My Delayed Reactions to the Preliminary Recommendations

Over the last 10 days, I've been unable to do much more than report on what I hear and to try to help other parents/staff/students have the information and platform they need to organize and make their voices heard.

It's taken me that long to begin to deal with my emotions and to listen to what others are saying (on this blog and elsewhere) to become better informed. I feel sad, concerned, and stressed, as I'm sure share do many other parents, staff and community members around Seattle who are impacted by the Preliminary Recommendations.

Alternative Schools and Programs
Beyond the obvious concern about what will happen to individual children, staff, and families, one overriding concern has emerged for me: the preliminary recommendations disproportionately affect alternative schools and programs by a large margin. I'm concerned that our district is making these recommendations without adequate understanding of how the alternative schools differ, what they offer, and what the impact could be to our district of closing, moving and changing so many of these schools and programs.

And speaking more broadly, using the umbrella definition of "alternative" to mean any school or program that doesn't fit the traditional neighborhood school model, the impact of these preliminary recommendations is even more disproportionately felt by alternative rather than traditional schools and programs. The SBOC, the African American Academy, The New School, Lowell....all these schools are not technically classified as "alternative" by the district, but they certainly do differ from traditional programs and schools.

Don't get me wrong, I think strong traditional neighborhood schools and high-quality traditional programs are wonderful. But even if every traditional neighborhood school in Seattle were excellent (which is not the current situation), there would be some children who would not be well-served by those schools. Children are different, their learning needs are different, their social/emotional needs are different.

My children attended two high-quality neighborhood schools; one that we were able to walk to from our house. But neither school worked for our family, so now we drive to West Seattle every day to send our children to Pathfinder K-8, an incredibly wonderful alternative school that is well-matched to my children's needs. (And before anyone yells at me about the impact on the environment, we're planning on moving to West Seattle as soon as we're able to find a new house and sell our current house.)

I hear the strong feelings I have about Pathfinder echoed in the words of other parents about their schools, programs and communities. When a school or program meets our children's needs, parents feel incredibly grateful and will go to great lengths to defend it when it is threatened. This is true whether it is traditional or alternative. But when your child's learning, social or emotional needs don't fit the norm, when you believe (rightly or wrongly) that no other school or program will meet your child's needs, your emotions and your defense are likely to get even more intense.

On this blog I have read the comments of parents of children in the APP program, parents of children with autism and other special education needs, and parents of children in alternative programs like AS#1 and Summit K-12, and I believe they have much in common.

I believe all these parents could work together and talk together in an effort to create and sustain a school system that meets all children's needs. But the current situation makes that difficult. The recommendations affect so many people, and the decisions are being made on such a short timeline, that we are pushed towards retreat and defense of our schools and programs, fighting for individual survival, not collaborating for a greater good.

When AS#1 parents dismiss the concerns of APP parents, when Lowell parents advocate mostly about the APP program and much less about the special education program at their school, when alternative programs not affected or less negatively affected by the current proposal stay silent, we weaken our power and influence in this process, and risk a result that is less positive overall.

Superintendent, Board and Community
On the positive side, I am encouraged by some of the differences between this round of closures/consolidations and the previous recent ones. Our current Superintendent is clearly very intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable about education, and in control of the whole process. The School Board members are behaving respectfully, towards each other, the Superintendent and district staff. And many parents, having learned lessons from previous rounds, are also choosing their language and arguments carefully, being passionate advocates for their schools/programs while avoiding, for the most part, hurtful and hateful language.

The communication about what is happening and the opportunities for community involvement, while far from ideal, are much improved from the previous round. I believe the Director of Public Affairs, Bridgett Chandler, is responsible for much of this improvement and is to be commended.

In addition, the serious financial condition of the district and the current excess capacity (or underenrollment depending upon your perspective) have convinced many people, including me, that closing some schools now makes sense. So there is less of an effort among parents and community members to stop the whole process, and more of an effort to make sure that the decisions that are made are not done so hastily that we regret them next year or the year after.

But which school buildings are the "right ones" to close? which programs should be closed or moved? and how does all of this fit (or not fit) with the upcoming decisions on assignment policy and transportation and BEX? How can we move towards a more excellent, equitable system of education in our district while still protecting the alternative schools and programs that meet the needs of children not met elsewhere?

I'm glad I don't have to make these decisions. But I want to have input into them. And I want all parents/staff/students to have their ideas and suggestions listened to and considered as well. So I believe the best we can do is think creatively, analyze data, and communicate passionately, ideally working across schools and programs, and then trust in district staff and our School Board members to make the best decisions they can at this point in time. I know, I know...I can hear many of you commenting on my unfounded optimism and naivety. But this is what I truly believe. I don't see a better alternative.


