Friday, September 27, 2013

HIgh Schools and Growth

A reader with background in planning and with much knowledge/background on the district and facilities offers these thoughts on what may be coming for high schools and growth.  (Gray areas are my thoughts as we go along and the rest is the reader's.)

To understand: coming up fast is the possibility of very overcrowded high schools.  Not 5, 10 years out but probably three years.  But a three-year plan may be all that is possible at this point especially since the needs/growth is very different for each region of the district.

And guess what?  Nearly out of inventory.  Where will everyone go?  Will the district go to shifts (and they have done this in the past)?  Portables? 

The reader's basic thoughts:
  • get this out to the Seattle legislators.  We need help.
  • get high school on the table now.  High schools are high stakes for students and parents.
  • fix the worst of the BEX mistakes.  There were many but all of the stuff they added at the last second is just flawed. 
The SPS staff has done Herculean work while also creating clarity about the potential size of the gap. I am surprised that they managed to make any reasonable boundaries based on how substantial the shortfall actually is. 

 If 100% of BEX projects were live today, there would already be a capacity shortfall in certain regions. I believe this capacity shortfall needs to be day-lighted in the community meetings next week. There is a wide spread belief that relief from over-crowding is coming. However, that is only true for some geographic regions. Other regions are going to continue to get more crowded.   (And Lincoln and Boren - the go-to interim sites - are now housing permanent programs.)

The "blind spot" that I am talking about is that there are certain neighborhoods that persistently receive a disproportionate share of enrollment instability. In other words, there are a few neighborhoods that receive the most extensive changes in this plan, in the last plan and in the plan before that. If there is any possible mitigation for neighborhoods that have received more than their fare share of instability, that would be a very appropriate and important use of resources. 

The subject of growth boundaries for high school is not planned for this year. This is not because there aren't high school capacity problems already and seemingly more on the way, but rather because there aren't any easy solutions for high school.
(It was called out at the Hale meeting that high school seems to be on the backburner for current growth boundary discussions and that course was called into question.  It remains to be seen if the district should have looked at all K-12 or just K-8 and then visit high schools in a few years.  That they are going to reopen Lincoln seems to indicate they know there will be issues.  I will also reemphasize that Roosevelt and Franklin will have light rail stations right next to them  - meaning more density around them - and this could change the course of who goes to those schools.)

The current high school plan is to open Lincoln in 2019. This seems like it is unlikely to be enough. Most of the highs are full now and each grade cohort coming up is larger. We have a creative group of parents, are they are solutions out there?

There have a be a few ideas mentioned by parents at the last few meetings and all of them have major impacts on the plans on the table for this year so this year's plan will either support or limit the options for high school solutions. 

Here are a few of the ideas I have heard:
  • Move Denny to Boren and expand Chief Sealth, once the Arbor Heights remodel is complete. This is pretty inexpensive overall and will help Franklin and Garfield, which are both very full but means that Stem K-5 needs to find a long term home.
(Editor's note: meaning, take over the new Denny building and redo Boren for Denny?  That I can't see if only because the district is somewhat prideful over this 6-12 campus and would not like to see it go.  That said, you give all that space to Sealth and that could be quite a high school (and likely could go STEM.)
  • Swap a few north end BEX projects. Swap the Wilson Pacific Elementary School and Lincoln High School projects. Wilson Pacific would then be a middle and high school campus and could benefit from a full size athletic field. Lincoln will never be a great high school campus. This would leave north end APP in Lincoln for the long haul. This would both save money, and get a high school on line at least two years sooner.
(Fairly brilliant I think but would certainly change things.  Maybe Lincoln could be redone as a K-8 for APP but it still has little outdoor space.)
  • The John Marshall building was originally the 9th grade campus for Roosevelt. Maybe we need to start looking for 9th grade locations.
(I still think this might be a good bridge year to do this but I didn't hear many parents endorse it for 6th grade.  Parents want a "comprehensive" experience for their students.  I still am not sure what is the best use for John Marshall.)
  • Move high school to an 8 period day. It would be a schedule challenge but some lucky kid might get a later start to their day!


Charlie Mas said...

I've been thinking of this also. I've been thinking about how much capacity we need and where we need it.

I've also been thinking, in practical terms, about how that need could be met.

We do need additional high school capacity in West Seattle, but expanding Sealth into Denny creates too much additional capacity. All we really need there is another 300-400 seats. A boutique high school would do. I'm thinking of a high school created in partnership with the Port of Seattle, like Aviation High, on Harbor Island with a focus on logistics, maritime trades and careers, and perhaps even some connection with aviation.

