.

In reality what the district has been offering would much more aptly be called "prioritized elective re-assignment with forced 'volunteering' when things get tight."

I consider the new system very much an improvement because it would become simply "prioritized elective re-assignment."

Gabrielle said...

DJ wrote “Instead of moving TOPS, why not do something totally wacky and look at the things that make TOPS so popular and replicate those things at Madrona? It would fill in a flash.”

History doesn’t bear that out at all. It was just two years ago that families that were trying to change Madrona left because they felt that the larger population didn’t want the changes they were suggesting. There’s not room here to rehash the argument, but the Seattle Times article is here:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/education/2003639256_madrona28m.html

Danny Westenet also wrote extensively about his experience as a parent.

zb said...

"They are doing so because of the principal and the program."

I glanced at the Madrona web site, and I do agree that I would find the program there unpalatable, and further, unacceptable in a neighborhood school. If that program is desirable (and I don't know)if it should be, it should either be a "service" or "option" program.

dj said...

Gabrielle, I'm starting with the premise that the district is supportive of changing the program to replicate a successful program elsewhere and is committed to taking steps to ensure that happens. Not that the district is committed to keeping Madrona as it is.

zb said...

The assignment plan is not being changed because of the perceived problems in NE. It's being changed because of an overall desire to move towards a neighborhood model. Choice was invented (mostly) as an experiment in integration and a potential method of helping schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The idea was that schools were supposed to improve under the free market of choice (all the schools). Instead what's happen is what some feared, which is that choice offered nothing more than the opportunity for the savvy folks to flee the under-performing schools. That in turn has exacerbated (rather than ameliorated) the residential racial/economic segregation in Seattle.

But, what I'm wondering is what people think they're loosing. Is everyone who doesn't like the plan a family that has an out of reference area assignment that they like, and were hoping to bring siblings along in? I know that's not TechyMom's reason (she wants to be able to choose between Montlake's afterschool language clasess and McGilvra's smaller class size). But, I think the right way to offer those kinds of choices is option schools, and they are a part of the new plan.

nacmom said...

Wow - a lot going on here. A few thoughts:

1) In the June 27, 2007 board approved framework for the new student assignment plan, the following language appears in the 'tiebreakers' section:

 "Sibling priority is currently applied as the first tiebreaker for assignment to every type and level of school. There are valid reasons for this. For example, sibling priority supports family engagement, allowing families to be involved with fewer schools; and allows families and schools to build long term relationships. In addition, transportation can be provided more efficiently.

 Sibling priority would be continued as is in the revised Student Assignment Plan."

So, given that sibs had early enrollment for entry years and this statment exists, we can say that for sure, sibs had priority. Honestly, the board and enrollment are apparently choosing to forget/abandon this document, so I am not surprised they are trying to convince everyone that it never existed!

2) Separating families is just bad policy. regardless of why ( and I go get what is trying to be achieved and agree with it), it's just not a good way to go. Rarely do other districts do this as they know they serve families and it's a win/win for students, schools and families to stay together.

3) for new SAP, tiebreakers are; and should be clear as such...
1) attendance area
2) siblings
3) lottery

putting a #1 next to #2 is beyond misleading.

4) IF the district would or had, added the necessary capacity, choice would still work and sibs and attendance area could both be generally accommodated in the new plan. The issue is really a lack of capacity. siblings and attendance area need not be mutually exclusive. they are, but they don't need to be. pitting parents against one another allows the district to continue mismanaging.

5) The new SAP has been in process long before there was a capacity crunch in the NE. That they are tweaking/structuring it to help address that is the new part. Boundaries should change to impact that, not the tiebreakers and rules.

6) I am simply not buying, and no one should, that we don't have the ability to write a program that can accommmodate granfathered siblings. This is 2009!! More complex, sure. Impossible? no way. if your programmers say so, hire new programmers.

7)Agree on the distance tiebreaker. that one slipped right by me.

8) all intl/montessori, etc schools should be option schools. they are clearly not the same. why aren't they? not enough capacity to do both, so access to these programs is limited to those living ridiculously close. strike 'equal access' from goals being achieved.

9)Forget about delaying it. won't happen. The bad decision time crunch is already rolling. make bad decsions with poor information very quickly. revist later and change course when the 'unexpected' consequences force the issue.

10)Truly effective drawing of boundaries (anyone holding their breath?) CAN solve many problems, offer gtd seats, etc, but they need to map to actual data and actual school capaciities. without both of those - the redrawing improve, but not solve the problems.

11) NE capacity: open two elementary schools (sand point and mcdonald are two good candidates). draw attendance areas for them in 2009 for 2010. Locate these schools elswhere and bus the kids until their building are ready - viewlands, lincoln? etc. Move them lock, stock and barrel once the buildings are done.Better option than the one playing out at JA. this assumes JA will be converted to a middle school.

another mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dj said...

I am a parent of an APP student who is being moved from Lowell to Thurgood Marshall. One of the things we were told when the split was presented to us was that we could at least consolidate our kids in the new programs.