Charlie Mas said…
When you think about it, you'll see that any effort to manage capacity will rely on moving the schools that don't have a geographic community. The locations of these schools are much more plastic than those that have geographically-based communities. So it's not surprising that the alternative schools were disproportionately impacted by the change.
Sahila said…
I am sorry, but that is such a crock of an argument... for many kids in alternative schools, their school is the only stable community they have... and like all human beings, they feel safe and secure when they can have a place they can call their own... and in this move, they are swept to the wind or under the carpet, with their programmes closed and their buildings shuttered or usurped...
Sahila said…
and besides, its not even a true statement... sure, our alternative schools are not located within walking distance for most of us, but for AS#1 and Summit - north end alternatives, between 70 and 80% of their students live in the north end, and I see some of our students walking to and from school every day... that's about as close to neighbourhood schooling as you can get, dont you think, given the paucity of alternative school choices available?
hschinske said…
Charlie, that's true as far as it goes, but it's also true that many of the recommendations make no sense. My dumb joke on another thread about moving Roosevelt was based on the perception I'm getting that Roosevelt is regarded as a "real" school, while Summit somehow isn't.

Incidentally, the reason I haven't talked much about the effect on special ed at Lowell is that I don't presume to speak for those parents. But almost the first comment I made on any forum (don't remember whether it was here) about the closures was expressing concern for them and saying it must be worse in their case, totally not knowing where their kids might end up.

Lowell is my old elementary school, by the way, and the special ed program has been there since before I was born. One of my best friend's brothers had Down syndrome and was there, and one of my older sisters had a good friend in the program who had brittle bone disease (and consequently died very young). I haven't talked about it very much because there is really nothing I can say that is of much use, but it's certainly not because I don't care.

Similarly, if I'm staying out of conversations on AS#1 and the like, it's because I'm already yapping enough on this forum about things that do concern my family more directly. If anything I do say seems to show a lack of concern for issues that affect someone else's school, just let me know and I will rethink and accommodate.

Helen Schinske
Beth Bakeman said…
Sahila, I think you're missing Charlie's point (and my point) a little. I believe Charlie is talking about APP, SBOC and others like AS#1 when he says "schools that don't have a geographic community."

Charlie, Helen and many others on this blog who are advocating in defense of the APP program are potential allies for AS#1 and Summit parents, not opponents. I believe you could do much more for AS#1 by working with them rather than dismissing their own valid concerns and arguing with them.
Charlie Mas said…
It is so encouraging when people read, consider, and respond to what they find written here, and I love to find ideas that are new for me to consider.

Contrawise, it can be discouraging when folks choose not to carefully read or consider what others write and react inappropriately.

A key to civil discourse is to give respect and consideration to what others have to say.

While it is undoubtedly true that "for many kids in alternative schools, their school is the only stable community they have" that is undoubtedly true for many - perhaps even many more - kids in tradtional schools. The difference, of course, the one that I noted, is that alternative school communities are not geographically based. They are based on other factors, such as a shared interest in a pedagogy or social justice, or a specific academic need. Consequently, whether the school is in building A or in building B within a reasonable distance from building A, is a matter of limited consequence. The move from Decatur to Jane Addams, for example, would not cause wholesale replacement of the Thorton Creek community.

The buildings do need to be reasonably close. The Summit community cannot be expected to relocate from the extreme north end of the district to the extreme south end of the district, but most of the community would probably stay with the school for a move to a central location.

Neighborhood schools, however, are much harder to relocate. They are, by their nature, planted in place. There location defines the community. Moreover, neighborhood schools are much more likely to have strong attachments to their actual buildings.

While it is true for any school that the school is not the building but the people in it, that is much more true for non-neighborhood programs.

I find it extraordinary that anyone would either dispute this contention or misinterpret my meaning. How could anyone propose that neighborhood schools can be relocated as readily as non-neighborhood schools? It's rather absurd. I'm not saying that either are easy to move, but moving neighborhood schools presents much greater challenges.

Consider, for example, the only neighborhood program relocated - Van Asselt. Moving Van Asselt just a few blocks further south on Beacon Avenue to the AAA puts it awfully close to Wing Luke and beyond walking distance from a lot of the school's traditional neighborhoods.

So, given the charge to manage capacity, there can be little surprise that the effort will rely, to a great extent, on location changes for the more portable programs - alternative schools.

