Thursday, October 30, 2008

Board Work Session on Capacity

I attended part of the Board Work Session on capacity issues in the NE/NW yesterday. Apparently the Board meeting was standing room only.

Here are links to various information/newstories:
from the district website, the news release
from the PI
from the Times

From the PI:

"Closing schools is the hardest decision I've faced as a director in this school district," said board Vice President Michael DeBell.

"I don't enter it lightly; on the other hand, I can't continue to keep 9,000 or more empty seats warm, dry, safe, supervised, clean and reasonably well maintained ... that's a loss of resources."

And this passage echos what I have heard about the average kindergarten size in the NE:

"The board also heard testimony from teachers, including Laurelhurst Elementary teacher Lisa Beneson, who said her full-day kindergarten class has 30 students this year.

"I cannot be the teacher I wish to be when I'm spread so thin," she said."

From the Times article:

"Goodloe-Johnson said she views the discussion as an opportunity to take a big-picture look at the district, at a time when it is discussing revamping special-education and other programs, and approving a new plan for how it assigns students to schools.

"Although it's emotional, although it's hard ... the timing is going to help us be comprehensive," she said.

Her intention, she said, is to be able to tell parents what they'd gain if their schools were to be closed or moved."

(Just to interject here, the CAC wanted and told the Board that staff needed to be able to show parents how they were gaining something by their schools closing. They did not do a good enough job in doing that and I felt very saddened by it. I had expected, for example, when the BEX list came out that I would see receiving schools having upgrades made to them because of the influx of students from closing schools but that didn't happen. It would be interesting to find parents whose schools closed and asked them how they feel today.)

Also from the Times article:

"A majority of board members opposed the staff proposal for Northeast Seattle — to put a regular middle school in the building that now houses the alternative school Summit K-12. Those board members said they'd prefer a K-8 program.

Some also noted that using the Summit K-12 site, which has about 30 classrooms, would preclude the need to look at moving Alternative School No. 1, which the staff also recommended."

The principal from Coe, David Elliott, came forward to explain what he and his fellow principals in QA/Magnolia thought they could do which is to take rooms being used for PCP time and turn them into classrooms. As well, there could be upgrades made to Blaine to add classrooms.

(I digress here but Director Maier asked if Blaine wasn't scheduled for a remodel at some point. The answer from Facilities staff was yes. He then said, "I wouldn't want to build at Blaine and then tear down something if a later project occurs." Michael DeBell echoed this sentiment. Unfortunately, gentlemen, you already approved just such an action when you approved Denny/Sealth. We are now tearing apart tennis courts and a baseball field that are about 5 years old. Additionally, you will likely find work done previously at Sealth being torn into because of the Denny/Sealth project. Where was this concern then?)

(I have to make a correction here because I had previously said the "north" had a K-8 in AS#1. But that's the "North" as an area but the "NE" as an area has none (although AE #2, now Thorton Creek, has the space and has said, in the past, that they were interested).

Much of the discussion centered around what to do about capacity issues in elementary and middle school in the N/NE. Indeed, to me, there seems to be a done deal here - Summit is moving and if I were that community, I would move in order to save my school. Staff seems hell bent on closing the program. In the PowerPoint they mention:

"Close Summit through attrition and start a new K-8 by growing the program gradually."

You mean, don't allow Summit to enroll anyone new and let it die in place as a new program builds around it. There was no mention of this option by the Board - they ignored it - but there it is in black and white.

There was some discussion of moving AS#1 and using that building as an elementary but the Board did not seem interested in that move.

Cheryl asked about an academic view about K-8 and Carla Santorno told the Board what she told the CAC a couple of years back. Namely, that there is no clear up or down to either K-8 versus 6-8; they each had drawbacks and pluses. But, the staff made clear that at this time, K-8s are more expensive for the district to run and that is why they recommended that Jane Addams become a middle school.

Sherry Carr asked where would students come to fill up a new middle school (at roughly 850 students)? She said she could see some from Eckstein (under a new assignment plan) plus some from Whitman but not enough to fill the space. However, Pat Sanders, a staff member, stated (and we know from discussion on this blog that it seems true) that many people leave SPS at 5th grade and go to private or to another district (Shoreline).

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said that it would create a middle school in an area of the city that has none. Indeed, students have to travel fairly far (either to Eckstein or Hamilton) to get to a middle school. She also said that several of the K-8s already perceive that they don't get the money they need to address the span of grades that they serve. They may be smaller, she said, but they have more student needs to address.

But Directors Martin-Morris and DeBell seem to favor the K-8 plan. However, I will point out (and I plan to impress this upon the directors if they don't get it), by creating a K-8 in that location AND saying it is for capacity needs (both elementary and middle school), they are saying that under a new assignment plan ALL "traditional" K-8s (that includes Madrona, Blaine, Broadview-Thompson and New School) would be assigned as reference schools. (This is true right now except that it is likely to be easier to get into a K-5 now than under a new plan.)

That means in some parts of the City, you will be assigned to a K-8 whether that would be your choice or not. But, under a new plan, especially in the NE where the reference areas are likely to fill a school, people may be stuck with a K-8.

I personally would not like that. I would like the choice between a K-8 and a K-5 as my child starts school. But I'm not in this situation anymore so I'd like to hear what others think on this issue. How would you feel if your reference elementary school was a K-8 and your choice of a K-5 was likely to be far away, if any? What if that K-8 was 850 students (which would be about the size - if the goal is to fill the building's capacity - of a new K-8 at Jane Addams)?

