Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Seattle Schools Waitlist Whoops

As you may recall, a parent had written to me in confusion over how her daughter was on  place on the kindergarten waitlist, only to move downward days later.  She said something had to have changed.

An eagle-eyed reader, found this new page at the SPS website, Waitlist Order Update, and it confirms what many of you thought.

(Now I note - an issue of HUGE importance to parents throughout the district - and it's not even on the front page of the district's website.)

Following the completion of Open Enrollment, an error was discovered in the priority system for waitlisting students. The distance tiebreaker was inadvertently left out of the waitlist priorities. 

 As a result, the initial waitlist order was incorrect. We have since corrected the error and placed students on waitlists based on the correct tiebreaker set, including the distance tiebreaker. 

The distance tiebreaker was approved by the Seattle Public Schools School Board during the transitional period of the New Student Assignment Plan, with full intent and language that it would remain in effect until a school board action changed it. As of now, it is still in effect. 

This one is funny:

During the course of the Open Enrollment and Waitlist period, we regularly verify student information, look for errors and thus, reorder waitlists. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
1) Updates: Applications with missing or incorrect information are updated;
2) Corrections: Corrected possible errors made when entering application data into computers; or
3) Students leaving the district and being removed from the waitlist. 

Okay, I'll ask - which one of those three was this issue?  None and actually I don't see "failure to enter correct enrollment procedure data into computers."  But that's what they said happened. 

A waitlist is never a guarantee of assignment or an implication that assignment is probable. Waitlists are only moved as space becomes available.  

Nothing like CYA. 

Down way at the bottom of the page:

We apologize for this error and any inconvenience it may have caused the affected students and their families. If your student’s waitlist position has moved down due to these tiebreaker corrections, you will receive a letter at the student’s home address. If you have questions, or believe your student’s position on the current waitlist is incorrect based on the applicable tiebreaker set, please contact Admissions and request an inquiry.

Assignment and Waitlist Lookup for 2015-16 School Year
Waitlist numbers by school


Anonymous said...

My biggest concern is how this might have affected the assignments that have already happened. How many spots were offered to kids that should have been waitlisted due to the distance tie-breaker? We live within 10 blocks of the K-8 we applied for and are on the WL. I will request that my child's spot be reassessed with the new tie-breakers, but it might be a lost cause.

Anonymous said...

This was not just an error in calculation of a waitlist. This was a gross misrepresentation of the school district's policy. The Seattle Public Schools Enrollment website posted the tiebreakers as 1) siblings 2) lottery - prior to the open enrollment period, during the open enrollment period and after the open enrollment period up until 4-27-15. At that point (4-27-15) the tiebreakers, as they were communicated to the public were changed and distance was added. In addition I called and spoke with staff in the enrollment office prior to submitting my child's application and was advised by the enrollment office that the tiebreakers were 1) sibling and 2) lottery for attendance area elementary schools. There was no reference to a distance tiebreaker on the Seattle Public Schools website or by enrollment staff.


Melissa Westbrook said...

T, very good points and I hope you write to the Superintendent.

If it were just an error when they ran the numbers, why didn't the distance tie-breaker appear on the website? Why didn't staff say anything?

It almost looks like they wanted to not have to use it.

kellie said...

As I mentioned on the other thread, the NSAP transition plan, had called for the distance tiebreaker to sunset with full implementation of the NSAP. It was intended to be a temporary tiebreaker to aid with split siblings at elementary and give preference to the split siblings who were in walking distance of the school.

The entire reasoning for this was cost. It was about prioritizing students who could walk over students who would be entitled to a bus.

During the Growth Boundaries process, this temporary preference became permanent.

The Growth Boundaries process was far more extensive than people realized. I was at the Growth Boundaries meeting until the bitter end and I missed many items that managed to get in the process. I would guess that there are a few more surprises.

Anonymous said...

Given that the district (I think?) isn't providing transportation for students outside the residential area and getting in on the waitlist, there is absolutely no reason why distance should be a tiebreaker.

-- Unaffected Parent, But Who Just Wishes the District Would Have a Shred of Commonsense

dj said...

I can offer you the piece of anecdata that my twins, who were linked, were wait listed at the school we targeted, but were not adjacent on the wait list, so there may be more screwups on the wait lists.

We moved anyway, so my kids will be going to a different school and we did not pursue it, but it is kind of baffling.

RosieReader said...

I heard from a very reputable source that the decision had been made to admit the entire Nathan Hale 9th grade waitlist because the school's enrollment was surprisingly low (relatively speaking of course.) And that the same thing would not happen at the other north end high schools. Yet I just checked and the Nathan Hale 9th Grade wait list still exists. It seems crazy that the District chooses to wait to actually do what they say they're going to do. It adds so much uncertainty to families. It also seems crazy not to move students off the wait lists at the other end high schools to fill the spaces that are created when the 41 9th graders who want to move to Nathan Hale are moved.

I'm sure there's some rationale, but I can't imagine any one that would actually hold water and pass the laugh test.

Melissa Westbrook said...

DJ,there is something in the NSAP that keeps twins together, for future reference.

-- Unaffected Parent, But Who Just Wishes the District Would Have a Shred of Commonsense, next time please use a two-word name.

Lynn said...