Sahila, if instead of closing AS#1 the district re-located the program to a building two miles from Pinehurst, wouldn't your family make the move with the program? I'm confident that you would. If the district were to move a neighborhood school two miles it would have nearly a total loss of the community. Is that not both clear and obvious?
I wanted to follow up on what Charlie said, if my perception of what the new recommendations are concerning New School (I think they are saying they will close another elementary and either co-house it with New School or end its program and direct those students to New School.) If Van Asselt goes to AAA and another elementary to New School, there's a whole lot of choice within about a 1.5M area.
another mom said…
SPS dealt with budget deficits of similar magnitude in the recent past. Economies were made without resorting to school closures.But you say, the district does have excess capacity, and the remedy is closing some schools. But why now? The estimated savings of 3.6M might be found elsewhere until a new student assignment plan is put into place. In a previous thread it was noted that a family from the closed MLKing enrolled at TT Minor and now face the possibility of changing schools again. It just seems backwards to me. I know SPS administrators are under tremendous pressure to make the budget balance, but I thought that the thinking around closing schools was that it saves money in the long term not so much the short term.
Good point another mom. That question was asked at the community engagement meeting and we were promised there would be answers posted at the district website.

Sure it makes sense. The district isn't going to, after the costs of closing these schools going to see $3.6 M magically appear.

There is also politics involved. The State Legislature doesn't exactly think highly of Seattle Schools so this step, closing schools when the State Auditor says we need to, is a signal to them that yes, the district is listening and acting.
Beth Bakeman said…
Another Mom, I agree that the building closures should wait until after the Assignment Plan decisions are made. But I don't think they will be, partly for political reasons (as Mel just pointed out), but also because of the current economic situation.

I get a strong sense from listening to the Board and Superintendent that some closures will happen this year. The will and consensus is much stronger among Board and staff than in the past.
another mom said…
Oh I know, but it is still frustrating. How much staff time which equals money has been spent already on the new assignment plan? And how many times will Ms Libros have had to rewrite, represent, and have hearings on it. And I hope the Board is ready for the public reaction when it is rolled out. More unhappiness is bound to surface. Oh well...
dj said…
I am a Lowell/APP parent. Part of the problem right now is that it is difficult enough to get some sort of community consensus among ourselves, much less to build consensus with other schools. But I can tell you that parents from our school have been sitting down with parents from other schools to try to forge plans as well.

Part of the issue with having us address special education students at Lowell is that I think every parent in the APP program wants to keep the two programs linked, even if we move, but the district is claiming (and my legal research on this in my view doesn't persuade me that they are either 100% correct or 100% incorrect) that we cannot legally remain cohoused.
TwinMom2003 said…

From what I have heard at Harium coffee meetings, and others that have attended, the district interprets the law that any special needs kids need to be in an environment with typically developing children in order to not be discriminatory. As APP is designated as special needs and not typical and the special ed. children are designated at not typical - there is the perceived violation. To avoid their perception you would have to get some typically developing kids in the building.

I don't think anything other than a very strong and legally provable distinction would convince them otherwise.
AutismMom said…
Again, believe me, they (SPS) does not care AT ALL about access to "typically developing children" for severely disabled students. Seattle does not budge unless there is a law suit, and given the expense, this would not cause a law suit. In fact, SPS has very few law suits.

In many, and probably most, schools WITH so-called typically developing children, the schools forbid access to the "typicals" for students in self-contained settings. So, what good is it to have all the "typically developing" students if access is forbidden???? (Hint. Answer = not much.)

And, further, the standard isn't "typically developing".. . the standard is "non-disabled" and "non-handicapped". Yes, Lowell isn't a good neighborhood choice... but neither are any of the other destinations for Lowell's sped students.

Loads of people are complaining about the non-access to garden-variety kids by students at schools other than Lowell. But SPS moves not one inch to fix that real problem. And instead, it will toss the Lowell students into an identical program, likely at Greenlake or Orcas. Flame on.
jd said…
I'm not sure that having the new assignment plan in place would make this awful process much better, unless we'd all had a few years experience with it to see how families redistributed in practice. If they did the assignment plan, then closed schools the following year, I'd probably be griping about why they bothered redrawing lines when they were just going to close schools anyways. Simultaneous readjustments might make sense, but I can't imagine the battles involved in trying to fight a two front war.
Sahila said…
Charlie writes:
"Sahila, if instead of closing AS#1 the district re-located the program to a building two miles from Pinehurst, wouldn't your family make the move with the program? I'm confident that you would. If the district were to move a neighborhood school two miles it would have nearly a total loss of the community."

Wouldnt a parent of a student at a neighbourhood school they were happy with, move two miles with the school?

How come its OK for alternative school folks to have to figure out how to travel a further distance (many of us drive our kids to school, some of us walk our kids to school and some of us bus our kids to school, which last option is probably not going to be available any longer, which will thus convert most (70+% N, NE & NW) of our population to a 'neighbourhood' population, not to mention impact our already criticised enrolment figures)?

But then its not OK for traditional school folks to have to figure out how to get their kids a few (or many) miles further?

There's no logic in the argument that moving a traditional school two miles will break up the neighbourhood/community...unless you already are at the outside edge of the boundary, two miles is not enough to take you out of the neighbourhood... and then, most neighbourhoods/communities merge into each other anyway...