I favor a 6-8 at Addams (if a home for Summit is found) because I believe Eckstein should be smaller, that a new middle school where there currently is none would fill AND that you would be able to create a stronger middle school program than at a K-8. Here's an example. Eckstein has a stellar music program. To get people to want to go to a new middle school, the district might offer to help a new middle school by "lending" the music director to the new middle school to consult. A strong middle school music program at Jane Addams would then feed into the developing music program at Hale making their program stronger (and therefore, Hale a more attractive draw). This is unlikely to happen at a K-8 where, again, the funds would be lower and it would be more difficult to have a large program. (Although, if you filled Jane Addams as a K-8 at 850 students that would be one heck of a large K-8 - Broadview-Thompson is the largest now at 671 although I believe New School is being built to house 700-800.)

But how to solve the capacity problem without a K-8? Well, I have some thoughts on that but I'll need to do some more investigating. Staff did have some ideas like adding classrooms (a la Blaine at Broadview-Thompson, Rodgers or Sacajawea and/or adding portables). I will stick in here that the idea of reopening Sand Point NEVER came up despite the fact that it was the #1 idea at the Roosevelt meeting. I asked Director Martin-Morris about it and he said it just wasn't possible (permitting, etc.) but I told him that by both staff and the Board not even mentioning it, it makes it look like any new ideas generated by parents/public are brushed aside.

From the PI article:

District staff members also offered their recommendations Wednesday for short-term solutions to ease overcrowding in North Seattle in the 2009-10 school year. Several options were on the table. The staff recommendations included:

  • Moving the alternative Summit K-12 school to another location (not yet specified) and turning its building into a new, traditional K-8 school to open in fall 2009;
  • Keeping Catharine Blaine as a K-8, but renovating it to create more classrooms in existing space;
  • Changing the student assignment plan to give students in overcrowded areas access to nearby schools not in their cluster.

    The staff removed an unpopular recommendation that would have moved Alternative School No. 1 out of the Pinehurst building in northeast Seattle.

    During a board work session before the evening meeting, board members said creating a K-8 in the Addams building in northeast Seattle would provide enough seats to ease overcrowding.

  • Other observations:
    • Director Maier, despite AE#1 and Summit being in his area, seems devoid of concern for them. I spoke to one Summit mom after the Board meeting who said he said told Summit parents that Summit was a "failing" program and seemed to not get their concerns about being included in discussions. Directors Sundquist and DeBell both expressed concerns about due diligence over the movement or closure of any programs.
    • Director Bass was largely silent. She did speak up and say that the district "doesn't stop at the Montlake cut". I think she feels a lot of time is being taken up on this capacity issue and not thinking as a district as a whole.
    • Reading the news articles it seems that neither the Board nor staff are offering any other ideas about how to save money except to close schools. Odd.
    • There does seems to be a tension between the Board thinking a K-8 is a better idea and the staff thinking a middle school is a better idea for Jane Addams.
    School closures? A separate subject.


    anonymous said...

    I think that a 6-8 middle school sited at Jane Addams could easily fill the 850 seat building.

    Eckstein is bursting at the seems with an entire portable city in the courtyard. If they were to get rid of the portables, Eckstein would be a more reasonably sized school, say serving a 1000 students, instead of the current 1250 they serve. The extra 250 kids could go to the new 6-8 school.

    Then take all of the families in the NE cluster who live north of 110 but south of 145th who do not get into Eckstein and go to Hamilton. If those families had a middle school in their neighborhood they would be happy, and they would add to the population of the new middle school.

    Then take all of the families that choose private school because they do not want their child at Eckstein, the largest middle school in the state. The new middle school would only serve 850 students, and may attract some of those families, especially if it has a unique focus, like pre- IB or science and math magnet.

    Now, I don't favor this option, I think that the Addams building should be used for a k-8 to relieve pressure all on elementary and middle school, and I think Sandpoint should be reopened as a k-5. But, I'm just saying that they probably could fill the building if used as a middle school.

    Charlie Mas said...

    The staff is right; the board is wrong.

    A middle school at Jane Addams would address the middle school overcrowding better than a K-8 would.

    A K-8 at Jane Addams would not address the elementary overcrowding in the northeast because the overcrowding is in the southern end of the cluster, not the northern end of the cluster. Jane Addams is not much closer to these families than John Rogers - it's a haul they aren't interested in making.

    The only solution to the overcrowding in the southern end of the northeast cluster is to re-open Sand Point. The District lists it as an interim site in their Facilities Master Plan. Will it really take three years to get the building ready? Then they better get started on it right away.

    As for Director Maier's attitude, the people of that District are getting what they voted for. He ran as an anti-reform candidate and they are getting anti-reform. He ran against the reformer incumbent. He ran against community engagement, so they shouldn't be surprised that they aren't getting any.

    Charlie Mas said...

    I will also say that having Director Martin-Morris and Director DeBell in favor of the K-8 is pretty much the kiss of death for the idea.

    Directors Chow and Maier will do whatever the staff tells them to do and they will do it without question.

    Director Sundquist will seriously consider the options and the costs and then, after a bit of dithering, he'll buy the staff's argument as more credible than any other and do what the staff tells him to do. The staff may be right in this case, but right or wrong he finds their counsel more credible than anything he hears from stakeholders.

    Director Bass will not make waves over this. She might just stay out of it and let it go the way it is headed.

    Director Carr will see that the majority is lining up behind the 6-8 instead of the K-8 and will join that side. Possibly for no other reason than because it has the majority of votes already.

    At that point Director DeBell is likely to throw in with the majority as well in the name of Board unity (or some equally absurd myth).

    I hate to say it, but having Directors Martin-Morris and DeBell on your side is not much of a positive. Neither of them has proven effective at persuading their colleagues to their perspective.

    Maureen said...

