Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Pathfinder Cooper Recommendation is Wrong

Here's my testimony from the public hearing tonight:

This week, I was quoted in the PI as saying…"It seems like a fine idea to take a school that is as high quality as Pathfinder and put it in a building where it can thrive, and invite more people to join in,"

I love Pathfinder. My husband and I have arranged our work schedules so we can provide transportation there and back every day from our South Seattle home. And, I want to spread the word about what a wonderful school Pathfinder is and invite others to join in. We have finally found the school that meets our girls’ educational and social needs and we are thrilled.

But the PI left out what I said before and after that. Before that I said, I don’t know a lot about what’s been proposed. And after the quote, I said, of course the devil is in the details.

In the three days since, I’ve done a lot of reading and research and talked with other parents. And I’ve decided, personally, that the Superintendent’s recommendation for Pathfinder and Cooper is WRONG.

It’s wrong that Pathfinder, the only alternative school in West Seattle, and the only K-8 in West Seattle has had portables for grades 6 through 8 for many years.

It’s wrong that my daughter. Emma, will have to wear her coat, inside, on cold days this winter, because of problems with heating in some of the rooms.

It’s wrong that both the library and gym at Pathfinder put together are smaller than this meeting room.

And it’s wrong that Pathfinder, unlike Orca and unlike Salmon Bay, has never been giving sufficient funding or an appropriate space to transform from a K-5 program to a K-8 program.

The district needs to address these issues.

It’s also wrong that Cooper families, who have chosen a quality traditional neighborhood school are being told they need to become part of an alternative education program or leave.

It’s wrong that in this recommendation, Cooper children would be dispersed among many different schools.

It’s wrong to suggest combining two school populations together in one building with insufficient capacity, and then say this won’t be a problem since many Cooper families will leave.

It’s wrong to say that all small schools need to be closed without exploring creative options for making them financially viable.

The district needs to address these issues.

This preliminary recommendation pits Cooper against Pathfinder, suggesting that the needs of one school can only be met at the expense of the other school. And that is wrong.

Given a choice of A) Supporting the proposal so Pathfinder can finally have a decent home; and B) Rejecting the proposal because the impact on the Cooper families is harsh and unjust, I choose C) Demanding that the district work, in good faith, to solve these problems separately, looking for creative solutions, and taking the time necessary to do that work well.

Here are two options to explore:

1) Put rebuilding the Genesee Hill building for Pathfinder on the BEX III Levy. The district’s obligation to provide a decent building for Pathfinder is long overdue.

2) Explore co-location of a non-profit in the Cooper building, bringing in additional resources and providing services to area families. This idea has been very successful in Washington DC and other urban school districts looking to sustain small school populations.

I’m sure there are other possible creative options to solve the separate problems at Cooper and Pathfinder. I reject the idea of solving Pathfinder problems at the expense of Cooper families. It is just plain wrong.


Beth Bakeman said...

Another idea for funding a remodel of the Genesee Hill building for Pathfinder: use the sale of property funds. It's apparently being done for the BOC.

From Charlie Mas comment on an earlier post: The B.O.C. requested and the Board adopted a different funding for the construction/renovation of a building for the Secondary B.O.C. Instead of being funded through capital levies, it will be funded through property sales. So when the District sells John Marshall, this is where that money will go.

Anonymous said...

It is simple: Cooper does not meet the criteria for closure as set out by the Board. There simply isn't enough excess capacity in the surrounding schools.

Again, if there is a perception that Cooper has excess capacity, let's remember that there are a number of programs looking for a home right now that would fit into the available space at Cooper.

The excess capacity at Cooper is NOT what is driving this move, however. This move is being driven by Pathfinder's need for a suitable building. A better solution for that problem would be to address it directly with BEX III money.

A theme of BEX III is middle schools and K-8's. Pathfinder, a K-8, fits right into that theme. The District apparently has already explored the possibility of renovating Fairmont Park, Genesee Hill and E C Hughes for use by Pathfinder. They must already have some rough idea of the costs.

It would be easy for the District to amend the BEX III Option 2 to include a Pathfinder renovation in the place of renovations for McGilvra and the other elementary school in that package.