Moving an alternative programme will also break up the community - the community of students and families, many of whom we will lose if there is no bussing, as well as breaking our ties with our neighbours and surrounding businesses, as AS#1 has been at the Pinehurst location for 25 years, since 1984 - wow - Orwellian :-)!

There are families at the school who are into their second and third generation of students attending... they are as attached to the location as much as any traditional school...

Given all of the above, do you still think an alternative programme has no geographic home and so its less traumatic for an alternative programme to move?

Lowell APP/Spec Ed are non-traditional/alternative programmes, by your definition the school has no geographic home, kids are bussed in from all over the city and look at the fuss being created over the proposal to split and move those programmes...

Tell me, what's the difference between that school and AS#1, or Summit, for that matter?

Maybe I'm hanging with the wrong crowd and am out of the loop, but I havent noticed on these blogs or at the meetings much lobbying from non-AS#1 parents to keep our programme going, and to leave us our building...

On the contrary, there have been calls to evict and disband AS#1 and to turn the building into a traditional k-5, or a spec ed school and I've seen other non-traditional programmes eye the building as their potential new home...

We AS#1 parents sure would like to hear from those folks who want to step up and advocate for us keeping our programme and building..
anonymous said…
Sahila let me try to explain this from a parents perspective who has had kids in both both all city draw alternative schools and in my neighborhood schools.

My son went to both TC and Salmon Bay. Neither is right in my neighborhood but I accepted that as the trade off for being able to send my child to these unique alternative schools. I happily drove my son to school every day. I happily drove him to play dates all over the city because that's what happens when your child makes friends that live all over the city. If either school had moved a couple of miles away it wouldn't phase me one bit. It wasn't in my neighborhood anyway. I keep in touch with many TC families and they are not bothered at all by a move to the Jane Adamms building. In fact they are excited to have more space and grow!

Now take Montlake, a small expensive to run school in an an old run down building, that is in the heart of it's neighborhood. The Montlake community will fight vigorously to keep it from moving even a couple of miles away to the nearby Lowell building. Lowell would be their reference school, and it would house all of the Montlake neighborhood kids, but it would not be their neighborhood school because it's not in their neighborhood. It's in someone else's neighborhood. That's a big deal to many parents. And I understand that.

I am choosing Hale for my oldest son next year, and though there is much I like about the school (diversity, progressive approach, smaller school), my primary reason for choosing Hale is because it is across the street from our home. If it were to move a couple of miles away it wouldn't have the same appeal to me. In fact if it was a couple of miles away, and I had to drive or my son had to take Metro I would look much closer at Roosevelt and Shorecrest (Shoreline) as they are also both a couple of miles from my home.

There really is a difference between alternative and neighborhood schools. Alternative schools are NOT neighborhood schools, even though some kids may be from the neighborhood. An alt schools neighborhood truly is the entire city, and as such it is only fair for them to be in as central a location as possible.

And as for AS1, I have to agree with Melissa when she posted on another thread "asked about how to gauge the academic success of AS#1 (trying to get beyond WASL scores) and received no satisfactory answers. There has to be some measure of how to see academic performance."

How can AS1 expect the district and community to simply believe, without any data, as their enrollment declines, that they are doing a good job? How can AS1 continue to shun the WASL, without providing some type of alternative assessment, while the school slips into level 4 of NCLB, knowing that this level requires sanctions from the district? I feel like this closure could have been prevented if AS1 was willing to work with the district and show them in some way, concretely, that you are performing to standard.
Charlie Mas said…
Sahila, I know this is going to be a challenge for you, but how about you actually consider the potential truth of what you read before you reject it because it is contrary to your side of a debate.

"There's no logic in the argument that moving a traditional school two miles will break up the neighbourhood/community...unless you already are at the outside edge of the boundary, two miles is not enough to take you out of the neighbourhood"

Before you wrote this, before you rejected the suggestion that a two mile move would shake the foundations of a neighborhood school, did you, for even a moment, consider whether it was true? Or did you reject it simply because it was written by someone you perceive as "one of them"?

Did you consider how far two miles would take a neighborhood school? Try it now. Consider where Northgate Elementary would be if it were two miles to the west. It would be right on the water a little north of Carkeek Park near 12th Avenue NW. Is this a reasonable location for Northgate Elementary? Do you believe it would still be the neighborhood school for the families living in the current Northgate reference area if it were located here? Would that make any kind of sense at all?

And what if it were moved two miles east? That would put the school on Sand Point Way - east of John Rogers. Is this a reasonable location for Northgate Elementary? Do you believe this would still be the neighborhood school for the families living in the current Northgate reference area? Would that make any kind of sense at all?

