Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fix Viewlands, Don't Close It

By Kate Martin, a Greenwood planner, designer and activist

The "close the schools to save money plan" is very short sighted. It is very unlikely to save money in the long run, and it unfairly burdens schools with lower income families and ones with ethnically diverse and challenging populations.

As soon as this theoretical merger happened, we'd have little to no capacity available in the northwest area of the city, while projects are being built constantly. Enter transportation costs to bus the kids from the densest area to single family neighborhoods or far off schools and the savings zero out almost immediately.

Viewlands is doing a great job and has created a very nurturing and humane environment in which to learn. Within the school, faculty and families are satisfied, which is something not every Seattle school can boast. And their academic results are notable.

Greenwood Elementary's problem is essentially a wad of entrenched, ineffective faculty and a revolving door of principals. This has led to its decline in ability to attract neighborhood students in spite of its brand spanking new digs.

It simply is not just to make it the responsibility of Viewlands to "save" Greenwood Elementary with some kind of instant, full capacity injection. Insult to injury is that one of the pawns is a great Asperger/Autism inclusion program that also is working extremely well at Viewlands.

Viewlands needs some external physical building and landscape improvements and Greenwood needs some internal administrative and staffing improvements. The "merging" of those schools is not the answer.

We need those schools in our neighborhood, we need them both repaired in their individual ways and we need to support them both.


Anonymous said...

The driver - and can this be said for the last time - for closing/consolidation is NOT to save money. It is to streamline the district and drive more resources to more kids. The money savings - what little there is - is a by-product.

I love how no one but no one wants to believe the demographers. (Of course, when it's your school, it's probably too hard.) But the state demographer has said that Seattle's kid population is going to be flat; how much more do you want to know? Could she be wrong? Sure, but probably not by much. There is capacity in the NW at Greenwood, Broadview-Thompson, Northgate and Adams as well as a little at Bagley.

Viewlands is a good school but it is too small and is not attracting enough students to be viable. Why don't more reference kids go to it? That's a question that never gets answered.

Greenwood has not a revolving door of principals and the one there now (who is not great and should go) is leaving. I know the district wants Greenwood to succeed and will make a good choice to help it. (I think the principal of Viewlands should go there; she would be wonderful.)

No, it isn't the responsibility of Viewlands to do anything except try to save as much population as possible and put them in one place. We were fortunate in this closure process to find so many homes for entire populations - that is not the norm in school closures throughout the country - but it is simply not possible to move every single school to another school intact.

I applaud the Asperger/Autism program (for personal reasons) but it's not being used as a pawn. The Board recognizes it's need and is trying to save it. But a small school is not going to be saved for one program.

Anonymous 1

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous 1,

You have to forgive those of us outside the process for finding it hard to swallow the idea that the driver for the closings is to drive more resources to kids.

Here are few excerpts from recent press coverage on the issue:

"The whole board does seem to agree on one thing: There's a lot at stake. Besides the $4.8 million a year the school closures would save, the board's credibility also is on the line."

"The Seattle School District faces a $15 million budget shortfall for next year and a $25 million shortfall for the following year"

"On top of that, Superintendent Raj Manhas revealed that the closure list he ultimately will present to the Seattle School Board will save only $3 million a year in operating costs—half of which, the first year, is to be reinvested in remaining schools. "

"State legislators are watching, too. Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, said she supports extra pay for King County teachers because of the high cost of living here. But she said it's hard to persuade other lawmakers when the district pays to keep open so many underused buildings.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, said he hopes Seattle will close schools to demonstrate the district is getting the most out of the money it has.

'Some of the time you make decisions that are unpopular, and you still have to make them,' he said. 'If they can't pull it off, I'll be very disappointed in their ability to make rational decisions.'"

And even the School District itself says, "While the discussion on school consolidation and student assignment began as a response to a projected $20 million budget gap in 2006-2007, it has transformed into a deep examination of how Seattle Public Schools can best serve its students and families so that every student succeeds."

The idea was introduced by the district as a reaction to the budget shortfall. The press continues to push that point, along with the idea that state legislators want to see it happen. There is also much discussion of the capital dollars that can be saved by closure.

If the goal is really to "streamline the district and drive more resources to more kids," then the district has done a terrible job at managing the message.

Anonymous said...

"If the goal is really to 'streamline the district and drive more resources to more kids,' then the district has done a terrible job at managing the message."

I totally agree with this. The district should have kept the focus on benefits for the students and then should not have allowed anyone to pull them off that point and perspective.

Unfortunately, they never really took that perspective. If they had, they would not have recommended the TOPS move (never providing any rationale for that) and they would have found a place for the programs leaving John Marshall BEFORE they announced that the programs were leaving.

Kate Martin said...

The Greenwood Elem principal is leaving. He is being replaced by the former supervisor of the principals who was canned, but is now somehow uncanned and has a permanent position as the new Greenwood principal. For whatever reason, the last 3 principals have been beyond retirement or unemployable and yet were placed there only to fail.