I will not send my younger child to my neighborhood school unless the district commits to major changes there. That's not an uncommon sentiment among families I've talked to in the central and southern clusters. I'm not expecting that the district will wave a magic wand and make the school all better before I'll set foot inside. But I do think that "improving schools" should be a higher priority than anything else for the district.

The problem as I see it is that it is not a solution to the problem of underperforming schools to pile more kids into them so that more kids get a poor education. What is a solution is to couple any new assignment plan with concrete plans and district commitment for improving the underperforming schools that people, rationally, do not want to use currently. That would have the effect of both increasing support in the central and southern clusters for a different plan and making sure that all kids are well-served.

Stu said...

Yes... I have to agree that all the complaining... that really amounts to: "Oh no!!!! My kid will be going to have to go to Sac or JR. And, *gasp*, my kid will have to ride 3 or 4 miles on the bus! Oh the choiceless tragedy!"

Families shouldn't have to choose between good schools and bad schools but, until the district decides to raise the quality of some of the worse programs, "choice" is always going to be on the table. That said, you're missing the point entirely.

First of all, the district is trying to cut back on busing. Secondly, 3 miles can be an incredibly long bus ride, depending on the traffic and arterials. But none of that's the point. The point is, if I live 2 blocks from my reference elementary school, I should be guaranteed a spot there. That's it. Why is that so difficult? If there's room at another nearby program, and I want to go there, that shouldn't be problem either.

The "whining" in the Northeast cluster is that there are no spaces at MANY schools and so families don't get to go to schools that might be a block or two away. The "whining" is that there are NO seats at the ONLY middle school in the Northeast cluster and so families need to go to different parts of the city. The "whining" is that, because the quality of some schools in other parts of the city is so low, families are faced with having to send their kids far from home and are taking seats from kids in the neighborhood AND adding to the deficit because of all the busing.

I don't understand what you find unreasonable about this complaining? Every student should have the guarantee of a certain level of quality education; if a school isn't offering that level, the program should be changed. We're not complaining that OUR kids have it tough; we're complaining that NO kids should have it tough.

stu

PS - We live 3.2 miles from our son's school, Lowell, and his bus ride was originally 1:10 long. It's now finally down to a little less than an hour. This school was our choice -- back when the bus ride was only 35 minutes -- but don't discount the amount of time kids spend on the buses. That's time that could be better spent with afterschool programs that'll fill in all the science, math, art, music, and sports gaps.

wseadawg said...

If we already had strong neighborhood schools throughout the district, the proposed SAP would be fine. But we don't, so it doesn't, and it won't. SPS is carelessly shoving kids back to SE schools their parents deliberately bus them away from. With all due respect to NE folks problems, I'd rather be you than a SE kid attending a Central cluster school and about to get tossed back down South.

This plan is going to hurt alot of kids by assigning them to poor performing schools. Those with power, influence and time, will have options. Many others won't, and will suffer the fate the district is dealing them.

I feel it is morally incumbent upon the district to reveal specific plans with strict accountability measures that ensure that a poor-performing school will be turned around in order to serve the needs of kids assigned there under the new SAP. But who am I kidding?

It all sounds so lofty, rational, and of course "GREEN!" to embrace neighborhood schools, unless, of course, you live in a bad neighborhood. But hey, tough-luck chumps! Get a better job and move out if you don't like it!

That's pretty much what this plan amounts to for alot of kids and families.

Deidre F. said...

Amsiegal says "Many people get to send there kids to good elementary schools in walking distance; some people get to/choose to send their kids to good elementary schools that are a mile or two from their house; and some unlucky folks in "dead zones" get forced to send their kids to good elementary schools that are three or four miles away. And this is the "problem" that is driving the restructuring of the entire school assignment process?"

I'm sorry that you feel this way amsiegal, and I can see where you are coming from. However, I don't think it's a matter of NE parents whining about busing 3 or 4 miles away to another "good" school, it's much more complex than that.

First of all 3 or 4 miles may seem like a short distance, however on a bus that translates to a one hour+ commute each way. Who wants their kid on a bus for 2 hours a day? Would you apply for a job that required a one hour each way commute? I mean really, an hour by car means you'd be working in Olympia, or Snoqualmie.

Why should a family not have access to their neighborhood school, or at least one designated "attendance" school near their house? Really, why not? I'm serious now - give one reason why a family should *not* be able to go to a school close to their home.

Third, there is only one MS north of the ship canal and east of I-5 and it can't hold all of the NE kids. So a lot of our kids don't go to school in our neighborhood. They are bused to Hamilton and other schools all over the city.

Fourth, there are huge differences between our two high schools. While they are both "good" schools, they are very very different schools. Roosevelt is a huge, traditional school, with tons of AP classes, award winning band and drama programs, and a 300 kid waitlist. Hale is a small, almost "alternative" school that only has a handful of AP classes, has a small struggling band, and no award winning drama program. Only 1/3 of the families assigned to Hale this year actually chose to be there. The other 2/3 received mandatory assignment. Don't get me wrong, I love Hale, and chose it for my son, but many people don't want what Hale offers. Should they have to just suck it up and go there because there is not enough space at Roosevelt.

