There were three legislators there - Rep. Jamie Pedersen, Rep. Gerry Pollet and Senator David Frockt. I saw just two Board members - Director DeBell and Director Peaslee (odd that Martin-Morris wasn't there - this is his region). There were also several members of the FACMAC committee.
I sat at a table with parents worried about several issues but they seems resigned. I also sat with two reporters from the Roosevelt News. They worry over losing diversity at their school and overcrowding. I set them up to talk with Shauna Heath.
A couple of themes I came away with that I hope ALL parents understand.
This is a serious situation (and probably more serious than the district is letting on although Flip Herdon did let two things slip that should have been the canary in the coal mine - more on that in a minute).
One, there will be pain. To many, many families. I wish it were otherwise but this is a big messy situation with many moving parts that will NOT be solved even within five years. Even a great district would have problems figuring this all out.
That pain may take the form of:
- confusion over the next several years. The district is NOT going to get it all right. No one could (although it would be helpful if they listened to a couple of really savvy professional planners that are parents in the district who would be happy to lend their expertise).
- roll-outs of one grade level, 6th grade, and the desire for parents for their children to have a "complete" comprehensive middle school experience. That is not going to happen because they will not be at a complete comprehensive middle school. I am certain the district will do what they can to mitigate (and maybe throw in some things other schools won't have) but it is not rational to believe it will be the "exact" same experience other students will get.
- boundary changes continuing over the next several years. This was one of the things Herdon said that caught my attention (and he said it twice). So they may start one way and then find out that they have to tweak things. The upshot is - boundaries will NOT be stable for several years and no one should count on that.
The other thing Herdon said is about the process is "We don't have a great answer for all the questions." Meaning, this is a moving process and, for once, I actually believe the district that no firm decisions have been made.
- kids who have been in elementary together and now will split at middle school. I was a parent and I know the value of these friendships. We moved when my older son started middle school and he didn't have the same friends. The same for my younger son when he started middle school but we managed to keep some of the old friends AND made new ones. It can be done and children survive these life changes. (I don't know if this is a NE obsession but I hear it more often in that area's meetings than any other area.)
Two, grandfathering. This issue came up several times and one person - to great applause - said, "You need to settle this issue NOW so that people will know and worry less." Naturally she meant that the district needs to grandfather all kids and their siblings.
What Tracy Libros told me is that if your child is currently at their neighborhood school and the boundaries change, your child can remain at that school through the highest year available. If you move within the new boundary, your child stays. BUT if you move anywhere new that is NOT within the new boundaries, your child can complete the school year at the school but would have to transfer to the school within your new boundaries.
What about sibs I asked? She said it was a difficult situation that they are working on.
I can only say what I said when neighborhood school enrollment became the new norm - the plan will not work as it should and/or will take many more years to be fully in place if you grandfather sibs. I think the district feels this way as well. Yes, the district's stated priority is keeping families together but that may not end up being the reality.
Three, behind closed doors. Look, there are wants and desires on the part of many people up the food chain. DeBell wants to see the entire LI plan enacted. Is that the most important thing to get done with so many other capacity/facilities issues? Nope but don't count on him backing off.
President Smith-Blum has the desire for Wilson-Pacific to look as she believes it should (with an extra administrative building between the elementary and middle school). The majority of people at the planning meeting I went to months ago said no and yet it's still out there.
In short, you can go to these meetings but we may never know what is truly in the minds of district staff and Board members (and whatever other powerbrokers who are whispering in their ears). There's ALWAYS a backstory.
- The presentation was presented to an incredibly quiet crowd. People were really paying attention even if it did not seem they always understood what was being said.
- looking at the Interim Site list Year-by-Year, I noticed that they had Loyal Heights AND Bagley in John Marshall in the same school year, 2018-2019. I asked and it turns out each will take a half-year turn in the building. Apparently.
- the crowd didn't seem to particularly like the table discussion time and my table refused to write anything down. One guy said, "Divide and conquer."
- Documentation. Parents want to see:
- a list of buildings and their capacity.
- a list indicating how many NEW seats there would be at any BEX IV building. The example given was Bagley - just how many more students will it fit or will it just be a more comfortable fit for an overcrowded building.
- a map that shows the old boundary lines and the new ones
- Cedar Park and JA are going to be overrun with portables (seemingly with a large amount of Cedar Park's capacity coming from portables - not good).
- APP got mentioned repeatedly. Many tables stated that the district just needs to settle this question. A couple of people pointed out that some parents might choose APP over Spectrum so that their students don't get split up from friends.
A couple of tables said Wilson-Pacific should just be an APP school so that the neighborhood schools could have ALL their capacity for their students. I have advocated for an APP school for years for two reasons.
One, out of sight, out of mind. For the educators, administrators and parents who do not like it, none of those kids will be in any neighborhood school and for you, it'll be like they don't exist.
Two, it just makes it easier to run that program and, as stated, would give all the capacity in a neighborhood school to neighborhood children.
- One person pointed out that she didn't get why McDonald was created as a LI option school with JSIS next door. And what about LI for the NE?
- NO last minute boundary changes when this gets to a Board vote. That particular request should be made by ALL at every single meeting. No one gets to pull a last-minute switch.
- Hilariously, people were calling out specific plots (numbered on the maps) and saying, "Well, that part should go to School X." That said, the maps do look somewhat gerrymandered and again, if the district is not giving reasoning behind each and every boundary change, well, then people will make their own requests.
- BIG issue: why are we not discussing high schools? Parents said they felt like they would be back here in a couple of years to discuss high schools. (I also pointed out to my table that with Franklin and Roosevelt gaining light rail by about 2020, that would be a game-changer for their enrollment.)
- Diversity. Surprise to me but it got brought up several times (including by the cub reporters at Roosevelt). I can only say that this is likely very low on the list for the district (considering what they are trying to get done - find seats for everyone - and that the last time they tried to do something, they got their hand slapped by no less than the US Supreme Court).
- Some suspicion over what is happening at Thornton Creek's old building.
- A claim that there were four downtown parents at one table and their children "had nowhere to go." Not true but it's a good story.
- Portables. If we have to have them, they need decent drinking water and bathrooms. Good luck with that. Not affordable (but I would think they would bring in bottled water at least.)
- What will happen to Pinehurst and its students?
- Are we moving chairs on the Titanic? Is the capacity problem too huge? (It is and the district isn't being completely truthful on the magnitude of the problem). I'll have a separate thread on this one.
- I pointed out without an Advanced Learning director and real options/decisions on AL programs, all this moving around of APP and Spectrum students will be a problem. (Shauna Heath - head of Curriculum and Instruction - told me later they do have an interim director but frankly, he's just keeping the place afloat and not making real decisions.) I also mentioned they need to do something about the Mann building because of the domino effect it has on so many communities and projects.