Friday, July 06, 2007

Denny/Sealth Update

This is the latest article in the West Seattle Herald about the Denny/Sealth renovation. For me (clearly) some amount of irony here:

"One parent said the district was treating the public like "children," and only cared about their opinion when it comes time to vote for a levies and bonds.

"You can't just bulldoze through the community and tell us it's a done deal when you didn't involve us in the first place," she said."

Well, it helps to ask questions before you vote for something but the bond language was not clear on the dual-campus issue.

However, school administrators admit they didn't do enough outreach and promise more opportunities for parental input.

There seem to be several issues here including:

-not telling people clearly it would be joint campus
-parking issues
-staff issues (with many staff opposed to the joint idea which makes it harder to implement if people are not onboard - out of the half of Denny's staff that voted, 75% were against the idea)
-safety issues

Oh yeah and this:

"The schools will interface through a galleria that will serve as a "conduit" to facilities, such as gyms, cafeterias, language labs and counseling offices, said Gilmore. Six gymnasiums are planned for the new campus, more than any other Seattle Public school, and a 1,000-seat auditorium, the largest in the district. The schools are predicting a combined total of about 1,600 students at the new campus."

Six gymnasiums? For 1600 students? I'm sure there's an explanation there somewhere.

Irene Stewart seems to recognize some of this but did say that she had seen this as a good way to get major improvements to both campuses but that the $125M cost was high (and for Sealth only being renovated to a 25-year cycle, really high).

Stay tuned.


Charlie Mas said...

In the BEX III and the Student Assignment Plan I think we can see the difference between how Board-initiated processes and staff-initiated processes take and reflect public input.

The Student Assignment Plan has seen a lot of interactive public input - actual conversation - meetings, and an email inbox. More than that, the decisions made so far reflect that input.

BEX III planning had limited public input, no conversation, no online input, and the decisions do not reflect that input at all.

For another comparison, consider the Phase I of closures, initiated by the Board. There was a Board-appointed citizen's committee holding a number of public meetings, some featuring conversation, though mostly asynchronous one-way communication. There was also an active email inbox that replied (Thanks, Mel!). That public input was reflected in the decisions.

Contrast that with the public input process that the staff followed for Phase II of the closures: none.

People will have their say. If it comes before the decision, it is input. If if comes after the decision, it is complaint. The people running the process set the timing, so they get to choose whether they will get input or complaints from the public.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, you miquote the article. The Denny staff is in favor of the change, it is 75% of 50% of the Sealth staff who voted in opposition to the idea.

I also think that the WS Herald got facts wrong, as a 1,000 seat auditorium would certainly not be the largest in the District.

As to the clarity of the dual-campus issue, here was want was in the pre-vote materials, how peopple can claim this is a surprise is odd to me:

"Denny Middle School / Chief Sealth High School Replacement of Denny, major renovation of
Sealth, and construction of joint facilities, with safety upgrades throughout ($125m)

Denny, built in 1952, has not received any substantial upgrades.
Sealth, built in 1957, received modest programmatic improvements in 2004, including a new commons, library renovations, a multipleuse
science lab and upgrades to ninth-grade classrooms.

Combining the two campuses will create a pathway for grades 6-12 and allow for additional resource sharing. This proposed project will include: Shared facilities, such as a new library, foreign language classrooms, 1,000-seat auditorium, commons, cafeteria and a gymnasium designed to higher safety standards.

A design for Denny that supports middle school best-learning practices, including space for small learning communities Spaces and facilities at Chief Sealth that support the International
Baccalaureate program, which will be offered beginning fall 2007.

For another perspective on this, I here are comments posted on a WS blog:

to get involved in the design process–call Robert Evans at 206-254-7989

Comment by anon — 1:46 pm #

While public input is important and should certainly be encouraged, I fail to see why parents think “they” should get to make the decision and not the school district.

As you point out, this wouldn’t be a surprise if folks actually paid attention to the news and what they vote on…

Comment by Mickymse — 4:49 pm #

Thank you Mickymse. I was curious myself about the usual level of public input in such matters. Doesn’t the passed levy address that? Since this was a Westwood Neighborhood Council meeting, were there more parents or neighbors in attendance? I can only speak to one of the schools, but I haven’t heard any of the negative staff rumblings mentioned. And I do think that there are many positive programmatic elements to the (limited) shared space. I can’t figure out why (as SLOG says) parents would be “freaking out” about this…I’ll give it to them if they’ve been voicing concern all along, but this cannot be coming as a surprise to parents. It’s been talked about for months.

Comment by GenHillOne — 6:50 pm #

I grew up in West Seattle, walked to school at Denny and Sealth, and am now honored to be teaching at Denny and a participant in the building design committee that recently voted for this project to go forward. Over the past several months, this committee has wrestled with some of the same issues that were touched upon at Wednesday’s community meeting and on this blog.

I want to begin by expressing my disappointment with the news coverage of the community meeting. All of the pertinent details of the project that were presented by the administrators seemed to be omitted with the focus instead going to negativity and divisiveness. In fact the camera was not even there for the district’s presentation, waiting until the end for the questions and answers only.

