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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What is and is not an alternative school?

Okay! Have at it!

29 comments:

Jet City mom said...

IMO what is "alternative" changes.

When my oldest was kindergarten age, Summit was alternative, because their offerings were different than what "traditional schools" chose for their classrooms.

Weekly swimming, mixed age classrooms, foreign language/drama/art/music emphasis, other means of evaluation than report cards, lots of experiential and out of the classroom learning, made it an alternative school.

However- those practices have been adopted in enough other schools, that they alone do not make an alternative school. IMO.

The Center school for example is not considered to be an alternative school despite its affliation with outside arts organizations & its lack of "comprehensive" opportunities offered at traditional schools.
For instance
the main sport offered seems to be Ultimate frisbee ;)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The_Center_School_(Seattle)

Alternative is in the eye of the beholder.


In our district, I think the word to many brings up the image of Waldorfy- don't teach reading till 8 years old, no television and only sprouts/tofu/tiedye, rather than equally "alternative", Montessori, language immersion or science focus schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

As a member of the CAC, I read the report about Alternative Schools and found it useful. I also didn't find it swayed by alternative parents because the alternative schools are so different, you couldn't necessarily believe they are all of the same mind when it comes to alternative schools.

A couple of things to keep in mind with this discussion:

-the alternative moniker means different things, both in Seattle and nationally. Many people in Seattle believe alternative means re-entry schools for challenging kids (and that means not just kids with bad behavior but kids who haven't found a school that fits) or a hippy-dippy school. From some of the posts that seems to be true.

In Seattle, it can be both those things plus schools that were generated by parents who wanted a particular focus that carried throughout everything the school does (not just in academics). What is interesting to me (that many might not know, I didn't) is that many things done in traditional schools were started in alternative schools. You might not remember but traditional schools didn't always have a focus and were just general curriculum schools. Many "regular ed" schools now have a particular focus but it doesn't make them alternative.

-again, the district uses "non-traditional" and "alternative". I think the district calls every non-alternative K-8 a "non-traditional". I'd have to go back and reread the Alternative Schools report but I don't recall that this difference is explained.

-K-8s were discussed during the CAC and I heard many parents, for different reasons, advocating them. Again, keep in mind, there are advantages to both kinds of schools (traditional 6-8 and K-8). Sadly, most of the traditional 6-8s are large and that turns people off despite their advantages of critical mass to offer more foreign language, sports, etc. But with K-8 you have the smaller school, more family (seemingly) environment and less acting out by middle schoolers. However, the tradeoff is kids who are sick of each other by 6th grade (K-8s tend to keep their populations with few newcomers) and there are just going to be fewer offerings (at least during the school day) in music, foreign language, etc. Parents need to think carefully about it. You may say from a 2nd grader advantage that yes, a smaller K-8 is what you want but you might change your mind at 6th or 7th grader (or, more likely, your child will change your mind for you).

-As Charlie has mentioned, how will the district figure out a way to make alternatives accessible to all (given that most have a totally different focus from each other - TOPS is not ASI and vice versa)? If you divide the district into regions and tell parents, "Okay, there are 2-4 alternatives in each region for you to choose from.", are parents going to be happy with that? And what about the SW which has only 1 alternative (Pathfinder K-8) which sadly, is in a poor building, and so would lead a lot of parents in the SW with almost no choice? And, the district is trying to save money which won't happen if it allows bus transportation to every alternative school no matter where you live in the city.

So you have the questions of vast differences in alternative education and how to make them accessible to the largest numbers of folks. Should pressure be put upon the district to duplicate TOPS in the south end (and I mean duplicate, not some partial duplication) so that people have those choices which seem so popular?

And what of the non-traditionals like John Stanford with foreign language and Bagley or Graham Hill with popular Montessori programs? Should pressure be put on the district to duplicate those?

So is the issue what overall kind of school it is (alternative throughout) or what program is the focus at the school? Is that what we are really talking about?

Roy Smith said...

Maybe the more useful question is not "What is and is not an alternative school?"; it might be better to ask "What criteria should be used to justify the expense and complication of having special enrollment procedures, expanded transportation areas, etc., for a particular school or program?"

Anonymous said...