I think we could have a boutique high school downtown in donated space from some of those SLU employers and developers.

Boutique schools not only give us the little bit of capacity we need where we need it, they don't need a lot of space for athletics.

I'm sure there are other ideas and locations suitable for boutique high schools.

The only space that comes to mind for me for a full, comprehensive high school is Interlake. As luck would have it, that's just where we need one and the price could be right.

I kind of like the idea of Wilson-Pacific as a 6-12 and Lincoln as an APP 1-8. That's worth exploring.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am fine with boutique high schools and K-8s IF parents (and students) clearly understand that the district CANNOT give them the same things as comprehensives.

It's kind of like charters - you trade off some things for others.

You want a smaller, focused school, great. But you will have fewer electives and options (like sports, music, etc.)

I recall this conversation with Carla Santorno years ago on why she didn't like K-8s. She liked them but she didn't like that parents then had the expectation that a K-8 - smaller and more intimate - would have everything a large comprehensive would.

I see her point. It makes it tough for a district.

ben said...

First off, I like some of the ideas presented. I'd really rather have an end state in mind where high school is treated seriously.

A couple of questions that came to mind about the north side:

What did the reader think are the "bad" last minute BEX IV decisions. Its probably much easier to agree on the number of missing seats that should still be built?

Which regions does the reader think are the most impacted and deserve special consideration?

What's the max capacity of the Lincoln building? Even as a K-8 would APP fill out the building? Melissa mentions lack of green space but if repurposed several of the later additions in back could be torn down and repurposed as fields which would help.

There are several spaces discussed in the past and abandoned that still seem viable given work (or $$$) on the north end like the former Lake City School, the Pierre Auto sites, going through the process to rebuild Cedar Park despite its landmark designation, building on the north field of Jane Addams etc.

Alot of the existing building don't max out their sites well. Old schools used to always be 3 stories tall. The whole generation that was built in the 1950's are often only 1.

Anonymous said...

Ooh yes, the Wilson-Pacific 6-12 option is intriguing indeed! It makes much more sense for the field to actually be located at the same site as the high school that will use it, and it also helps to address some of the issues we see now with middle school math not being offered at a high enough level for some APP students. It also addresses the high school need sooner rather than later.

The prospect of a 9th grade academy makes me very nervous, as it seems likely to come into play right about the same time next year's unlucky cohort of 6th graders might end up stuck in the roll-up. Ouch.


Anonymous said...

The Wilson-Pacific 6-12 option would also mean those kids rolling up at the interim site for 3yrs would all be able to transfer over to the new high school together. That would be great for community building, and would likely help inspire parents to help with the burden of ramp-up next year.


mirmac1 said...

As a proud Denny/Sealth grad, I rue the (Manhas/MGJ) decision to merge Denny and Sealth. That's the reason my child goes to Madison.

The co-location was one of those brilliant "right-sizing" business decisions that got us into this mess. (Does anyone think that a HS doesn't have uses for a gym, music facility and lunchroom during the usual parts of the day?) The old Denny campus is now an empty block with weeds, tennis courts and a playground that is always empty when I drive by. That meadow cost about $12M.

Call the merger one of those bone-head decisions of which we have too many...

Now, what will it cost to fix this mess?

Anonymous said...

Is WP where the growth is needed for high school? Why is Lincoln a bad site for a high school?

Boutique schools cost more per student than big schools--that has been the district's rationale for closing smaller and under enrolled schools over the years. I don't see the district going for the boutique school idea. Unless powerful people push the idea, like the downtown association.

If high school capacity is about to be a mess, how big of a mess is it about to be, in comparison with the mess that middle school and elementary capacity will be in 3 years?

QAE Parent

Jon said...

Where are the functional capacity and current enrollment numbers for high schools? I don't see them in any of the recent presentations.

My understanding is about every high school is full to capacity except for Rainier Beach. Is that correct? And Rainier Beach and the new Lincoln HS, along with a few new portables, couldn't take the projected demand? Or they could?

Hard to know without the numbers. Anyone know where they are?

Anonymous said...

mirmac1: I thought the co-location was a bad idea from the start. People were, and still are, high on the idea. But it made little sense from a planning perspective, considering the foreseeable lack of middle school space and especially High School space that was going to be needed in the future as WS rapidly grows. They used up almost all the space at Denny/Sealth, so expansion would be really tough now on that site. And aren't they holding the former Denny site open to build an elementary on, for Roxhill & Westwood kids. I believe that's the official plan on the books now.


