Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Steve Sundquist Weighs In

Thanks to reader Yumpears who linked us to the update from Steve Sundquist's last meeting before the vote tonight at the West Seattle Blog.

Steve said he was not "inclined" to change the boundaries except for one (far south end of California SW) and that there would be an amendment for that. (It's still not on the website but they can introduce them without them actually being on the agenda. At least that is what has happened in the past.)

He said some pretty interesting things about high schools. He was trying to make people feel better about their assigned high school saying that many kids from areas all over West Seattle/SW go to either high school. Here are the stats from the article:

1,000 students - 550 from its “drawing area,” 200 from northern West Seattle

More than half its 1100 students come from southern West Seattle (574)

Most from its “drawing area,” 136 from north West Seattle

Even split - 449 from north West Seattle, 423 from south

Here's what he said and pay attention because if this is what he thinks for WS/SW, well, it might be for other areas as well. (Note, bold mine.)

"For starters, he says, given the potential underenrollment at some West Seattle schools, he sees the potential to propose that the high schools set aside 20 percent of their seats for choice, rather than the 10 percent stipulated citywide in the assignment plan.

Second, Sundquist said, he’s also interested in grandfathering current middle-schoolers who are now at schools outside their new attendance areas, not just to be able to stay at those middle schools till they’re done there, but also to be able to follow the new tracks into high school - in other words, if a current Denny student’s home is going to be in the newly drawn Madison area, for that student not only to get to stay at Denny through 8th grade (which is already part of the plan), but also to be able to continue on to Chief Sealth High School.

Then he voiced a suggestion that had several people all but jump out of their chairs with excitement (and a smattering of applause): “I am also currently exploring - though I need help from staff, with possible legal implications, possible dual feeders for the middle three schools - Gatewood Elementary, West Seattle Elementary, Sanislo - to enable those parents to choose to take their kids either north (on the Madison/West Seattle HS track) or south (Denny/Chief Sealth). This would enable us to deal with the kind of imbalance I don’t think we could deal with on a map - and it’s getting to be a little eleventh-hour for major map changes.”

One rule change he said he’s not leaning toward is some kind of “distance tiebreaker” .

"...he said, an “additional high-rigor high-school option” for Southeast Seattle is under consideration."

Yes, I know. Very interesting. The problem is that he is viewing it from WS/SW. I can't see this working all over the city. WS/SW has a very individual situation because they are more isolated. I wish I had time to look up all the numbers for the high schools there because I suspect there aren't that many out of WS/SW students there simply because it is harder to get to.

I can't see the other directors signing on for the 20% open choice seats. Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield areas would be very unhappy. I think it would take a lot of convincing of other directors.

Grandfathering middle schoolers? Again, a very individual situation because I would bet most middle school kids in that region probably go to either West Seattle High or Chief Sealth. I could see doing this for WS/SW but I also could see how the rest of the district saying, what about us? Ditto on the elementary/middle/high school feeder pattern. It makes sense for that region but is it what an overall SAP should do?

Additional rigor? Chief Sealth has an IB program already so maybe he means more honors/AP courses at West Seattle?


Keepin'On said...

I think he is blowing smoke about High School Assignment. It simply will not work to have 20% open choice seats at high schools like Ballard and Roosevelt without a dramatic re-drawing of the maps for next year. In the report on WSB, he says no more map adjustments will be made. So that one is a non-starter, I think, just be the fact of lack of capacity in the north.

So, why the suggestion? So he can say. "look I tried, but my hands are tied?"

zb said...

Didn't he mean for "West Seattle" high schools to set aside 20% open choice seats? I think there's something of an argument for having schools that have special programs (mostly IB right now) to have extra open choice seats. So, Sealth & Ingraham could have extra open choice seats; Cleveland is already an option school. Roosevelt, Ballard, and Garfield might be desirable, but they have no official special programs.

Would Ingraham have the extra room?

SE Mom said...

The following was updated today in the FAQ section of SAP webpages under "choice":

"What amount of movement among area high schools will the New Student Assignment Plan allow?

The plan supports movement among attendance area high schools through the availability of Open Choice seats. For more information about these seats, please click here. It is important to note, however, that the availability of seats at given attendance area high school may be greater than 10% of its functional capacity.

This increase in available seats may take place for one of two reasons. First, students who live in a school's attendance area may choose to attend another attendance area school or an option school, freeing up seats for other students to access.

Second, the current middle school and upper elementary school groups are the smallest in the District. As a result of this facet of the District’s current demographics, we anticipate an overall drop in the number of high school students District-wide for several years, before larger groups of younger elementary grades start moving through the system. In this case, many high schools will be under capacity for five to seven years making additional seats available."

Not sure which came first, the chicken (district staff) or the egg (Sundquist).

me on 28th Ave SW said...