Yes, I totally agree with Roy! But for the fact that it affect assignment and transportation, what does it really matter what we define as "alterntive". This is one of the subjects that 50 people will have 50 different opinions about. What matters is the assignment and transportation. I for one think that any non traditional program deserves equal access to multi cluster draw, and transporation and assignment benefits. This would include programs like John Stanford, Montessori, AAA, The New School, Center School in addition to the currently defined alternative schools.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to point out one issue related to Alternative Schools and assignment that has not been mentioned.

One important aspect of the TOPS focus is the "City School" legacy.
There are intentional reasons why TOPS is centrally located and that it is multi-cluster draw.

We chose TOPS not only for other curriculum and community issues, but because of it's location.

Many folks seem to assume that families want to attend neighborhood schools and that it would automatically increase family participation.

We don't want to attend school in our neighborhood, because we would not be able to volunteer to the great extent that we do now. TOPS is closer to work! If I had to drive to the south end to help out at school I would never get there.
Surely we are not the only families with this preference for a "work neighborhood"?

Many aspects of Alternative Schools are closely tied together, location being one factor.

Melissa Westbrook said...

That last post brings up a side issue in enrollment. There are parents in Renton who work in Seattle and enroll their kids in Seattle (and likewise SE parents who enroll their children in Renton although there are many more going south than coming north).

There are more families living downtown as well and the downtown could keep them but at some point, there will need to be a downtown elementary. I know there is at least one or two in downtown Vancouver, B.C.

Anonymous said...

Same in N. Seattle. We live in SEattle but close to the Shoreline border. We found the Shoreline middle shcool to be far superior than our school (Hamilton), and they offer predictibility. We walked in said we want Kellog. They said great, and signed us up. That simple. Imagine.

Roy Smith said...

For purposes of determining what constitutes an alternative school (for transportation and enrollment purposes), maybe the following criteria would be reasonable:

1) School uses alternative report card (non-graded written assessment of student performance) and deemphasizes or does not do formal testing. (AS1, AE2, Summit, Salmon Bay, TOPS, Orca, and Pathfinder)

OR

2) Language Immersion Program (John Stanford International)

OR

3) African American Academy

Now, as to how assignment ought to be handled for these schools, here are my thoughts. Feel free to point out flaws, disagree, and present alternate ideas.

A) The AAA is already an all-city draw and is not fully enrolled. It is unique enough to justify its all-city draw status, and it has an adequate facility that is more or less reasonably located for its target population. Nothing to fix there.

B) John Stanford International should changed from a reference area school to an alternative school, with the sole tie-breaker being a lottery. This is the only way I can think of to ensure equitable access to what is an absolutely unique program in SPS. Additionally, the program should be replicated and/or expanded until there are sufficient seats to meet demand for language immersion programs throughout the city. These replicated programs should also not be considered reference area schools.

C) The schools normally considered alternative (those listed in point 1 above) are the trickiest to handle equitably. In other threads, a consensus seems to have been established that these schools are not uniformly "alternative" but inhabit points on a continuum between "very alternative" (i.e., AS1) and traditional reference area schools. I think this is appropriate, as many families do not want an environment that is as different as AS1, yet they value elements such as non-graded report cards and assessments, experiential learning, and increased emphasis on the arts or social issues. However, it makes it challenging to determine just how "alternative" a school should be to justify the nature and extent of non-standard enrollment assignments and multi-cluster or all-city transportation policies.

With that in mind, here are my ideas/concerns:

1) AS1 and Summit K-12 (with its arts program and emphasis) are unique enough that it is appropriate that they remain all-city draws. The long term plan should include moving these programs to appropriate facilities in a more central location, so that the all-city draw is more rational.

2) AE2, Salmon Bay, TOPS, Orca, and Pathfinder should remain regional alternative choices. They are actually pretty evenly distributed throughout the city, and each cluster has 2 regional alternative choices, with the exception of Queen Anne/Magnolia, which only has one (this could be fixed by expanding the draw area of Salmon Bay to include the Queen Anne/Magnolia cluster, but I don't know if anybody in that cluster is pushing for additional choices or not, so this might not be necessary).

3) These five schools generally have a reputation for being fairly popular, suggesting that capacity at the regional alternative programs should be expanded. However, I think it is essential that we look at why these programs are popular in order to accurately gage what the real demand for regional alternatives is.