    Ok, so I hear there are about 250 'extra' kids at Eckstein. That's about it, Hamilton is under enrolled and Whitman is not over enrolled. "...take all of the families that choose private school because they do not want their child at Eckstein" but how many is that? Where are they? Someone posted earlier here that there are NO private schools in the NE cluster (not quite true, but not a lot of seats). I think a K-8 makes more sense. Every cluster should have one. As a CHOICE. I don't think K-8s should be reference schools. Random people might be happy there K-5, but you sacrifice options for community in 6-8. No one should be forced to do that (if a K-8 is a reference school, more people will leave in MS and go private--plenty of people in a cluster PREFER K-8, let them self select).

    That said, I believe that, if possible, K-8s should follow the Salmon Bay model and expand at 6th grade. That opens more options for the kids. TOPS only has 60 per grade in MS--180 kids. Salmon Bay must have about 270. That sounds about right to cover the capacity issues in the NE.

    anonymous said...

    Charlie is right in that the lack of capacity in the NE cluster is centered in the south part of the cluster - Bryant, View Ridge, Wedgewood and Laurelhurst reference areas. If the k-8 is a standard, traditional school it simply will not draw families with elementary age children that live in the south part of the cluster. However if it is unique, one of a kind programs it might have a chance. That's why I continue to say, make this school an IB middle school, or a science and math magnet, or a Montessori (we have no Montessori or k-8 in the NE cluster). Then perhaps it will voluntarily draw some of the families in the south part of the cluster, clearly it would offer something they can't get in their reference school. It might be worth the commute???

    The middle school portion of the k-8 will have no problem filling up whether it is a traditional school or a unique program. Many many families shy away from Eckstein due to it's size. Those families will be natural candidates for the middle school portion of the k-8. I think Maureen is right, the Salmon Bay model would work... where the middle school expands to accomodate all of their rising 5th grade students and take another 120 or so new students from the greater community. I really think a k-8 is the way to go.

    anonymous said...

    Adding to my above post, I will say that a k-8 will probably not solve the lack of middle school capacity coming down the road. If it were to accomodate 120 kids per grade, that would not be enough for the cluster. As it is now, Eckstein is the largest MS school in the state with many many portables. And even so, many families in the NE cluster don't get in, and have to go to Hamilton. Then add in all of these new students that are overcrowding the elementary schools, and perhaps some private families that choose public school due to the economy crunch, and that 120 kids is just a drop in the bucket.

    I can see why the board is trying to push a 6-8 middle school.

    Bruce Taylor said...

    Longtime lurker, first-time poster.

    I'll concede that Charlie is right about the excess capacity being in the south end of the NE cluster.

    But the district won't put kids in a building with no sprinklers -- and I wouldn't want them to. Three years ago there was an honest-to-God fire (during administration of the WASL, no less) in a light fixture outside the door of a kindergarten classroom at Laurelhurst Elementary.

    Design and permitting for sprinklers at Sand Point will take a year, and construction will take a year. That doesn't help us with the 2009-10 school year.

    Sand Point ain't happening, people. Move on.

    A buddy of mine says everybody loves light rail because they'll have a shorter drive to work if light rail takes other people out of their cars. I'll concede, Charlie, that the Jane Adams K-8 idea has that smell. (And I say this as a guy who has lobbied the board to make it Jane Adams a K-8 and move Summit K-12 to Marshall).

    Regardless, a K-8 at Jane Adams is still the best, most-palatable means to relieve NE cluster overcrowding -- much better than putting kids on buses for Olympic Hills or whatever ridiculous idea staff is flogging.

    (I agree with Charlie's assessment of Maier. He wasn't a listener -- at all -- at the capacity workshop at Laurelhurst. He just repeated staff talking points and was advocating putting kids on buses to B.F. Day in Fremont. Staff seems hell-bent to solve the capacity problem by putting kids on buses. Will they EVER learn that parents hate that idea so much that it drives them out of the district?)

    I would make Jane Adams K-8 the mandatory reference school for people in its neighborhood, and sweeten the deal for parents at other NE cluster schools by offering some sort of enriched curriculum. You all will have better ideas about that than me.

    I believe Maureen has it exactly wrong regarding people choosing private school if they are forced into a reference-area K-8. I know NE cluster families who've chosen Assumption-St. Bridget's, Villa Academy and St. Catherine's because they are K-8's.

    I like Maureen's point regarding the Salmon Bay model. Enlarging the 6-8 program at Jane Adams would work. Many NE cluster parents would choose a smaller Jane Adams over Eckstein for grades 6-8. My children are in fifth and third grade, and many of my peers are frightened by the size of Eckstein. My kids will have a better chance of playing in the jazz band / making the soccer team / etc. at a smaller middle school.

    Unknown said...

    Honestly, I wish people wouldn't be so picky about the k-8 vs. k-5/6-8 choice. The teaching is essentially the same, and with just a little involvement from parents, the middle school could become something truly awesome - especially given the facilities at Jane Addams. Follow the Salmon Bay model, fine - whatever - but don't get hung up on the little details. A k-8 school can be an excellent place for any child.

    What really bothers me is that real, significant choice is being taken away. Summit has an awesome program, and it's sad that the NE cluster will no longer have that option available to them. I just hope that the district will be sincere in finding a good location for the program, and they won't let it die.

    What we need now is a focus on making choices for alternative teaching programs available to all students in the district - Montessori programs should not be reference schools! Immersion programs should not be reference schools! These programs are alternatives to the traditional school model. They need to be equally available to all families so our choice isn't limited merely to what grade levels are present in the building. Each cluster should have each type of program available to them within a reasonable distance, and these schools should be assigned first to siblings, and then to random selection through lotteries within the local residential areas.

    nacmom said...

    a question for everyone who attended. Is sand point never happening or just not in the short term which is not exactly new information?

