Thank you to all the West Seattle (and other) people who have joined the dialogue about short term solutions for overcrowding in our elementary schools.
Decision to move forward with the STEM option proposal
Friday I made the decision not to go forward with my amendment to the current proposal: Thus, the Seattle School Board will vote next Wednesday, January 18th, on whether to open an elementary STEM option program at the Boren site, and in addition to add portables as needed in the Denny and Madison service areas for the 2012-13 school year.
Because many of you felt that there had not been adequate community discussion about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program recommendation, I had prepared an amendment which would have delayed placing a STEM program at Boren for a year, until 2013-14. I invited interested people to comment on this blog about their vision for West Seattle schools and the STEM option, and also invited people to attend one of three meetings (the final meeting of this series takes place this morning at 11 AM at the Delridge Library). However, after listening carefully, discussing the various angles, and looking at all the factors, when the Friday deadline came to post the amendment, I chose not to do it.
Deciding factors — concerns about going forward
As you know, this was a complex and difficult decision. Many West Seattle people have correctly pointed out that placing a STEM program at Boren does not begin to adequately address overcrowding in our elementary schools. It’s clear that we need a comprehensive mid- and long-range master plan for providing more neighborhood schools, and many people believe strongly that it’s premature to commit to a STEM option program before a feeder pattern for the program is determined and before the master plan is in place. However, there is simply not enough time to formulate such a plan before open enrollment begins on February 27th.
I share this concern about hasty action, and despite my enthusiasm for STEM, I had been fully prepared to carry my amendment forward and to ask other Directors to support me in delaying the Boren STEM program. However, on Thursday I learned details that I’d not previously understood about what monies would pay for the program, and what would happen to those monies if we delayed it for a year.
More factors — either/or opportunity
Basically, this is a one-time opportunity; it’s urgent for the district to place a program at Boren in order to maintain the building’s Occupancy status. Otherwise, re-opening the building when needed as an interim site will cost about five times more money. The Capital Budget funds which happen to be available for opening and refurbishing the building include startup costs for the first year of the program. These startup costs are available to whatever program is put in place, for the first year only, and would pay for equipment, books, etc. This creates a perfect opportunity to open a STEM program, which requires a sizable investment in technology. While other programs, such as Interagency, could be placed at Boren, the STEM program is the only one which would give some benefit to West Seattle and yet, as an option program, would not entail boundary commitments which would prematurely shape a master plan
Holding to convictions vs. snatching the opportunity
To create positive change, good planning is essential; in my experience seizing opportunities is another vital ingredient for success. I’ve been urged to stick to my convictions and try to delay STEM at Boren until we have a master plan. However, it’s important to remember that delaying STEM will not hasten this planning. It would certainly be ideal to wait for a comprehensive plan, but if we do, we won’t have those startup funds, and investing in a STEM program at Boren in 2013 from our severely reduced operating monies would be extremely difficult. (The Operating Budget pays for day-to-day school costs; these funds are much more heavily encumbered than the Capital Budget funds available now.)
The opportunity: a model for strengthening math and science across the district?
Our very talented and innovative West Seattle Executive Director, Aurora Lora, has experience in opening a STEM school, and she is confident that we can offer an excellent STEM program in West Seattle in the fall. Visionary educators have expressed great enthusiasm for developing this STEM elementary program; in addition to offering a unique option, it could serve as an incubator and model for strengthening math and science across our West Seattle District. All of our elementary students could benefit greatly.
What about capacity?
In fact, the new program will ease some overcrowding; probably relatively little the first year, but likely a good deal in the second year. In the meantime, basic comprehensive planning will have been completed and by the fall of 2013 we should be moving ahead with opening at least one, and hopefully two, neighborhood schools in an interim site.
Risks of moving forward with STEM?
Many people, including me, are concerned that Seattle School District history will repeat itself; the exciting new program will come, and nothing else — that there may be no progress in addressing the clear needs and desires of the West Seattle community — to address overcrowding and to offer strong math, science, and literacy programs (in addition to PE, arts, and enrichment) in ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS, across the district.
West Seattle Preferences
In the very rich and heartfelt sharing which has happened in the last couple of weeks, over the blog and in our meetings, people have shown widespread agreement about several things: Overcrowding must be addressed, and not only in elementary schools.
We want vibrant neighborhood schools throughout West Seattle.
We want strong math and science programs in all our schools.
Where are we now?
I feel that we’ve accomplished very important community work in this dialogue: We’ve come together from the north, south, east, and west of West Seattle to address problems that are facing our children in their schools — overcrowding and, in many places, our desire for them to have greater success in math and science, for additional basic amenities, and for other enriching options.
As mentioned above, we share a belief that it is essential to have comprehensive planning to address capacity needs in a thoughtful way — a way that also includes program planning, such as decisions on what kind of emphasis new schools will have, choices among other approaches such as Language Immersion, Montessori, etc., and needs of Special Education students, for example. There is a deadline: To prepare for the 2013 Capital Levy proposal, (BEX IV Building Excellence IV — the fourth in a series over the last two decades), the planning must commence soon — in the next months.
Work to be done; Seattle Public Schools leadership and commitment
There are many questions which I will attempt to answer in another post. For now, I want to say that I have also discussed these issues in depth with staff. We are fortunate now to have many remarkably smart and talented cabinet-level district leaders, people of great integrity with a profound commitment to moving all of our schools forward. Along with dedicated staff in each school, I am confident that district leaders are focused on working collaboratively with us in this planning process.
Most of you know full well of the dedication, caring, talent, and energy of our children’s teachers as well as of the extended staff who support them. We continue to owe them all a tremendous debt of gratitude for devoting their lives to our children and their education. Working together with them, as a large community and in smaller, school- and neighborhood-based groups, we must carry the momentum of our neighborhood conversations forward. We can commit ourselves to working together enthusiastically towards stable, supportive, challenging and enriching classrooms for all of our students, in schools filled with the joy of teaching and learning.First, this is one of the longest, most thoughtful explanations to come out of Director in a long time. Credit to Marty for that.
Second, it is clear she has given this a lot of thought and listened to the families in West Seattle.
However this line gives me pause:
The Capital Budget funds which happen to be available for opening and refurbishing the building include startup costs for the first year of the program. These startup costs are available to whatever program is put in place, for the first year only, and would pay for equipment, books, etc.
There are capital funds just sitting around and are available just for reopening a school? I know of no such pot of money. I'll have to find out what funds these are. The district has said there are some funds from going under budget on a couple of BEX III projects; maybe that's where this money comes from. But keep in mind, that any "extra" capital funds that go this now almost-constant reopening of buildings means some other existing building, that needs work on their facility, isn't getting it. And so the maintenance continues to fall behind.
I'm glad that Executive Director Lora believes there can be a healthy STEM program in Boren by fall. I'd like to know what gives her that confidence. STEM is an expensive proposition (if it's a real STEM program).
But it's nice to hear that there are real conversations going about capacity management out in the public arena.
I do think that BEX IV is going to get complicated (and, if my reading of the charter school bill is right, there's even more to complicate this already complicated BEX picture).