Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Focus on the Southeast

There are no real or urgent capacity issues in the southeast part of the city. Consequently, a lot of the people there are puzzled by the changes proposed for that part of town and Director Patu is reported to be preparing an amendment to the Growth Boundary plan that will call for the deletion of any changes for the Southeast.

What is going on in the Southeast - and, more to the point, why?

The changes in elementary school attendance areas in the Southeast are not being driven by capacity issues, the projected growth of APP being the only possible capacity driver south of I-90. Many of the changes are being driven by the conversion of Dearborn Park to an option school. The decision to make Dearborn Park an option school is a top-down decision, not bottom-up. It only comes at the end of a long chain of rules and isn't very well connected to anything authentic. It goes like this:

  • Affluent north-end families clamor for language immersion programs, and they naturally presume that everyone else wants exactly what they want. We can all acknowledge that language immersion is pretty far up on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for elementary education, but the north-end is there and therefore so is the rest of the District.
  • The District is concerned about equitable access to programs and services, so they feel obligated to create mirror language immersion programs in the south-end. Nevermind if people in the south-end are clamoring for language immersion or not, the District needs to do it for CYA and out of fear of charges of inequity, racism, classism, or whatever. So the south-end gets what the north-end wants whether the south-end wants it or not. Nevermind how racist and classist that attitude may be.
  • The District has determined that it takes two elementary language immersion programs to feed a middle school program. That's just a rule they made. They already have one language immersion program at Beacon Hill in the Mercer service area, therefore they need another Mercer service area school to offer language immersion as well. Dearborn Park was chosen. It was a top-down decision.
  • The District was pushed to explain why some language immersion schools are option schools and some are attendance area schools. The answer they invented (after the decisions were made) was this new rule: If the school is big enough to house both an English language program and a dual language program, then it would remain an attendance area school. If, however, the school is only big enough to house one program, language immersion, then it would be an option school. Dearborn Park, they determined, is not big enough to house two complete programs, so it must be an option school. No one asked anyone at Dearborn Park how they wanted their program designed or if they wanted to have one program or two.
  • Once Dearborn Park is made an option school the Dearborn Park attendance area must be divided among its neighbors and, through a ripple effect, create changes in other attendance areas.
All of this, as you can see, was driven by top-down rules made without any connection to the actual situation. Top-down decision: The south-end must have language immersion - whether there's any demand for it or not. Top-down decision: Mercer must have a second language immersion elementary school - whether there is any demand for it or not. Top-down decision: Dearborn Park must be that school - without any consultation with the community. Incredible as it may seem, they did not hold even a single meeting. Really, no one has yet spoken with families in the area about this at all. Top-down decision: Dearborn Park must be all language immersion and an option school. Top-down decision: All of the south-end elementary schools must have their attendance areas altered to accommodate the deletion of the Dearborn Park attendance area.

Let's hope that Director Patu's amendment stops this nonsense.

The changes in the middle school feeder patterns in the South-end are derived in a similar fashion. It begins with APP and a lot of top-down decisions are made from there.

Here's a funny thing: APP in the north-end has grown to the point that Hamilton can't hold it. The solution is to open new middle schools and split APP into two or three smaller programs and place them close to where the students live. APP in the south-end has grown to the point that Washington can't hold it. The solution is to open a new middle school, but to continue to assign all of the APP students to Washington. Huh?

See, the problem is - again - equity. The bulk of the APP middle school students in the south-end live close to Meany, just as the bulk of APP students in the north-end live close to Eckstein. If the District placed APP at Meany, along with a few other elementary feeder schools, it would create a disproportionate situation in which the bulk of the affluent and White/Asian students would be at Meany and the bulk of the poor, Black/Latino students would be at Washington. Not cool. So, step one, APP can't be at Meany. The District decided to leave APP at Washington. I don't know if they ever really considered putting it anywhere else. If they had, the only other school that they might have chosen would have been Mercer. The other three are too far from the center of the population served. Mercer  is centrally located in the south-end and it is actually pretty accessible from the West Seattle bridge or the First Avenue Bridge. I don't know if they really considered Mercer, but perhaps they did and rejected it because it already is getting the language immersion program and it is the shining turnaround school in the south-end so they didn't want to lose half of the capacity to APP.