    I ask b/c Charlie Mas is right. Opening adams helps to keep crowding from worsening at elementay, but it doesn't alleviate it unless a truly awesome draw that will pull families out at all grade levels. Not so likley. ONLY sand point, due to it's location smack dab in the midst of a sea of children at overcrowded schools, actually has the potential to solve the problem.

    today, there are 754 extra elementary kids in 5-6 schools. That's TWO schools worth of kids and more expected to enroll next year - estimates ~1000 over capacity. Yes, this also will be a problem for middle schools in a few years, but it's a problem at elementary since last year!

    I do think parents will choose a K-8 if compelling. I personally know many elementary parents at these overcrwoded schools (I am one) that would have chosen a K-8 if they could have and if it's similar to salmon bay model (seats at 6th for new kids) then people will choose that too for middle school. Lots of people would choose smaller size/community over comprehensive monster sized school. I know I'm already thinking about it for my 2nd grader. whether is should be refernce or not, i'm not sure. not if alternative program. maureen makes some good points on this topic.

    I'm pleased to see the district and board finally waking up to the wake up call placed several years ago. sadly, though for our kids, too little too late.

    SilverMom said...

    (My background – adult training professional, well over a decade of heavy involvement in SPS as an elementary-middle-high school parent, and four years on contract with SPS as a middle school Family Involvement Coordinator.)

    Bottom line: The middle school (MS) part of Seattle’s public education system is irretrievably broken. There is a management truism that says when a problem is repeatedly attacked from every possible direction without resolution, then the wrong question is being asked. The right question NOW for MS education is "Should middle schools exist at all?" I propose that the answer is "no".

    Why do I feel comfortable (driven, actually) to such a radical conclusion? Two reasons: 1. SUCCESSFUL LEARNING COMMUNITIES ARE NOT SUPPORTED BY THE CURRENT MIDDLE EDUCATION SYSTEM. Education science says that learning happens only in the context of a relationship. Healthy, strong, positive relationships sprout, are nurtured, and grow only in intact communities. Of the three levels of our public school system, elementary schools display the strongest positive outcomes. A huge reason for the positive outcomes in elementary schools is the fact that teachers, parents, and kids are together long enough to become an intact learning community. High schools are next best, BUT THE THREE YEAR SPAN OF MS CANNOT PRODUCE “COMMUNITY”. Just one example of this is the problem of MS parent involvement (a key to school success for kids), and I saw this play out over and over again in my role as a MS Family Partnership Coordinator: 6th grade parents are mystified and tentative upon arrival to the foreign MS environment and spend a year getting their feet under them. Then, as 7th grade parents, they might tentatively get involved in their MS, but by 8th grade they are totally focused on HS and “outta there” involvement-wise. 2. LOST ENERGY FROM TWO MAJOR TRANSITIONS K-12 IS UNACCEPTABLE. In systems management, it is recognized that transition points are energy sinks, consuming administrative, customer, and stakeholder resources. Our current public school system creates two such energy sinks (the breaks between elementary and MS, and between MS and high school). Even worse, these breaks come right at two of the most critical junctures of adolescent development. Any parent can relate – the “deer in the headlights” look of new 6th graders in a MS hallway at passing time, or the “bouncing off the walls” craziness of 8th graders in the spring, or back to more “deer in the headlights” of high school freshmen. Kids need to use that energy in learning, not surviving an unnecessary transition. YES, IT IS UNNECESSARY!

    The solution – get rid of middle schools and migrate to a K-8/9-12 or K-7/8-12 system. With such a system, teachers, parents, and kids would be together long enough to develop viable, vital, vibrant learning communities, and the energy sink transition point is reduced by one. In addition, I believe there would be four other very important results: First, Seattle voters could actually get excited about public schooling again if they were offered a truly new direction, i.e., elimination of MS. Second, this change would mandate major facility restructuring (which we are looking at anyway), and parents would be much more likely to support school closures in support of a new, more positive model. Third, intergenerational social support programs have shown the power of people of all ages working and playing together, and this model would give older and younger kids the chance to not only learn from each other, but also to moderate behaviors. Fourth, the option of K-7/8-12 option would put 8th graders at the bottom of the school pecking order – very beneficial to their development – just ask any MS teacher in April!

    Maybe it is time to stop using a model that was not originally based on what is best for kids and is repeatedly failing, and move on to something different. The principal of my son’s MS told me that the junior high/middle school model actually arose from business/industrial-based educational concepts and post-war population pressures – it was never based on sound educational principles.

    As Einstein is supposed to have said, “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Roy Smith said...

    I think having a K-8 (particularly really big K-8s, such as Broadview-Thompson is becoming, or Jane Addams would likely be) as a reference area school is a bad idea if it is done in a way that restricts choices for families in the reference area who do not want a K-8 (for whatever reason). I think it is worth saying again that K-8s seem to be popular in Seattle not so much because of the advantages they have (which are arguable, at best), but because it is a way for families to avoid having to deal with the horrific mess that is middle schools in Seattle. Therefore, the answer would seem to be, not to add K-8s, but to fix the middle schools. Making Jane Addams a middle school could go a long way to resolving that, particularly if Eckstein shrinks down to a reasonable size.

    As far as relieving NE overcrowding, my conclusion is that it either ain't gonna happen next year, or if it does, it will be by coercive measures (i.e., sending children to schools a long way from home that their families don't want) that will anger parents and drive families out of the district. The answer to the overcrowding is to re-open Sand Point. Yes, it may take 2-3 years to do it right, but in 2-3 years, we would actually have a solution that worked, not a bunch of "solutions" that won't work, and are likely to upset people more in the bargain.

    Charlie, just a quibble: Because of the way school board elections here work, Director Maier is in his seat because the entire city voted for him, not just the people of that district.

    Roy Smith said...