West Seattle is funny. Really, this is the first time I can ever remember my neighborhood schools Denny and Sealth ever being considered anything but 2nd choice (first loser?) over here on the peninsula. For years Madison and West Seattle were first choice, probably due to the strong family ties to those older schools. Then both schools were extensively (expensively) remodeled which upped their popularity once more. Consequently I am amused that there is such a passionate fight to get into Denny/Sealth; amused but pleased.
That said, it is not as if the parents of West Seattle have been pleased with either of these high school choices in recent years. Both of my children are currently in High School (one at Sealth, one at West Seattle) and an interesting thing happened to both of their classes once 8th grade started at Madison MS; parents nearly universally started freaking out about where their child should attend high school. I would say that at least HALF of the "achievers" that my children attended school with either left West Seattle (Garfield, Ballard), went to private (multiple different schools) or left the district entirely (link to article about the nearly 100 West Seattle teens attending Vashon Island Public Schools.)
Now, the interesting thing about these kids that left is that their parents were INVOLVED at the schools. These are the parents, the district would want to keep, right?
I really hope this all works out in a way where more parents don't flee SPSD schools in West Seattle. It feels like there is a good momentum happening and I would love to see where it takes us. I could not have said this even last year. I am, daresay, hopeful?

adhoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adhoc said...

SE mom said "Second, the current middle school and upper elementary school groups are the smallest in the District. As a result of this facet of the District’s current demographics, we anticipate an overall drop in the number of high school students District-wide for several years, before larger groups of younger elementary grades start moving through the system. In this case, many high schools will be under capacity for five to seven years making additional seats available."

I find it hard to believe that middle school groups are the smallest in the district. When we found out our son was assigned to JA, we called the enrollment office to find out what other schools were availabel. EVERY comprehensive MS north of the ship canal was full! Every one of them! Not only were they full, all three had waitlists. Eckstein had 160+ kide waitlist, and Hamilton had an unprecdidented 70+ kid waitlist.

The regular 6th grade waitlists never moved at Eckstein or Whitman. Not even one kid on either of these schools waitlists got. Not sure if Hamilton moved their waitlist??

If MS is the smallest group in the district, I am truly scared...

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reader said...

Yeah but... what does full mean? It means we hired X teachers for the Y kids we assigned to that building. And X/Y is the teacher's union max.

District: "Oh. You're new? You wanted a middle school seat where? Sorry, we're at capacity... X/Y is the district's maximum. There's only 1 place, Aki Kurose, that has X/Y - 1 seats. So sorry. Guess that's the only place that has room."

Charlie Mas said...

me on 28th Ave SW has it right. If you're not from West Seattle, a lot of things about that place may surprise you.

I know it may seem counter-intuitive, because the north-end of West Seattle is more affluent, but Sealth offers more academic challenge than West Seattle. Yes, it has the IB, but some people thought it was true even before that.

People from West Seattle strongly prefer to stay in West Seattle. But there are some things that you just can't get there. Challenging academics in middle and high school has been one of those things. Particularly for folks who don't feel that the Denny and Sealth are safe places.

Also, it may surprise folks to know that there are a number of students from Southeast Seattle at Sealth. It's an academically challenging school that they can get into and it isn't nearly as far from home as Ingraham or Hale.

Assign all HS by Lottery said...

re: "Additional rigor? Chief Sealth has an IB program already so maybe he means more honors/AP courses at West Seattle?"

look again, his statement about rigor refers to SE seattle not west seattle

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Charlie is correct. I know a number of families from the northern end of West Seattle who chose Sealth and I also know a number of families here in the southend who also chose Sealth—despite the onerous task of getting there from here (no ideal X-town buses).

me on 28th Ave SW said...

Sealth absolutely has many students from SE Seattle.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Assign, you're right. My brain knew I was writing about SW/WS and went there despite it being about SE. I'm still confused, though, because they haven't even gotten the STEM program off the ground.

Seattle Parent said...

That's great to offer 20% option seats for popular programs/schools like Sealth, but it definitely works against the less desirable schools!

Yes, I'd like my kid to get into that 10% choice seat, but so would everyone else, and those that don't make it are stuck. The district has to make improvements to the school programs for next school year, and not just say "we're already too short on time".

Case in point- Madison is supposed to have a Spectrum program (proper stand-alone like the other school have) according to the SAP, but hearing from both the Madison administration & now from Steve Sundquist that it maybe won't happen for next year is NOT acceptable (especially if Denny is full next year for incoming 6th graders).

Seattle Parent said...

No, the WS Blog is right--Steve Sundquist was saying at the meeting that he wanted to put more rigorous options in one of the other SE schools (he mentioned another IB program "like Sealth has" or more AP classes), presumably referring to either RBHS or Franlkin. Steve said that would then relieve some of the pressure on Sealth being too full (because up to 250 kids are at Sealth currently from the S & SE).