Once we have the decision, made at the top, to keep APP at Washington and only at Washington, all of the feeder patterns are derived from that. After APP is in the school, there is only room for three feeder elementary schools. Which ones? With Meany to the north, the obvious choices are the three southern-most in the service area: Muir, Thurgood Marshall, and Leschi. Thurgood Marshall is the elementary APP students, so this looks like it could work. One little problem to address: Washington is in the Gatzert attendance area. That can be fixed with the boundary re-draw. This was the original recommendation.

I honestly cannot remember why this wasn't the chosen solution. I think it had something to do with the Seattle U program at Gatzert that extended into Washington. The driving need to maintain the extension of that program - which for no clear reason couldn't be shifted to Meany - is what mucked up feeder patterns in the central region. The obvious solution would have been for the Seattle U folks to go to Meany instead of Washington, but that just couldn't be done. So Washington and Meany had to swap Gatzert for Leschi. 

Part of this original solution also had Mercer and Aki Kurose swapping feeder schools. Mercer got Wing Luke and Aki Kurose got Hawthorne. That was done to make MLK, and the light rail line, the boundary between Mercer and Aki. It was a bad idea for capacity, however, because Wing Luke is (or, rather, will be) a much bigger school and Mercer is already overcrowded. They could have and should have simply rejected this switch, but, no. Instead, when Hawthorne went back to Mercer it was Kimball that came out to make room. And Kimball went to Washington. That put an extra school in Washington, so Muir had to come out and go to Meany.

Do you see how messed up this is? If they had just gone with the original feeder pattern for Washington (Muir, Marshall, and Leschi) and had left the Mercer feeder pattern alone (keeps Hawthorne and Kimball, doesn't take Wing Luke), then everything would have been fine. Instead, we have chaos and the absurd service areas you see today.

Let's hope that Director Patu's amendment stops this nonsense.

At the high school level the only changes is the creation of an IB program at Rainier Beach. I don't know if the impetus for this program was top-down or bottom up. Let's be clear and candid. Rainier Beach has a recruitment problem. There are 1,600 SPS high school students in the attendance area and there are fewer than 500 enrolled at the school. What will it take to get families to choose to enroll their children at Rainier Beach? Is it IB?

I think we've determined that it isn't a performing arts focus. That was the District's last big idea for promoting the school and it failed horribly. Is IB going to do it? Hey, maybe. Last year, the first year that the IB program was real, Rainier Beach enrolled 146 freshmen (October count). All we know about the enrollment this year is that the school total is 484. We don't have a grade by grade breakdown, but using last year's breakdown and some interpolation it appears that the freshman class this year is a bit bigger than last year's, around 180 students. Think of it - about 330 of the 485 students at Beach are freshmen or sophomores. Those classes are each about twice the size of the junior and senior classes (rough numbers: 180, 150, 80, 80). If Rainier Beach continues to attract about thirty more freshmen each year, then the school will, in a couple years, have close to 800 students. And a couple years after that it could be full, with 1,100 students.

This rosy projection uses very squishy data and a terrible assumption that extrapolates a short-term change into the long-term, a practice I often sneer at, but it's not an impossible interpretation and it's as good as any other so early in the process. This may not be success, but this is what success would look like at this stage.

Let's remember what IB does for the school - even for the students who don't enroll in IB classes. It brings a different, more academically focused group of students into the school. Their presence shifts the aggregate culture of the school and gives confidence to other families who want a school with a stronger, more rigorous, academic focus. It raises the test scores and improves the school's reputation. It can have a positive affect on recruitment beyond the recruitment of the IB students.

Cleveland's enrollment is at 843, which is less than the 1,000 capacity, but it's certainly high enough to regard the STEM program a success for recruiting.

If more people choose Rainier Beach and Cleveland that will take a lot of pressure off Franklin and Garfield and it will make the whole situation a lot more manageable for the District and predictable for the community.


Melissa Westbrook said...

You laid it out very nicely, Charlie. The yin and yang of this district in terms of equality rather than what communities really want is a bit of a crazy quilt effect.

That all of the SE is getting thrown into the boundaries issue because of one school is crazy.

RBHS just got a grant from RTTT (more on this in a separate thread) but Principal Chappelle and the PTA aren't letting any grass grow under their feet.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, this time I think you absolutely nailed it!

After the performing arts debacle at RB - the last shining example of "If we build it, they will come" (Magnet Theory) - one would hope and pray the district would reverse it's paternalistic thinking and rally to support what the RB and other communities ask for, instead of imposing more top-down, magic bullet solutions.

