It was done as a footnote to the Student Assignment Plan and got almost no discussion from the Board, but the Program Placement decisions for the coming school year have been made.
The process for Program Placement decisions was just as opaque and mysterious this year as it has been in previous years. The rationale for decisions were just as flimsy or non-existant as they have been in previous years as well.
I just wanted to take a bit of space to review and discuss both the decisions and the given rationale. It seems appropriate at a time when a King County Superior Court judge is trying to determine if the School Board makes decisions capriciously.
1. The superintendent decided to place a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights. Since this decision is concurrent with the closure of the Spectrum program at West Seattle Elementary (and the creation of an ALO there), it constitutes the relocation of the elementary Spectrum program for the Denny Service Area from West Seattle to Arbor Heights. The rationale provided was: "Locating the Spectrum program at Arbor Heights is consistent with the implementation of the New Student Assignment Plan." That doesn't really explain much, does it? This decision is even more difficult to understand when you remember that the District rejected THE EXACT SAME PROPOSAL last year. Last year it was such a bad idea that it did not even merit discussion; this year it is such a good idea that it is the only proposal from a member of the public that was accepted. What changed? Nothing. Both the decision to reject the proposal last year and the decision to accept it this year appear capricious. The real difference? Director Sundquist wanted the change so it happened. Also, the failure to consider this proposal last year and the weak rationale given for its rejection was a black eye against the process.
2. The superintendent rejected a proposal to place the Spectrum program for the Mercer Service Area at Kimball. Instead, a new program will be located at Hawthorne. The rationale given was "Locating the Spectrum program at Kimball is not consistent with the goal of locating services closest to where students live." So we're to understand that Hawthorne is closer to where the Spectrum students in the Mercer Service Area live than Kimball is. Here is a map of the Mercer Service Area. Kimball is clearly more central to the service area than Hawthorne. The schools are of comparable size (Hawthorne functional capacity 428, Kimball functional capacity 466). I don't have data on how many Spectrum students live within the attendance area of each school, but the decision is for students throughout the service area. A more likely rationale for this decision was that Hawthorne has significantly lower enrollment (284 at Hawthorne vs. 486 at Kimball) and significantly poorer WASL pass rates. This was a move to bolster both the attendance and the test scores at Hawthorne, the only elementary school in the Mercer Service Area that isn't showing strong improvement. WASL pass rates at Hawthorne are unquestionably the worst in the whole district.
2009 WASL Pass Rates, Hawthorne vs. District averages
3rd Grade Math, Hawthorne: 23.7% - Lowest in the District
3rd Grade Math, District Average: 71.6%
3rd Grade Reading, Hawthorne: 18.4% - Lowest in the District (by far)
3rd Grade Reading, District Average: 75.0%
4th Grade Math, Hawthorne: 12.5% - Second lowest in the District
4th Grade Math, District Average: 60.6%
4th Grade Reading, Hawthorne: 21.9% - Lowest in the District
4th Grade Reading, District Average: 75.0%
4th Grade Writing, Hawthorne: 9.4% - Lowest in the District (by far)
4th Grade Writing, District Average: 70.0%
5th Grade Math, Hawthorne: 23.1% - Lowest in the District (by far)
5th Grade Math, District Average: 68.8%
5th Grade Reading, Hawthorne: 30.8% - Lowest in the District
5th Grade Reading, District Average: 75.4%
5th Grade Science, Hawthorne: 3.8% - Lowest in the District
5th Grade Science, District Average: 53.3%
Given the record of academic achievement at Hawthorne, how likely is a family to enroll their Spectrum eligible student there? Where has this worked in the past? The APP Audit specifically recommended that the District place gifted programs in schools with students who are academically similar to the gifted students. This is an incredibly bad program placement. It is most similar to the decision to place a Spectrum program at West Seattle Elementary; a decision that was finally reversed just this year. Did they learn nothing from that experience? This appears to have been a deliberate decision, but one that goes against all stated policy and practice.