    Judith, your critique of middle schools has a lot of merit, but there are some considerations that give me pause as to the political viability of your suggestions:

    1) There is a fair bit of research that indicates that one of the most effective ways to have an academically successful school is to keep the size down. Broadview- Thompson is transitioning to a K-8 model that will have over 800 students when the transition is complete. I would have a hard time believing that it would be appropriate for anybody to send a child in the younger elementary grades to a school of that size. However, I suspect that if K-7s or K-8s become the standard, more than a few will be in this size range.

    2) There are parents who avoid K-8s because they don't want their kindergartner or first-grader in the same school as 7th or 8th graders. They will be some of the hardest to sell on the wisdom of this kind of plan.

    3) There are even more parents who are uneasy at the idea of 13 year old girls being in the same school as 18 year old boys, which is what you would get in a 8-12 school. (Digressing slightly, this was the argument I heard most often against enrolling my daughter as an early entrant into kindergarten - "when she is in high school, will you be okay with her being around older boys?")

    People get nervous about large age ranges, particularly when it is combined with the semi-anonymous environment of a too-large school. I would be all for eliminating middle school if I knew that in the process school sizes would be kept down to a reasonable size. However, my instinct is that if we tried eliminating middle school here in Seattle, we would end up with K-7s that had 800 or more students, and 8-12s with 1500 or more students, and the outcomes would be bad on both levels.

    Sahila said...

    I agree with Judith that the problem is one of a broken system being in place, the refusal to acknowledge that and leave the philosophy that created that system behind...

    I dont know much about public education here; my first family went to public schools in New Zealand and Australia. My 5-year old here goes to AS#1 and I was specifically looking for a SMALL Montessori/alternative programme for him.

    I like As#1 K-8 because it gives continuity, community and diversity and exposure to non-traditional subjects/styles of learning and he can have a more individual programme...

    My first kids experienced schooling in this K-8 format as did I, and I count us amongst the lucky ones.

    Middle schools were tried in New Zealand in the 60s and 70s, but many were closed because of the poor match between the format and pre-adolescent needs, and the difficulties involved with too many transitions....

    The 'trend' in New Zealand and Australia now is to offer either K-8 (maximums of approximately 400 - 600 students) or K-13 of around 1,000 to 1400 students in metropolitan areas, allowing a vertical curriculum experience for each student, with Independent Learning Plans for each child, based on capabilities and interests.

    In New Zealand, assessment is standardised across the country, with in-school grade/age net testing in literacy and numeracy to provide the opportunity to offer remedial resources if necessary, and three national examinations in multiple subjects, one each in the last three years of high school (different levels of leaving qualifications and to gain entry into university).

    Australia has a federal education system, with different end-of-high school examinations in each state in the final two years of high school.

    I think tinkering with a system thats not working (and hasnt been working for years) is crazy - at some point, someone has to bite the bullet and make change - if it doesnt happen, the kids suffer and society pays the price further down the track...

    dan dempsey said...


    That would mean that someone have to say this system does not work and has not been working. WOW!!! that does not sound like the words that will every come out of the mounths of those in leadership positions. Look at the Seattle Math mess, if such words were ever to be uttered you would think that would have happened in the last 15 years at sometime but look at the SPS Board of Directors and the SPS Superintendent and Senior Staff and listen carefully. Not a word.

    Sahila, I think you have hit the nail on the head. At one time Harium mentioned the idea of Co-location in buildings with a school and some other use that would interface well with the school. The Carnegie group spoke of 400 students as being a great size for a school. Tech makes possible good high schools of 400 to 500.

    There is no iterest in this at either the Board or Superintendent level.

    It seems we are headed toward one size fits all and that size is Large or X-Large.

    h2o girl said...

    Thanks for your thoughtful analysis. As a currently mystified and tentative 6th grade parent, I can certainly relate!

    And thanks so much Melissa and Charlie for all you do here. I appreciate it very much.

    SolvayGirl said...

    To Sahila
    We are considering a move to Australia if McCain/Palin win the election. It sounds even better now!

    SE Mom said...

    As a parent of 7th grader in a K-8,
    I would say that several concerns voiced about this model are not true to the experience of my family.

    The middle and elementary schools are pretty separate and the youngest and oldest kids have very limited or no contact during the school day.

    The elementary school benefits from having the middle school there: science labs, art room, larger library, large gym/stage.

    A smaller middle school may have fewer electives but provides a kinder and gentler transition to teenagerhood. The kids have the same teachers for 7th and 8th grades, providing continuity for academics and a positive sense of community. Ya, I've heard that the kids get kinda sick of each other by 8th grade, but this seems to be far outweighed by other benefits.

    There are likely fewer electives but many are offered (including after school): band, choir, guitar, orchestra, drama programs for both elementary and middle school, math enrichment, sports, languages.

    Roy, I don't understand why you say that advantages for K-8 are argueable at best.

    Michael H. said...

    We chose K-8 for our 6th grade daughter for several reasons and are very happy thus far with results. She gets academic rigor along with increased leadership and teambuilding. The mentoring opportunities she gets to help her former teachers and tutor and model for the "little kids" are terrific. Most important though for us is that she is surrounded by folks she knows, know her and have high expectations of her, both parents and teachers.

    If she had gone to a large middle school we fear that she would be lost in the shuffle of numbers and not "tracked" or perhaps would fly under the wire or been lost in he numbers as opposed to doing her best and being challenged by those she knows, respects and have already given her huge benefits. In short, a real community.

    She does have band and sports and other opportunities that SPS Board President was discussing as "exploration" opportunities only available at Comprehensive Middle Schools at the work session.

    For her as a young woman, we like the fact that she can try to avoid some of the pressures to grow up too fast and more and more peer pressure and continue to build lifelong confidence.

    It appears to me that the private and parochial schools with whom we are competing have adopted this model as well.

    Is this the right choice for everyone? I'm sure it is not, but hopefully this choice will be preserved in each of SPS's clusters during the coming unknown process. The Supt's and CAO's comments made during the work session were distressing and I hope it does not bode a foretelling of philosophical direction already made.