I'd guess that the students on Nathan Hale's wait list are currently assigned to Roosevelt and that Roosevelt does not have room for them. If the unanticipated drop in enrollment at Nathan Hale is all in the freshman class, that would mean they've currently enrolled only about 225 freshman - almost 100 less than this year's class.

Where are the students expected at Nathan Hale going?

Anonymous said...

Rosie Reader,

I heard that rumor too. I have friends on the Nathan Hale waitlist who would love to be able to go to orientation events & register for classes. Why the hold-up?

-HS Parent

Anonymous said...

Some on Hale waitlist are students assigned to Roosevelt, Ballard and Ingraham. Kids that go to private grade schools in the area often choose Hale as it is smaller than Roosevelt and Roosevelt has a reputation for being cliquey. There are also the Salmon Bay kids that have traditionally gone to Hale. Some are in Ballard's area and some are in Ingraham's. There are some families that don't want Ingraham's IB program (too much homework) and they also don't like Ingraham's general ed high school. Hale is seen as alternative light ie more traditional and closer to home than the Center School and more structured than Nova. Hale's theater program, music program and sports program are considered less cutthroat than the big high schools.

This is anecdotal information but it is what I have heard from people on the waitlist for Hale. I also heard that all the kids on Hale's waitlist would be accepted at Hale which makes the staff at Hale happy as they want kids whose families want to be there. If the 9th grade class is much smaller than projected and there is room then Hale should be allowed to take them.

Where are all the assignment area kids for Hale? There is large group going to Shorecrest from Hazel Wolf K-8. Also, the enrollment at the private high schools is very healthy.


Anonymous said...

Last night at New Student night at Hale, there were a lot waitlist kids attending. Many were buying Raider Gear because they had been told that would that they would get in. I hope so.

It was busier last night than it was a year ago so I am surprised that there are less kids enrolling at Hale. Last years freshman class was large.


Anonymous said...

For my sons, who graduated some years ago, the Center School and Ballard H.S. served them well.

Center had outstanding drama classes, science and humanities programs. My older son enjoyed close connections with his teachers and the location at Seattle Center was great.

My younger son was in the Biotech program at Ballard H.S. The students were motivated and he never felt lost in a big school. The teachers there remember him to this day (for good reasons...not bad).

SPS needs a new high school location. They should investigate building at the Memorial Stadium site, where they have an existing field and space.

It would be terrific to reduce the waitlists and have students go where they want to be. Too bad the neighboring Gates Foundation cannot spare some $$ for a public high school instead of national testing mandates.

S parent

Anonymous said...

It's crazy but some parents are afraid to send their kids to the Seattle Center for high school. They are worried about them being mugged, etc. I saw this when the Seattle Waldorf High School was across the street from the Seattle Children's Theater. I too agree the location is actually amazing. So many arts and culture groups around and a great way for kids to learn independence. The Seattle Waldorf High School has moved to Magnuson Park which is a great location for outdoors stuff and some arts but it isn't as vibrant and alive as the Seattle Center is.


dj said...

I am well aware that there is a NSAP program to keep twins together, which is what I used to enroll them, as it happens. What I am saying is that despite the fact that I used the NSAP procedure to keep twins linked, which should have made them adjacent on the wait list, they were in fact not adjacent on the wait list, which means the district screwed up the wait lists in yet another way.

Melissa Westbrook said...

DJ, I am sorry to hear that. I had thought this couldn't happen.

Joe said...

I don't understand why a district of this size has such trouble with what should be a routine procedure. Enrollment is the primary point of contact between the district and families. You'd think they'd put some effort into doing it right.

mirmac1 said...

Joe, I guess that is why highly-paid central administrators want to hire even more highly-paid consultants to do it for them.

The problem at the moment is the current Interim Director of Enrollment Planning is a database/social media guy who doesn't understand open government and the Public Records Act.

Anonymous said...

So someone told me to look at the school board meeting minutes for Dec 3, 2014 Growth Boundaries for Student Assignment Update regarding when the distance tiebreaker was added back in but apparently kept a secret from the public. I went to look at the meeting minutes http://sps.ss8.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/14-15agendas/14-15agendadocket.pdf and they appear to have been all removed? What is the deal?


Lynn said...


This note has been posted on the board archive page: PLEASE NOTE: Due to the transition to the new website on June 1, 2015, the document links on the archive sheets for each year are not currently functioning, as the files have not yet been migrated from the former website. If you need immediate access to a document, please contact Kathie Pham at ktpham@seattleschools.org with the date and file name.

thomas hanrahan said...

This absolutely infuriates me!! Being in one of the worst elementary school boundaries in the state, and absolutely having to find an alternative option, having known that distance was a tie breaking ABSOLUTELY would have effected which school wait lists we applied for. The reorganized and my child dropped down, it's far too late to get on a different wait list and now i'm having to face a private school tuition upwards of $16k a year. One of the reasons we just moved to this state is because of the reputation of the schools here, but so far all i've seen is how terrible it is. Getting your child in the right school is one of the most important things you can do for your child and the employees in this school system respond to you with complete disregard and disdain. Half the time i can't tell if i called the school system or the DMV. Do they not realize the importance theses decisions have on the future of our children or have they just become too complacent to care anymore??

chrissydahms said...

I'm curious if anyone has seen movement on the wait list. Enrollment tells me they have but the data I looked at for West Seattle has not changed since they put it up on the website again.