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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Closure Guidelines

The Superintendent has announced that district staff will use five guidelines when making school closure recommendations:

Geographic Need - do we need seats in this area?

Building Condition - what does it cost to maintain this building?

Cost per Pupil - what are non-instructional costs (including admin) on a per-student basis?

Proximity - are there other schools nearby that serve the same grades?

Academic Performance - has the school made AYP?

How would your child's school fair by these guidelines? I can think of good schools that might not look so good by these measures - Montlake and NOVA, for example. Meany would be at risk because all of the Central Region middle school students could fit easily into Washington if APP were not there - and there are rumors of changes in APP.

How does Rainier Beach or the AAA measure up if judged by these criteria? What about Thurgood Marshall or the various programs at Wilson-Pacific? What elementary in West Seattle would shake to the bottom on this scale?

Think of how Leschi is saved by the condition of its building and how building condition makes Pathfinder a candidate for relocation. Cost of maintenance counts twice, once in building condition and again in cost per pupil, so it is clearly the focus of the effort.

Do these guidelines give you any hint of what's to come? And, after the recommendations are announced on the 25th, consider how well they match these guidelines.

20 comments:

TechyMom said...

AYP isn't a great measure of academic performance. It might (if you accept it's measurement premises, another topic) give you a floor to determine which are the "bad" schools. It does not give any credit for stellar programs, high WASL pass rates, high SAT scores, AP pass rates, or any academic program not tested. Great elementary science? Doesn't count. Great history department? Doesn't count. Arts program? Alternative philosophy that keeps a kid from dropping out or giving up? Nope. Not important. The only measure of academic performance in this list is a "sucks less" measure, not a measure of excellence.

Oh, and you'll notice that 1st choice and parent satisfaction numbers are not part of the equation.

I recongize that we have to close some schools. I'm glad MGJ is making the criteria transparent (very glad, actually). Given the tight timeline, I doubt any input on the criteria will be considered. I'll send an email to the feedback address, but I don't have a lot of hope.

Roy Smith said...

I am most familiar with AS#1, so here is my evaluation according to these criteria:

Geographic Need: AS#1 is on the border between the north and northeast clusters. There is considerable extra capacity at Olympic Hills Elementary, which is about a mile away.

Building Condition: According to the SPS evaluation, it is one of the worst in the district.

Cost per Pupil: Fairly high, as it is an intentionally small school.

Proximity: There are several elementary schools within a one mile radius, and Jane Addams will become a K-8, so there are a number of other nearby schools that serve the same grade range.

Academic Performance: AS#1 did not meet AYP, is at Step 4 under NCLB, and receives Title I money.

So AS#1 gets a definite down-check on the last 4 out of the 5 criteria, and possibly on the first one (geographic need). Looking at the area as a whole, the north end is so close to capacity it doesn't make sense to close any of the schools in that area. However, it is useful politically for SPS to have a north end school that can be closed as a sacrificial lamb to demonstrate that school closures have been equitably spread throughout the city, and my guess is that AS#1 will be that sacrificial lamb.

As an aside, Charlie Mas has pointed out that many decisions get made based on operational considerations, not academic considerations. Well, here we are again: the first four criteria are purely operational considerations, and the only academic criteria on the list is one that is regarded by an awful lot of people as being very suspect.

dan dempsey said...

Roy makes an excellent point the academic consideration is less a measure of the school than its clientel. Thus there is almost no academic consideration in these closure guidelines. These guidelines are essentially all operational considerations.

Megan Mc said...

Roy Smith,

I agree with your assessment of AS#1's chances based on the closure criteria. The board would have a pretty good argument to close the Pinehurst building if it was a traditional neighborhood school, but the fact that it is the only remaining alternative school in the north end with any capacity should be factored into the district's decission.

The argument that there is capacity at surrounding traditional schoold doesn't work because AS#1 kids are not interchangable with traditional kids (and neither are their families ;)).

If they close Pinehurst and move Summit to the central or south end, then many North end families seeking an alternative to traditional education will be left with no where to go (Salmon Bay and Thorton Creek are both full).

These families are willing to put up with a run-down building, insuffient resources, and little support from the district to give their kids an education they can't get at another school. They will not quietly integrate into a traditional school or bus their kids over an hour each way. They will choose to homeschool or send their kids to private school.

Central Mom said...

I seem to remember from the round of closure recommendations that Melissa participated in that Lowell is one of the oldest buildings and would be expensive to retrofit. If special needs kids and AP kids end up moving from that building, that would be an interesting closure recommendation.

If you close that building you can't also close Montlake. Unless TOPS became open to neighborhood enrollment.

I'm not advocating that, BTW. I'm just trying to connect the dots before the recommendations appear. Because I don't believe there will be much movement once those names get released. This is a different administration than Raj's.

Roy Smith said...

The board would have a pretty good argument to close the Pinehurst building if it was a traditional neighborhood school, but the fact that it is the only remaining alternative school in the north end with any capacity should be factored into the district's decision.