4) Some have suggested that one reason for the popularity of Orca and TOPS is that parents are seeking to avoid poor quality reference area schools. If this is the case, then the solution is not to expand alternative programs, it is to comprehensively address the failures of the reference area schools.

5) Similarly, some have suggested that K-8s in general (almost all of which are alternative programs) are popular due to the problems SPS has or is perceived to have with comprehensive middle schools, hence a desire to avoid those middle schools. Again, the solution here is not to expand regional alternatives, it is to fix the real problem, which is poor quality and/or overly large middle schools.

6) As a general principle, I find it problematic that alternative schools are seen as an escape route from poor quality reference area schools. SPS policy and most alternative school pedagogies agree that students at alternative schools should be there by choice. In my opinion, "there by choice" should mean they are there because they are attracted by what the program has to offer, not because they feel compelled to avoid their other options.

7) I also find it troublesome that families are attracted to some schools (alternatives mainly) because of "high parent participation", as the families who are attracted to this are probably themselves contain parents who are likely to be actively involved in their child's school. It seems problematic in terms of sound public policy to encourage the concentration of large numbers of the "highly involved parents" in a few schools. Ideally, these "highly involved parents" would be more evenly distributed throughout the schools, maximizing the benefit of their involvement to the entire community, not just to their own children. That all being said, I don't really have any ideas on how to encourage a more even distribution of such parents. Any thoughts on this?

Final odds and ends:
A) It seems to me that The New School should be designated as a reference area school. It doesn't even pretend to be an alternative school, so without a reference area, it seems like its only real function would be to serve as an escape hatch for families seeking to avoid some other school. Again, escape hatches don't fix the problems, they just allow parents with the determination to work the system a means to avoid problems.

B) Can anybody explain why Kimball is a multi-cluster draw? This is a complete mystery to me.

Anonymous said...

Roy, interesting ideas. I agree that many in S. Seattle 'escape' to alternative schools & K-8s to avoid weak elementaries and to answer the frightening middle school question. I agree that this flight is not a tenable solution.

I do have some qualms with the idea of an 'alternative report card' being the determining factor for deciding that a school is alternative. It seems to me a bit of a cop out. Many schools/programs could use alternative evaluations. I think some alternative schools get an easy out because they don't have to compare to other schools because so many students opt out of the WASL. (I am not a WASL supporter by the way). Many alternative schools are not perceived to be academically strong, which may be okay with some parents, but how can one determine whether this is true? And is that okay if families are using alternatives simply to escape other schools?

I agree that the New School should be a reference school as well. Isn't their mission to serve the RB community?

South Ender

Anonymous said...

As an outsider, I've always found Roy's last point (the use of "alternative" schools as an escape hatch) the most troublesome. First, this uses spoils real attempts to foster alternative teaching and learning styles. This phenomenon has a tipping point effect. Once too many parents come to a school not to embrace the teaching but in order to escape a bad situation, you loose support for the things that made the school different in the first place. Second, escape hatches, used by the more savvy and affluent compound the problems with school flight.

AlthoughI worry about "escape hatch" use of alternatives in the public school system, we need to admit that "escape hatches" are one of the reasons for the existence of alternative schools. Those with money have another escape hatch: private schools. Yes some choose private schools for offerings not available in the public school system (or to look for "luxuries" or to find a particular community), but others use them as an escape hatch. The city has to decide if this is the purpose of some of the "alternatives" in the SPS, to capture families who would other go private?

nssp
(not a seattle school parent)

PS: those who post as anonymous -- do you know that if you click the "other" button, you can put any letter string you wish as your name, without giving any identifying information about yourself? It would make these conversations, especially in a single string, easier to follow if folks would choose an anonymous moniker.

Anonymous said...

I can compare Loyal Heights (traditional with mulit-age, group-learing and so much art is make me cringe) with Salmon Bay.

There is so little involment at Salmon Bay. Especially in the after school clubs. I think this is because most kids are bused in. The campus becomes dead by 3:30.

I know many parent who chose it because the thought their child was "very rambuctous" and were afraid he would always be in trouble in the traditioal schoools.

I ended up picking Loyal Heights, for my own rambucous little boy and I am really pleased by how well they support my son and they really have high expectations for him. And he has really done well there-I was even surprised.

