Monday, September 18, 2006

Thoughts on School Closure Process

I've read the Superintendent's Preliminary Recommendation for Phase II of the school closures, but don't feel like I know enough to respond to the specifics yet. I would like to hear from parents at all the involved schools with their perspectives to help shape my views.

Of course, part of the reason I don't know how the other schools feel about these issues is because the Phase II process was closed, with a limited group of people involved by invitation only, and little or no communicaton to the wider public about what was being discussed.

The Phase I process was similar in that public involvement really only began after initial recommendations by the CAC. But that process then allowed over three months for public reaction and involvement as it moved on to Raj's preliminary recommendations, his final recommendations, and then the Board vote. Phase II, by contrast, is on very short timeline. with just over 6 weeks from today's announcement to final vote.

I protested loudly that the Phase I school closure process was overly ambitous and poorly designed. But as an advocate for openness and accountability, I have concerns about the Phase II process as well. I admit to feeling conflicted on this issue. Solutions to difficult, emotional issues cannot always be mediated successfully in public.

Below are others' thoughts on the Phase II process:

Coolpapa comment on PI editorial in August - "What amazes me is that on Saturday the 12th, the District announces community meetings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd. They put ads in newspapers inviting people to come. Then, on Thursday the 17th, they cancel the meetings.The meetings were supposed to be to solicit ideas from the community regarding Phase II of the closures and consolidations...Of course, by the time they get around to discussing those ideas with the public the timeline will have grown so short that they will not be able to alter their plans.This is how Seattle Public Schools creates the illusion of community engagement without actually having to do any.

And these quotes from today's Seattle Times article More schools facing closure:

Brita Butler-Wall, Board President - And Manhas' process? "It's not open or transparent, so how can it be fair?"

Michael DeBell, Board member - "only time will tell" whether the superintedent's strategy is a good one.

Melissa Westbrook, CAC member - "said Manhas' process is the most efficient way."


Anonymous said...

I had a long talk with Emily H. from the Times. What I said was that if given the choice between school communities at one meeting fighting over who gets shut down and Raj's way, his way was more efficient. HOWEVER, I did not agree it was the best way and I told Emily that I, along with most people, was completely in the dark about how Phase II came about. (And by the way, at one meeting in one region one school was not represented and that was the school chosen by the other schools to close. Exactly what you would expect.)

My other printed comment was that the district (and the Board) has to show resolve and stay the course. Having said that, the district, through its interesting choices, lack of follow-up and myopic vision about facilities, may just shoot itself in the foot without any of us interfering.

I agree with the fit between Viewlands and B-T (given how unwilling Greenwood teachers were to being open to a merger). I agree with the TT Minor decision although I think that was political in nature. So now the CAC, the Board and the Superintendent punted on that issue. At least we're in agreement over how difficult those issues are.

AS1 is fighting the merger and that's sad. Of all the places they might have been sent to (or worse, their program ended), Summit seems a good fit. Good luck to them but their building is in terrible shape and they might want to think about looking for an upside.

I very much disagree with the SW. One, the CAC said we would not close a program to give another school a building and that is what the district is doing to Cooper. Cooper had outstanding WASL scores this year AND their scores have steadily risen over the last 5 years. Is Cooper underenrolled? Yes by about 200 kids. But here's the problem: the district says they can either remain at Pathfinder or go elsewhere. Cooper is a very geographically isolated school with almost 45% reference area enrollment. The closest schools to them are Lafayette and Schmitz Park, both of which are full. So any parent who doesn't choose Pathfinder will be choosing a long bus ride to High Point or Sanislo or Gatewood. I believe the district made this choice for Pathfinder and against Cooper. And, where's the money for the reconfiguration? Not in the BEX III.

Roxhill was also a bit of a surprise. If they do this, then, again as I said before, Arbor Heights should be renovated because their facility is poor and moving the Roxhill kids there (or to Highland Park or Concord)doesn't serve them well. The district, based on this choice, should revise the BEX III list.

Beth Bakeman said...

Thanks for clarifying your comments, Melissa. As I said in my post, I'm a bit conflicted about the Phase II closure process, and therefore found it interesting to see what others had to say about it.

I'm very surprised Brita would criticize the process so directly and publicly today. It makes me wonder what kind of reception the recommendations will have by Brita and other Board members.

Anonymous said...

