Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Finalizing Phase I & Moving on to Phase II

At tonight's School Board meeting, I requested two things as Phase I of the school closures is finalized and we move on to Phase II:

- Legitimate community involvement: not just asking for public response to plans, but actually involving community members when generating suggestions.
  • The district is aiming to identify 3 more school buildings for closure by a September 18th deadline (one in the North, one in Central, one in West Seattle). Those decisions (called "Phase II" of the school closure plan) will be extremely difficult to make and need to be handled in a collaborative manner, with a focus always on what is best for the children and families involved. I still question whether 3 more closures are needed, but if the process is going forward, it needs to have grassroots involvement from the start.
  • The district is also going to begin discussing changes to student assignment and transportation plans. Get the community at the table from the beginning, in a real and meaningful way, and the suggestions generated will be better.
  • Principal assignment decisions connected to the closure and consolidation process must not be made by the superintendent and district staff without consulting the affected communities. The overall principal assignment process should also be examined to prevent a situation like the one that occurred at Graham Hill (where 7 principals were assigned in 6 years, all without community input) from repeating itself elsewhere in the future.

- More openness with information: in a two-way, honest exchange of information between Board and/or district staff and community members.

  • The lack of detail about what is happening to the John Marshall programs generates rumors and uncertainty.
  • The lack of information about what building the New School will get and what building the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center will get --- both schools that have been promised buildings by the district in an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) --- continues to fuel speculation.
  • The decision to send the Viewlands preschool to Whittier, which was apparently made one day, changed the next day because of public outrage, and now, according to the superintendent's recommendations, is back on the table for consideration, gives rise to bitterness and lack of trust.
  • Public hearings and chances for community input were plentiful throughout the school closure process. What was lacking was a chance for School Board members and district staff to present their ideas and opinions to the public or, more ideally, to engage in 2-way conversation.

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