But when I pick up early at Salmon Bay to help out a friend with their child it feels crazy and out of control (even at 1:30 and 2:00).

The shy kids are in the corners just looking at the other kids and this seems really wrong.

Anonymous said...

Your picture of Salmon Bay is absolutely correct. We have attended the school this year, and I can tell you that.

It is not that alternative in philosphy or pedagogy.

I think Salmon Bay uses the cloak alternative to allow behaviors that a traditional school and traditional parents would absolutely not tolerate. In the name of giving kids an opportunity to express themselves without oppression. What instead they have created is a school where there are a lot of misfits. Misfits because they don't fit into mainstream society for one reason or another (mohawks, piercings, overly lax parenting), or kids with behavior problems, that indeed would not have done well in a traditional setting. This makes for chaos. It makes for an unfair environment for the average kid who is behaving themselves and ready to learn. It sets up an environment that will be hard to undo later in life when the children get to HS, College, jobs etc. They become counter culture in a way. It was an awful year.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have to disagree with Roy on a couple of points.

He says:
"A) The AAA is already an all-city draw and is not fully enrolled. It is unique enough to justify its all-city draw status, and it has an adequate facility that is more or less reasonably located for its target population. Nothing to fix there."

Nothing to fix? Well, maybe not for its labelling as an alternative but the fact that it is an all-city draw and still isn't filled is troublesome. The district staff had said they wanted to make it a regional alternative because of the busing costs. An adequate facility? Have you been in their building? It's a wonderful facility and that makes it doubly sad that it is not full and the program is not doing well. AAA is one example of a school whose program needs to be overhauled to make it more attractive to parents and fill that fine building. As it is, AAA and New School are just over a mile apart and when New School gets its new building it is likely that AAA could lose even more students if the program is not beefed up.

The SW region has only Pathfinder as its only K-8 and only alternative.

I'm confused about Kimball. It doesn't say it is a multi-cluster draw in the Enrollment guide. (It does indicate that Kimball, Mercer and Cleveland are trying to work together to create a K-12 pathway. Interesting.) Where did you see this, Roy?

Anonymous said...

The AAA is a strong candidate for district intervention. I am very happy to hear school board candidates like Peter Maier making "district intervention" a strong focus. When schools have had adequate opportunity to improve, but make little or no progress, the children of Seattle deserve to have intervention. How could this board and administration just turn the other cheek in regards to these failing school (Rainer Beach, Aki, AAA come to mind). Shame on them all.

Anonymous said...

NSSP states, "Second, escape hatches, used by the more savvy and affluent compound the problems with school flight."

How does one reconcile this with the emphasis on social justice that many of the alternative elementaries espouse?

These programs, by and large, are less ethnically diverse and more affluent (as measured by free/reduced. Why is that, and should we care?

Where do all of the alternative elementary/K-8 students go for high school? Private? Public? Nova?

What causes the big shift in demographics between alternative K-8 schools and alternative high schools in this district?

Roy Smith said...

Regarding the AAA: I was specifically speaking to transportation and enrollment policy. They have a great building, a location that makes sense, and they are not overenrolled, which implies that the program does not at this time need to be expanded (unlike John Stanford, which badly needs to be expanded or duplicated).

Whether the fact that the AAA is underenrolled is a problem worthy of district intervention is a problem that I don't think I am in a position to address, but this brings up a real issue: who gets to determine the criteria for success for an alternative program? I think it would be reasonable for the District to tell the AAA that if they don't increase their enrollment, relocation of their program to a smaller facility might be considered in order to make better use available space. Beyond this, I am not sure what would constitute an appropriate form of district intervention in the AAA or alternative programs in general.

According to the enrollment guide, students in the Central, South, Southeast, West Seattle North and West Seattle South clusters are eligible for transportation to Kimball (look in the transportation section for each cluster, not in the listing for Kimball). I don't know why this is, but there it is.

Interestingly, they use the distance tiebreaker for Kimball, so if it were to become popular with families in the neighborhood, this multi-cluster draw would become essentially meaningless (much like the case with John Stanford, which is an all-city draw in terms of transportation).

Also according to the enrollment guide, Orca is avaiable to all of West Seattle, both in terms of enrollment priority and transportation. West Seattle only has one regional alternative school, but it has access to two regional alternatives.