I see much of the same thing happening in all of the clusters. Folks all over the city vie for seats in what they consider "good" schools. It is not just in the NE -anyone living near a popular school can tell you how difficult it is to have a "good" school, in their neighborhood, that they can't get into. Just ask folks that live near, but not close enough, to New School, MCGilvra, Stevens, Montlake, Whittier, Lafayette, North Beach, Coe, Garfield, Ballard.

Amseigal, I think you have said you live in the SE (correct me if I am wrong). What if you thought New School was absolutely the best school for your kid, it is a few blocks from your house, and you applied for it. Lets say you don't get into New School, but the district assigns you to another "good" school 4 or 5 miles away from your home, a school in say West Seattle north, or in Ballard. Would you be happy just to get a good school? Or would you "whine" about needing to send your kid out of your neighborhood, away from all of his friends and community to get that good school?

TechyMom said...

There aren't enough seats in the north end. The SAP is not going to fix that. Opening a new middle school and a couple of new elementary schools is the only thing that will fix that. Baring that, using Meany as the middle school for the very southern part of NE and N might help some. Drawing some elementary kids to magnet schools in Central might help some (though we won't have room either in a few years). You'll replace long bus rides with big classes and warrens of portables. Personally, I'd rather send my kid on a bus than into an elementary school with 600 kids in portables. Guess I won't be moving to NE anytime soon...

Charlie Mas said...

Deidre F. writes: "Only 1/3 of the families assigned to Hale this year actually chose to be there. The other 2/3 received mandatory assignment. Don't get me wrong, I love Hale, and chose it for my son, but many people don't want what Hale offers. Should they have to just suck it up and go there because there is not enough space at Roosevelt."

How unreasonable is it to expect Hale to change their culture and programming to reflect the desires of 2/3's of the families sending students there? If the Northeast wants another Roosevelt, then why doesn't Hale become another Roosevelt? Who gets to decide the culture and the programming at the school and why aren't they more responsive to the community they ostensibly serve?

Elizabeth said...

On 6/10/09 at 7:46 AM TechyMom said...


There aren't enough seats in the north end. The SAP is not going to fix that.


...

Well, yes and no.

You're right that the new SAP won't create any new space. However, guaranteeing attendance area school seats will make it much harder for the folks who control capacity decisions to ignore areas of overcrowding. Because the old plan created such unintuitive assignments, it was really easy to blame all problems on choice.

zb said...

"How unreasonable is it to expect Hale to change their culture and programming to reflect the desires of 2/3's of the families sending students there?"

I think not at all unreasonable, and that's what I'm expecting, and will work towards that goal. I'll have more opportunity to do so if our area is assigned to Hale (we live in a potential transition area). I'm comfortable with that option, too, to try to work towards making it a school that's more reflective of its population. And, yes, that will result in homogenization. But I consider homogenization better than assigning 2/3 of the students to a choice they didn't want, in order to maintain the variability in cultures.

Roy Smith said...

However, guaranteeing attendance area school seats will make it much harder for the folks who control capacity decisions to ignore areas of overcrowding. Because the old plan created such unintuitive assignments, it was really easy to blame all problems on choice.

This is the crux of why I am fairly supportive of the new SAP. No, the new assignment plan, by itself, won't fix any problems, but it will be harder for the district to ignore overcrowding problems or blame problems on choice.

I actually expect that with a plan that encourages families to attend their reference area school, the Madrona situation will be fixed within a couple of years as the political pressure on the district rises to the point currently seen around the overcrowding problems in the NE cluster. Under the current system, it is entirely too easy for the district to say to Madrona reference area families "You don't like Madrona? Pick another school then."

It's apparently an unfortunate fact of life that SPS won't respond to problems until the pressure on the district to "do something" about a particular problem rises to a fever pitch. If the new SAP raises the pressure on the district more quickly to "do something" about the problems, then I think that is a net gain.

whittier07 said...

I felt like I was keeping up with the SAP information ... a friend attending one of the early meetings in March 2009 and at THAT meeting, sibling was still the #1 tiebreaker. It wasn't until the end of March/April that attendance area became the #1 tiebreaker ... BUT the district hides it in the wording of the SAP document. Anyone, glancing at the document would still see sibling listed #1. Staff needs to clearly list #1 attendance area, #2 sibling ...

While the plan may have been in the works over the YEARS, it is only in the last MONTHS that siblings have dropped in the tiebreaker list.

amsiegel said...

Deidre--

My post was about elementary schools, not middle and high schools, and I have no particular opinion about which parts of the city have it easier and harder at those levels (since my oldest is in first grade, I have a long time to ponder those problems).

But, in all seriousness, I think the following excerpt from your post exemplifies exactly why I am opposed to the new assignment plan:

I see much of the same thing happening in all of the clusters. Folks all over the city vie for seats in what they consider "good" schools. It is not just in the NE -anyone living near a popular school can tell you how difficult it is to have a "good" school, in their neighborhood, that they can't get into. Just ask folks that live near, but not close enough, to New School, MCGilvra, Stevens, Montlake, Whittier, Lafayette, North Beach, Coe, Garfield, Ballard.