    I recall during the last closure process that many many people requested the choice of K-8 be expanded. I also hope that the process will be transparent and respectful from all directions - parents, central staff, Boardmembers, etc.

    We are certainly living in interesting times.

    Charlie Mas said...

    While I hear people say that the choice of middle school electives are fewer at K-8's, I don't see how they could be much fewer than they are at Washington, a middle school of over 1,000 students.

    At Washington, if you don't participate in instrumental music, there isn't much for you. There is art - available for one semester in the seventh grade and one semester in the 8th grade - and either Spanish or French.

    So, I don't know how much less can be available in a K-8, but at least at Washington there isn't much to choose from.

    Maureen said...

    I don't know about the other K-8s, but at TOPS, 6th-8th graders get (this is approximate) 1/2 year of art, 1/4 of health and PE each year and three full years of science. In 8th grade they 'TA' for part of the year (e.g., help out in kindergarten for an hour a day)(instead of health?). Language is limited to 1/2 year of French in 7th grade. Music (Chorus, band, orchestra or string quartet) is before school or during lunch once or twice a week.

    I have found that there is a resistance towards any type of tracking, so, no matter how advanced you are at math, you can't take Integrated I (let alone II) during the school day--there is, however, an after school, tuition-based algebra and geometry class that about half of the 8th graders take.

    I assumed that all the comprehensive MSs offered multiple languages for all 6th-8th graders, music, art and tracked math for everyone, I thought that was what we were missing. I knew that they didn't offer three full years of science, I think that is just awful. For us, science alone makes it worth it to go K-8.

    snaffles said...

    I went to 12 schools by eigth grade, the only thing I learned about community was: If you are NEW the other kids picked on you.

    My experience: I liked the schools that divided the elementary and middle school. k-5, 6-9, and 10-12...odd combination. But then we weren't dealing with student assignment and not being able to continue with friends when you reached the "next school level".

    Perhaps that is the real problem with this process. Student assignment, and registering for a school every year is what makes the disjointed community, not the type of school (k-5, or k-8 6-9,) What I think makes the difference is what students get to stay with their friends as they go through school.

    The important part to me would be keeping my kid with the friends they made in kindergarten..until they were in at least 8th grade. High school would be the transition time.

    Student assignment seems to kill the social and psychological health of the students...not the building or the k-5; k-8; k-12 or the middle school or high school dividing lines. Closing a school and then saying you don't have enough space...that really is a problem.

    Oh, my experience with Peter Maier is : I hear you!

    anonymous said...

    One of my children goes to Kellogg MS in Shoreline, they get 3 full years of science and can take the regular class or honors. They also have Spanish and French which they can take for three years, and two of the three years will count toward HS language credit if they request it. Math goes to INTI, and it also counts as one year of HS credit if the parent requests it. They have five different bands, a great art program and plenty of other creative electives. They also take PE/Health for a full year. The problem is they used to have a 7 period day, but due to budget cuts they reduced the day to 6 periods as of this year. Now kids have to choose either art, band or foreign language - they can only take one. Band and foreign language are full year electives. My son took band, and is unable to take foreign language or art or any elective the entire of the year. Kids are clearly tracked.

    My younger son will go to Eckstein next year for 6th grade. They have a 7 period day, and they just began to offer 3 years of science. They offer math up to INTII, have a strong band program, strong foreign language program, but very little electives...one art class and one tech class. Tons of after school programs though, and strong sports program. Kids are tracked.

    I'm curious to hear what other middle schools offer....especially Whitman, Hamilton, Aki and Meany and some of the k-8s like Mcclure and Broadview. Anyone know?

    SE Mom said...

    Eckstein likely offers more math
    for middle school (integrated II)
    because of the Spectrum program

    anonymous said...

    I know Eckstein used to offer up to INT3, but they announced that they were not going to offer it this year or in the future. At least that's what they said last year, I'll check to see if they moved forward with that, and post what I learn.

    Dorothy Neville said...

    Eckstein does not have 7 periods. The "first" period is just homeroom. Classes are periods 2 through 7.

    Eckstein did not offer Int3 last year because there were no 7th graders in Int2 the year before. They did say that they would probably not have any more Int3 because of the uniformity of CMP, which they were just being mandated to follow. They said that the honors (Spectrum) classes wouldn't be accelerated, but would be deeper. I do not know how successful that has been.

    qa_parent said...

    I attended the board meeting from 8:00pm - 10:00pm, the public testimony and some other board resolutions. After all that testimony, it turns out, the board had already made its decisions on Summit and QA-Mag. Why have all those people get up and talk about Summit, if the decision to move it had already been made? Going into the meeting, I just thought, sure, they're going to have to close that. But after hearing about it, and hearing how much work the people had done to the school, and the population served, the lack of district support.... I found them very persuasive. Same thing for QA-Mag cluster capacity. The appeal by the SBOC was also very persuasive. But, why have the testimony, when the decision has already been made?

    TwinMom2003 said...

    My understanding, is the the work session that took place before the meeting was for the board to ask questions of the district, narrow the options to be pursued for capacity, and ask the district to provide more information on those narrowed options.

    Even though it may seem that things are a done deal, the time between the work session and Nov. 12 is an open period for the public to weigh in on their preferences, provide input, etc.

    The testimony provided at the board meeting is part of the public input before the final vote during the Nov. 12 board meeting.

    Charlie Mas said...

    It is hard to assess the impact of public input on the Board. The public testimony at Board meetings is the Board's primary form of public input, but they do not respond to it. They don't respond at the meeting and they don't follow up and get in touch with people who testify.

    So how effective is that public input and how well is the Board conducting community engagement if they don't respond to the input they receive?

