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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Former Board Member Weighs In

Former Board member, Dick Lily, who writes for Seattle Crosscuts, weighs in on the closures. (I saw him there last night and he did stick it out the whole time.)

In his article he suggests that the Board should wait until the following items are done/considered before closing any schools;
  • assignment plan
  • busing
  • bilingual ed
  • stop confounding operating and capital budgets.
He also says they didn't create enough K-8s and that this plan signals the slow end for alternative ed.

From his article:

"The Goodloe-Johnson plan kills outright AS #1, and the African American Academy, mostly for poor academic achievement, and moves Summit from the far north to the far south — a thinly disguised poison pill."

14 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

The effort to kill Summit isn't disguised, not even thinly.

Sahila said...

It isnt that AS#1 and Summit perform poorly academically - our kids dont perform badly - we use different yardsticks to measure their progress...

At AS#1 for example, the decision by many parents not to have their children take the WASL skews statistics so that it appears this school is underperforming. However, many kids go on to be honours students in high school...

And, of course, Title 1 money is linked to WASL performance - poor WASL stats means less federal money for the school ...

AS#1 has chosen to accept that consequence - it has made the hard choice to maintain our educational integrity by doing without or cutting back on some ancillary services, such as having a school nurse, for example...

As for AS#1 being at Stage 4 in the 'no child left behind' classification - the school just found itself placed there when that debacle began... it has never been classified at Stage 1, 2, or 3... and now its unfairly branded as being academically sub-par because a bunch of irrelevant criteria are being applied to it.

As to the state of the building - the District has done no major maintenance for years. There have been substantial improvements made which have been funded by parents.

And, though the Board has defaulted on maintenance and now says the school building is not suitable for children, in the past two weeks, work has been going on to instal fibre optics cables - how crazy is that???

The whole thing is a con job to slowly ease true, site-based, democratic alternative education out of the district...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sahila, I don't know a lot about AS#1. However, I will again state that if they use data for one school, it should be made available to the Directors about ALL the schools.

I agree about Aki; how come it's at Level 5 under NCLB and it's not being restructured or reconstituted? Why not combine resources for Aki and RBHS together? Why is it okay to co-house Denny and Sealth and not Aki and RBHS (admittedly in the same building but hey, the district has said over and over Denny and Sealth will have no problems)?

You are absolutely right on the paradox of not keeping up with basic maintenance and yet the district continues to pour money into these buildings they say are bad. We are losing money we put into Denny, we did major work at Columbia (which had been home to Orca and now temporarily New School). There is no plan, no rhyme or reason to what they choose to maintain or not maintain.

Sahila said...

And the ultimate irony in the AS#1 -WASL conundrum, is that we now have a new Superintendent of Instruction who says he's going to get rid of the WASL beast anyway!

Melissa 'Liss' Cain said...

Sahila, Summit has the same "problem" and its being used against them, as well. If you remove those non-existent scores, our results are good. However, that doesn't meet the federal guidelines. :-/

I need to make a post about Summit, but I think I'm going to focus on having a nice Thanksgiving with friends before I dive back into this.

anonymous said...

AS1's building is in poor condition, which is of course no fault of their own, however, this was one of the primary criteria used to close buildings. Aki's building is in OK shape.

Aki is one of the lowest performing middle schools in the city, however they are not severely under enrolled. Puzzling as it is, families continue to choose this school. On the other hand AS1's enrollment has been slowly declining for the last 4 or 5 years. Families are no longer choosing the school in the numbers they were in the past. They are now under enrolled. AS1 is also a small school by design, and the district has made it very clear that they are moving toward larger and larger mega schools. TC will be huge k-8 (800+ kids) able to encompass all of the current TC families, the north end AS1 families and the north end Summit families under one roof. The north end will have two mega large alt schools, Salmon Bay and TC.

As far as performance goes, it doesn't really matter how well AS1 thinks they are performing if they don't take the WASL. The WASL is the districts only assessment tool, and if AS1 opts out of the assesment and gets terrible test scores, then the district perceives the school as low performing and failing. So does the majority of the community. You can't really know how a school is truly performing without any form of assessment. You can't expect a district and community to simply trust that you are doing a good job without any data to back it up.

These are the three things that I see that were most damning to AS1.

Sahila said...

AS#1s enrolment numbers have been falling for the past 3-4 years because of uncertainty over the school's future - parents want stability for their kids, so who would enrol a child in a school that's repeated threatened with closure, as AS#1 already has been, twice before this...

And AS#1 has not been supported by either the enrolment centres or the Baord - enrolment centre staff speak disparagingly of the school.

And at last year's kindergarten fair, AS#1 was placed with the West Seattle schools. West Seattle parents were interested in enrolling their kids but balked at the commute, while North Seattle parents didnt get the chance to find out anything about the school.