A move two miles to the south would put the school almost on top of Green Lake Elementary. How would it be for the District to tell everyone in the Northgate reference area that Green Lake Elementary is their new reference area school? Do you really think the community would follow the program to Green Lake? Do you really think that Green Lake is just as good a place for the neighborhood school for the Northgate reference area as Northgate is?

Northgate's location is the primary reason that most of the students currently enrolled at Northgate are there at all. They are not there for a special program. They are not there for some specific teaching style. They are there because it is the nearby school. If Northgate were not the nearby school, those students would no longer be there.

That's because they have a geographically-based community. And without that geographic basis, there would be no community.

Now, consider the consequence of the District relocating AS#1 to McDonald, a vacant school building just west of I-5 at about 54th Street. McDonald is actually a bit more than two miles from Pinehurst. Wouldn't the majority of the AS#1 community, who chose the school for the unique style of education, be willing to follow the program to McDonald? Given the dedication you have expressed, I have no doubt that they would. Would it be crazy for AS#1 to be at McDonald? No, there is nothing blatantly absurd about AS#1 being located at McDonald.

I'm not saying that some members of the AS#1 community wouldn't make the change or that it wouldn't be a hardship, but it wouldn't be absurd and the majority of the community would stay together through the move. Wouldn't they? Or are they only committed to AS#1 at Pinehurst, and not committed to AS#1.

That's because the AS#1 community is not based on geography; it is based on a shared preference for an educational style. Consequently, changes in the geographic location do not elminate the basis for the community.

For neighborhood schools, geography is their primary attraction. If they don't have that, then they have nothing. The only thing that geographically-based communities share is geography. And when that basis is gone, the community is gone.

Do you now understand what I meant when I wrote that the locations of alternative schools is much more plastic than those that have geographically-based communities? Given the need to shift capacity from where we have too much to where we have too little, any reasonable person would recognize that alternative schools would be shifted the most.

Calling this statement of the obvious a "crock" is not only unnecessarily rude and disrespectful - which we now recognize as one of your hallmarks - it is also thoughtless.

Let's consider the response of the Lowell community, since you mention them. They have, for the most part, accepted the move of half of the APP students to another building more than two miles away from Lowell. They are contending that the District should leave the special educuation and north-end APP students at Lowell or move the north-end APP students to B F Day, a north-end elementary about two miles from Lowell with more available space than Thurgood Marshall.

The APP community - as well as individual members who have spoken out - have acknowledged the elements of the District proposal that are true and the elements that are feasible. They have spoken out against the unnecessary relocation of the special education students and the desirability of a north-end location for north-end families - or at least one no further south than Lowell.

Under the preliminary proposal, the AS#1 students who live in the North and Northeast clusters, nearly 70% of the AS#1 community, will be re-assigned to Thornton Creek at Jane Addams, a school building less than two miles from Pinehurst. Most of the AS#1 community will probably accept assignment at the new location. They are not being "swept to the wind or under the carpet". Your building is not being usurped because - and this is critical - you don't own it; the District does.

Please stop and consider the possible validity of statements before you reject them. It's okay to play rough, but you have to play fair. You can disagree with others as stridently as you like, but you need to provide evidence to support your contention and to dispute theirs.
My feeling is that a neighborhood school has two facets; its location/its program while alternative schools are all about the program. While I think Summit is in a unique place in time because its program being K-12 deserves a central spot, most other alternatives are movable feasts. And I say that because of the number of people, both within the district and in the general public, who don't understand or support alternative education. They would be more than happy to do away with it. So if the district will keep an alternative program if they can move it, then that might be the price to keep alternative education in our district.

However, I think a lot of alternatives would be very unhappy to be moved. Most tend to have many kids from their surrounding regions so it would change the flavor of who is at the school. Also, when the CAC proposed moving TOPS, TOPS was very unhappy (1) because they said they wouldn't fit into the building selected and (2) that the Seward building was designed just for them. (And this is the argument, somewhat true, that AAA makes.) However, the district can't move/close many neighborhood schools (but it's possible) while they feel they can with alternatives precisely because the students don't all come from one area.
Beth Bakeman said…
I want to add, as a point of clarification to AdHoc's earlier comment, that for some alternative schools, their "location is the entire city." While that is true for some schools (AS#1, African American Academy, Lowell, and Summit K-12), for many, their location (i.e. enrollment and transporation area) is only several clusters large.

Over and over again, people are surprised when I tell them that Pathfinder doesn't have all-city transportation or all-city enrollment because somehow "alternative" and "all-city" have gotten connected.

Pathfinder just provides transportation from two clusters: West Seattle North and West Seattle South. Thornton Creek also provide transportations from only 2clusters, and Salmon Bay from 3 clsuters.