What's the take among Pathfinder parents? Great that they bagged Boren, I guess, but does absorbing however many Cooper kids want to join in, mean they have to expand what was, if I have my facts straight, a relatively small program? Is that sort of major growth seen as a positive or negative thing for P'finder? Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

A few comments from a Pathfinder parent - these are my own opinions, not those of the community as a whole.
1) I am delighted to have any and all Cooper students join us. We were fully prepared to welcome Highpoint students, and many are open to as many students from west Seattle as wish to join our community. We believe in our program, and think as more people know about it they will be willing participants. For those who chose not to stay the recommendation gives them highest priority at other West Seattle schools.
2) A look at the distribution of Cooper students residency shows that most them live south of the Cooper reference areas - so their closest schools are High Point, Sansilo, and not Schmitz Park.
3) No matter what the WASL trends at Cooper, they have a terrible problem - they have a reference area that just can't support a school in the model that the District envisions -they have only about 100 students from within their reference area and population trends are heading down. Is this their fault? No, but as long as the district isn't going to support tiny schools, they were in trouble. I don't see a solution other than moving a program in that pulls students from all over West Seattle.
4) Finally, Pathfinder in the last 15 years has grown from nothing to just shy of 400 students, all of whom (in the k-5 grade levels at least) actively choose this program. It is clearly a strong success and needs a viable location for its continued existence.
5) Melissa has pointed to the Cooper building needing modifications for to be a K-8, but those are modifications we don’t have at Genesee Hill, so while it would be nice to have them, I don't see that not getting them is a reason to stay put.

Anonymous said...

At the Community Conversation meeting at Mercer I asked Mark Green why there was no money in BEX III for the capital costs of the Closures and Consolidations such as the conversion of Whitworth for use as a K-8.

He told me that the money for those costs will come from BTA II. The buildings being closed are all in pretty bad shape and had money appropriated from BTA II to address their repairs. The closure of those buildings cancels the repairs and allows for the reappropriation of that BTA II money. He said that while it is not exactly a dollar for dollar match, the amounts saved by the closures and the amounts incurred by the consolidations and moves are essentially the same.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question:

Why no public hearing at Cooper?

There will be a public hearing at Genesee Hill because that building is closing although the program is continuing.

There is no public hearing at Cooper where the building will remain open but the program is closing.

The District doesn't do any community engagement that they are not legally required to do. This is not smart. They should add a public hearing at Cooper - even if it isn't absolutely required by state law. It could be argued (and argued in Court) that the school is closing - even if the building is remaining open.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Charlie's comment about a public hearing at Cooper, I had assumed there would be one. I will add my voice to that glaring oversight - sometimes going "by the book" isn't the right thing to do. Thanks for calling that out, I hadn't checked the public hearings schedule.

Roy Smith said...

Re: melissa w.'s comment about AS1 fighting the merger:

I am an AS1 parent who attended our school meeting last Thursday when this first came up, and my general feeling is that the AS1 community is not automatically opposed to colocation, but that there is a lot of anger that nobody at the school was consulted about it first. Since no effort was expended on the part of the school district to get community buy-in of the idea, it shouldn't be a surprise that the community is buying it now.

If the concerns about adequate space availability in the Summit building can be resolved (a very large unanswered question at this point) and if the school district will show a willingness to actually engage the schools involved, rather than imposing change from above, it is quite possible that the idea could be made to work. However, that process is not going to happen in six weeks, and the district has set itself back considerably with this rushed, closed, and undemocratic process.

Anonymous said...

roy smith's point is EXACTLY on target!

The arrogance, the high-handedness, the rudeness, the disrespect, the lack of simple human decency inherent in the District's processes are symptomatic of the dysfunctional culture of the organization.

As soon as they had this idea they should have begun including the AS1 community in the conversation.

They should have come to the AS1 community, explained their thinking, described the advantages they saw in their idea for the AS1 students, families, and staff, and asked what were their concerns and how the idea could be improved. Then they should have shut up and listened. They should have found some way to incorporate the input they received into their plans.

You can't get buy-in unless you allow people to invest. How can they not know this?

Instead of that respectful effort to get buy-in, improve the proposal, and develop a cooperative relationship, they drop the idea out of the sky on these folks. The District uses delays to manufacture short time frames that don't allow any effective or authentic community input and don't allow any opportunity to research alternative plans. Then they frogmarch their idea through the legal hoops. They call these things "proposals" but there is really very little possibility that this train can be derailed or switch tracks. This proposal is going to become the plan as surely as a falling rock.

There will be a public hearing, but there is nothing that anyone can say or do that would dissuade them from their chosen path. They will dismiss all those who oppose the plan as cranks and complainers while they insist that they have a lot of support from some silent majority.

This is yet another of their many Catch-22 tricks to discount anything you might say. They have a lot of them. That could be the topic of a post all to itself.

The public is going to have their say. The District can allow it before the decision is made, in which case it is input, or they can allow it after the decision is made, in which case it is a complaint. The District gets to choose whether they get input or complaints, yet they consistently choose to get complaints.