That said, IB is a different animal, and I believe it will turn out good at RB, complimenting their existing progress and growth. Whatever their numbers are currently, they were much lower a few years ago. Momentum takes a little time when a school or program gets that small. IB is popular whether kids take it cafeteria style or complete the entire degree. Many at Sealth don't earn the degree, but get a lot out of IB classes they take, regardless. It's been overwhelmingly positive for Sealth, and I expect it to be similar at RB.

And as for the "retention problem," the same thing was said of many schools under the choice system, as everyone competed for the top two or three schools in any given area, leaving average schools with the often undeserved "undesirable" label. People have discovered that under the current NSAP, community building is easier and tighter than before, when neighborhoods became fragmented under "choice" by people having ann incentive to leave a school instead of staying and demanding improvements from SPS.

But, once again, the plans for the SE show the district's chronic pathology for viewing everything as a balancing act and zero-sum-game, whether any facts or data support it, or not. What I predominantly hear from the folks I know in the SE is "Why in the hell are they doing this?" Or, "Who's idea is this?"

How's that for genuinely "listening to the community?"

This idea that we can't do this over here, unless we do the same thing over there (aka "bone-throwing"), is not only top-down paternalism, but reveals a one-size-fits-all/template/system-thinking mentality holding over from the MGJ era. Can we never be done with that?

Once again, Holy Christ! Where is the institutional memory? Can we learn nothing from our past mistakes made only a few short years ago? Seriously.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing to light the disaster that is the central district proposal. Seattle U is not particularly closer to Washington then Meany, but the district is creating preposterous feeder school patterns based on the ludicrous allegation that Bailey Gatzert would somehow lose that SU help otherwise. And despite the many comments from Leschi protesting their exclusion from the middle school next door, the last minute gerrymandering that sends them to Meany is totally ignored. Such bs.

cd parent

connie said...

I appreciate the post. I've lived in SE Seattle for over 12 years, and my kids are in our local (though option) school three blocks from our house. I have to say, there seems to be a lot more predictability and trust in local schools than when my oldest (now in 5th grade) started kindergarten. The transition to the NSAP was painful, so I am loathe to credit it, but I do think there have been some benefit to SE schools as a result. People are genuinely excited about Hawthorne, Muir, and Maple, for example. Graham Hill remains popular too, though it took a hit when the district did away with Montessori preschool. Orca, South Shore, and Kimball remain extremely popular. I thought it was interesting when someone recently posted their surprise that Kimball doesn't have a cafeteria (nor does it have sports fields - wall ball is very popular there). It surprised me too, but I've never heard anyone who has kids there complain about it. It's such a beloved school, that I think people look past it's shortcomings. People are also genuinely excited about Mercer and Franklin, and crossing their fingers about RBHS.

[I should note that I am white, middle (trending towards "upper" according to national statistics, though it doesn't feel like it) class, am self employed with a flexible schedule, supplement with tutors, etc. I do not represent all, or even most, SE residents. And the schools I know about are relatively high performing schools - I have little information on schools deeper in the valley. So this post is simply my perspective on the situation.]

All this is to say that the boundary shake up comes at a time of recent stability and optimism in the SE. I didn't realize the background about Dearborn Park's lack of interest as a language immersion school. I do know there's some demand for language immersion schools in SE (in addition to Beacon Hill), but certainly not at the expense of a neighborhood school. And the ripple effect of these crazy boundaries is maddening. SE Seattle really has enough to contend with - I do hope Betty Patu is able to convince the district to hit pause on this.


kellie said...

I concur with all the thoughts here. In a time of massive resource constraints, there should be an absolute rule, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

mirmac1 said...

I appreciate Charlie's thread. The Central/SE f/u is unnecessarily messing with SPS families' lives.

I could do without the commentary on how RBHS is not as spectacularly wonderful as Cleveland (is not) or (fill in the blank). I know how hard the parents at RBHS have had to work to compensate for MGJ/Enfield's neglect. I'm not yet ready to write off Banda as equally neglectful.

But for these parents' heavy lifting, where would we be for HS students in the SE? Same for SW? As a resident of the latter, I have high hopes for the students at RBHS. For what purpose do we dredge up the half-assed failings of previous loser superintendents? Are we consigned to write off the SE because of the worthles "SE Initiative"? Is it the same story in the CD?

Sorry. I'm not ready to do that. I see how easy it is to write off whole populations (SpEd) or neighborhoods.

Melissa Jonas said...