I still completely understand and agree with Charlie, Ad Hoc and Mel's points on the fact that an alternative school, by definition, can be moved more easily than a neighborhood school.

Just want to make sure that it's clear that, at least under the current assignment plan, the relocation area for some alternative schools is smaller than for others.
anonymous said…
A lot of families are confused about Salmon Bay's draw, so let me explain it. For elementary (k-5) they are a three cluster draw school (north, northwest and northeast). For middle school (6-8), however, due to the mushroom model and their goal for diversity, they expand to an all city draw with transportation provided. We live in NE Seattle and my sons best friend lived in Seward Park!
North End Mom said…
If AS-1 was a true "neighborhood school," it would share the same demographics of the reference area in which it is located, that of Northgate Elementary. Currently, 84.9% of Northgate Elementary's population qualifies for Free/Reduced lunch (see appendix 3, of the Nov. 25th prelim. rec. report). 70% of students attending Olympic Hills Elementary, immediately adjacent to Northgate, qualify for Free/Reduced lunch.

According to Appendix 3 of the preliminary report on capacity management, AS-1 has a Free/reduced lunch population of 38.2%, which makes AS-1 the most "affluent" school in the immediate neighborhood. For the record, other north-end schools, such as Broadview Thomson (in the NW cluster) and John Rogers (in the NE cluster) also have higher percentages of Free/reduced lunch than AS-1, at 49.9% and 40.8%, respectively.

Yes, it is widely agreed upon that there are income-related disparities amongst schools throughout Seattle. This is not the venue for that discussion.

However, you repeatedly insist upon bringing up income levels and various types of diversity as a reason why AS-1 should be sacred. I argue that there are neighborhood schools serving populations much less affluent than AS-1, as well as every bit as diverse (please refer to the demographics for the schools mentioned above), and that this use of "equity" does not have a place in the closure discussion.

What you should be focusing on are ways in which AS-1 can stay put, based on the current closure criteria.

Location is your key asset. There is a capacity crisis in North Seattle, and your school has an opportunity to help address that crisis, even if your bussing is restricted to N/NE/NW.

There is the problem of redundancy with your program. With the introduction of the Thornton Creek K-8, there will be 3 alternative K-8s in North Seattle (including AS-1). Have you considered the possibility of scaling back to a K-5?

You should focus proposals to reduce the cost per pupil. I mis-posted in an earlier post. Your high cost/pupil was not based upon transportation (that is an extra cost). It is due to the high cost of staffing a low-occupancy building. Have you looked at ways to reduce these costs?

You need to work on strategies to fill the building, and convince the District that you can help ease capacity in the NE and NW clusters in doing so.

How can you do this? Accountability would help! I have been reading these blogs with great interest for many days now, and have yet to be satisfied of true academic progress at AS-1. There is talk of an alternative "checklist." What is this? Is it top secret, something not to be disclosed to the non-alternative world?

How on Earth do you propose to attract new families to your school when prospective parents are not given a "yardstick" that is in keeping with every other school in the District, alternative or otherwise?

How can you expect the support of those from outside your community if we are not shown proof that your children are learning up to the standards that the rest of our children are attempting to meet? As much as you complain about how little support your program receives, it is a very expensive program to operate. As taxpayers, we deserve to know that our money is being well-spent.

I hope your program and building can remain open. I think that the method of learning you employ works for your population. I also think that in order for you to remain open you will have to show the District that you are willing to take steps to meet their goals, which in the end are to balance capacity and take meet the budget shortfalls.
anonymous said…

I too am curious as to how AS1 assesses the progress of their students? How do you make sure kids are meeting standard, or meeting the expectations set by the district for their grade? I'm assuming of course AS1 does expect kids to meet standard, but I guess I should ask....does AS1 expect kids to meet the district standards?

Or, does the school have their own standards to which they expect kids to perform?

Or does AS1 believe children should work at their own pace and level, rather than at an arbitrary standard set by an outside entity?

If indeed AS1 does believe that student progress must be demonstrated and assessed just not via the WASL, then what instrument do you?

Does AS1 use portfolios? Teacher input? A grading system, GPA or point system?

It is a mystery to many of us, and would help your cause to explain just how AS1 is accountable for meeting standards. Then I would explain this to the district so they too will understand.
seattle citizen said…
Northend mom, and others interested in the Alternative Checklist, I just posted it on the recent thread about the alternative meeting Monday.
In short, the twelve-point checklist was developed by the Alternative Education Committee, which in turn was appointed by the Board after it approved Board Policy C54.00 about Alt schools, which, in turn, came out of the work of the non-district appointed Alternative Schools Coalition. The Coalition develped the 12-point checklist of "ideals" that indicate how alternative a school is. The checklist is not in official "use," but is the only offical document I know of that describes an Alt philosophy in Seattle Public Schools. The idea would be to see how far along on each checkpoint a school is, to help in determining it's "alt-ness."
seattle citizen said…
(whoever is creating these word verifications, I thank you! They're somoe how it code? What's it all, mean, Alfie?)
Technically, that's "what's it all about, Alfie?" but for our purposes, who cares?
seattle citizen said…
Rather than Dionne Warwick, I was referencing a different, more obscure source: The Meaning of it All, by Alfie E. Newman.
Sahila said…
Sorry for the delay in replying to questions - been busy with the rest of my life for a day or two!