That said, Mark Green was being extraordinarily candid when he said that the chances of putting Pathfinder on BEX III were "zero".

District staff proposals are extremely resistant to change. It doesn't matter what you say; they aren't listening. Don't feel bad; it often doesn't matter what Board members say.

You will have to go to the Board instead of the District staff to get BEX III amended to include a Pathfinder renovation.

Anonymous said...

District staff use a variety of techniques to squelch public input.

They defer making proposals until just before the deadline for a decision. Then they use the short deadline (which they manufactured) as an excuse to skip community engagement and to refuse to explore alternatives.

If you talk about your child's program they will say "Well, you're a strong advocate for YOUR child, but I need to think about the needs of every student in the District." If you talk about a program that your child isn't in, they will say "Why don't you let the families with children in that program speak for themselves. They aren't complaining about this." This is a classic Catch-22.

Another Catch-22 trick they pull is to tell you that your complaint is coming too soon "This is just a preliminary proposal - not a decision. Don't get all worked up over it; it's going to change." Then when the proposal suddenly becomes the decision without any change they say "It's too late to provide input, this decision is made. You should have talked to us about this when it was a proposal."

I have had a Board member tell me that my testimony on the evening that an action item was up for a vote came too late to influence her vote. That same Board member, a few months later, said that it was on the evening that action items are up for a vote that she wanted to hear from the public about them.

District staff may tell you that they can't do what you want because it would be in violation of District Policy, but they violate District Policy ALL THE TIME. If you oppose a decision or action because it is in violation of District Policy they will look at you blankly and say that everyone knows about it and they didn't get in any trouble for it.

Anonymous said...

Here are more ways that the staff squelches public input:

They don't allow input on the decision until after it is made. Then they characterize all of the input as "complaints" and dismiss it. The fact is that the public comments are the same whether they come before or after the decision. If they come before the decision they are input. If they come after the decision they are complaints. The District controls the timing of the public comments so the District chooses whether they get input or complaints.

When people become angry and confrontational, the District staff will cluck their tongues and bemoan the public's unwillingness to enter into a collaborative and cooperative relationship. The truth is that it is the District staff who refuse to enter into a collaborative and cooperative relationship. That is usually what has people angry and confrontational.

Anonymous said...

Here's another "gotcha" trick that the District uses. You have to use the proper channels. Don't send your complaints to the Board; they can't help you. Literally. The Board members are prohibited from becoming involved in the day-to-day operation and administration of the District. The Board members are not allowed to solve your problem for you. Instead, send your complaint to customer service. There is a District Policy that dictates the complaint procedure and IT IS POWERFUL. I have used it and found it effective.

If you want to beat a bureaucracy you have to fill out the forms, follow the procedures, and go through the proper channels. Not only is it incredibly effective, it precludes them from dismissing your complaint because you didn't.

Anonymous said...

Well, the issue of what Board members can and cannot do seems somewhat discretionary depending on the Board member. I have seen Board members (former Don Nielsen, current Irene Stewart and Michael deBell) refer to problems they solved for individual parents. That's really not supposed to be happening (unless it is facilitiating a meeting between that parent and staff who can solve a problem). It makes me uneasy because that isn't their role and because they are elected by the entire city and not just one area. My understanding was that they are representing an area so that there is expertise on each area on the Board (meaning, each Board member doesn't have to know every area of the district intimately and counts on other board members to fill in gaps in knowledge). Mary Bass represents her district but in a much more broad-based way (even though she hardly ever wins).

I mentioned this to a reporter and who had noticed it as well and was going to pitch a story idea to an editor.

Roy Smith said...

Charlie -

Can you provide some more detail here on how to activate the customer service/complaint system?

I'm sure a number of readers on this website have the (apparently mistaken) notion that the school board actually has the power (if they exercise it) to fix problems.


Anonymous said...

Roy and others,

You should first direct your complaint to the person in the District whom you believe is violating District Policy. If you are unable to get a satisfactory response from that person or if you choose not to speak with them, contact customer service and tell them that you want to make a formal complaint.

The complain policy and procedure is among the District policies on their web site. Complaint forms are available at Board meetings.