___________________________

Well, excuse me, those schools don't belong to your neighborhood or community, the belong to the people of the City of Seattle as part of a single unified school district. Your child has no more entitlement to attend them than anyone else's. It may be, for policy reasons or transportation costs, that we want to have more students attend schools nearer to their house, but that is a choice we need to make together after weighing the costs and benefits for all students.

The attitude of parents who live near the better elementary schools towards the rest of us reminds me of those who want to put up fences around the country to keep out immigrants: "Sure things are bad for you and I'm really sorry about it, but there just isn't room for you here. After all, my first responsibility is to my own."

Central Mom said...

Pls. read the District FAQ comments around siblings. They have been recently updated and address many of the questions here. K,6,9 students will be the first round affected by the new SAP. Kids in other grades aren't going to have the "right" to transfer into their new attendance area schools in the 1st years of the plan.

And the district specifically says that younger kids aren't guaranteed placement to older sibs' schools. It does guarantee a place for both sibs at the new assignment school. (Before I was hearing that if sibs staying together were a priority to a family, they could end up "anywhere".

http://www.seattleschools.org/
area/newassign/
faq_implementation.html

I agree w/ Melissa that the plan is too far evolved for the District to put sibs back as a 1st priority tiebreaker. The vote is next week. Focus tonight and in coming days on the grandfathering issue. That's still "to be decided" and if you care about this topic you could effectively advocate in this area.

FHS85 said...

Whittier07, the order of the tiebreakers for attendance area schools flipped between March 24th and March 26th. The powerpoint slides from the March 24th and March 26th community engagement meetings are on the sps website. On March 24th, the tiebreakers for attendance area elementary schools were 1) siblings 2) attendance area 3) cohort (?) 4) lottery. In the March 26th presentation, the tiebreakers for attendance area elementary schools switched to 1) sibling 2) lottery, but it should be 1) attendance area 2) sibling 3) lottery. I honestly think they are trying to sneak that in without calling attention to the change.

zb said...

"Well, excuse me, those schools don't belong to your neighborhood or community, the belong to the people of the City of Seattle as part of a single unified school district. Your child has no more entitlement to attend them than anyone else's"

If that were really true, then we'd have had a city-wide lottery for the schools before. That's not what we had -- we had a system that used distance as its primary tiebreaker. Attendance area just clarifies and solidifies that dimension, and creates less variability.

amsiegel said...

Zb, you are right that the previous plan included georgraphic preferences as well. What I'm objecting to here is not geographic preferences per se, but the attitude that seems to be driving a lot of the process that those who live nearest to particular schools have a MORAL entitlement to send their kids to them. Seats in good schools are a scarce resource. We need to decide as a community what is the fairest and most reasonable way to allocate them taking into account the needs of all students. If that involves a significant geographic piece, fine. What I reject is the idea that some parents have a moral entitlement to claim those seats for their kids WITHOUT taking into account the interests of everybody else's kids.

Melissa Westbrook said...

There is a BIG point being missed (or else people are being very paranoid which I get given our district). I am going to repeat myself here.

There is this grand assumption that the assignment plan was just changing boundaries and that's it. Why did anyone make such an assumption? I have no idea.

They are rehauling the whole thing. And they changed the assignment so that you have an attendance area and are guaranteed a place at the attendance area school. Now the implementation may take a couple of years but that's the plan.

And, if a school is overenrolled, just like before, sibling is the first tiebreaker. To keep saying that it should be attendance misses the point of the overhaul. They did that precisely so you would know what school your neighborhood is assigned to AND then if there are seats left over, they will go to sibs (and then lottery if there are any left). So you DIDN'T have to wait for any tiebreakers to kick in.

It's a matter of reading. It's a matter of the district - finally - doing what parents asked for which was a neighborhood plan with predictability. And, after some transition years, that's exactly what people will get.

That said, if the staff does not have a clear plan as to how, within say two years, every single student can go to their attendance area school, then the Board has no business voting yes. There are ways to get this to work in two years and the staff simply has to have a clear and precise plan to get there. If not, then Board, just say no.

ps said...

Doesn't a school belong just as much to the families that have been contributing, participating and involved in it for many years as it does to the family with the two year old that just moved in 5 blocks away? Our amazing PTSA President should be able to send her younger child to the school she has tirelessly contributed to.

I really believe the district can manage to grandfather siblings and enroll all attendance area students. They can poll families and know the number of non-attendance area siblings (probably not as many as you might think) and plan for it.

amsiegel said...

I've only lived in Seattle for two years but I'm going to take Melissa at her word that the district is responding to a chorus of parents saying that they wanted "predictable" assignment to "neighborhood" schools. So, at some level we are getting what we asked for.