Charlie - you assume (kinda partronisingly) that I dont read carefully and understand what others are writing... your assumption is incorrect... I might not be convinced by and take on their perspective, but I do read and understand...

Calling an argument a crock is not disrespectful and rude if the argument is flawed and appears to be self-serving - I have not called people names or denigrated them in any other way...

What I find disrespectful and distasteful in the extreme is the manner in which many people are tossing around children - not programmes or buildings - but children, from one end of town to the other, in order to make (force) the pieces of the puzzle fit. And people working hard to save their programmes and communities, advocating that other programmes and communities be displaced to provide a new home for their children.

You might have noticed, not once have I suggested - oh, close this programme, empty this building, move this one there, redraw these lines, do this, do that...

I havent done that because the problem isnt one of over or under capacity - its one of factory schooling, one size fits all, cookie cutter standardisation to fit an inappropriate economic model. Its one of inadequate and inequitable funding, and the kids shouldnt be forced to provide an artificial solution, one which will negatively affect the already poor level of education that they receive here in the US. We as adults should be saying "NO' to the District and Board (whatever happened to that "Hell no, we wont go!" slogan?), telling them this plan is unacceptable and to go back to the drawing board, delay it, stage it, wait for the assignment plan, and taking this fight to the legislature in Olympia and Washington... its a disgrace that Washington is ranked 44th in this country, on funding for education...

I do understand the rationale about 'neighbourhood' schools... I've grown three children from my first family through the Australian and New Zealand education systems and we have 'neighbourhood' schools there, and I drove my kids to school and playdates and activities all over town for more than 18 years because we were a (military) family that moved a lot and often their neighbourhood primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools didnt meet their needs...and we didnt have this problem of inadequate and inequitable school funding either!

But I think you are being way too precious about having to protect kids from having to move from their neighbourhood schools... there are neighbourhood schools that have more empty seats than the alternatives under fire, there are neighbourhood schools that have buildings in worse condition than the alternatives under fire and there are neighbourhood schools that are performing less well than alternative schools under fire...

At AS#1, 70%+ of the kids come from the north end... 80% of Summit's kids are north enders... our two schools are their neighbourhood alternative schools...

Charlie writes:
"Under the preliminary proposal, the AS#1 students who live in the North and Northeast clusters, nearly 70% of the AS#1 community, will be re-assigned to Thornton Creek at Jane Addams, a school building less than two miles from Pinehurst. Most of the AS#1 community will probably accept assignment at the new location. They are not being "swept to the wind or under the carpet"

Most of the AS#1 community will probably accept assignment at the new location???? How do you know that? How many people have you asked? And maybe we'd accept this forced marriage, even though T/C (acknowledges this itself) is much more a mainstream school than alternative and itself is worried how we will fit in, because we have no choice. And our middle school and NW families are being left out in the cold with no alternative schools to go to.

As to the issue of AS#1 being more or less affluent than other schools - my figures for AS#1 are these:
191 students
43% Free/reduced lunch
60% White
15% African American
10% Latino
8% Asian/Pacific Islander
6% Native American
18% (special ed) IEP Overall
40% IEP in Middle School
48% Not living with both parents
80% students from the N, NE, NW clusters...

I am sickened by the free lunch statistics for Northgate and Olympic Hills and I empathise with them in their challenge to educate their children...

However, they are traditional schools not on the closure and disbandment list (at this point in time, despite under-enrolment), so bringing them into this issue of alternatives and equity being a factor in these decisions doesnt seem to me to add anything...

As to the question of assessment, besides the usual monitoring of children's progress via portfolios etc, AS#1 runs internal testing regularly, using a variety of testing models that are available on the educational market.

The testing is not so much to ensure that children are performing at an arbitrary standard set by an outside body, but to pick up/define/fine-tune where children are experiencing difficulties and need more help...

I'm new at the school and didnt know the detail of this part of the equation, so I sat down with the Principal last week and ran through some of the school's testing models, material and results...(I cant today give you the names of the testing models because not much in American educational terminology means a lot to me and if I cant find an equivalent antipodean term, often the name doesnt stick in my memory - if you want the specifics, ring AS#1)!

