Monday, October 30, 2006

APP Update

I was recently asked, on this blog, if I had any direct experience with the threat of school closures. The person asking the question was aware that I am father to a student at Lowell, but wasn't aware of the changes pending at that school and in Advanced Learning programs. So, just in case anyone is interested, I will bring everyone up to date on what is going on in APP.

The Program Placement Committee has made an initial recommendation that, starting in 2008, both Hamilton International Middle School and Washington Middle School will offer APP. The program at Hamilton will start with sixth graders in 2008, will have sixth and seventh graders in 2009, and will have all three grades of APP starting in 2010. It has not yet been determined how many APP students will be a Hamilton, how they will be chosen, or how they will be served. It has not yet been determined which, if any, of the APP teachers at Washington will transfer to Hamilton. It is not clear whether the community at Hamilton is even aware of the decision, let alone the consequences of such a decision.

The APP community strongly preferred keeping the cohort together. We are a community and do not care to be split up any more than any other community would like to be split up. Establishing APP at Hamilton presents a number of challenges. So far, the APP community has expressed their commitment to make a good faith effort to confront these challenges and make the proposal work, but that the proposal will not be succesful without support from the District, the administration and staff at each of the buildings, and the school communities to an extent that has not yet been demonstrated.

The Program Placement Committee did not address the issue of overcrowding at Lowell. They will defer that decision until the resolution of the closure and consolidation decisions in the Central Cluster. They did, however, notice that the students with IEPs at Lowell - there is a significant low-incidence Special Education program there - did not have access to general education classrooms and therefore were not in the least restrictive environment as required by law. Lowell has APP and SPED students, but no general education students. To rectify this situation, Program Placement has recommended that the SPED students be relocated to another building for next year. The new location has not yet been determined. That puts these fragile students and their families in a situtation similar to the situation of the John Marshall students. The District has a long way to go to make this right.

Other than failing to meet this legal requirement, the two programs at Lowell are extremely well matched. There are some strong friendships between the APP and SPED students and both groups of students find an unusual degree of acceptance with each other. Lowell has two programs, but one community. This recommendation from Program Placement is hard to accept. My kids have benefited tremendously from sharing a school with the low-incidence Special Education students and I have heard reciprocal reports from families of SPED students.

Program Placement may make recommendations next year regarding APP at Lowell. There is a significant possibility that Lowell could be re-purposed as a neighborhood school - the district needs the additional capacity in Capitol Hill close to Eastlake and a split APP cohort wouldn't begin to make use of the available capacity. In that case, it will seem an unnecessary expense and disruption to have moved the SPED students out of the building. The Program Placement Committee will make their final recommendation in November and the Superintendent will make decisions regarding program placement for 2007 in December.

I almost had to laugh when I was asked if I ever had to deal with the possibility that my child's school would close. I have been in constant struggle with Seattle Public Schools for over five years regarding their support for Advanced Learning programs. For years I defended Spectrum, and I continue to do so. APP seemed safe compared to Spectrum, but now APP does not appear safe at all. For those of you deep in school closure issues, welcome. My children's school and program have been under constant and severe threat for over five years and I know that they will be continue to be under severe threat for at least two years to come. That's why it may seem that APP and Spectrum families testify before the Board a lot - we have been fighting for our schools for years. Many people don't know about APP and Spectrum, many don't recognize the need for such programs. There are not a lot of people who would have sympathy for Spectrum or APP if they should be elminated. There are, in fact, a number of people who strongly oppose the very existence of these programs, many of them within the District, everywhere from parents in schools, to teachers in classrooms, to principals, to District staff, and all the way to the Board.

You haven't heard about all of these changes because Spectrum and APP are programs, not schools. The Superintendent can relocate or eliminate programs at his discretion. It does not require the vote of the Board nor a public hearing. There doesn't have to be any public process at all. It is not reported in the newspapers. If you're not a party to it, there is little reason for you to know about it. APP and Spectrum families generally don't talk about their children's participation in the programs very much. There is a lot of animosity towards the programs so we just don't mention it. When asked where my daughter goes to school, I usually say "on Capitol Hill".

Anyway, if I ever appear, in person or in writing, as a grizzled veteran, it's because I am.


Christina said...

Thanks so much for this well-timed blog post, Charlie. I'm a parent of a preschooler who has tested at the cognitive level within Lowell acceptance range. I e-mailed some of the Lowell staff last week about its programs. I will very soon start earnest research and investigation into my son's options, and I suppose I'll start attending events to determine if Seattle Public Schools and my child are right for each other.

Charlie Mas said...

The APP Advisory Committee hosted a meeting on Monday night at Lowell to discuss the proposal from Program Placement.

There was no effort to reach a consensus, but the general tone was cautious. The good or ill of this proposal will come out in the details, and we haven't seen the details yet. We can't endorse a split without assurances from the District and from the buildings that they will adequately support the students, yet their credibility is so poor that I don't know what assurances they could give that people would accept. There is signficant suspicion that this is the first step to splitting the elementary cohort and the high school cohort.

While this proposal could work, and could work well, there is little reason to believe that the District and the schools will hold up their end of any bargain.

Beth Bakeman said...

What district staff are you working with, Charlie? And what makes you think this proposal could work and work well? I had thought from reading earlier posts by you that you were against dividing the APP cohort at all.

Charlie Mas said...

As I wrote,

there is little reason to believe that the District and the schools will hold up their end of any bargain

so rest assured that I know what District I'm working with.

As to the proposal working well, Hamilton is a lot closer to the center of gravity for the APP community than Washington. And Washington is really hard to get to from the North-end. There are a lot of APP-eligble students who don't go to Washington because it presents a tough commute. To be honest, I suspect there are some families who don't want their child at an inner-city school - many of them Black. There is good cause to believe that a lot of APP students will come out of the workwork if APP were at Hamilton.

The reasons for keeping the cohort together are academic, social, emotional, and political.

Academically we need enough students and teachers to form a critical mass to support a viable learning community. That could be done with as few as 180 students. This is essentially two sections at each grade level.

Socially, the students need to mix with their peers to provide the necessary "geek friendly environment". Again, 180 is the absolute minimum and it helps that Hamilton has "pods". APP could be a self-contained pod at Hamilton.

Emotionally, the students need others around for protection. It is similar to the social reason, but is specific to avoiding negative interactions more than providing positive ones.

Politically, APP needs to be a big enough portion of the school body to have a strong enough voice to get the resources the students need.

All of these things are possible in a split with Hamilton. Of course, they aren't likely. No one can give us the assurances we need - not the Superintendent; he'll be gone next year. Not the Hamilton principal; also gone next year.

The community met again last night at Washington and