Still. . . I think the current discussion reveals two things: (1) "neighborhood" schools are one of those thinks like Mom and Apple Pie that poll well but actually aren't the be all or end all when you start having to make tradeoffs of other things you value (sure, I love my Mom, but I'm not going to spend my whole vacation sitting in her livingroom just because she wants me to) and (2) a lot of the support for "neighborhood" schools among people in particular neighborhoods stems from their desires to build some suburban-style fences around their neighborhoods and to stop having to worry about the problems of the have-nots in the district.

Roy Smith said...

What I reject is the idea that some parents have a moral entitlement to claim those seats for their kids WITHOUT taking into account the interests of everybody else's kids.

So I can only claim the seats at the school 1/4 mile from me for my children after I have taken into account the the interests of everybody else's kids? Every parent is obligated to put the interests of their own children after the interests of every other child?

Go try this line of reasoning in any other school district in the state, and see where it gets you.

Choice has led us to a strange place where this argument is viewed as having merit.

And Melissa is right, from the very beginning, it was clear that one of the main points of the revision to the SAP was going to be to make it more or less automatic that families could attend their reference area (now attendance area) school if that was was they wanted. Although the district didn't get around to saying it in black and white until relatively late, but it seemed clear to me that in order for it to actually work, that would mean that attendance area kids would get a place in line ahead of siblings from outside the attendance area.

Deidre F. said...

Amsiegal not everyone wants the same thing.

My preference is a neighborhood school model, and not because I live in the NE, and not because I live near a "good" school, but because I believe that neighborhood schools create community.

I want my kids to walk, ride their bike, or skateboard to school with a group of friends, instead of sitting on a bus for two hours a day.

I want to volunteer, attend meetings, garden, at a school in my neighborhood.

I want to know my childrens friends and their parents - maybe they live next door, or they played on the neighborhood Little League team together, or went to elementary together. I want to bump into their parents at the grocery store, or at the gym, and catch up.

I want my kids to walk to their friends house (as opposed to me driving them) for a play date, or to "hang out" as they call it these days.

I want to be part of a Community and a neighborhood.

I know that is not for everyone, and some would trade that because they don't like their neighborhood schools, or they want to go to an alternative school, or APP, or a special program (CTE, IB, band). That's fine. I totally understand and support that.

But please know that an overwhelming majority of parents in this district said that they WANT predictability and they WANT neighborhood schools. And it was certainly not only NE families, it was district wide.

Elizabeth said...

on 6/10/09 at 12:51 PM amsiegel said


What I reject is the idea that some parents have a moral entitlement to claim those seats for their kids WITHOUT taking into account the interests of everybody else's kids.


...

to which on 6/10/09 at 1:18 PM Roy Smith said


So I can only claim the seats at the school 1/4 mile from me for my children after I have taken into account the the interests of everybody else's kids?


...

Yo! Folks!

Can we please refrain from framing this as a black-and-white, all-or-nothing, one-extreme-or-the-other issue?
Surely we all understand that this is a complex optimization problem whose solution must balance the needs and desires of the community at large and the various individual players in order to get any traction.

amsiegel said...

Roy--

I'm not sure if you are being intentionally difficult or what, but most school districts in the country are not urban. Non-urban districts use primarily geographic assignment because they are small, have relatively homogenous populations (or at least populations whose diversity is spread throughout the district), and have schools that are fairly distant from each other.

Urban school districts have different dynamics and different problems. We are big enough to offer lots of different school options and compact enough to offer multiple buildings within easy reach of each other. More importantly, in Seattle, like in many other cities, assigning students primarily or exclusively by home address creates immediate problems of resource disparity, racial and economic segregation, etc. Many urban districts (not just Seattle) have complicated school assignment plans to deal with these problems. And many more did until the same wave of exhaustion and cynicism infected them that are right now attacking Seattle.

amsiegel said...

And, by the way, I agree completely with the recent post by Elizabeth: This is a complex optimization problem, nothing more, nothing less. We all need to work together as a community to come up with a solution that works for as many kids as possible. My only concern is that we make sure that all the kids in the district are taken into account in this calculus, not just those with loud or privileged parents.

TechyMom said...

"But please know that an overwhelming majority of parents in this district said that they WANT predictability and they WANT neighborhood schools. And it was certainly not only NE families, it was district wide."

Deidre F., do you have a source for this?

I've never seen any sort of poll on this question. I know that I hear both opinions (choice is better, neighborhood is better) in about equal numbers among the people I encounter. To be fair, the kids on my block get mandatory assignments to Madrona, and I know a lot of people who are attracted to alternative and private programs for various reasons, so maybe my impressions are skewed. If you have a poll, that would be very interesting indeed.

dj said...

I don't think the question is so much, "all things being equal, do you want a neighborhood school?" (although, Techymom, you are an obvious example of a person who would give a straight-up "no" to that question regardless of what I'm about to say -- you favor for various reasons choice and a variety of programs). I think all things being equal many of us would prefer a school you can walk to to a driving-distance school. The question is, is that the absolute most important thing? Obviously not to everyone. The overwhelming majority of families in my neighborhood would rather send their kids somewhere other than the neighborhood school, and that is true of a lot of areas in the city.

