Saturday, January 13, 2007

Choosing a School: Middle Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about middle schools, share them here with other parents.

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

The only middle schools I know anything about are alternative K-8's: Salmon Bay, TOPS, AS#1 and Pathfinder, and I've heard very good things about all of them. As Carla Santorno points out, if you choose a K-8 school, you can't expect to have as large a variety of course offerings as in a traditional middle school, but there are tradeoffs in terms of size and community connections that make it worth it for many parents and their children.


Anonymous said...

We plan to tour Madison and wonder about other families' experiences there. Can you please share your likes/dislikes about Madison?

Anonymous said...

I can only tell you one thing about Madison and that is in the context of Spectrum and highly capable students. Madison has an "inclusion" program which means they do not believe in separating students who work at different academic levels. They have a "Challenge" program which offers students the chance to do extra work to go more in-depth via extra reading, worksheets or projects. Most middle schools have honors math but I don't know if Madison's inclusion program extends to math.

I can speak to Eckstein. I think that Eckstein has a very strong teaching staff. They divide the students up into different teams and the teachers in each team work together. I think this does provide a stronger academic program and increases their ability to watch over student progress. You cannot choose your student's team. I think most teams are good but the amount of homework varies wildly and parents have complained about this for a long time. They have the best WASL scores in the city even among minority students.

They have an exceptional principal in Marni Campbell who has been there for about 4 years. She has the ability to be kind yet firm. She listens and responds. I believe she has the respect of her staff and teachers. They also have a great librarian in Jean Trent.

I believe that at least one-third of the students particiate in the music program under Mr. Escobedo (who was awarded a Golden Apple teaching award this past year). He is a tremendous teacher and I don't honestly know how he does it. Many of the students in his jazz band go on to Garfield or Roosevelt's top jazz bands.

There were complaints in the past about students who didn't take music and their offerings. It has gotten much better and they have video production and CAD (Mr. Wysen loves his subject and has set up a machine area where the projects students design in CAD can be reproduced in plastic).

They have portables which are, seemingly, permanent, and not great. But my kids only had 1 class in 3 years out in them.

There's a strong PTA although I will tell parents that parent involvement drops off heavily in middle school. The events get done but you get very few bodies at the PTA meetings.

Speaking of events, one highlight for parents and students is Project Reach which is done in the 7th grade. Every student has to do a 3 -sided project board about their family background whether it is ethnic, a family hobby or a family business. Then, there is one night where every board is displayed and the students stand by their board and answer questions as parents circulate. It is very moving to learn about some family histories and know that these kids have learned something about their families and themselves.

There is a small rock wall and a game room in the building that students can use during lunch hour. Students have various field trips and activity days. The PTA paid to have a storage bin placed in the back of the school filled with emergency needs should we have a major earthquake. Great front-office staff.

The only flaws? Too many students in the building. If the staff wasn't so good, it could be a mess. The district, several years back, couldn't have touted more the benefits of smaller high schools while allowing Eckstein, Whitman and Washington to grow to over 1,000 students. Having said that, don't worry about your 5th grader getting eaten alive in a big school. Most of them just thrive and are proud of their ability to negotiate those halls. (They're not exactly the mean streets of Seattle.)

The other flaw is the administrative's staff tendency to go overboard during parent/teacher meetings. Instead of you and a teacher, they bring in the team plus an administrator. If you don't know this is coming, it can be overwhelming to walk into a room thinking you are going to talk to one person about one class and then face a roomful of people.

I can't speak to other middle schools but Eckstein was a good choice for us.

Anonymous said...

All I can add in relates to the building, which is a recent remodel and wonderful. Madison is the only middle school in the district that was build as a middle school, as opposed to a Junior High. Because of this, the building structure is more pod-like (a design concept traditionally used at elementary or K-8s) rather than the traditional hallway/individual classroom high school-like model.

Anonymous said...

Our son started 6th grade at Madison this year and is doing well. Madison sounds like Eckstein in terms of its structure - each grade level is divided into two "teams" providing the team teaching and smaller community that helps the fact that there are about 300 kids at each grade level. On a recent project there was an integrated science, math, and LA/SS portion. Each grade is also housed on its own floor of the building, so there isn't a lot of co-mingling between the different grades. There is a terrific after-school program and I find the principal to be very direct yet friendly. We have had minimal interaction with the teaching staff (back-to-school night, one general parent-teacher conference, and one email exchange with a teacher) and all have been satisfactory.

My only "dislike" is that communication is a bit spotty. The PTA sends a decent newsletter via snail mail each month, but any other school-related announcements or messages are at the mercy of kid-mail.