Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Denny/Sealth Work Session

I would call the Denny/Sealth Work Session today a snow job except that some of the Board weren't buying it.

The staff had a very elaborate presentation (the paper they used was a very heavy paper with deep color photos of the Powerpoint presentation - how much could this cost to do?) for the Board.

They first explained how both projects came about; Denny is quite old in all areas and Sealth's boiler/HVAC system is at the end of its life (and replacing it requires demolition and if they are going to do that drastic of work, they should spiff up the place). Interestingly, they say that the condition between the two high schools in West Seattle is so great that they need to remodel.

Then they gave an "academic rationale" which was somewhat laughable because all they did was print the Seattle School Board mission, their theory of action, the district's academic vision, some cherry-picked research on 6-12 schools, academic benefits of "span" schools (from the research) and finally how the remodeling supports it.

Among these benefits were technology upgrades equal to (not similar but equal) to Madison or Roosevelt. (Why those two I don't know except Madison is the only middle school to be rebuilt.) It seems that the Denny/Sealth focus is to include pre-engineering and sports medicine along with the IB at Sealth (it is possible to have middle school IB but that was not mentioned).

I'll quote the complete summary because many questions arose out of it:

"The Denny-Sealth 6-12 configuration offers a prime opportunity for two schools to create:
  • a strong,aligned, comprehensive educational program
  • a smooth 6-12 transition that reduces student isolation and achievement gaps
  • a unified professional learning community composed of a 6-12 faculty and administration
  • an opportunity for students and staff to experience the benefits of an updated campus while preserving the integrity of each school on a shared campus"
So you can almost see the questions forming in the Board members heads. Harium Martin-Morris asked, "Are these two different schools or not?" The answer was they are two schools with separate administrations on a shared campus. He then asked, "Is this what voters thought they were voting on?" He was told that would come in the next section.

Michael asked Carla about the research about span schools - She said were most unified but not co-located. All the ones she saw had been created as one school and families and staff knew this going in. (This is obviously not true for this case.) She had no research on co-location. She didn't know the real meaning of span school versus dual-schools.

Steve asked about the communication on this to voters and stakeholders. The reply was that so much focus was on school closures that not as much communication occurred.

Then there was info on the bond measure and what was presented to the voters. The problem is they showed language from some pamphlet the district mailed to 45,000 households. I didn't see the actual pamphlet but I'm assuming from that number it was to parents. The actual language in the voters' pamphlet is a lot more vague.

Harium again ask, "Is this what voters voted on?" He was told the explanation of the pamphlet and Peter Maier said that they were not legally obligated to do anything in the voters' guide (basically voters were voting on a pot of money) but hastened to say that it wasn't necessarily true in this case just that he was pointing it out.

Steve, whose daughter attend Sealth, said that Sealth library is newish and one of the largest in the district and under this plan would get broken up.

Michael said that he is trying to understand the perception that he gets from e-mails and testimony about Sealth giving up space and that they are not benefiting as much academically from what is proposed.

This plan would get rid of all their portables always a good thing.

There was a lot of talk about the long galleria which would join the buildings on the lower floor (with one bridge on the next floor). It is one long Commons which could be separated with a partition for lunch or other events.

It was also noted that the only Music facilities will be located in Sealth's area and the Denny kids would have to walk through Denny, upstairs to the far end of Sealth to access the Music area.

So then we looked at the floor plans and the staff presented three options. They said that the current BEX investment had been almost $2M on this project and that they had various permits filed to the City. Construction should begin in July 2008 and be finished by Sep 2011. (I just want to point out that this means Hale, Hamilton, South Shore and Denny/Sealth will all be underway at the same point at the same time. Facilities has never done this before and I can't believe the challenges because of it.)

So they explained Option 1 as the existing plan with a few additions (oddly, one was partial ADA upgrade - I didn't even think an ADA upgrade could be optional or partial).
Option 2 is the same thing but with a - surprise! - budget increase to "enhance"Sealth. It would add a new gym floor and bleachers and gym plumbing (hope it's better than Roosevelt's which is rippled and they are going to dry it out this summer and hope it straightens itself out - no kidding), full ADA upgrade, auditorium upgrades, new doors and windows and a new library roof. This would cost $5-10M extra but it wasn't explained where the money would come from. Option 3 is redo the plan for two separate buildings. Sealth would only get a basic improvement package (which is barebones) and Denny would get a basic redo and they would share an existing new performing arts hall. They say this would cost $125+ with Denny costing $100M. (How this could be with Garfield coming in at $100M for a high school?)

Harium asked about the space at Sealth given the loss of the portables. Staff was forced to count out the rooms gone or repurposed to get a true accounting of space at Sealth.

At least 2 Board members asked for costs for all three options. Staff demurred but other Board members said they would like to see them as well.