And for all those people who think that north end schools are rich and filled with kids who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, this is the letter AS#1's equity committee submitted to the school board, asking it not to close AS#1...

The AS#1 Equity Committee is a school based group that includes parents, teachers, and staff of Alternative School #1 who are actively working to dismantle institutional racism at the school and beyond, and to bringing an equity lens to all we do at the school. We are writing to you to urge you not to close AS#1. It is imperative that AS#1 continue to serve those vulnerable students for whom traditional schools are not a good fit and who are reliant on the Seattle Public Schools as their best hope for a meaningful education and a fair shake for a good future.

AS#1 is a school where a diversity of families for whom traditional schools are not a good fit have found a home, a safe space, a place to flourish and learn and succeed. We ask that you prioritize equity as you decide which schools to close and move beyond looking at schools as numbers of seats to looking at who the children are who are filling those seats, and looking at how successful the school is at serving the needs of those children, and looking at what other options there are for those children to receive the kind of education that they have chosen at AS#1 and that works for them. We ask that you recognize that education is not a one size fits all proposition and that equity means that every child gets an education that works for them, not that every child gets the same education.

That AS#1 provides a home for nontraditional families including families with a gay or trans-gender student or parents, families of color and multiracial families, families with students with learning disabilities, and low income families, is not an accident. This is at the heart of what AS#1 is about. At the center of all of the wonderful experiential learning in service to academic rigor that happens at AS#1 is the bolstering and supporting of every child's positive sense of her/himself, and a deep and abiding respect for the inherent value of each student --All of this within an overarching commitment too equity and justice in all things we do.
Please consider that:

Of the alternative schools in the north end, AS#1 and Summit (a school already slated for relocation at best, with a possibility of closure), include 37% and 49% students of color compared to 20% and 22% students of color at Thornton Creek and Salmon Bay; AS#1 and Summit include 40% and 49% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch compared to 8% at Thornton Creek and Salmon Bay; and AS#1 and Summit include 48% and 58% of students who are not living with both parents, compared to 4% and 19% at Thornton Creek and Salmon Bay. Which schools and which families need the most support?

17% of the students at AS#1 have special education needs and 40% of the middle school students at AS#1 have special education needs. This is more than triple to ten times the percentage of students with IEPS at other north end schools where the average is 4-8%. AS#1's commitment to mainstreaming and inclusion and hands-on, field trip-based instruction has proven to be especially appropriate, effective, and appreciated by families with students with learning disabilities. What other schools in the Seattle School District share this commitment to inclusion and hands on learning at the core of their program?

Families that include gay children or parents feel very welcome and safe at AS#1. Gay and transgender staff, teachers and families are always a strong part of the school community.

· AS#1 includes a high percentage of multiracial families who find that their children have a peer group and are supported at the school –invaluable for these children as they come into their own sense of self and identity.

· The air is different at AS#1 because it is a school that is doing the work of undoing institutional racism and examining what equity means in everything we do –kids, families and staff can feel safe in bringing their full and authentic selves to school and so the kids have a greater opportunity to inhabit their full potential.

More than any public school we know, AS#1 is a place where the things that matter most in life are the things that matter most. What would it mean to the Seattle School District to close the one school that is at the forefront of intentionally and actively doing the work of undoing institutional racism, keeping equity up front, and closing the achievement gap? And what message does this send to the community?

Please do not close AS#1, for the sake of the current and future students who need the kind of education that only AS#1 provides. For most families at AS#1, private school and home schooling are not options that they can afford to consider. Please keep equity up front and see the people behind the numbers.


— sahila

north seattle mom said...

Sahila, I don't think AS1 should be closed, simply because of all of the capacity issues. It is inexcusable for the district to take out 300 seats when nearly every school is over capacity.

That said, stop blaming the district for not supporting your program. The district doesn't support any school. Talk to any parent at a NE school and they will tell you dozens of stories about how the district doesn't support them.

I toured AS1 and I was not impressed and there was nobody from the district telling me to be not impressed. I am glad for all of the good work your school does but as a school you don't promote yourselves or make your mission clear to new prospective families. So the district put you in the wrong part of the enrollment fair, pick up your table and move.

When I toured nearly every school, they had handouts that clearly explained their program. It made it easy for me to decide if their school was a fit for my family or not.

anonymous said...

North Seattle mom, I couldn't have said it any better.

As a mother with kids attending a popular "good" NE cluster traditional school, I can say that the district does absolutely nothing to promote or support our program. They give us exactly what they give AS1, Summit and every other school in the cluster. No more, no less.

Our school promotes itself. We arrange school tours, and meet the principal tea, and academic night. We staff our booth at the school fair and have tons of handouts, data, test scores, and our annual report for parents.