    And, while I'm at it, how much can you say in three minutes? It is impossible to make a point and support it with data in that brief amount of time.

    SE Mom said...

    I went to the meeting today about the Student Assignment Plan. There were only about 2 dozen parents attending, but Tracy Libros, Cherly Chow and Sherry Car were present in addition to other staff.

    They gave an overview of the assignment plan changes being worked on currently and asked for feedback from parents. We broke into 2 groups and had time to discuss issues related to revamping the assignemnt plan. We reported back to the whole group and the District took overhead notes and also collected our written notes and feedback cards.

    I had a helpful discussion with Tracy Libros afterwards and I felt that she was listening and responding to my concerns about changes to high school enrollment.

    So, who knows if they will follow up on the feedback gathered today, but they did try.

    Charlie Mas said...

    Yes! Tracy Libros is a shining star when it comes to community engagement! She deserves a lot of praise for how she creates opportunities for conversation - meaningful conversation with back and forth - around the assignment plan. In addition, the ideas that come out of that community engagement appears in the decisions. The Southeast Intiative was a direct product of community engagement.

    Unknown said...

    I would like to see a school by school assessment of capacity - both schools excess seats and those with over enrollment. Actually, I would like to see it by grade level as well.
    My perception is that the south end schools are full, and the north end schools are full. My kindergartner has 26 kids in his class at Graham Hill for the regular program. That might not be officially "full," but it sure seems crowded. It is full, to me anyway, and the Graham Hill regular program does not have a wait list. I know this because he did not get into any of our choices most of which were in our cluster. All of those schools had incredible wait lists.

    My 8th grader has classes with 32 kids at Washington Middle School. He has had large class sizes since the third grade. I hear the same class size issues about most high schools. To me these class sizes are too large.

    A school by school, class by class assessment might help us plan better. Perhaps this over enrollment in kindergarten is a sign of a bubble we need to get ahead of for middle and high school. OR, perhaps students start leaving for private school in the later elementary grades (leaving more open seats) and middle school, because parents are terrified of middle school in this city. OR something else - something that has not been made clear to parents, or at least to me..

    AutismMom said...

    I can tell you for certain, Tracy Libros is NOT someone who believes in equity, at least not when it comes to students with disabilities. We are definitely not pleased with her job performance. Shining star. Absolutely NOT. Bureaucrat. Evidently, stuffing students with disabilities in the worst schools, is something she can leave until the very end. So far, she's gotten away with it. In that case, no she doesn't believe in community engagement either. Nor does she see any problems. And as to the assignment plan, she's happy to have NO discussion on how students with disabilities will be placed. The blame is not all hers, but we are not happy with her.

    SE Mom said...


    At the meetintg yesterday about the Student Assignment Plan (Saturday) there were some parents that were vocal about bringing up issues related to kids with diabilities. Tracy Libros sat with those parents during the discussion period. And I saw that the many comments those parents generated about assignment planning were entered into the feedback noted and collected.

    Charlie Mas said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Charlie Mas said...

    Tracy Libros does assignment, but she does NOT do program placement.

    She is NOT responsible for the shoddy practices in Special Education placement in Seattle Public Schools. For those issues, including the emphasis on programs over services, self-contained over inclusion, moving students from building to building at odd transition points (K-2/3-5 for example), and the program placement decisions, you should direct your complaints and concerns to the Chief Academic Officer, Carla Santorno, and to the superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

    Those are all academic decisions, not operational ones, and they are made by academic staff, not operational staff.

    The creation and placement of programs is determined by the Program Placement Committee, which is chaired by the Chief Academic Officer. All of the recommendations from this committee are approved by the superintendent.

    The committee's meetings are NOT open. You may NOT sit in on the meetings, but you CAN request the minutes. I have read years worth of minutes (available by request from the Legal Services office through a public documents request) and I can tell you that the process is totally dysfunctional. It is capricious and political. It is not driven by data or the best interests of the students. On the contrary. It is controlled by principals and bureaucrats with political clout and worked to the detriment of principals who do not have political clout. Students are not part of the equation. Families are not even on the list of concerns they pretend to have. It's ugly.

    Why does one school get a Montessori program and another doesn't? Desirable programs go to administrators who are in favor. They are denied administrators who are out of favor.

    Principals with political clout can demand programs they want or refuse programs they don't want - Spectrum, bilingual, or Special Education. Principals without political clout have programs forced on them.

    I can cite a number of examples directly from the minutes of the Program Placement Committee. Why is there no Spectrum at Meany? Because, although it would be in the best interests of the District, the former Principal at Meany vetoed the placement because she doesn't like Spectrum. Same for Madison. Why wasn't M L King allowed to start a Montessori program? Because the Committee required totally unreasonable standards to be met before they would allow it. Requirements they did not put on other schools wishing to start Montessori programs. Why was the Spectrum program for West Seattle-South cluster put at a school in the West Seattle-North cluster? Because the principal at that school wanted the program to polish her reputation. Why do Special Education programs go where they go? Because powerful principals can veto the placement of these programs at their schools. Other principals have requested Special Education programs to boost their budgets or manage their capacity.

    Program Placement is the antithesis of the open, honest, transparent, accessible, and engaged culture that Seattle Public Schools claims to want. It is a boil that needs lancing.

    AutismMom said...

    That is not what we've been told. Sure special education program placement is the superintendent's job. But, she has delegated this to Carla Santorno, who has in turn, delegated it to Tracy Libros. They are all to blame for the shoddy practice, and for not following policy, which includes community engagement and failure to consider academic goals. Tracy Libros has been outstanding in her unwillingness to address this problem, return contacts... the usual. At it's basic level, special education program placement should be removed from her bureaucratic responsibility.

    reader said...

    autismmom the worst possible thing would be that special education gets further from the center of things in sps. enrollment people have had a terrible double standard when it comes to the rights of children with disabilities but that is not because of one person, that is also because special educators at central office have had no clout to have things otherwise. the two groups should be talking together to equalize enrollment policies.

