Thursday, June 15, 2006

Graham Hill School Closure Quiz

During the next week or so, I will post writing by parents at each of the schools directly affected by the closure plan. The first one is from Graham Hill. (see www.grahamhillelementary.org for more data and details)
Which school on the closure list has the largest student population?
  • Graham Hill Elementary – 353 students
  • The two schools with the next largest enrollments are also in the southeast quadrant (Emerson – 278, Whitworth – 233)

Which school on the list has the highest capacity rate?

  • Graham Hill Elementary – 83% without preschool, 90% with preschool
  • The runner up is also in the Southeast cluster: Emerson – 58%

Which school on the list ranked highest for Kindergarten first choice?

  • Graham Hill Elementary – 53 students in 2005, including those matriculating through pre-K
  • Higher than every other school in the SE cluster, and than many other schools where the District would otherwise reassign Graham Hill students

Why is Graham Hill Elementary on the closure list?

  • ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll bite.

Some school would have the largest enrollment on the list; in this case it's Graham Hill.
Emerson and Whitworth have much larger buildings so yes, their capacity rate is lower. Again, someone on the list is going to have the highest rate but that doesn't make them a good school.
Kindergarten first choice? You can't count pre-K; how is that fair to the other schools? Take it out and Graham is better than average but not number one.
Who's cherrypicking the data now?

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhere in between.

What are the numbers for the whole district? How does GH rate against schools that are staying open in these categories?

Anonymous said...

On the face of it, anon seems to have a point.

But scrape the surface even a little, and there's much more to learn.

Of school programs slated to close, the southeast quadrant would absorb the lion's share. Nearly 2/3 of kids in closed elementaries are in the southeast. One in six SE elementary kids are on the list. Such kids are 10 times more likely to be on the list than their counterparts in the so-called NE quadrant. That just ain't fair.

OK, some school has to be biggest, and biggest and highest enrolled don't always correllate with quality. Except... Seattle has school choice, and it's reasonable to assume that high enrollment has some correllation with quality. Graham Hill also happens to be academically very successful. The data's there, anon, read it: www.savegrahamhill.org

Regarding the pre-K enrollment, anon seems to have misunderstood the point. In any other school, kids' parents choose a school first in Kindergarten. At Graham Hill, many families first choose the school in Pre-K. When their kids move on to Kindergarten, no choice is even recorded, because matriculation is automatic. So comparing K choice at Graham Hill with other schools is apples and oranges, not cherry picking.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

While it is undeniable some school will be the biggest, you seem to be downplaying student population and capacity rate as significant factors. I respectfully disagree.

First, capacity rate is important for an obvious reason: it is undercapacity that is driving this closure process to begin with. A building that is 90% full is a lesser contributor to that problem than one that is 80% full. In economic terms, capacity rate is also significant. If you have a big building with a 90% capacity rate, the cost per student of that building will be less than a similar building with lower capacity rate. The economic importance of capacity becomes more pronounced once you start comparing larger and smaller buildings. While fixed costs that the District seeks to avoid (e.g., principals and custodial) don't vary hugely with building size, the cost per student of a larger building with 90% capacity is far less than the cost per student of a smaller building with 80% capacity -- there's simply less students to spread the fixed costs to.

Second, total students should be a huge factor in the decision. Closing a building with fewer children impacts less families and has a less dramatic impact on surrounding schools that need to absorb the displaced students. If you can close a smaller school or a bigger school, all other things being equal, it is a no brainer. The cost savings will not be that different, but by closing a smaller school you retain the ability in surrounding schools to absorb increases in population if, as is often the case, the demographers decide in two years that their projections in 2006 were actually too low.

As to the kindergarten issue, I see your point. However, in the final analysis what you have is an apples and oranges situation. Where you have one school delivering its pre-K students to K, and all other schools not doing that, you probably shouldn't be using quantitative data on school choice as a criteria -- one side or the other can claim unfairness. Qualitiatively, however, one cannot avoid the conclusion that the Graham Hill pre-K students are, in fact, choosing to stay in Graham Hill. To ignore them is to understate the popularity of the school.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I get that but first, there seems to be two Anonymous so I'll be Anonymous 1.