Anonymous said...

Jon: I have to laugh as I was wondering the same thing: What happened to the infamous "functional capacity" numbers where staff walked the buildings and adjusted their numbers (A feat that cannot be replicated in neighborhoods, apparently, when drawing boundaries, but I digress...) back in '08?

As an impacted veteran of prior closures and splits, I asked those at my table if anyone knew where the "functional capacity" numbers were, and they all looked at me with contorted "huh?" faces.


Anonymous said...

Jon: I have to laugh as I was wondering the same thing: What happened to the infamous "functional capacity" numbers where staff walked the buildings and adjusted their numbers (A feat that cannot be replicated in neighborhoods, apparently, when drawing boundaries, but I digress...) back in '08?

As an impacted veteran of prior closures and splits, I asked those at my table if anyone knew where the "functional capacity" numbers were, and they all looked at me with contorted "huh?" faces.


mirmac1 said...


Agreed. I remember when there was talk of closing Roxhill and expanding WS Elem I asked about the Denny meadow. Pegi McElvoy told Director McLaren that it was "too small" for an elementary. Fortunately, I quickly found the design charette records that showed it was sized for a 450 seat K-5. Facts are only necessary when they serve your purposes, I guess....

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lincoln is not a "bad" site but problematic. One, it needs extensive renovation. Two, virtually no outside area (but there could be some created). Three, pretty close to Roosevelt and W=P might make better sense for that issue.

Anonymous said...

High School Capacity on page 5-5


High School numbers at the end


Anonymous said...

QA and Magnolia are going to need a high school, there is no way around it. The Enrollment Projections are low, even the "high" projections are already being surpassed. Couldn't they build a comprehensive high school on the Memorial Stadium land?

Jon said...

Thanks, Lynn, those are useful links. Looks like I was wrong and all the high schools are full, including Rainier Beach. So new capacity will entirely be portables and the new Lincoln HS, I guess.

mirmac1 said...


2 things come to mind. Again, hate to mention it but I AM reading a book about WWII and I have a renewed appreciation for those who gave their lives in that horrible war.

Second, new high schools cost about $100M.

kellie said...

I agree that the Denny / Sealth thing was ill conceived and executed for the wrong reasons. If memory serves the driver of that decision was so that the two schools could share a $1 Million boiler, rather than have one of these boiler at each location.

My limited understanding is that these heating systems last for a 100 years so they are big work horses and for some reason drove a ton of facilities decisions. John Marshall was closed primarily because they didn't want to replace the boiler (they needed to replace it anyway).

The Wilson Pacific campus is different. There is currently a middle school built on the campus and the plan is to build a separate elementary school because of the capacity crunch and that is where the district has some empty space.

The difference is that the district has already committed to two buildings on that property so the question would be does a middle and high school make better sense on one property than an elementary and middle school.

Typically we have a model for elementary and middle school students to share so there is some standards. However, the campus is being planned for 2,000 or more students, so I think it is an interesting question as to whether or not you want the little kids on such a big campus or bigger kids.

Melissa Westbrook said...

TS, unlikely they can do that.

Here's where it got left (last time I checked which was recently):
The district owns 9 acres at Seattle Center (and did BEFORE it was Seattle Center). That's the land Memorial sits on and the parking lot.

The City had wanted to do a trade for 4-5 acres. The district HAS to have Memorial for a variety of uses but if the City wants to partner to make it a nicer and more year-round used facility, fine. The trade was for some parking garage on Mercer and THAT could be where a high school could be built.

But I was told that was now off the table and I was also told that the district (read: Ron English) is dragging its feet on talking. People should be pushing the district hard on this issue.

TS, to my mind, one of the longest ongoing facilities mistakes this district has made is to NOT address this issue. I have no idea why Board directors from that area did not put their foot down long ago and get that done.

Kellie, sound reasoning.

I note that the boiler at the Mann building, when Meng went through about 7 years ago, noted that it was 100 years old ("and it still works!") But it was also noted that it should be replaced.

mirmac1 said...

I'd rather we spend $1M on a 100 yr boiler than for 3 triple-wide portables for a few years... Whoever made that bone-head call had better be somewhere else doing something else.

kellie said...

So the irony is that once again, the problem boils down to Queen Anne High School.

The lack of a high school for downtown and Queen Anne went to the supreme court and now all these years later, the capacity pressures are still kind of there.

LG said...

A very minor comment, Melissa. You keep saying that Franklin WILL have light rail, but it has had it already for at least 4 years.