3. The superintendent rejected a proposal to place north-end elementary APP at McDonald. The rationale given was "The Board approved pathways for APP are consistent with the New Student Assignment Plan." This rationale essentially presumes that program placement does not have a role in determining the placement of APP, which clearly isn't true. It may be that the current location of north-end elementary APP is consistent with the new Student Assignment Plan, but it is not consistent with the Program Placement Policy and it certainly isn't consistent with the goal of locating services closest to where students live, a reason strong enough to be the rationale for otherwise questionable choices. It's pretty clear that this decision is regarded as made and is not open to discussion. The proposal was not seriously considered. It was capriciously dismissed.
4. The superintendent rejected a proposal to place the Spectrum program for the Washington Service Area at Madrona K-8. Instead, the program at Muir will serve the Washington Service Area. The rationale given was "Locating the Spectrum program at Madrona K-8 is not consistent with the goal of locating services closest to where students live." So we're to understand that Muir is closer to where the Spectrum students in the Washington Service Area live than Madrona is. Here is a map of the Washington Service Area. Madrona is clearly more central to the service area than Muir. In fact, any other school is more central to the service area than Muir. Madrona also has the extra advantage of being able to provide additional Spectrum capacity for grades 6-8 if the program at Washington reaches capacity - which it does every year. Middle school Spectrum students in the Washington service area put on the waitlist for Washington do not have access to another Spectrum program. Students on the Whitman and Eckstein waitlists for Spectrum can enroll at Broadview-Thomson or Jane Addams for Spectrum 6-8. Washington students have no comparable option. Additionally, the presence of a Spectrum program at Madrona might signal the school's willingness to address the academic needs of students working beyond Standards. This decision appears both bad and in violation of the Board's policy guidance.
5. and 6. The superintendent rejected proposals to expanded special education inclusion programs at Salmon Bay and TOPS to grades 6-8. The rationale given was "no expansion of services is recommended" and "there are no recommended changes". These are not rationale. This rationale, if it is to be believed, is the very essence of caprice. The superintendent says that she isn't going to do it because she isn't going to do it.
7. and 8. The superintendent rejected proposals to create international schools at McDonald and Sand Point. The rationale given was "This does not support the expansion plan for International Schools." This is an interesting rationale. You might wonder "What plan for International Schools?" The plan for the expansion of International Schools was released on the same day as these program placement decisions. An examination of the plan for International Schools does not reveal any rationale for the timing, location, or number of these schools. They are completely lacking any supporting data or logic. To use this capricious plan - which was heretofore secret - as the rationale for rejecting these proposals is artificial and without merit. Here's the funny thing. The plan actually DOES call for the identification of an international school in the north-end in the coming year. No school is identified.
9. The superintendent rejected a proposal to create a Montessori program at Roxhill. The rationale given was "There is no plan to extend Montessori programs to additional attendance area schools." Ummm... yeah, that's why a member of the public had to propose it. Make a plan. Actually, this rationale appears to signal the District's intention to discontinue the practice of installing Montessori programs as a part of a school (such as it appears at Graham Hill and Bagley) and instead create only entire Montessori schools, such as Queen Anne Elementary. Even so, there is no alternative school in the Denny Service Area, so the proposal could have been adapted to extend to the whole school and make it an Option school using Montessori pedagogy. That idea would also have been rejected (see below). This decision was based on another decision which was not made public and which does not have any data or logic to support it. It is in opposition to Board policy directing the equitable distribution of programs.
10. The superintendent rejected a proposal to create an alternative program at McDonald. The rationale given was "There is no plan to extend alternative curriculum to Attendance Area schools." Once again, the absence of a plan is not a reason to reject a proposal. There is no alternative school in the Hamilton Service Area. This decision was based on another decision which was not made public and which does not have any data or logic to support it. It is in opposition to Board policy directing the equitable distribution of programs.