The problem is that Graham Hill is two schools. Montessori and Regular Ed. Oh, they want you to believe they are one but it what is there. The Montessori classes are by themselves. The Montessori children are referred to as such as are their teachers. (My sons' elementary school was a Spectrum school and adults were never to ID students or teachers and classes were mixed along the corridors.) The Montessori kids (the smaller part of the school do well while the Regular Ed kids (72% of the bldg) are not doing well at all. So you keep a building open for 1/4 of the kids? The CAC and Superintendent want to retain the Montessori and actively encouraged them to look for solutions. The Regular Ed kids would be better served in other programs.
As to the issue of North/Central, they will have more schools closed; the Super confirmed it at a work session today. So the SE is not understanding that we are not at the end of the process but the middle. I think people will be surprised at the end of it.

Anonymous said...


How can you say that the Regular Ed kids are not doing well at all? Their WASL scores over 2 years put them at 8th out of 17th in the quadrant. Their improvement over 3 years was so significant that the school got an award.

Which data convinced you that the Regular Ed kids would be better served elsewhere? I believed that message when it was first delivered to me by CAC members, but looking at the actual data myself has proved that completely untrue.

Anonymous said...

My children are in the regular program at Graham Hill. It is not hyperbole to say that they have thrived there. My oldest son is currently undergoing testing for Asperger's Syndrome; the Montessori program, while excellent, would have been a poor fit for him.
I will admit that Graham Hill was not my first choice: I relocated to this area in 2004 from Oklahoma. Effectively, I might as well have been throwing darts at a map -- all the schools were the same to me. Based on school stats, however, it was my second choice. The boys started there after the school year had already begun, but the faculty and other children went out of their way to make sure my kids felt at home. I have no interest in moving my children away from Graham Hill whatsoever.

A quick anecdotal list of reasons we all love Graham Hill:

--My oldest son is doing 5th grade math. My younger son is reading at the top end of his grade level and adores his music and science classes.

--Because of Graham Hill, my children are learning that not everyone thinks or looks just like they do, and that there are valuable things to be gained from that.

--I'm a single mom with a full-time job. Kids Company is integrated with Graham Hill and has a first class facility there. Their presence in my children's school means that I can have affordable, convienent care for my children afterschool until I get home from work.

--The Autism Inclusion program and Montessori programs provide valuable insight and methods to the regular programs. As an example, my oldest son's teacher, Mr. Pharis, taught a multi-age classroom this year (1st and 2nd graders). He was able to do this because of the flexibility of thought and approach introduced by the presence of the Montessori program. More importantly to me, because of this he was able to keep my son in his class for two years consecutively, giving Alisdair the chance to mature a bit in a consistent environment before confronting another big change in his school life. Add in that there is a child from the Autism program in that class as well, providing an assistant who specializes in dealing with autism spectrum disorders, and it has been an amazing year for my son.

Whatever it may have been in the beginning, Graham Hill is now our first choice, and one I feel exceptionally fortunate to have found.

Scott said...

Anon 1, regarding N-S parity.

I'm impressed with the strength of your faith. You seem to take Mr. Manhas at his word that north Seattle will have its share of closures. I wish there were no schools on the list. But for the sake of fairness alone, I'd like to be similarly convinced.

Trouble is, I believe Mr. Manhas and the School Board aren't fully in control of the situation, and their best intentions often do not turn out as promised.

Mr. Manhas promised Graham Hill that strong, stable leadership at the school was his top priority. A few months passed, and he's now ready to whack the school off the map. The New School was all but assured it would expand to K-8 in a new building, but a different reality now holds sway.

These folks live in a political world. A year from now, who has the vaguest notion what their priorities might be?

The Board, the CAC, and the District brass seem to be among the few in Seattle who with a straight face can refer to the Central District as "northeast". Ask just about anyone else, and they'd say the CD and Rainier Valley have much more in common. Telling that the only "NE" school to be closed this year is still south of Madison.