Spot on in many ways. There has been zero outreach to currently enrolled Dearborn Park students or the neighborhoods surrounding the school. Maybe people would like an International School, maybe not. It's fairly certain they would prefer any amenities to remain available to the community--no option programs, please.

Let's pause changes in SE until SE has been consulted.

Anonymous said...

One thing to add is that folks in places like the SE and SW often get steamrolled because district personnel will say, "We haven't heard from them" even though they know and realize that the lives of many in the SE and South End in general do not mirror those in other areas where people have a lot of access and time. As MJ says above, there's been zero outreach, but the district, instead of asking why, will take the silence and lack of feedback as lack of interest or concern, and thus act as they wish.

Could it instead be that people are preoccupied with re-building their schools and communities since things like the SE Initiative were such massive failures?

Mirmac1: Oh, the SE Initiative!! I almost wish you hadn't reminded me of that. It just speaks to how long the SE was patronized and ignored. Finally, we see real positive changes and improvements that people are buying into, and all the district can do is set about rearranging it all. Pure insanity.


Anonymous said...

Seattle U did have worries about shifting Bailey-Gatzert to Meany given the school's proximity to Washington MS and the nature of the at-risk population it serves.

Meany MS is easily accessible to Seattle U via the #12 on E Madison. Meany is less easily accessed from the CD though the #43 and #8 comes within a block and the buses on 23rd Ave E are only a few steep blocks away.

The new First Hill streetcar line will also provide some additional connectivity from that region.

SPS needs to seriously start planning for more school capacity in this part of town. The call for re-opening TT Minor might not seem so trivial once Yesler Terrace and 23rd and Union are redeveloped.

Ann D.

JvA said...

Thanks, Charlie, for starting this thread. I have much more to say than I have time for at the moment, unfortunately.

But last night I crashed the Seattle Council PTSA meeting at JSCEE. I'd planned on going to the SE meeting with Betty Patu at RBHS, but when I found out that the superintendent (along with Libros and Herndon, and DeBell, Martin-Morris, and no-show Peaslee) was going to be there, I couldn't resist. Also, I figured with that invite list, I could cite the Open Meetings Act if I was turned away.

Anyway, I also couldn't resist asking the staff to make a statement about their linguistic and racial outreach. For instance, why did they only provide translated materials halfway through the process? When one of the two dominant non-English-speaking groups in Zone 31 (in the latest 2020 map) is Filipino, why didn't they provide a Tagalog translation?

Tracy's answer was rich. She said she didn't think that it even would have mattered if they'd provided translations from the start. She then cited that really the only real change they engaged in with minority communities happened in West Seattle (with Fairmount Park, I believe) and the CD (Bailey-Gatzert), and it had nothing to do with the availability of translated materials. Essentially, I think she was saying that non-English-speaking communities don't check the website frequently, so it didn't matter.

Anyway, after the group broke up into north/south, I asked the superintendent to follow up on Tracy's statement, if he also thought it didn't matter that the district didn't provide translations from the start. And he said no, he didn't agree, and that he thought the district "missed the boat" on the whole issue of linguistic outreach.

While that doesn't really help us at this point, I'm hoping it may bolster support for Betty Patu's amendment to leave the Southeast alone for now. If the superintendent himself admits they "missed the boat" on outreach to our diverse community, it does seem they should hit the pause button.

RBHS PTSA said...

It's always interesting to hear comments about Rainier Beach High School from those who are on the outside looking in. To answer a few questions: IB at Rainier Beach was introduced by the District, but was not okayed until we the people did our research and determined that it will serve our demographics well. We are committed to assuring the program has enrollment that looks like our demographics so we do not become two schools like Garfield.

I attended the Boundary meeting at JSCEE last night as well.

When asked why SE schools were being impacted when we don't have an overcrowding issue. The response was: Mercer is at Capacity and we are planning for future growth.

I asked for current enrollment, school capacity, enrollment if no changes are made and enrollment with proposed changes. Tracy Libros stated this was beign worked on, but did not give a date when we would see the data.
My recommendation is that no changes be made until the District can produce this data so they can be held accountable.

Secondly, SPED questions were not answered. Before any changes are made the SPED Program needs need to be understood and included into the boundary decisions. SPED is not a step child and should be given as much if not more attention than APP etc.

Overall the District once again did a piss poor jon of including families and the community in a very important decision that will impact our families and our neighborhoods.

Rita Green, MBA
RBHS PTSA President