The amazing thing about all of this is how the District staff can wonder why they get complaints when that is the only role they allow people.

They refuse to work cooperatively and collaboratively with the community, and then they wonder why they don't have a more cooperative and collaborative relationship.

They act in bad faith and then they wonder why people don't trust them.

They are consistently disrespectful to the public and then they wonder why the public is disrespectful to them.

Anonymous said...

followup question for Eric B ... since you mention "K-5 at least" as actively choosing Pathfinder ... what then is the deal with 6-8th graders? Not actively choosing? We have a 5th grader in another West Seattle elementary and have to decide soon what to choose for middle school - we have been thinking about checking out P'finder since our child is not likely to do well in the giant Madison or Denny type of middle school. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

So Cooper is being thrown under the bus to make room for Pathfinder. These are some of the same people who talked about racism, equity, due process and democracy. How dare they be delighted- where's the outrage? Or is outrage only reserved for when it serves your interests?

Anonymous said...

likewise, hypocritical, I wonder if all the impassioned TOPS, Sacajawea, Graham Hill and View Ridge social justice advocates will be out in force to protest this time...

snarky but true...

Beth Bakeman said...

Hypocritical, I acknowledge your point and Weary's as well. All parents fight for their schools,and you see the greatest outrage and turn out from parents whose schools are slated for closure.

But what exactly do you think would be an appropriate reaction from Pathfinder parents? Pathfinder parents believe in the value of their school, like most parents. The district has said Pathfinder can't stay in the Genessee Hill building and they won't build Pathfinder a new building or remodel the existing one.

Personally, I am uncomfortable with any school closure decision that results in the dispersal of students to several schools. I fought particularly hard against the closure of Emerson and Graham Hill because of the dispersion that would have resulted.

I don't want Cooper or Roxhill students to be sent to be split up among several schools, and am very concerned about the impact on the kids.

I do think the Pathfinder program is very high quality and that many children would thrive academically and socially in it.

So where does that leave me as a new Pathfinder parent? Happy that the decision wasn't to just close Cooper and disperse all the kids. Unhappy that the district can't find the political will and the funds to remodel the Pathfinder Genesee Hill building, and then support the viability of the Cooper school by co-locating a non-profit or other organization there that could bring in resources and provide services to those families.

The current recommendation is not as bad as it could have been, but not what I wish was happening. So what's an appropriate response? I'm stumped.

Anonymous said...

First, to be clear, this is meant in the spirit of conversation and not meant to be personal is not personal in any way. These are challenging issues.

"What is an appropriate response?"

There is a saying, "we get the leaders we deserve."

If we demand vision, accountability, integrity and respect from our leaders and agencies then we must act from the same principles.

Is "not as bad as it could have been" the bar that we want to set? What is preventing the advocacy/demand for a more holistic (or even consistent) approach? We can acknowledge that there is excess capacity and still demand that closures proceed in a consistent, open manner. We can still demand the Pathfinder get the facility it deserves. And we can do this without compromising the values we want SPS to live out. This is the nature of true accountability.

G-Hill was not closed by the Supt according to this reasoning "Graham Hill was removed from the preliminary recommendation due to the dispersal of students violating the School Board’s principles of equity and minimizing disruption. While the Southeast quadrant does have enough excess capacity to close an additional school, the majority of that excess capacity is at African American Academy (an alternative school)."

So now dispersal is ok? Asking non-alternative school children to attend an alternative school is now ok? It probably was all along, but the more troubling issue is the lack of a consistent approach. Shouldn't words and actions match, or are they just to get whatever agenda needed through at that point in time?

You are right in thinking that most think only of their own child/school. This isn't something that should be allowed to be exploited, it is something that thoughtful people should rise above. Sustainable change over time will only come by doing this.

Scott said...

Ouch... Weary hits a chord.

No doubt, I was most motivated when my son's school was on the block. Crises motivate me best, especially when they affect my community and my family.

While the District's stirring definitely roiled the school community's emotional waters, I think it also sensitized parents to the broader issues around closures and heightened people's empathy for other schools' experiences.

We're just parents, not likely to devote precious hours to activism unless we're driven to it. But we're primed for taking a limited part in this process, especially if our goals are clearly defined and our actions are succinct.

I very much appreciated Beth's call to contact the District on an issue of basic fairness. It's a much more proactive approach that assumes people care about closures even when their school isn't imminently affected.

Many schools on the original CAC closures list now have informal, possibly dormant networks of people who are open to taking part again.

If Weary wants parents to turn out about issues of social justice, it will take some basic organizing to activate them. It takes personal contact, it takes the synthesis of a message, and it takes some strategizing. It almost never happens by itself.