We have our kids take the WASL, so we can show prospect parents that we are doing well. We are proud of our accomplishments, and do not fear being assessed, even if we do not like the assessment instrument.

Word of mouth in the community helps us out a lot too. Parents give references and refer other parents to our school. We are over enrolled and bursting at the seems.

Blame nobody but yourself for AS1's predicament. You are the ones who refuse to take the WASL, you are the ones who are so drastically different than the norm, and the mainstream that most parents are not even vaguely interested in your program. You are the ones that blame district and community racism for all of your problems. You are the ones that are so democratic your kids can choose to opt out of math.

These things scare the greater community. People are not shying away from your school because of lack or stability, they shy away from it because it is so far left that it is not comfortable for most families. Sure, we teach our children tolerance, and acceptance, and practice what we preach, but that doesn't mean that we want our kids submerged in a predominantly one parent, gay, lesbian, transgender, low income, school.

bottlecappie said...

Did you really just say that you don't want your kids "submerged" in a single-parent, gay, transgender, low-income school????

Wow. I'm disturbed by that, and at the same time your statement makes it abundantly clear that we really do need safe spaces like AS#1 for kids who do come from nontraditional families.

anonymous said...

What I said was we are very accepting of all types of people. We have friends from every walk of life. We are a multi racial family ourselves. I don't feel like I have to submerge my kids in a school that goes out of their way to attract under represented populations just to prove that we are accepting, or to teach my kids to be accepting. Good try though.

Sahila said...

So, the ugly face of intolerance and discrimination has finally come to the surface....

I toured many schools before deciding on AS#1 for my child.

I'm not new to the issues of schooling children, though I am new to schooling them in the US. I have a grown up first family who were schooled in New Zealand and Australia - a very different experience seeing as schools are adequately funded by the government! And, of course I want the best possible educational experience for my child, as I would venture to suggest do all the parents who have chosen AS#1.

I saw schools that were better 'organised' (administratively and through parent involvement) and better resourced than AS#1, but I saw few that matched its commitment to equity, equality, diversity and social justice - which, if you take a long hard look at the world we live in, are still the pressing issues of our time.

AS#1 appeared to me to be walking its talk...

Now, considering the social and financial obstacles many families at the school already face, is it any wonder that there were no fancy handouts, no teas with the principal etc, offered with the school tours?

We at the school are aware of our shortcomings in the 'marketing' department and are working on that... amongst other things, we are considering a name change, which hopefully will help distance the school as it is today from some of the baggage of the past - FYI MATH IS TAUGHT IN ALL CLASSES....

However, its very unlikely that we will ever be able to match Olympic View, for example, in its ability to provide resources for its own community. I undertand that school is to get a new $70,000 playground, funded by the PTA...

Wow, $70,000 for a new playground... how different would AS#1 (and Summit) look, if it had $70,000 to spend on basics, let alone 'luxuries' like new play equipment...

So, seeing that the schools serve such very different demographics, I think its a matter of equity that that AS#1 and Summit receive Board support, rather than being the subjects of passive aggressive decisions which will close them down.

Unknown said...

I agree with Charlie, the effort to dismantle the alternative schools is not disguised, nor is the preference for large industrial assembly line schools. We know small classes and small schools are better for our children, and yet we buckle to economic pressures instead of looking at all the alternatives for saving money.

As well, we recognize that changes in the north end of the city may push some parents in that area to hedge their bets with private school admissions - in case they don't get into their school of choice. (We better not push those noth end families too far.) However, we seem to be accepting that a large proportion of south end families already attend private school and will continue to do that. The south end is crawling with young families. I will admit that I believe racism and economic discrimination play a part in some families decisions. However, as a family who has sent both of our children to south cluster schools for elementary school, I will tell you it is a challenge. When a teacher is dealing with large class size (where is this low capacity anyway?), and children whose basic needs are not being met (I never thought to see a child whose entire mouth was black with rotting teeth), my children have been the last priority in the class - in two different and fairly high preforming schools - Beacon Hill and Graham Hill. We finally moved or elder child to Lowell when his 3rd grade teacher told us he needed more than his school would be able to provide.

I don't think closing schools is the answer. I think changing schools is the answer. We need to find ways to save money, and save public education.

As an aside - I sure with Graham Hill could raise 250,000 a year or more as many of the north end schools do. We are hoping for 18,000 this year - that basically includes fundraising product sales, as we don't have any families who can vie for the position of biggest giver. If you are feeling generous, or would like to promote equity in sps, send us a check.

dan dempsey said...

I agree we need to change schools as in improve them. So how has the SPS been in regard to this task over the last decade?

How do we get started with this improvement? I think that Charlie's plans are a lot more solid than facilities recommendations. It is going to take a lot more than the capacity management to significantly improve schools. The fact that the school board still prefers not to follow their own policies should be a reminder that this will be an enormous task.