Agreed.

I'm not saying closing the Pinehurst building is in any way the right decision, I'm just saying it seems like a plausible decision if nothing besides the five announced criteria are used for making the decisions.

I think anybody who is interested in the outcomes of this process ought to make it clear to the board and the district staff that academic performance needs to be weighted much more heavily than it appears to be, and that the criteria for academic performance needs to be more than just if the school has made AYP.

Central Mom said...

I just read the actual release. A quote from MGJ says those criteria will be applied against programmatic concerns. So it's not quite as facilities-focused as the criteria indicate.

Here is the quote:

“As we examine these guidelines,” Goodloe-Johnson noted, “we will do so in the context
of three foundational questions to ensure that all students have access to a high quality
education:

1) Do programs need to move to other areas of the district to improve access to these programs?

2) Do programs need to be added in areas of the district to
improve access to these programs? and

3) How do closures or program moves relate to our students’ academic needs and strengthen our fiscal health? Answers to these
questions inform both immediate capacity changes."

...

Interestingly, with a push to move special needs programs out to the neighborhoods, and the possibility of splitting AP locations, this quote adds to my suspicion that Lowell could make the recommendation list, with significant ramifications for the Central cluster.

anonymous said...

While other superintendents have used the "sacrificial lamb" approach to closing schools, I doubt that MGJ will do so. She may close AS1 based on the criteria at hand, but I don't think she will let the public pressure her into the sacrificial lamb, north vs south, or racism theories to closing schools. She has said she has no patience for the "Seattle process" and I think she means it.

anonymous said...

We are not looking at school reform, we are looking at a budget deficit that is driving school closures. While academic considerations should certainly factor into any decisions, operational considerations will and should also factor in.

Charlie Mas said...

Lowell may be in poor condition, but it is so large (enrollment over 500) that it is an extremely inexpensive school to operate on the basis of non-instructional cost per pupil.

Large schools will come out better on the cost measure. Small schools will come out poorly.

Given the lease expense and the relatively low enrollment, I wonder what the non-instructional expense per student is at The Center School?

As for the programmatic considerations pointed out by Central Mom, they're pretty vague.

Moving a program, such as AS#1, may reduce the access at the current location, but would improve the access at the new location to an equal extent. Move it to West Seattle and you've improved the equity of access to alternative programs - there is only one for all of West Seattle.

And let's not forget that the question about students' academic needs explicitly balances that with the District's fiscal health - putting the two values on an even footing.

Sahila said...

Moving AS#1 to West Seattle might improve access there, but I'm new to this and I'm wondering how big the catchment is there and how many kids were on the waiting list??

As opposed to the demand here in the N, NE & NW, with all the other alternative schools here full to the gills and no place for our 200 kids to go if AS#1 is closed, not forgetting the 600 from Summit who also need a new home, preferably an alternative one, seeing that's why they were going to Summit in the first place!

Unknown said...

It seems to me that Seattle needs more alternative programs, not redistribution. 550 or so spots for an alternative program are being yanked out of the north end as it is. Upping that 750 seems illogical to me, seeing that about 600 of those students actually live in the north end and want something other than a traditional school. Just because all-city transportation is available (for now) doesn't mean parents will want to use it if it means 2+ hours on a bus each day for their kids. Closing Pinehurst would be a big mistake - families in alternative programs are likely to leave the district if the access to alternative programs is diminished. And that means fewer dollars and a bigger shortfall for the district.

Unknown said...

What do you mean by "Seattle process?" If you mean voices are heard, and compromises are made taking into consideration all the stakeholders - I don't see how anyone can be against that.

SolvayGirl said...

I agree with Lara. Aside from the previously mentioned schools, both NOVA and The Center School could end up on the chopping block under the listed criteria—especially the "per-pupil operating costs" criteria.

Unfortunately, both schools are extremely popular and produce great results for their students, who earn high SAT and WASL scores and go on to higher education. Closing those schools will very likely cause the District to loose anywhere from 100-600 students to private school. I can't see how that will save the District money.

The whole situation is so out of whack that every move is likely to have an unexpected domino effect in another area. I honestly feel for the people in charge as there are no easy solutions that will magically fix the District overnight. The short term financial gains could deliver long-term losses of bodies in classrooms.

anonymous said...

I think the "Seattle process" MGJ was referring to was the way our district over processed every decision and action. So much so that nothing ever got done. This district was notorious for going round and round and round and round, and processing and processing and processing and in the end when they figured out they couldn't please everyone (staff, The Board, the community) they would scrap or table most decisions. They were unable to make the tough decisions and move the district forward. The district was stagnant through the Manhas and Olschefski years.

While I don't always agree with her decisions, or quick time lines, I must acknowledge that MGJ is the first Super that takes action and gets the job done. I feel like she has done a fair job of engaging the community without all of the drama and over processing. She understands that she is the one that ultimately will be held accountable for her decisions. I am very happy to have her at the helm, and feel a new confidence. I know I won't like all of the changes that come, and I know I won't always agree with the choices MGJ makes, but I believe that we will move forward and that gives me hope. Finally.

