Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just Checking and Look What I Found

So I'm checking the Seattle Public Schools website and I click on information about capacity issues in the north end. They've updated it since the last Board meeting where, apparently, COO Don Kennedy presented an assessment of the different options. And boy, is it through. My head is spinning with the possibilities (and I'm still not sure what their recommendation is). I mean they give conclusions for differing scenarios but what they really think isn't clear (however, there is some spin to their rationales).

And they also ran through a number of things to carry-over to the assignment plan that had been one year deals. I don't really have a problem with this (and is unclear to me if all of them passed but I suspect so). But a couple really stand out.

One is the end date for waitlists. Instead of end of October, it may be moved to end of September. That's just about 3 weeks after school starts which is a pretty short time. The way the waitlists currently work once the waitlist is dissolved, you have no chance of getting into a school unless you are a new applicant to Seattle Public Schools and there is room at that school. Waitlists do move but 3 weeks seems awful fast. Maybe it won't matter as much under a new assignment plan but until we know how that will work, it seems a bit premature to do this.

Two is Center School which they were voting to drop the distance tiebreaker and just have the tiebreakers be sibling and lottery. I know this was the wish of the student body but I have to point out that Center School was originally created to serve QA/Magnolia which had no high school. It hasn't really worked out because (1) it isn't a comprehensive high school and (2) it's very small and can't serve a lot of students. So by changing the tiebreakers that apply to Center School it seems to me a signal that the Board/district staff have plans for another high school for QA/Magnolia.

Great but when? Where? And how, with budget problems and capacity problems do we justify keeping Center School at the Seattle Center? We spent $5M to fix up the area in Seattle Center and we are paying for a lease on the area. When the Seattle Center gets rebuilt, the Center School will have to move out for awhile and the district will likely be paying for upgrades/costs to whatever the new building will look like. Is this the vision for the district?

I bring this up because it seems to me the district is NOT presenting a comprehensive vision for the district. This got brought up at the assignment plan meeting I attended. People don't want to attend endless meetings on various topics but want to see how it all fits together.

When I see things like the idea that we may have a new high school somewhere and that we haven't reviewed how alternative schools are part of the vision of this district (and are all of them are meeting their mission given their above-average transportation costs, something we must consider in frugal times) AND I see different district staff saying widely varying things, I have to wonder about a coherent message.

So what do I mean about different staff saying varying things? Well, it is clear in this document that staff believe we have too many buildings for too few students; in effect, concurring with the recent State Auditor's report. (And, they find the the 3-year old Ming report as well as other documents is plenty good enough for their opinions and yet we are still paying Ming for a brand-new Facilities report for the BTA levy. Interesting.)

Then we have the BEX Manager, Don Gilmore, telling folks over in West Seattle that the district may want to reserve the Denny site for a new elementary school in the future (after closing three unnamed elementaries). Fascinating. This district would close not one, not two, but three buildings and then build a new one? (I'm sure the folks up in the NE/NW would appreciate the irony of lack of capacity in their area but the district is already thinking of building elsewhere.) I'm sure there's some reasoning in there somewhere but again, it's staff saying seemingly off the wall things at one meeting with no coherent central vision to give it legs.

I know we will have to close more schools. There has to be some political courage on this issue. But if we move programs around like pieces on a chess board (seemingly because "there's room") without a clear and concise vision, then we will have many more problems down the road.

What is our district's vision for the assignment plan, our facilities and where programs are located? Inquiring minds want to know (and know soon).


SolvayGirl said...

So I'm curious now as to what will be happening to The Center School under the new assignment plan. Right now it is our #1 choice for high school for 2009. We live in the Southend and my daughter is a drama kid. The partnership with The Rep at the Center School is a big draw for us. But, if there is a chance the school will somehow disappear, I might not want to put our eggs in that basket.
I am indeed one of those inquiring minds that want to know what the District's vision is. Right now, I see a system with 3 high schools that are very good and all the rest are lacking in some things, and a few of those are lacking in almost everything.
When I read about all of the variances in classroom hours, course offerings, quality of teachers and staff, I am totally befuddled and wonder if I should just bite the bullet and try to find an affordable independent or out-of-district option.
How can we, as parents, make a good decision when the District gives us nothing to work with?