Michael de Bell thoughtfully laid out his concerns. He said it felt that the speed of the development left the community uncertain and that many did not understand this plan. He said they need community buy-in both from the outside and the inside. He said that Sealth would be out of their building for 2 years and come back with their spaces reconfigured while Denny would stay put in their own building and then move into a brand new building. He said he could see where Sealth would feel slighted. He also said he was concerned with a new assignment plan that people might feel they are being asked to join a 6-12 school rather than just choosing a middle and high school and that it might disrupt the momentum at both schools as they improve.

Sherry Carr said academic concerns are key to a staff buy-in for the plan.

Cheryl said she was not comfortable with an "us" versus "them" idea and that they "were all the same kids". I didn't follow that idea as they aren't the same; they are middle and they are high school kids. Cheryl said she was elected to make decisions and that she didn't need 100% buy-in. She said she would be comfortable listening and answering questions but moving on.

Mary Bass said she felt they needed to make sure that the community had enough opportunities to weigh-in before the election. There was talk throughout the session about hurrying because of money constraints and escalation of costs.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said the next steps are to talk with both staffs, discuss the academic benefits and do more outreach and engagement. Don Kennedy, the new COO/CFO, tried to discourage the idea of option 3 but several Board members said they wanted to see costs on all 3. That ended the meeting.

Clearly, there are at least of couple of Board members that do not believe the communities, within and outside, clearly understood this idea. I'm not sure I get what it is they are doing on the academic side. It seems like option 2 would be hush money to get Sealth to go along with the plan (which a speaker during the Board meeting said was not what they wanted). I don't think that Sealth believes they are getting much either facility-wise or on the academic side.

There was also no talk about security. I think that galleria sounds like a situation where you will have any person who wants to able to get into one school and move to another. Roosevelt is just now working on its security because virtually nothing was put in. Cleveland has the same issues. (I spoke with Michael Tolley about this after the meeting and it's a concern of his as well.) I asked Mr. Tolley to follow up on this as it hadn't occurred at Roosevelt or Cleveland and if they building two buildings to be attached it was even more vital because of the numbers of students involved.

It's disturbing because Cheryl clearly wants to forge ahead but I can see that some Board members are just not going to roll on this one (I believe, in the end, they will all agree to it because that's the way it always plays out but not quickly.)


Anonymous said...

Very nice summary Melissa. My head is still spinning, and I haven't figured out what this means in terms of the work we have to do, but I thank you for your insight taking such great notes.

Anonymous said...

Interesting summary. Who were the staff presenting?

Anonymous said...

"It was also noted that the only Music facilities will be located in Sealth's area and the Denny kids would have to walk through Denny, upstairs to the far end of Sealth to access the Music area."

Don't the Denny students already share a music program with the Sealth students?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Don Gilmore, Carla Santorno, and Don Kennedy (he gave the introduction but didn't say much).

I don't want to sound negative on this, I honestly don't. I don't think anyone disputes the need at Denny and the possibility of saving money by doing two projects at once. But there seems to be, because we now have so many BEX projected completed, the idea that every project has to be equal or some school feels slighted. It is exacerbated in this case by comparisons of two schools right next to each other AND comparisons with schools of the same grade levels.

And it seems clear that these communities do not understand the joint idea of the campuses or how that will play out. I'm not sure I believe the district knows either. In any case, do you need a joint building to have a joint program? Carla's input seemed to indicate no.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Right Anonymous, 11:29, that was the question from a Board member and it was affirmed by staff. It was interesting that no one explained how that sharing of facilities was already working to point to how it might work in other areas.

Charlie Mas said...

The communication on this topic has not only been sparse, it has been self-contradictory. The staff claim that the new configuration will have all of these benefits from having merged schools, yet have none of the problems because the schools won't really be merged.

Why can't Denny and Sealth have a strong aligned comprehensive educational program when they are across the street from each other?

How does the new configuration promote a smooth 6-12 transition if the two schools remain just as separate as they are today?

How does relocating Denny reduce student isolation? I really don't get that one. How does moving Denny across the street reduce the achievement gap?

Why can't Denny and Sealth faculties form a unified professional learning community with Denny across the street? If the Denny and Sealth faculties wanted to form such a community, then why haven't they done so already?

None of the claims in this proposal ring true.

Why don't they just say that co-joining the schools will save money on construction costs - if that really is the case.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the extremely detailed account (someone right behind me was typing furiously on a laptop, perhaps that was you?) - I wrote my article quite quickly before heading off to cover another, unrelated meeting here in West Seattle, but I think the bottom line was the same. We will do our best to watch closely to find out when these "conversations" will ensue.

Anonymous said...

although SPSD has finally done some outreach to the community to get people to a 02/04 meeting they will hold at Sealth, it's a shame they chose to usurp Westwood Neighborhood Council's meeting scheduled for 02/05.

Because of concerns about meeting fatigue, WNC has rescheduled the panel discussion moderated by Enrique Cerna for the following week. 02/12/08 at Sealth HS at 7:00PM ...

A great panel will take questions about public safety and educational benefits of all the BEX plans.

Please be there