Monday, September 25, 2006

The Importance of Quality Neighborhood Schools

At the public hearing on Phase II last Thursday, the turnout from both Roxhill and Cooper was impressive. Parents, teachers and children spoke passionately about the importance of those schools to their communities.

One Roxhill parent, speaking through an interpreter, got laughs from the crowd when he asked why the district, which is trying to cut back on transportation costs, would close a school to which many kids walk, and then have to pay to put them on buses to go somewhere else.

In both phases of the closure and consolidation recommendations, the district seems to be underestimating the importance of quality neighborhood schools. A quality neighborhood school serves many more functions than just the education of the children in that neighborhood. Depending upon the community, it can be a gathering place, a provider of other necessary community services (like preschool, childcare and adult ELL classes) and also an important point of pride. These additional functions of neighborhood schools are particularly important in communities with a large number of low-income and bilingual families. Yet nowhere in the calculations and decisions about which schools to close has this been taken into account!

Did anyone at the district working on Phase II recommendations realize they are suggesting the closure of both the school with the first African American teacher hired to teach within the Seattle Public School District (Cooper) and the school with the first African American principal (Roxhill)? These are obviously not reasons, by themselves, to keep these schools open. But ignoring this history also sends a message that these milestones are not valued within Seattle Public Schools.

I am not oblivious to the financial difficulties of the district. And I am not completely against the closure of any schools. I believe some of the mergers in Phase I make sense and provide these schools with a chance for greater resources and greater success. But I don't see what positive outcomes will be accomplished through any of the Phase II recommendations. The district should drop this second round of closures and consolidations, and move towards exploring creative ways to bring other income and occupants into these buildings.

Take a look at the Roxhill and Cooper web sites to learn more about these neighborhood schools.

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