WS said...

Hi - we have reported the Gillmore comment a couple times - he's made it during the Design Team process that's under way now for the Denny site, once Denny is rebuilt at Sealth. Most recently (I don't see a link above so I'm adding it here)

(with an image of the district board that includes "potential elementary school")

TechyMom said...

Still wondering why Madrona wasn't considered as a location for Summit. As a parent in the CD, I will say that Summit at Madrona might very well be my first choice, ahead of my oversubscribed reference school (McGilvra) and TOPS.

anonymous said...

Is Madrona large enough to hold their kids plus another 400-500 Summit? Could Madrona accomodate a k-12 program? I also think Madrona/Summit would be a great combination, but is it logistically possible?

Roy Smith said...

The irony of the assessment that was linked to is that it appears to me that none of the options that are under consideration do anything whatsoever to address the anger of elementary school parents in the sound end of the NE cluster (Wedgewood, View Ridge, Laurelhurst, and Bryant reference areas) that either they can't send their child to their neighborhood, or if they do get in, it is terribly overcrowded. If I recall correctly, this is the anger that forced this whole issue this year.

Adding portables to schools isn't going to do much to address the anger. Opening up space in the Pinehurst building or opening Olympic Hills to NE cluster students doesn't do anything to address the issue. Repurposing Jane Addams as a middle school won't address it, and might make it worse, depending on where the elementary school students now at Summit end up. New classrooms at Broadview-Thompson, Sacajawea, or John Rogers does nothing to address the overcrowding where it is the worst. All the discussion about middle schools and high schools is probably necessary, but irrelevant to the problem of elementary school overcrowding.

The crisis that I thought this process is supposed to be dealing with is that 4 elementary schools in the NE cluster are ridiculously overcrowded, and are hard to get into even for those who live in the area. Parents, I think justifiably, want to have the neighborhood school as an option, and not have it be heavily overcrowded. Yet the only option that I have heard of that really addresses the problem at hand (re-open Sand Point) has been ruled out pre-emptively as infeasible, too expensive, and contrary to what the State Auditor says SPS ought to be doing, which is closing buildings.

Frankly, I think it would be better for SPS to do nothing than to take one of these options which will cost money, won't really address the core issue, and will make people more upset when they are told that their problem has been solved when they know that it, in fact, has not been solved.

FWIW, I don't live in the NE cluster and my child does not go to school in that area, either. I personally am not much affected by this, I am just dismayed at the fact that when presented with a problem, the district thinks of all kinds of things to do which solve different problems (maybe) but aren't likely to solve the original problem, and rules out the things that might make a positive difference in the original problem.

Roy Smith said...

One other thought - there has been no discussion about moving the alternative school that is right in the heart of the problem area (Thornton Creek, previously AE2) and moving it into another building, and then using the Decatur building as another reference area school. Thornton Creek serves the N and NE clusters, so there is no reason it is particularly tied to its present location, and the local area badly needs the elementary school space.

I actually am doubtful this would be that good an idea, but it is startling to me that it hasn't even been mentioned, that I know of.

anonymous said...

Roy, I think the district is looking for the easiest, least expensive and immediate solution for the 2009/10 school year, and will continue to look at long term options for following years.

Moving Summit and re purposing the Jane Adamms building to a K-8, which is what the district has proposed will help if done right. If the k-8 is a cluster draw school and offers a specialty focus, say language immersion or Montessori or a science and math magnet, it will (voluntarily) draw some of those families who live in the Wedgewood, View Ridge, Bryant and Laurelhurst neighborhoods, thus naturally alleviating some of the over crowding. Even without a specialty focus like language immersion, a k-8 will (voluntarily) draw some families as it will offer nine years of continuity (k-8) and guaranteed access to a small middle school. Many families love Bryant, Wedgwood, View Ridge and Laurelhurst, but do not look forward to sending their kids to the largest middle school in the state of WA, Eckstein , with 1250 kids.

So, some families will without coersion choose a K-8, and that will alleviate some of the over crowding in both south end elementary schools and Eckstein.

Do we need more? Probably.
Would I like Sand Point re-opened? You bet I do.

But if done right, a k-8 may work for an immediate solution.