Please note that when I refer to "regional alternatives", I am referring specifically to AE2, Salmon Bay, TOPS, Orca, and Pathfinder, and not to all-city draw alternatives or the AAA or John Stanford. These five regional alternatives are grouped fairly equitably - one in each corner of the city, and one in the middle. This "regional alternative" is not an official designation as far as I am aware, it is a tool I use to organize my own thinking about the subject.

Roy Smith said...

Where do all of the alternative elementary/K-8 students go for high school? Private? Public? Nova?

I haven't done a survey, but based on what I know of AS#1, it is my impression that most graduates of the program attend public comprehensive high schools. I intend to encourage my own child to go this route.

Anonymous said...

Julia,

I am sorry that your child has had a terrible year at Salmon Bay. I'm sure it has been very painful.

I'm curious whether you're relating to the Middle School or the Elementary School. I've had two children in the Middle School, but have had little contact with the Elementary portion of the program. (For those outside of the SB community, the Middle School is larger than the elementary, with approximately 40 children in grade 5, and 120 in grade 6. So 240 students at the school are K-5, and 360 are 6-8.) The experience of my children at SB and beyond into high school has been extremely positive. The majority of SB middle schoolers are very successful in high school, and many choose traditional programs, such as Ballard and Roosevelt.

This does not in any way diminish the fact that you've had a rough year, and I'd like to know more about ways in which the SB community has been unresponsive to your needs (I'm assuming you've been in conversation with Jodee, Kimberly, and your child's teachers). Do you believe it is an issue of a "bad fit" for your child, or more of systemic issues that need addressed? Was the school presented in tours, etc. in ways that you believe led you to think certain things would be different than they actually were? (If, perchance, you have a current - for one more day! - sixth grader, I believe the tours were exceptionally poor when we went through them, and did not do a good job of communicating the true nature of the school. A few of us who were veteran parents at that point summarized the presentation as "small school," "small school," "late start," "winter enrichment,"
"small school," "oh, and did we say small school?") What I'm trying to get at is both to separate what might actually need addressed systemically by the school, and what might need to be better presented so that parents can make an authentically good choice about whether the school is a good fit for their family.

From experience working with others across the district in alternative ed, I do think there are tensions in all of the schools between families who chose the school for good scores and press (particularly in the cases of TOPS and Salmon Bay) without a clear understanding of the mission and pedagogy of the programs. This can lead to a lack of clarity, as well as a diluting of program over time, which might create less than optimal performance.

I was fortunate enought to serve on the Alt. Ed. committee in 2005, which put together the document found on the district website, and found that I gained a lot of understanding and insight into what "progressive education" meant in our school district, as well as gaining valuable perspective on strengths and weaknesses of various programs, some of which I did not have a natural affinity for or understanding of. We are fortunate to have a rich variety of schools in our district, and it is a large part of why my family has chosen to live and raise our family in the city, rather than moving out to Shoreline or other close in suburbs. With almost 100 schools, and 46,000 students, it would be a real shame to have them all fit the same mold.

Anonymous said...

North east mom of 3,
Thank you for your thoughtful response. This is what I do love about alternative schools. The two things that I have loved about alternative schools are the great sense of community, and tolerance for different perspectives. We do have a 6th graders and you are right, the tours were not great. However, we did have a good sense of what we were getting into before we applied. We came from AEII, so had a very similar elementary experience. Salmon Bay is a great school in many many ways. It just didn't work for us. What I saw was really unruly classrooms, odd teachers, very low academic expectations (some honors classes or advanced math would have been nice), awful school to parent communication (although this got better as the year went on), way way to much out of classroom time, and alot of bullying that was not addressed properly. I don't think my son has been in a classroom on Friday more than a handful of times the entire year. Between camping, dances, winter enrichment, service learning, more dances, wild waves, etc. School has been fun for my son, but I feel like it has been unbalanced. Fun in lieu of academics. Then there are the spec. ed students who cause major disruptions in class every day. One curses, throws chairs, screams at the other kids. Every day! I love the idea of special ed inclusion, but the children with major behavior issues should have a teacher aid to assist them, or be in a seperate program. Then there was the letter from Jodee letting us know that kids are playing the strangulation "game", and we should talk with them about it because it is irresponsible to tie up "aid cars"? It was very odd. Scary too. Jodee and Kimberly have been very nice, but they can't change the philosophy of the school. Neither can we. The best thing for us is to move to a traditional program. We moved our younger son from AEII to a trad. school last year and it was the best thing we could have done. He has become much more respectful of his teachers, classmates, school grounds and property.