Beth Bakeman said...

Sigh, thank for your thoughtful response. I really meant it when I said I was "stumped." I personally am committed to fighting for what I believe in, which includes social justice.

I am also a pragmatist. I believe Pathfinder should get the facility it deserves. But the parents there have been fighting for that for many years now without results. I don't believe the Pathfinder parents should be vilified for being willing to accept a solution worked out between the Cooper and Pathfinder principal and, I believe, a few parents and staff.

Everyone needs to follow their own beliefs and stand up for what they think is right. I will do that tomorrow night at the Board meeting and Thursday night at the public hearing.

All I ask is that others listen openly to me and other Pathfinder parents, and imagine how they would react in the same situation.

Anonymous said...

Sigh is, of course, absolutely right - particularly when pointing out the inconsistency between the preservation of Graham Hill and the dispersal of Cooper.

This speaks to transparency. A significant part of transparency is the idea that the rules apply to everyone equally. If Graham Hill is removed from the closure list because it would require the dispersal of the learning community, then Cooper should be removed from the closure list if it presents the same situation.

This is precisely the sort of thing that people should say at the public hearing for Cooper - that is, what they would say if there was going to be a public hearing for Cooper.

Unfortunately, there is no public hearing scheduled for Cooper. While it is possible that some people will try to discuss Cooper at the Genesee Hill public hearing, the instructions are clear: the speakers are to restrict their comments to the building where the hearing is taking place. The Genesee Hill public hearing is not the time or place to discuss Cooper. There is no time or place to discuss Cooper.

For all of the talk about how the school is the learning community and not the building, Cooper is the learning community that is being terminated, but the public hearing is about the building being closed. The District needs to fix this without further delay.

Roy Smith said...

I think it is somewhat unfair to criticize parents for speaking out most loudly when their child's school is the one being affected by changes. Any kind of activism takes large amounts of commitment and time, and time is in short supply for most people. Just because someone speaks out against closure of their child's school based on issues of equity or social justice shouldn't automatically incur an obligation to carry that same banner all the time throughout the district - most of us would like to be able to use some of our free time in ways other than holding the district's feet to the fire, whether it is in non-education related activism, actually being active in the local school (rather than fighting to keep it open), or just plain spending time at home with our children rather than attending school board meetings.

I certainly never planned to attend a school board meeting before my child's school ended up on the chopping block - there are lots of other valuable things that I have to do with my time, many of which are activities that directly benefit my child and/or other children. And if the plan presented had even basic answers about how the schools in question weren't going to be overcrowded, I probably would have been of a mind to accept change and work with the school district to make it go smoothly.

The school district at times has recognized that this process (both Phase 1 and Phase 2) has been rushed, and that this could be detrimental to educational outcomes. The decision not to close Graham Hill during Phase 1 and the decision to not recommend a central area school for closure during phase 2 (because T.T. Minor was the best choice but was not available for consideration) I think are in fact tacit acknowledgments that the process is going too fast and may generate perverse outcomes.

I guess the most amazing thing about watching phase 2 for me is the fact that the Superintendent's office has presented a plan that has so many opportunities to be attacked: overcrowding the Summit building (and installing portables in a district with excess capacity!?!?! (that possibility is raised in the Preliminary Recommendations Report)), possible overcrowding in the Cooper building, giving Cooper students the choice between integration in an alternative program (something the district has said it won't force students to do) or dispersal (which is why Graham Hill came off the list the last time around), lack of a public hearing at Cooper (even though it may be the school community that is going to go through the most traumatic and confusing changes), lack of public engagement, the possibility that we will get to experience yet a third round of this process (since nothing happenned with the Central Area this time around), and the fact that the questions about what to do with the Wilson-Pacific and John Marshall buildings and the programs they house still haven't been addressed.

Phase 1 of this process, for all its flaws and controversy, did at least produce something resembling community consensus and gave people time to provide feedback, and after the decision was made, adequate time to prepare for the transitions. It is sad that the district has apparently decided that allowing for public feedback and an honest dialogue and search for solutions is too hard for Phase 2.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Beth's comment:
"..don't believe the Pathfinder parents should be vilified for being willing to accept a solution worked out between the Cooper and Pathfinder principal and, I believe, a few parents and staff."

My understanding is that the solution *may* have been worked out between the principals of the two schools - I know they had a meeting with District staff but don't know if they actually agreed upon a solution at that time or just provided more input. Parents & staff were not involved in that meeting; they WERE involved in the initial meetings in late August.

I agree with the comments about the right for all affected parties to have an equal opportunity to voice their opinions. I have sent a message to the Supt and Staff asking them to scheduled a site hearing at Cooper.