I'd like to walk to school to. But I'd like my kid to have his or her basic academic needs met. I'd like him or her to have recess. I'd like him or her to be able to check out books from the school library and in general not be treated like a pint-sized suspect. When I had the choice of my neighborhood school -- which had, believe me, plenty of room -- or sending my kid somewhere that required a car or a bus, it was an easy decision.

For many of us -- including all of those people south of the shipping canal littering the Northeastern schools -- neighborhood school is less important than a school that meets our kids' basic needs.

Can we get everyone to sign on to improving the neighborhood schools that people flee from? Everyone? Because I will tell you what is wearing on me -- the idea that we know these schools exist, and for the additional kids that are about to get dumped into them, as well as for the kids who are already there -- well, hey, maybe if you scream loud enough about it, the district will listen somewhere down the road. Can't we agree that it's a problem and commit to fixing it on the front end?

Roy Smith said...

Amsiegel, I am not being intentionally difficult. There are a number of other large urban districts in this state: Spokane, Tacoma, Kent, Lake Washington, Vancouver, Federal Way, Puyallup, and Edmonds all serve 20,000 or more students each, and all have challenges like those of Seattle: diverse populations, unequal distribution of diversity and resources, many schools located in relatively close proximity, etc.

I also did a quick bit of research, and discovered that New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, all have reference area schools that a student has the option to attend based purely on geography. Yes, those districts have complex choice plans, but the important point is that a family can always opt not to participate in the choice plan and attend a default reference area school.

I am all for choice and option schools and for taking advantage of the fact that Seattle is a large urban district that has the capability to meet the needs of a diverse population; I just think that choice and options are something we should have in addition to neighborhood schools, not instead of neighborhood schools. NYC, Chicago, and LA manage to do choice in addition to neighborhood schools, as do other districts in Washington; why can't Seattle?

Melissa Westbrook said...

TechyMom, e-mail a Board member about predicability (probably De Bell, Chow or Bass, given they've been there the longest). Ask Tracy Libros or Holly Ferguson (both long-time staff). There wasn't never a "poll" taken but years of meetings and testimony about predictability.

Ask us why, in the end, the district went to court over the racial tiebreaker. In the end, it was about QA/Magnolia parents being frustrated over predictability.

I'm sorry if you weren't here for it but Charlie was, I was, and that's what the district is acting on.

Central Mom said...

I still think we could do more advocacy around "sister" schools. Gee, if Mercer Island can ship a bunch of money over to Bailey Gatzert, then surely we can come up with a plan to invest a small portion of our valuable time and/or money on District schools that need help. One hour a month. $50 a year. If every passionate blogger here kicked in a little something...and then recruited a friend to do the same...imagine the powerful results we could achieve. This should be in conjunction with a rollback of bussing and a return to neighborhood schools. So that the North/South inequities are a little less magnified on our own, individual watches. And so that we're doing a little less conversing and a little more "doing".

For a variety of reasons, the District, the Alliance and school PTAs aren't the places to look for organizational help.

What if this blog came together, picked a school, and had an "adopt a school" theme for one year? That would give something wonderful to kids, make this blog just "that much more" powerful...and earn some valuable media exposure (hey district...yes, the parents are your partners) all at the same time.

Roy Smith said...

I think volunteer time in classrooms for the adopted school(s) would be much, much more valuable than any money that might be provided.

TechyMom said...

The trouble is, that most people who are happy with the status quo (like me) don't go testify at board meetings about it. If there was never a poll done, then I don't think we can say what the majority wants. Maybe we should have a referendum instead of a board vote? (yes, I realize that's unrealistic)

Queen Anne High shouldn't have been closed. That doesn't mean that school choice is a bad idea. The two have very little to do with each other.

ps said...

Central Mom -

I agree some schools, like Concord in South Park could use sister school relationships and more resources. However...

Madrona, where we (and all of our neighbors in and out of McGilvra's reference area) have been mandatorily placed in the past and will likely get dumped into under the new plan without sibling preference, does not want our money or our volunteer time. It is not all about resources. It is about leadership and listening. None of which have happened at Madrona.

Capacity - Madrona has so much capacity that they are able to enroll a large percentage of students from out of district (Renton, Tukwila, etc.) and still have a lot space. The district has allowed the principal to prioriotize the needs of out of district students over the neighborhood students.

How do you get this to change?

Carolyn said...

I loved Central Mom's sister-school idea, and thought about suggesting this at our PTA until I read ps's comment. I am at a school that benefits from high parental involvement, and have been surprised when I talk with friends who have teacher's tell them "no thanks", the don't want volunteers. What do you do about that?

Also agree about the way the district gather's data, by listening to those who show up, has surely given them a biased view of the opinions among SPS parents. A mail or phone survey would give the district a fairer picture, if that's what they want. Instead, they may just be interested in quieting the "complainers".

Robert said...