I love that we have alternative schools in Seattle. But, they have to be a good fit. We were just very uncomfortable at Salmon Bay. I can't imagine how it would have been at AS1?????

Anonymous said...

Wow-- I have a 5 year old starting at Salmon Bay in the fall and the desciption of Salmon Bay is kind of freaking me out a bit. Is it generally thought of as so horrible?

Melissa Westbrook said...

SB has enjoyed a pretty good reputation. It is not horrible or it wouldn't be full.

It's funny because I recently took a trip to Puerto Rico and stayed in the El Yunque rainforest at a guesthouse. They have a national animal which is frog called the "Coqui" because that's the sound the male makes to find a female. I read a review of the guesthouse that complained about the sound of multiple frogs croaking at night. All I could think was, "It's a rainforest!".

So,it's the same thing as SB; it's an alternative school. Some alternatives are more about program but clearly at SB, their view extends to relationships between students and teachers, etc. You have to go visit and ask yourself if you believe that what you see suits your child's learning style and your family's comfort level (or it's going to be 9 long years).

This doesn't make SB good or bad, just different which is the point. It's non-traditional. I toured it with my younger son and he said it was too off the norm for him. I didn't like the idea of allowing gum in the classrooms. But hey, it works for many, many students. Most do go on to comprehensive high schools because there are more of them than alternative and probably do pretty well. It's not like SB is far off the grid that it's not clearly visible as a school.

Beth, you are going to hear all kinds of things about all schools. It is a big, big deal when your child starts school and, to be honest, after you get past the baby/toddler years, you find your biggest worry is school. But we have great schools in our district and you will find the right fit for your child. You know your child best so listen to your instinct.

Anonymous said...

Beth and Julia,

I don't have a lot of personal experience with the elementary program at Salmon Bay, but I don't think it is thought of as horrible. The families that I know of who chose the school seem to enjoy it. Is it perfect? No. But if you're concerned, observation and questions at the school might be appropriate. Do you know other families, particularly those with whom you share a parenting philosophy, who attend SB Elementary? I'd get their opinion on this question.

The special ed student behaviors that Julia is referring to are not an issue at the elementary level, because the autism inclusion program is part of the middle school program, not the elementary program. I haven't seen the level of misbehavior by these students that Julia is describing, but impulse control is a major issue for many children with autism spectrum disorders. From her description, it sounds as if a particular student is perhaps not well-suited to the inclusion program, and might need a different model (am I interpreting this correctly, Julia?) I do think that the school needs to be more communicative to families whose children are not in this program (most of us!) My understanding is that there are 16 students in the inclusion program, spread between grades 6-8, who have 2 autism teachers and 4 aides to support them and their regular ed teachers. This program is also found at Eckstein and McClure in the north. I don't know which schools have programs in the south end. Most autism spectrum students who qualify for this program are asperger's syndrome or other high functioning students with characteristics of autism. They are generally of normal or above normal intelligence, but have difficulty with communication and sensory issues, and especially with understanding the non-verbal parts of communication that most of us "read" instinctively. For example, they tend to be very literal, and not understand idiomatic expressions and certain directions. Part of their program is to be surrounded with "typically developing peers" so that they can learn, both through observation and direct teaching from the autism teachers and aides, how to function in "typical" environments. This does not make it acceptable, however, to allow them to endanger other students and teachers. When I asked my older kids about the behavior of the inclusion kids, they have never reported anything like this, leading me to wonder if my child is likely in an entirely different configuration of classes than julia's, which might also explain some of the differences in experience. Of course, then there is the completely different question of the possibility of uneven teaching/learning/experience depending on which class configuration you happen to land in. Although, I guess this is true at other schools as well - just watch us all dance to try to keep our kids out of (or get them into) a particular teacher in elementary school.