I teach at Denny Middle School and I know for a fact that a majority of the staff members at our school are upbeat and excited about the potential for this project. To suggest that a majority of the Denny staff is against this is a flat out lie. The Denny staff members share a set of core values that put students first and we look at this project through the lens of “Is this best for kids?”

I personally believe that the proposed project reflects what is best for kids. It provides state of the art facilities to both the middle and high school students. It provides a strong pathway from middle to high school that will help keep them on track, as they make what is a very difficult transition for a great many kids. A strong pathway will help reduce drop out and truancy rates. Building the middle school on the high school campus will provide for greater collaboration between the middle and high school teachers and sharing of special programs. It will provide for curriculum alignment so that there is not so great a discrepancy between what the middle school teachers teach, and what the high school teachers say the students need to know coming in. Also, it will provide for greater educational opportunities as schools pool resources and talents in music, world languages, technology, visual arts, and pre-engineering. Students participating in these special programs from grades 6-12 will come out of high school significantly more advanced than their peers at other schools who did not have the same sort of sequentially aligned curriculum in these areas.

Yes, we recognize that a great deal of attention will have to be paid to safety. But let’s be real. Denny and Sealth are currently only two blocks apart as it is. The students come to school on the same school busses, walk the same streets to and from school, and hang out together in the community center and Westwood Village Shopping Center. The feared mixing of middle and high school students is already taking place. Building these schools on one one large campus will only force the staff members to recognize what is already happening, and give them greater tools to guide it and control it.

As a fairly young teacher I look back to the experience I had as a student at Denny Middle and Chief Sealth High School. At each school I was able to surround myself with positive adult figures that nurtured me and helped me educationally and socially to make it out of high school and on to college. Although I was lucky to have that, I have also observed that many students do not ever make thoseorts of important connections and they often are ignored and fall through the cracks. This project provides a real opportunity for us to build one large nest around these students. It will create an environment where the teachers, community resources, parents, and children at these schools will be able to communicate and work together as a family with the goal of ensuring success for every child. Are there potential pitfalls along the way? Yes! But we are already experiencing the pitfalls that come from maintaining the staus quo.

There is nothing to be gained by bickering about what should have happened before this point. There is a lot to be gained if we come together with the idea that we have a $125 million dollar opportunity to design something phenomenal not only for the next generation of Denny and Sealth students. This is our chance to provide our students with the very best. It is a chance for us to design a middle school to high school pathway that can be a model for school systems nationwide. Let’s rise above the divisiveness and do something great.

Comment by Pimpleton — 2:37 pm #

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder about the parent who said:

"I'm insulted that you think I want my middle schooler on the same campus with high schoolers," she said. "I don't have faith that you'll be able to keep them all separate."

The schools are already within sight of each other, with a community center in between. I challenge anyone to walk up Thistle now (okay, when school is in session) and not find students from the two schools already intermixed. As someone who went to a shared space High School/Jr High, the safety issues will be better managed when there is say, shared building security staff, than they are now, were kids are "mingling" between the schools in the nearby wooded areas and shopping complex.

Anonymous said...

As to the parking issues, Denny has no parking now. Denny staff and parents now park in the surronding nieghborhood (my nieghborhood) or in the SWAC parking lot hoping not to get ticketed or towed.

If a second parking lot is added to the joint space to accomodate Denny parents and staff, this more parking then what is available now, so this seems to be a non-issue.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you for catching that error; I did get the schools' staff votes mixed up.

I didn't mean to sound flip when I said it's important to look at what you are voting for because really the onus is on the district. From the article, it seems the schools didn't make a good-faith effort to explain to each school community that they would have a dual-use campus. And that essentially, they would become a quasi-6-12 school.

Whether or not it is a good thing or problematic, it should have been fully explained. Whether or not the district wanted input on how it would work or wanted opinions on if it was a good idea if their decision to proceed was a final one, they should have told those communities.

I doubt this was an oversight. As Charlie said, the district knows where in a process they want to let people in on their decisions/ideas and that is what they did in this case.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a link to the West Seattle blog:

How much public input is appropriate? When is it appropriate? If you disagree with the shared campus, is that reason enough to vote against the levy?

Levy supporters suggested that those opposing the shared campus still vote for the levy and then, after the levy passed, work to change the shared campus decision? Is there any opportunity to change the shared campus decision? Will those levy supporters now help to open the decision to discussion?

The two schools are across the street from each other. Will the shared campus really be that much different? I don't believe either side - I don't believe that the safety concerns will be any greater, but I don't believe the academic coordination will be any greater either.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's link didn't seem to work (try this) but we were just dropping by here to mention that we had also covered the meeting and posted about it a few hours later. Because of our blog, we do our best to be hyper-attentive to everything happening in our area, including each and every public meeting, but we can't help but note that there really was a relative lack of public information about the scope of this project before the vote. As Melissa noted in the main post here, and as we noted in our blog post about the meeting, the ballot language was not terribly clear either. This project may turn out to be an incredible boon for south West Seattle indeed, but a little overcommunicating on the district's part could have gone a long way.