I would say the only choice now for a family not in the shadow of their reference school is how they prioritize their schools for kindergarten... A decision i might add that is based without knowing how many kindergarten classes there will be, how many siblings truly would be coming in next year and how many families fudge their address to game the system. After submitting three different iterations to the enrollment office... We ended up with six schools selected and we got our third "choice."

I feel at least next year you will really have a choice; Between your neighborhood school or another school.

rugles said...

I feel at least next year you will really have a choice; Between your neighborhood school or another school..

If your nearby neighborhood school is not so hot, the burning desire for certainty and a guaranteed assignment tends to be greatly diminished.

The choice next year between the nearby school I refuse to send my kids to and another school is not really a choice to me.

momster said...

rugles - what is the nearby school you refuse to send your children to? or are you speaking hypothetically?

anonymous said...

All the Madrona tears. And what is the district "doing" about it?

Have you ever talked to Carla Santorno about it? I have. (Or anybody else who might want to "change" it to "meet your needs". I've also spoken to other district officials. She thinks the principal there is absolutely fabulous, and has already turned the place around. She thinks the school is well serving a population that has gotten very little for a very long time. The fact that others don't like the students there (or the commitment to them) isn't so interesting. And that is the complete truth. The district LOVES the Madrona program and principal.

Robert said...

Rugles said... "If your nearby neighborhood school is not so hot, the burning desire for certainty and a guaranteed assignment tends to be greatly diminished."

Under the old plan if you weren't happy with your referrence school then you wouldn't really have any choice. It's mostly chance that you will like the scraps the district leaves for your family. For us we liked our current local school but unless we worked the system we couldn't get into it most years.

What happened so that so many parents don't want their kids to go to schools with their neighbors' kids? And yeah I heard how montlake and micgilvra are so different. Are you expecting too much from your kids k-5 experience? We have had at least one really bad teacher but you know the beat goes on and the kids learn at home. And that was at a good school with a lot of financial and time support from parents.

I think ever school should be aproached as if it could be a good school... I also think that is probably most likely to happen if some group of folks take ownership of the school. Who better than those folks who live across the street?

Robert said...

Rugles said... "If your nearby neighborhood school is not so hot, the burning desire for certainty and a guaranteed assignment tends to be greatly diminished."

Under the old plan if you weren't happy with your referrence school then you wouldn't really have any choice. It's mostly chance that you will like the scraps the district leaves for your family. For us we liked our current local school but unless we worked the system we couldn't get into it most years.

What happened so that so many parents don't want their kids to go to schools with their neighbors' kids? And yeah I heard how montlake and micgilvra are so different. Are you expecting too much from your kids k-5 experience? We have had at least one really bad teacher but you know the beat goes on and the kids learn at home. And that was at a good school with a lot of financial and time support from parents.

I think ever school should be aproached as if it could be a good school... I also think that is probably most likely to happen if some group of folks take ownership of the school. Who better than those folks who live across the street?

Robert said...

oh and the quickest way to make every school a good school... is to slice the central staff by 1/3 and add more teachers. 26+ / 1 ratios just don't make sense anywhere but especially in schools that are 80% FRL.

rugles said...

Momster-Hypothetical but Madrona

Anon-Totally agree. The District LOVES Madrona.

Robert-What happened so that so many parents don't want their kids to go to schools with their neighbors' kids?.

Its not that I don't want my kids to go to school with the neighbors kids. I just don't want to pay the tuition at St Joe's and they didn't get into to Stevens.

My kids go to Montlake, a school the District doesn't LOVE. I wasn't looking for amazing from it, and its not. Kids seem to like it anyway.

Robert said...

rugles... I now think we are saying the same thing: Today its a crapshoot for most families... In the future at least you know you have at least one school to go to that has if nothing else the benefit of proximity. And yeah it will be tough for families already in a favored school that isn't likely going to be their reference school for siblings but not nearly as tough as those dealing with being yanked from a closed program.

rugles said...

Today its a crapshoot for most families... In the future at least you know you have at least one school to go to that has if nothing else the benefit of proximity. And yeah it will be tough for families already in a favored school that isn't likely going to be their reference school for siblings but not nearly as tough as those dealing with being yanked from a closed program.

1. Today is not a crapshoot for most families. If your nearby school is crappy, you are guaranteed a spot in it today. If you are near a good school you will get in, if you already have a sibling in a good school you will get in. I believe that covers at least 50.001 per cent of the population.

2. The guarantee of a nearby school you don't want to send your kids to is no benefit at all. Nobody is crying out for that.

3. If people are pushing for certainty (I haven't seen much evidence of this) it's because they are fairly certain to benefit from it.

Robert said...

I think its just you and I now rugles so I think we can skip the excerpts.

On your first point it really depends on how close you are. We are .6 mi away from our reference school and didn't get in. "So how close is close enough?" IS the crap-shoot. Now as a Stevens reference zone parent you know that the circle ebbs and flows with the siblings from the bubble class every 6 years. Some years there may be so few seats that the majority of the families in the reference zone can't get in and are left with very few options... Many choose private.