My bet is that next year's "NE" closure, if it happens at all, will be similarly mischaracterized.

Anonymous said...

Gah. Should have mentioned that my oldest is doing 5th grade math in 2nd grade. Forgot that small detail.

Anonymous said...

I think that Graham Hill was recommended for closure due to racial politics. I think it was chosen because it is significantly Whiter than any other school in the Southeast and the people making the choices felt a need to close a school with as many White students in it as they could. This was an ineffective and misguided effort to avoid accusations of racism. It lead to a bad decision for students and didn't avoid any of the charges of racism.

Beth Bakeman said...

In response to an earlier comment by the "anonymous" who said "How does GH rate against schools that are staying open in these categories?"...

Graham Hill rates well across the district, and extremely well in the Southeast quadrant, even compared against schools that are staying open.

For example, for 1st choice Kindergarten numbers, ignoring pre-K enrollment, Graham Hill is still in the middle of all schools in the district (36th of 69) and 7th out of 17 schools in the Southeast quadrant. Including kids who choose GH for Kindergarten after attending preschool there (and why some feel they be excluded, I don't understand), Graham Hill is 23rd out of 69 schools district-wide and 4th out of 17 schools in the Southeast quadrant.

The school is considered highly desirable by southeast parents. The numbers just can't be bent to show otherwise.

For percentage capacity, Graham Hill is 8th out of 17 in the Southeast quadrant, ignoring preschool students. It is 5th out of 17 when preschool students are included. (FYI, the preschool and kindergarten students are mixed together in the same classes. We have 2 preK/K classes.)

And the post by Graham Hill didn't even touch on the WASL score issue, where the CAC decided to separate out the Montessori scores and only focus on traditional program scores. Even so, a two-year average of WASL scores for traditional program students only places Graham Hill 8th of 17 in the quadrant, comparing favorably against John Muir and Wing Luke, which have their higher performing Spectrum students included in their rankings.

Anonymous said...

"Of school programs slated to close, the southeast quadrant would absorb the lion's share. Nearly 2/3 of kids in closed elementaries are in the southeast. One in six SE elementary kids are on the list. Such kids are 10 times more likely to be on the list than their counterparts in the so-called NE quadrant. That just ain't fair."

In response, I don't think you should close schools to be "fair", you should close schools based on capacity/need. As the Superintendent mentioned, all the capacity in the NE cluster is in alternative schools, so if you close a NE school, you are closing a school that is already full and trying to spread them among other schools that have wait lists. That's why it seems so disproportionate. Maybe you are referring to the schools South of Madison as well- I get very confused between the NE cluster and NE quadrant regarding to school closures.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1, you've raised a good point, one that I'm not fully prepared to debate, because I don't have all the information I'd need.

The capacity equation in this city is fairly fluid, and it's not necessarily related to school-age populations within each neighborhood. In Columbia City, the neighborhood is crawling with kids, but Whitworth school is underenrolled. Many local parents choose to send their kids north, to TOPS, Montlake, or elsewhere. I think the main underlying reasons for Whitworth's underenrollment are psychological and sociological qualms instead of strict demographics or even aggregate test scores.

If school choice is to be the City's model, then the Rainier Valley and the Central Area need to offer good choices. If we were to extend the current proposal to its logical absurdity, the Board would continue to close the area's viable choices, such as Graham Hill, parents would continue to ship their kids outside the area or outside the public system, and ultimately we could all rely on the north end for our public schooling.

Instead of acting as the school district's janitors by mopping up after everyone has left certain schools, the School Board and the District need to LEAD in southeast Seattle with a vision that promotes quality and attracts students back to those schools.

So it is about fairness, and it's also about enhancing schools that already work well in southeast Seattle.

Graham Hill has demonstrated its effectiveness on several levels. It happens to have lacked a strong advocate and leader over the past several years, and I think that's the main reason it was vulnerable and landed it on the CAC's list.

But parents and teachers have stepped up and continue to champion the school. It's a pity that our relationship with the District will be tainted by mistrust and resentment for years to come, but this process has done wonders for our sense of pride and unity within the school.