I find that I actually really enjoy that my children have different learning experiences on the 6 Fridays of Winter Enrichment and the 4 Fridays of Service Learning, but I can understand that not everyone would prefer that. It is a major component of the school's philosophy, however, so needs to be very clearly explained to prospective parents, and not just from a "fun" perspective. As for the day dances, all I can say is that a few years ago some of them were at night (6-8 p.m.), which I thought was great (especially since I had a kids who thought they were pointless and a waste of time). My understanding is that Jodee doesn't believe that night dances are appropriate for middle schoolers. I wonder when other middle schools hold their dances?

I wondered about the lack of at least differentiated math levels when we first entered Salmon Bay, as well, and worried that it would de-motivate my very mathy son. We had a terrible sixth grade math teacher the first year (who is long gone!), but the math on the 7th and 8th grade levels was amazing, and my son and his SB peers are leading the math classes in high school to the point that the high school teachers are asking "What's up with math at Salmon Bay?" (The answer is the awesome 7th and 8th grade math teachers; the current 6th grade math teacher is new to me this year, but she is light years ahead of the one my son had!) The eighth grade project had me really worried - will I have to hold my son's hand through it? - but was an amazing, rigorous experience which has set up his ability to be on top of all his work in high school. So I have to say, I haven't experienced there being a lack of rigor at the middle school level, although, I would agree that there is often a lack of communication. (And you're right, the communication about the strangulation "game" tying up aide cars was odd. I appreciated knowing that the "game" was resurfacing - I work with teens in my career, and know it regularly surfaces, so that news didn't completely freak me out, but I think we can talk to them about why it's a bad idea without talking about holding up aide cars!)

Julia, thank you for talking with me about your experience, and allowing me to respond. I very much hope next year is a better one for you. My youngest child (not at SB) had a really rough first half of this year, and we finally moved him mid-year (to a very traditional school, with a particular program for support), and it has made a world of difference at home. Sometimes, even with the best information and intentions, the school and our children don't line up in a good way, or the needs of our child change, and it is good to have a variety of options from which to choose.

Anonymous said...

Northeast mom of 3 I really appreciate your thoughtful responses. As someone who has felt very comfortable when I have visited Salmon Bay, I was as alarmed as Beth was by Julia's descriptions of her experience there. Melissa's points were true- families really vary in their comfort level with all types of schools, but some of the things Julia mentioned do not fall into the same league of "alternativeness" as a non-traditional teacher student relationship or gum chewing.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but the bottom line for me is if a school is teaching more or less the same curriculum as most of the rest of the schools in the district, it's not alternative.

If a school is delivering these programs with a difference in classroom dynamics or discipline, then that's the uniqueness of the school and something to investigate, but it's not alternative.

If the school has a focus on music or the arts or physical education or science but is still delivering the bulk of the programs as traditional curriculum in a classroom setting it isn't alternative.

If the school is a K-8 instead of elementary it isn't alternative either. It's the same program in a different physical model.

Most of what folks are talking about or trying to defend is their right to attend the school they chose because of its dynamics, not its curriculum...which is absolutely what involved parents do. But that doesn't make all the currently classified alternative schools that people keep mentioning truly alternative. (Sorry to make TOPS the poster child, but I heartily agree with its non-alternativeness.)

Maybe some of these alternatives started out as very alternative that way, but they are now more or less mainstream because either their population changed or the mainstream schools changed. These are the schools that "Roy" keeps talking about as "on the middle of the continuum."

As an example, I read a post in the thread about "student assignment tomorrow night" by a TOPS parent listing all the reasons TOPS is alternative. There was a rebuttal a few posts later. I agree with the rebuttal. The TOPS parent was well-meaning but entirely off-base -- in my own opinion of course. And I'm a QA neighbor who has the right to go to that school and would theoretically want to preserve my access to it. But I don't. If the District could place some similar-quality programs in the South End,supply us with predictable access to a HS for our area, ramp up elementary capacity in North Seattle, put another language immersion program in the south end, and redraw the reference areas to let those central cluster people have at least partial access to TOPS, then it seems as though 80 percent of the concerns would be handled.

Then with the loudest voices out of the way, the district could move on to the additional questions Charlie posed, adding programs throughout the distict to provide equitable access, which is incredibly important.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but the bottom line for me is if a school is teaching more or less the same curriculum as most of the rest of the schools in the district, it's not alternative.