Melissa Westbrook said...

- I agree that once this list is put out next Tuesday, it is very unlikely to change.
- No school community (well, there's few) got to choose their building/location. While we have to be operationally solvent, I agree with Charlie that academics should let the way in district decisions.
- Out of all the schools that appeared on any closure list I was involved in, Nova got the most e-mail. I was very impressed with how many alumni (not just staff, not just current students) who wrote in to plead the case for Nova. The overwhelming theme was "Nova saves lives." Nova didn't choose their building and their program is small but mighty. I know they don't want to move (and I'd be interested to see where the district could move them) but above all, I do not believe their program should end.
- AS#1 is a maybe. I don't agree that the Superintendent would have the need to close/move another alternative after Summit. But here's a thought; find someplace for Nova and AS#1 to co-exist. They are both pretty easy-going groups and if it meant survival, I'd grab it.
- Where would all those Summit/AS#1 kids go? Is the district assuming they'd be absorbed somewhere? Or all the Summit K-8 kids would stay at Addams (big assumption that doesn't address the capacity problem)?
- Lowell. I heard, from a reliable source, that Lowell is to be split. I was also told that the district wants to end the APP feeder plan into Garfield. Good luck with that. The district may want to split Lowell (and I don't have the time to consider where or how or what principals are going to agree with this (no less their school populations - remember the experiment with Madrona? Failure.) but try to assign the APP kids everywhere? Maybe the assignment figures would bear me out as wrong; maybe many APP students from Washington go elsewhere. I doubt it. We don't have any other high schools with the number of AP classes as Garfield. I suspect, as well, it's not just AP classes but a staff who knows the needs of this group at Garfield.
- Just an aside, AP is not APP. People do get them mixed up but it's not the same thing. AP is Advanced Placement classes and is a national program. APP is Accelerated Progress Program and is a Seattle schools program for students who test in the top 1%.
- You can move AS#1 to West Seattle but then you will only have Thorton Creek for alternative schools in the N/NE.
- As for Dr. Goodloe-Johnson holding people accountable, I haven't seen a lot of evidence for that. Time will tell.

Charlie Mas said...

Maybe that's going to be the drawing point for the K-8 at Jane Addams - place half of APP there and make it an APP/General Ed K-8.

Of course, that would take up 450 of the available seats that the District is trying to create. Not very helpful for easing overcrowding.

What other building north of the Ship Canal could house even half of the elementary APP? We're talking about 250 students. No currently open building in the north has that many open seats - not even Broadview-Thomson. Only the closed buildings have that kind of space - Wilson-Pacific, McDonald, Lincoln, John Marshall, Sand Point and, with the decision to relocate Summit, Jane Addams.

There's no reason that the remaining elementary APP students have to stay at Lowell. The District could create another APP/General Ed K-8 at the AAA, Meany, or Aki Kurose if any of those schools are moved or closed. I include Meany because taking the APP students out of Washington would open up plenty of room there for all of the in-Region students at Meany.

Whether they move all or only half of the APP students out of Lowell, either way it would allow the District to close Montlake and Thurgood Marshall and shift all of the Central Cluster reference areas north.

Moving APP is a relatively safe idea politically. The community isn't really tied to their buildings either geographically or sentimentally. They don't care if their kids are taught in tents so long as the program's quality isn't disrupted. The hard part will be convincing them that the program quality can be preserved if the program is split. In fact, that may prove impossible.

anonymous said...

Maybe student safety should be part of the criteria. Those schools that are unable to keep the school climate safe, should be closed. There has been another arrest for attempted sexual assault at Franklin this week. Three boys assaulted a girl in the girls restroom. One tried to rape her while the other two blocked and held the door closed.

Roy Smith said...

How would we evaluate student safety? I'm not against the idea of this being one of the criteria, I just am not sure how it would be measured. Should this latest assault (read article here) be considered a black mark against Franklin? According to the police spokesman quoted in the article, "school administrators absolutely did the right thing", i.e., they reported the incident to police promptly when they learned of it.

If school officials aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing in terms of student safety, that needs to be addressed. I'm not so sure though that it makes sense to take action against a school for the actions of students who have been so poorly socialized by society at large that they somehow think that this sort of behavior is appropriate.

SolvayGirl said...

I'm not sure about quantifying safety, but I do know that it's impossible to find stats about crime/assault, etc. on the District's website.

I'd also like to see some info as to what it is about the climate at certain schools that makes students think they can get away with something like rape on campus. Obviously, there is no fear of getting caught or punished. I know that teens don't have a lot of frontal lobe function—making for some truly stupid decision-making on their parts. But rape on school grounds seems like something even the most clueless kid would know is wrong.

This is a serious issue and needs to be addressed by both the District and school board. It is bad enough when students are subjected to robbery and shootings off campus, but this spate of on-campus crime needs to be nipped in the bud.