Anonymous said...

Magnolia does have the shuttered magnolia school on 28th which used to house AAA and Coe (had Coe students while the school was rebuilt after a fire). Is it possible to convert that to ES again and convert Blaine K-8 to a 6-12? Otherwise, it would be supremely ironic to contemplate Franklin for QA/Mag/downtown due to capacity after the long tortuous court case to get Ballard for this cluster.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I stand corrected (I thought it was in its last stages).

Franklin USED to be the go-to school for QA/Magnolia until Ballard got its rebuild/reputation upgrade.

Yes, that shuttered Magnolia elementary may need to be pressed into service and Blaine converted. There's one solution.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, this discussion is scaring me. I looked at the projection numbers and the waiting lists and am thinking that where once upon a time the issue was that the kids weren't distributed int he available schools (so some were overcrowded while others were underenrolled), it now appears that every school is full and some are bursting and it's only going to get worse.

I honestly don't see any solutions (though mind you, I accept that I might have a limited imagination on this issue) and the discussion in these comments seriously sounds like rearranging deck chairs on the . . . .

What about swing shifts? Are they a plausible solution for HS? I imagine that I'd rather see my kids going to school 8-1 & 1-6 (or whatever makes sense) than navigating a physical space/sharing classrooms/resources with kids way above capacity. In my imagination, that would mean running two schools in the same building, though, not scrimping (i.e. double the number of teachers, classes, activities).


Jon said...

zb, I think the solution the district currently is planning is lots and lots of portables, maybe 50-60 of them added across the high schools, enough to hold perhaps 2,000 or more additional high school students.

But they haven't talked about that much. I (and probably they) have no idea how many portables they will add, whether there is space for those portables at the schools, whether there are enough restrooms and other facilities inside for those additional students, and how much more that will cost long-term than actual buildings (new buildings tend to cost more short-term, but less long-term, than portables, so portables only make sense if the enrollment increase is temporary).

Anyone have any more information?

Anonymous said...

Lincoln as a high school is challenging because there are no fields, and there can't be, the property is tiny, and all there is is a parking lot. On the other hand, Wilson Pacific is 16 acres of property ready for redevelopment. Put a middle school on one end, and on the opposite end, put a big high school, and in between, a gigantic turf field, to accommodate all of the sports the students will play and satisfy the community's need for feilds for little league, soccer, football, etc.

Lincoln can be used as the 1-5 or 1-8 APP school, and its South wing could be used as the interim space for future Bex cycles. Not perfect, but, this district is far past perfect solutions for everybody.

APP has already been in the Lincoln building going on three years now, so while it may not be perfect, they made it work. And if it was permanent, adding an appropriate playspace will be workable.

There was much about this BEX plan that was added at the last minute, specifically the Pinehurst building and the Cedarpark building. Given that they had to push out the K-8 from the Jane Addams campus, it would have been more sensible to give them the bigger space at Olympic Hills (6.5 acres), and made Pinehurst the new attendance area k-5 (on 3 acres). And, it would have been much more appropriate to plan Cedar Park with a wing, instead of eight portables, especially since there are only 11 home rooms in the building itself. Where's the equity in that? Fairmount Park is being re-opened, but with the wing, not eight portables.

I don't think shared campuses work. I don't think they're ideal, I think schools want and need their own separate identities, but still, does seem to make more sense to put the high school at wilson pacific. A middle school still must built there as well.

So if this idea has legs, please, oh please, don't say 6–12 campus, say a middle school, and a high school. Pushing them together will mean this district will lose flexibility to program these buildings in an infinitely wide variety of ways in the decades to come. We need generic, flexible buildings: smooshing buildings together deprives us all of that flexibility to roll with the punches as the future unfolds.

-compelling ideas

Melissa Westbrook said...

Compelling, good thoughts.

Believe me, I rarely, if ever, hear any parents asking for 6-12. My belief is that Denny/Sealth was ALL the district.

Yes, the Cedar Park/OH/JA K-8 is a mess and I believe it will end up being a sad mistake.

Flexible - now and in the future, IS the key.

Split shifts? It could happen.

mirmac1 said...

Banda came from a district that did staggered schedules for years, AND year-round school. There ARE alternatives. People will squawk but what can you do?

Anonymous said...

I am confused. I thought Rainier Beach was only at 400 students in a building that could hold many more so how could it be at capacity? Or are these projected numbers as the boundaries are redrawn?


Lynn said...

RBHS and WSHS are not at capacity. The other high schools are - and they will all be very soon.