If a school is delivering these programs with a difference in classroom dynamics or discipline, then that's the uniqueness of the school and something to investigate, but it's not alternative.

If the school has a focus on music or the arts or physical education or science but is still delivering the bulk of the programs as traditional curriculum in a classroom setting it isn't alternative.

If the school is a K-8 instead of elementary it isn't alternative either. It's the same program in a different physical model.

Most of what folks are talking about or trying to defend is their right to attend the school they chose because of its dynamics, not its curriculum...which is absolutely what involved parents do. But that doesn't make all the currently classified alternative schools that people keep mentioning truly alternative. (Sorry to make TOPS the poster child, but I heartily agree with its non-alternativeness.)

Maybe some of these alternatives started out as very alternative that way, but they are now more or less mainstream because either their population changed or the mainstream schools changed. These are the schools that "Roy" keeps talking about as "on the middle of the continuum."

As an example, I read a post in the thread about "student assignment tomorrow night" by a TOPS parent listing all the reasons TOPS is alternative. There was a rebuttal a few posts later. I agree with the rebuttal. The TOPS parent was well-meaning but entirely off-base -- in my own opinion of course. And I'm a QA neighbor who has the right to go to that school and would theoretically want to preserve my access to it. But I don't. If the District could place some similar-quality programs in the South End,supply us with predictable access to a HS for our area, ramp up elementary capacity in North Seattle, put another language immersion program in the south end, and redraw the reference areas to let those central cluster people have at least partial access to TOPS, then it seems as though 80 percent of the concerns would be handled.

Then with the loudest voices out of the way, the district could move on to the additional questions Charlie posed, adding programs throughout the distict to provide equitable access, which is incredibly important.

Anonymous said...

To North East mom of 3, and especially Beth and Cindy,

I can assure you that our family is in the minority being uncomfortable at Salmon Bay. While other parents have a few complaints and concerns here and there, most are VERY happy, and feel lucky to have gotten in. The school has a huge waitlist and that speaks for itself. It just wasn't a good fit for us. We have boys that need more structure. They need strong authority figures, clear rules, and a calmer classroom environment. That doesn't make Salmon Bay a bad school, it's just not what our kids need. All I can say is follow your instinct. Look at the school closely, and go back several times. You see things differently on round two and even three. Talk with parents, the teachers, councelors. Ask lots of questions, but mostly follow your instincts. You know your child better than anyone.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the clarifications re: Salmon Bay. We picked it because of several things we liked about it, but this was the first I had heard about lots of unaddressed bullying, etc. I think that is different from a "school philosophy" or being "alternative."

Anonymous said...

We are another Salmon Bay family who had a negative experience. our son got beat up on the bus twice. The principal dealt with it by banning the student from the bus for two days. A month later he assaulted my son again, and destroyed his clarinet. The school again, banned him from the bus (for 3 days this time). My son also had a child pull his hair on the playground (aggressively). He pulled it so hard that a clump came out and he had an eggnot on his head. Nothing was done about it. This school deals with a lot of kids with behavior issues. Lots of kids who have not yet learned to respect authority, who push the limits, and are downright ugly. We didn't deal with the "strangulation game", but when we were there (last year), the issue was kids cutting themselves with razors and such. It is just a counter culter environment in a lot of ways. Even the teachers are kind of counter culter, that's why they are there. One of my kids teachers was heavily pierced, one wouln't wear shoes, one mimed his way through class, one talke about her lesbian lifestyle. It was just a bit to off the beaten path for us. A bit to out there. But then we are a pretty average, middle class family, who are trying to raise kids who can fit into society, and are prepared for higher level learning.

Anonymous said...

I am someone who comes into different school and does interactive demonstrations and I also teach specific topics to children in the Seattle School District (if I told you what I do many families would know me).
I have difficulty at Salmon Bay. I can't get the kids focused and they are constantly interrupting, running around, walking out of the room, throwing things, etc. The teacher don't seem to try and get the kids to pay attention.
They also don't seem as enthused as most of the other school I attend.
I love all kids dearly and try to make my curriculum interesting and engaging (I have children of my own so I know all kids are capable of tuning out boring information).
But Salmon Bay is my toughest job.