I'll try to hit the major points I heard along with quotes (and color commentary).
Just upfront, it was discouraging. It's now 2013 and so many questions - Special Ed, Advanced Learning, K-8s and others - lack clarity and definition. What was troubling is the number of "exceptions" to current policies that are out there.
There was also the issue of the so-called Program Placement Framework? Where is this and should this be guiding the decisions made?
As well, the presentation used excerpted quotes from various policies - Board or Superintendent or WAC - to justify their work. But it seemed somewhat random.
Growth Boundaries link. To find it on your own, go to the district website. Look for "enrollment" under the Schools tab. Halfway down the menu on the right side is the Planning for the future: Growth Boundaries.
This was gone through rather quickly with few questions.
Also gone through quickly but the issue is the vagueness of what was in the presentation. "Design not finalized" and "implementation subject to collective bargaining" make it hard to know what is coming.
It was interesting to hear the discussion around Advanced Learning, mainly because it mostly made no sense. There was a little discussion around why some families, even if they suspect their child may need more rigor, don't test or, they do but then don't access APP or Spectrum, especially in the south end.
Here's a thought - ask. Just as SPS has no idea why people leave Seattle Schools, again, ask.
DeBell pointed out that any talk about splitting APP could be "contentious."
Martin-Morris asked if there was an assumption of self-contained classes in the model and Michael Tolley said yes but they were discussing the model and "anticipated the Taskforce looking at this?"
This "taskforce" comment - along with several others noting this group - prompted me to stop and e-mail the Board and Mr. Tolley and Ms. Heath to explain that there was NO taskforce. The "taskforce" had not finished our work from last year, were asked to stay on this year but NO one contacted us - not once - the entire year. Oh, and not one word of thanks - from anyone in the district - for our months of work.
Director Carr said she had spoken to families at Lincoln and they were "okay" with the notion of splitting the middle school program as long as it was large enough (250-300) to have a cohort. She said - with a straight face - that they fear it will become like Spectrum and vary in quality. Several of the directors concurred with this idea of Spectrum quality and its unevenness from what they had heard from their regions.
Director Carr then followed up - and bless her for it - and said that:
1) there should be a specific set of standards that schools should work to
2) she is puzzled how the oversight of APP seems good but that "Spectrum seems to run itself." She said she sees two programs, one with high quality and one of mixed quality.
Dead silence met her statements.
Ms. Heath was asked about what was happening at Whitman and made it sound like the changes there in Spectrum was minor. No one mentioned how the changes came AFTER open enrollment and is quite different from the way it has been delivered before.
Tracy Libros of Enrollment said there may need to be more option schools because of the unevenness of the distribution of them in the district.
Director DeBell brought up one of his favorite questions - what is the district's thinking about the role of K-8s?
Ms. Libros explained that with the three attendance K-8s, the attendance area part is only for K-5 and that students can choose to stay on or go to the middle school in the region.
DeBell pressed on, asking if if Wilson-Pacific opens (adding middle school capacity), couldn't all K-8s become option schools?
Libros said she didn't think that would work numerically and, as well, because of where they are located.
There was then a discussion around Pinehurst K-8 with DeBell pressing the issue. He asked about a minimum size in order to provide the necessary services (and the costs). Mr. Tolley tried to shrug this off saying they needed to think about it. DeBell said that they had kicked this discussion down the road a lot. I don't think he was happy with this lack of clarity and understanding around K-8s.
Again, an area of much confusion. To note upfront, Ms Heath is new and I think may be struggling to wrap her head around what is here within SPS. This is also a place for leadership to step up and provide that clarity because if the heads of departments don't know what it all means, how will parents?
The issue that Charlie and I both noted was that Ms Heath did not provide an especially clear explanation of foreign language immersion versus dual-language versus international schools. One point that we believe most parents might not know was brought up by Director Carr. Carr asked if you can have international education without immersion. Heath said yes. But then, Heath said that all the students at the international schools are part of the program. That is not the understanding that we have heard before.
Libros explained that if a student is assigned to a foreign language immersion school (because it is their attendance area school), but don't want the program, they can leave but then move to the alternative attendance school. However, this is only true for JSIS and McDonald because their programs are aligned but Concord and Beacon Hill have different populations (and, Concord is so geographically isolated that it will remain an attendance area school).
This led to an interesting discussion - started by Director Carr, quite on her game - about whether JSIS and McDonald might need to go to just one language. She suggested feedback from families especially around keeping Japanese versus some Chinese dialect.
Libros said on the operational side that you get attrition at the upper grades with not enough "heritage" speakers. DeBell weighed in with some historical context, saying that when JSIS was Escuela Latona, it didn't do well. President Smith-Blum pointed out that other regions of the district might have more native speakers which supports this program well (both for the students and the program).
Again, as I have stated in the past, the district gets an idea and runs with it without looking down the road and saying, what happens in year 5, 10, 15 and does not consistently take a pulse of what is working and what isn't. I fear - for the sake of the McDonald community - that they will likely experience more upheaval than they deserve. They are the ones, in this particular case, who are going to feel the brunt of some poor or less-than-well-thought-out programming decisions.
This area was confusing as well as we were told that there are some STEM programs that are school-based (like JA) but others that are district-based (like Boren). Okay but what does that mean?
There was some discussion over portables at Schmitz Park and Smith-Blum asked about eco-portables if the district is going to continue bringing in more of them. Director McLaren also asked about the planning principal for Fairmount Park.
This was a short discussion but it lead Charlie and I to wonder how this is different from language immersion. Smith-Blum wistfully ventured that maybe by 2020, there could be a couple of these in the NW or SW/SE.
They zipped through the last slides of the presentation and one stood out to me. The Cedar Park notation says "attendance area elementary school pending funding (after use as an interim site)."
This is NOT good. To spend close to $10M to reopen a building that hasn't been used in decades just as an interim with NO real plan or commitment to it being a real school is wrong. Just wrong. They need to look around and say if we are going to need an interim building that MAY become an attendance area school which is the better one - Cedar Park or Lake City? The answer is clearly Lake City. $10M is a lot of money considering all the capital needs we have.
In an ironic wrap-up, President Smith-Blum thanked the staff for their work but then asked where the program placement framework was.