    TwinMom2003 said...


    I don't even pretend to imagine your pain with SPS. I can only relate that with personal experience if it comes to a choice of siding with the bureacracy or siding with what is best for the child in question -- bureacracy wins in the enrollment office.

    Charlie Mas said...

    The bureaucracy at Seattle Public Schools wins over ANY concern for students and wins twice over any concern for families and communities.

    It is a direct consequence of the highly politicized culture of the District. Seattle Public Schools is a top-down organization in which each person's political power is measured by the number and breadth of decisions they can impose. If you can force other people to accept your decision, then you are powerful. If you cannot, then you are weak.

    Power is the power to dictate. Leadership is the power to impose your will. There is no leadership by consensus, no compromises, no search for a middle ground. It is all-or-nothing and scorched earth.

    In this culture, to alter your decision in any way is to submit to the power of another and to lose power yourself. This is why decisions - even if they were reached capriciously - are all rabidly defended. This is why the district staff is so resistant to public input.

    Institutional culture flows down from the top. It will only change if the person at the top changes it. Do you see any signs of culture change from the person at the top? Do you see any signs of support for the current, dysfunctional culture?

    I see both, and I see them in about equal numbers. I see more talk about public engagement and some steps along those lines (though no real results yet). I also see the continuation of the rabid defense of staff decisions - no matter how misguided. I see the continuation of the premise that the staff has ALL of the expertise, but I also see the staff pressed to make better decisions and (at least internally) to be able to support them with data.

    Culture change doesn't happen overnight. Of course, that's not a reason not to work on it. On the contrary, that's a reason to press it forward at every available opportunity. To be relentless.

    I want to see the superintendent and her "C" level executives to be relentless in their pressure to change the District's culture. I acknowledge that they are working at it, but they aren't working at it relentlessly. They allow some backsliding. They overlook episodes of the old culture expressing itself. I fear that the change will not come if excuse these regressions.

    Andrea said...

    While I am reluctant to put myself in the line of fire, I'd like to comment on the issue of Summit K-12's destiny. It's not that the community won't accept moving, it's that no mention has been made as to where it will be moved, how the program will be supported, and/or what will happen to the almost 600 students currently attending. The Summit K-12 community has been under constant stress from the district for over 8 years. Yes, enrollment has dropped by approximately 200; but an important question was posed to Mr. Maier. How many people would actually send their children to a program repeatedly put on the chopping block? Of course, despite repeated questioning, he did not answer. Putting politics aside, however, I think that the board needs to address the people present in this building, acknowledge the program, and offer some support through the process. I would venture to say that this community will better accept change if they feel they have a voice and validation for the program they chose for their children.

    Sahila said...

    I was present at a meeting Mr Maier had with AS#1 parents last week....

    We put the same question to him - how can we make a programme attractive to prospective families when its constantly under the threat of closure, not to mention AS#1s chequered history, with something of a reputation for being the last-stop dumping ground for kids who are on their way out of the school system....

    I put forward to Mr Maier that there was a vast interest in Alternative education - it wasnt just the families at Summit, AS#1, Thornton Creek, Salmon Bay and TOPS - it was also all the families who hadn't been able to get in, had been on waiting lists for those schools (and Bagley's Montessori - we were 60th on the wait list there)but are now in 'mainstream' schools because that's where they were assigned and they can't afford private school.

    I reminded him about the school board's stated policy commitment to alternative education and if either or both Summit and AS#1 were closed, asked how the board intended to meet that commitment? Where were our kids going to go, given that all the other alternative schools are full to the gills? And I pointed out that for me, if the school board has a stated commitment to alternative education, then closing down programmes and not making other alternative options available, becomes an issue of equity and diversity...

    That point didnt really get a response either, except a rather sheepish statement that all schools, to some extent, are 'alternative' because they all have their own 'unique flavour' and that if what we valued most at AS#1 was the 'family' atmosphere, we would probably be able to find that elsewhere....

    I was talking to a parent whose child had gone to Viewlands and is now at Summit, about the school board putting forward to itself a motion that it can shorten the timeline and skip part of the community consultation, so that it can push these changes through....

    He's still very bitter about the loss of Viewlands.... but he wondered what the legal position is regarding the Board's ability to change the consultation rules .... he thought that the only thing that might stop the board, or at least force it to take time and to come up with some better solutions, was a legal action, if there were grounds for that....

    What do other people think?

    TechyMom said...

    I think there may be some simple things we can do to increase alternative seats in the district. Can TT Minor add a second Montessori class? It seems like there's room since their general ed program isn't full. Can TOPS add portables and take an additional class? Both had waiting lists, and this would move the lists a fair bit.

    I also think Summit should find a permanent home, and that if that home were a little more centrally located, and safely theirs, the school would fill pretty quickly. People say that it's a "failing" program because of WASL scores, but actually their reading and writing scores are in the high 70's, which seems pretty average. The math score is quite low at 29%, but perhaps a targeted fix could be found for that.

    Maureen said...

    Just addressing what I know: TOPS has no where to put portables, our recess space consists of a public park and a closed city street, the parking lot is on a slope and would only hold one or two portables anyway (and I think the neighborhood required the school to have some off st parking). Besides, keep in mind that new classes have to be 'rolled up.' In a K-8 you really don't want to add one class unless you have room for nine. We are full to the gills with 2 classes per grade level. Even if you jetisoned our special ed classes (please don't!), that would only add three-four small classrooms.

    Has there been any concrete word on where Summit might go? I wish I knew more about the school. Looking at their mission on their web site, they actually could be TOPS 2.