And yeah you are right the only safe option now is sibling priority.. Which would only be an issue next year verses this if the student isn't in the reference school... which i believe would be a fraction of a fraction of all incoming k students. So I find it quite evident that things will be much less stressful with the new plan for MOST of the incoming K students.

I think it really is a shame that there are such disparate schools in the district. I would think one stop to that would be to allow more "ownership" by the neighborhood and I think this plan would foster that change.

rugles said...

Robert-

Actually Madrona reference area, neighbor kids go to Stevens via the Sibling Preference that supposedly does not exist.

I too think school disparity is a shame.But I don't think choice or no choice has much to do with it. Magnolia/QA has no HS, Rainier Beach has 50 kids in its freshman class, the NE has only one middle school, Madrona has selected a "program" that leaves it half empty, etc etc.

And as Anon has pointed out, the District likes the Madrona program and is not interested in neighborhood ownership anyway.






And as Anon has pointed out, the District is not interested in neighborhood ownership of my reference area school, Madrona. They are happy with the disparity there.

rugles said...

Robert-

Actually Madrona reference area, neighbor kids go to Stevens via the Sibling Preference that supposedly does not exist.

I too think school disparity is a shame.But I don't think choice or no choice has much to do with it. Magnolia/QA has no HS, Rainier Beach has 50 kids in its freshman class, the NE has only one middle school, Madrona has selected a "program" that leaves it half empty, etc etc.

And as Anon has pointed out, the District likes the Madrona program and is not interested in neighborhood ownership anyway.

Deidre F. said...

"Today is not a crapshoot for most families. If your nearby school is crappy, you are guaranteed a spot in it today. If you are near a good school you will get in"

Absolutely not so Rugles. Ask the families that live in the Bryant reference area who didn't get into Bryant, and are to far out of any other schools reference area to get into them too. Ask them how fun it is to be bused an hour away from home.

And how about the family that spoke out at the JA meeting last week that lives 1/4 mile from Wedgewood. Their 1st grader didn't get in, even though they already have an older sib at Wedgewood in 3rd grade.

And then there is my family. We live 1.4 miles from the only comprehensive middle school north of the ship canal, and East of I-5, Eckstein. And we didn't get in. We got assigned to Jane Addams only to find out a week after we received our assignment letter that the school was in threat of being dismantled. We will probably wind up in Shoreline.

How's that for a crapshoot?

anonymous said...

Look, the district LIKES Madrona, and considers it successful. SPS allows it to stay the way it is... because so far, it's been OK for people to just choose something else. You don't like it? Go somewhere else.... they'll even assign you away under NCLB.

It's pretty clear that there's going to be way less choice moving forward. How is it clear?

1) The plan is to fill every building to capacity. Full to the brim. Having no extra space, anywhere, is the goal. If there's no extra space, you won't get into any school except your attendance area school.

2) They're changing sibling priority so that even if, by chance, you do get 1 kid into somewhere good... your second and/or third child won't follow. So sad. That's the design. If you did opt for your "good choice", you'll be stuck with different start times, bus schedules... and a big hassle, possibly for years. So, might as well bite the bullet.

The bottom line is vastly reduced choice, and people WILL get forced into the Madrona's of the world. When lots of neighborhood kids (in all their shapes and colors) are assigned to Madrona... Madrona WILL change. No doubt, current principal (Andersson???) will be promoted, probably to a middle school, with a nice big fat raise... like MGJ's.

And as to private schools, those will be full too. So what? There's not enough of them to take everyone.

rugles said...

Deidre-

OK. I was just responding to the word most, as in anything greater that 50 per cent, such as 50.001 per cent. I stand by that. It is a crapshoot for a lot of families.

Anon-

Agree with your assessment, as opposed to the optimistic view that this will provide certainty and the same degree of choice.

Charlie Mas said...

Just a small correction -

The freshman class at Rainier Beach is not 50.

As of the October 1, 2008 count,

Grade 9: 128
Grade 10: 93
Grade 11: 110
Grade 12: 122
--------------
Total: 453

While it is true that during open enrollment, only 17 incoming 9th grade students named Rainier Beach as their first choice for assignment and it is true that only 31 incoming 9th grade students were assigned to the school, the actual enrollment by the time of the October count is sure to be much higher. A number of students will be added to the school during the coming months. Last year, for example, 20 incoming 9th grade students named the school as their first choice for assignment and, like this year, only 31 were assigned there during open enrollment, but, as reported above, 128 were enrolled in October.

Now, I don't know how many of those 128 9th graders had been 9th graders the previous year as well. There is no data on how many 9th grade students earned 5 credits and were advanced to the 10th grade. That is, however, one of the data points that the District is likely to track on the new School Scoresheet that's coming out of the Performance Management Project.

TechyMom said...

The district LOVES Madrona.
The district wants standardized, neighborhood schools.

They can't have both. I guess the question is, which will they pick?

If they decide to keep the current program at Madrona, it will stay half empty, there will be room for kids form out of the neighborhood, and kids in the neighborhood will continue to go to the neighborhood schools: St Therese and Epiphany. May as well make it an option school. It will be in all but name anyway.