I say this as a Bryant parent. I may have chosen a k-8 school if it were a solid, strong, unique program. And, if they offer openings at the middle school level, I will look at it instead of Eckstein for my son next year!

anonymous said...

Thornton Creek is a wildly popular alternative school, with a wait list every year. In fact they added a new classroom last year to help accomodate the over crowding in the cluster....just like Wedgewood, View Ridge and Bryant. Thornton Creek draws 85% of its student population from the NE cluster and only 15% from the north cluster. Most families that choose Thornton Creek are neighborhood families, whose kids walk or bike to school. If the school were moved, many of these families would not move with it, they would stay in whatever the new school at Decatur would be, or they would move their kids to the next closest neighborhood school...Wedgewood, View Ridge or Bryant.

It would be distressing to the alternative school community to move the program, and I don't think it would not do much good for neighborhood schools in the cluster. They have great test scores and are over enrolled. In fact they are a perfect example of what the district is doing right.

I understand moving Summit, as it is an under enrolled program, with an all city draw. But moving Thornton Creek would be counter productive.

reader said...

Roy, but how can the district really make all the people who want to go to the oversubscribed schools happy or satisfied? There are too many people living in the reference area of the most popular schools. How will the district ever be able to both guarantee access reference schools AND guarantee no overcrowding? It seems like an impossible task. Adding a new school at Sand Point, even if they shelled out the bucks, wouldn't be the school people wanted (at least in the beginning). A wildly popular K-8 may well be exactly the bill. People have flocked to the international K-8's, so there's at least a precedent for that option attracting families. The district will need to bet on an option that will attract people out of their reference areas, before they can also guarantee access and predictability.

katie said...

I think one of the reasons they are combining the closure conversation with the capacity conversation is so that they can make a centrally located building available for Summit and AS1.

nacmom said...

Thank you, roysmith, for blatantly stating the "doh!" solution. really, only opening Sand point truly hits the nail on the head. this is where the kids are and where the schools are most impacted. as a parent at one of these schools, I can tell you that I am still angry and don't see the current solutions as solving the problem, although they will take the edge off of the increase in the problem. if summit opened as K-8 or elementary, then redrawing reference areas for 2010 will give it an area to pull from, by reducing all of the others.

is anybody else worried that by adding the closure complexity to this discussion that any action may be postponed?

also, for those of you who've been down this road before, at what point does an elementary schools huge population allow for doubling up on specialists in order to meet the minimum needs of, say 700 kids?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just in point of fact, I don't think there are any "international" K-8s. We have JSIS and Beacon Hill which are K-5s and Hamilton which has a foreign language focus and it's 6-8. None of the K-8s that I know of have an international focus. Did I miss something?

old salt said...

As far as bigger budgets, that won't happen. The budgets were set last spring based on projections then. Even though some schools have, since then, passed budget thresholds under the new WSS they will not get more money.

The highest threshold for elementary schools is 473 students with kindergarten students counting for .5 FFTE. At the highest level, schools get an asst. principal, .1 extra nurse, & .5 certificated staff. Beyond that there is no additional funding.

None of the NE cluster schools was budgeted at the highest level for this year. Even Bryant at more than 540 students. they are all budgeted at the medium level for 300-472 students.

I understand that Bryant lost $200,000 of funding with the budget changes last year. With the district headed for big deficits, I don't see them investing in extra staff for the NE cluster schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Old Salt is correct and this is true at all school levels. Eckstein is bigger than at least 4 high schools and it's funded at a middle school level. Garfield and Roosevelt get no extra funds despite their large populations.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't understand. Why wasn't Bryant funded at the mega school level when it is one of only a handful of elementary schools with more than 470 students?

I know that the additional support staffing granted large schools under the Weighted Staffing Standards isn't much, but I thought they were getting it.

old salt said...

My information is limited. It comes from Bryant BLT members. As I understand it, the WSS budgets were based on projected enrollment. Bryant's enrollment was projected to drop with the standardized smaller class sizes promised in WSS and attrition. In fact their enrollment grew, with larger class sizes and a new kindergarten.

For all of the NE cluster schools, being heavy in kindergarten enrollment makes it harder to make the threshold numbers. But evidently those that did, did not see their budgets adjusted.