This presumably would clear some seats (in addition to his proposal for a 20% choice option) for kids in the northend/WSHS assignment area to be able to still get seats in Sealth. Yes, that's "great" for the IB's support and for those who can get into Sealth, but it sure is counter-productive for the less popular schools when some kids will be stuck in their default school, without stand-alone honors classes for 9th graders, with the least offerings of AP/IB classes in the city, especially relative to their size.

Central Mom said...

I went to that mtg. I hadn't seen SS in a small group setting before, and I was more impressed than I had been w/ him previously, primarily because he had reams of notes and West Seattle demographics at his fingertips, the most important well displayed on a board for all to follow along, and a whole lot of info in his head that he'd clearly digested and used to form his opinions. He gave both data and knowledge of the neighborhood as reasons for his opinions.

Agree or not agree with his conclusions, but if every board member was that knowledgeable about the area they represent, the city would be better off.

Central Mom said...

Pt. 2..Interesting things SS said that resonated w/ me.

1) District demographic data is cruddy. So is the city's. No blame here, it's just very hard to get a feel for predictions on children coming into the district for a picture 5 years out. He *encourages* families who see significant changes to neighborhoods, such as family-friendly multi-family homes, to contact their board member, cc: district staff and cc: seattle city council. He says he is pushing to have this on-the-ground-data aligned between city and District and used to inform capacity and building issues going forward. Good for him.

2) He pretty much said that because demographic data is not great, we as a community have to be prepared for boundary shifts before 2015 in some areas. I agree it's going to happen. Better to hear and digest this news now than to be surprised by the district later.

3) He described the general rules of the SAP, with boundaries, feeder K-5-to-middle-school, etc. as being to "coarse" or "high level" to address some specific West Seattle community concerns, caused by both geography and enrollment patterns. He is clearly intending on using rules within the umbrella of "transition period" to help address these concerns. I think that's OK. He's trying to support both the big picture and his community. The takeaway for parents everywhere is that we really have to be addressing board and staff in coming weeks about the transition plan. A lot of "surprises" may be arriving at the very moment that folks think this topic is done. It's not. If you care, stay involved. If you don't stay involved, be prepared to be blindsided.

4) He acknowledged that the program support promised to communities impacted by school closures has been sub-par. He flat out said it. He agreed that the SAP has taken the focus off of those committments. He encouraged parents to keep pushing District staff, himself and other board members to keep it on the front burner. Now, fellow parents may be frustrated that they have to push at all, but again, I was pretty pleased by his candor.

5) He made a somewhat awkward tie-in statement from a different topic to needing to support the 2 upcoming levies, pointing out that State funding is going to be even worse than last year. Clearly he's heard rumblings from parents about possible non-support.

TechyMom said...

An IB program at Franklin or RBHS would be FABULOUS. I particularly like IB because it has to follow rigorous international standards, and there are actual consequences for not doing so (like losing IB accredidation). It's safer from district meddling and watering down than other specialty programs are. It also has strong cultural courses including languages, classics, Euro history (it's based on the French school system) and arts.

As to which location... It depends on the priorities for placement. Franklin is a very good location for a wide-area draw, with a Sound Transit station across the street, I-90 entrances nearby, and many busses on MLK and Rainier. On the other hand, this sort of program could be exactly what RBHS needs to attract higher-achieving students who currently do anything and everything to go to any other school. And that is exactly what RBHS needs to turn itself around.

clementine said...

West Seattle High and Madison need to have a much more rigorous curriculum to make themselves as attractive as Sealth and Denny have become. I have a hard time believing they will implement the new student assignment plan when they don't even have a Spectrum program at Madison(the only middle school in Seattle without this program). Spectrum eligible 6th graders will be forced to go there, yet they will loose their Spectrum status. Even if they make an exception and these children can keep their Spectrum status, the AOL program at Madison is not challenging enough. Sadly, this is why many families have decided to send their children to Denny, Washington, Vashon, or private schools. The buildings have been beautifully remodeled, but that doesn't mean anything, when the curriculum is lacking.

Charlie Mas said...

Madison can always do what a number of other schools have done: claim to offer Spectrum but not do anything different from whatever they would have done if they were not designated as a Spectrum site.

Let's say that Madison continues to refuse to offer Spectrum. What is the District going to do about it? Nothing. There's nothing they can do.

Josh Hayes said...

reader sez:

"Yeah but... what does full mean? It means we hired X teachers for the Y kids we assigned to that building. And X/Y is the teacher's union max.

Yes, reader, I agree. This produces what I call, in a tip to evolutionary biology, "G-J's Ratchet": school's enrollment falls below some level, and so a teacher has to go. Now classrooms have kids swinging from the rafters, and anyone who might want to transfer INTO said school is told there's a wait-list. The loss of a teacher ratchets down the capacity of the school so that interested parents are shut out.

We lost a teacher at AS1 earlier this year, and now my son's middle school classroom runs at about 32 kids. Push-pull, click-click. It's the boa constrictor model of capacity management.