Testing is in the area of literacy and numeracy competence. The school also teaches to the Writers Workshop curriculum, Reader's Workshop, Everyday Math or CMP (middle school math) National Science Foundation science curriculum in addition to field trips, overnights, etc.

I saw figures and aggregrate results for 2006 and 2007... the data compared fall testing with spring testing... it showed the percentage of children who were working successfully above expectation, at expectation or below expectation. AS#1 kindergarteners through to fifth grade show steady advancement in competence during each year, bringing most of their cohort to the level of working at or above expectation....

We have a less consistent level of progress in the middle school. To address that issue this year, we hired middle school teachers, rather than generalist teachers where we had to replace middle school staff.

This issue was the subject of discussion and some disagreement amongst our community, which generally feels that specialisation and narrowing of the educational focus at this early age is not a good thing for children.

However, while we have a philosophy of accepting that each child will learn at his or her own speed and in different ways, we are cognisant of the realities of the world into which our children go after AS#1 and we are committed to equipping them to manoeuvre in it successfully - we do no-one a service turning functionally illiterate children out into high school - so we made the choice to hire middle school teachers...

I know that AS#1 meets the Alternative Schools checklist criteria... I know that the District has access to our internal test data and has an indicator of how we are meeting the needs of our children...

But, as they wont accept anything other than WASL data for assessing our performance, then we are rated poorly...

But if we do so poorly, how come many of our scholars go on to be honours students in high school - one of life's mysteries and paradoxes....
anonymous said…
"At AS#1, 70%+ of the kids come from the north end... 80% of Summit's kids are north enders... our two schools are their neighbourhood alternative schools..."

Sahila, you have to ask yourself if it is fair or equitable that 70-80% of your students come from the north end? Both Summit and AS1 are all city draw schools, and all children throughout the district should have equitable access to your program. Don't you agree with this. But all families do not have equitable access. A south end student or a student from West Seattle is expected to commute an unreasonably long distance to get to AS1. Thus AS1 doesn't attract students from the south end, West Seattle and many other parts of the it should. By calling AS1 a north end "neighborhood" alternative school, you are excluding the rest of the district, which is against the very premise of an "all city draw" school. And against AS1's strong focus on social justice, and diversity. Isn't it?

And, thank you for trying to explain the way AS1 assesses students. Still, it very vague to me. If I were in your situation, I would base your advocacy in providing data to the district and community on how AS1 is performing to standard. The district standard, that is.
Roy Smith said…
The estimated savings of 3.6M might be found elsewhere until a new student assignment plan is put into place.

The transportation budget for FY08 is $28.2 million. If the new assignment plan reduces transportation costs 13%, that saves $3.6 million. If the new assignment plan brings our transportation costs into line with other large urban districts (Edmonds, Tacoma, Lake Washington, etc.), we would be saving $10-15 million per year. I actually don't think this last would be an unreasonable goal for the new assignment plan.

I know there are some intricacies with regards to how transportation funding sources work, but the overall point is that there is probably more money to be saved by overhauling the transportation and assignment plan than there is from closing a handful of buildings.
Roy Smith said…
It's somewhat ironic that Northgate elementary has become the poster child for neighborhood elementaries in this discussion. Northgate serves a particular demographic extremely well, but it isn't exactly the local neighborhood. Northgate has an exceptionally strong ESL program, and as a result, attracts immigrant families from all over the North cluster. The immediate neighborhood of the school is the Haller Lake neighborhood (the lake is 5 blocks away), which is an overwhelmingly middle and upper-middle class white neighborhood.

I live about 10 blocks from Northgate. I know three families with elementary age children in the immediate area who are in walking distance of Northgate; none of them send their children there (and they are not in alternative schools, either).

The point of all of this is that with the way school choice works in Seattle, some (but not all) "neighborhood" schools aren't really neighborhood schools.
Roy Smith said…
How can AS1 expect the district and community to simply believe, without any data, as their enrollment declines, that they are doing a good job? How can AS1 continue to shun the WASL, without providing some type of alternative assessment, while the school slips into level 4 of NCLB, knowing that this level requires sanctions from the district? I feel like this closure could have been prevented if AS1 was willing to work with the district and show them in some way, concretely, that you are performing to standard.

All good questions and comments. To justify its continued existence, an alternative school must maintain enrollment (thus demonstrating demand) or it must show performance results based on something more substantial than anecdotal evidence. If it can't show results (in some form, not necessarily the WASL), and can't attract or retain families, why keep it open?

Two years ago, in the wake of the last round of this silliness, there was a move afoot by a few AS#1 parents and teachers to work with the district to develop some alternative assessments that would show more concrete numbers to the district while still being acceptable to the school's alternative philosophy. The last I heard about it, there were some SPS staff members who were very supportive, helpful, and willing to work with the school, and it seemed like a very promising idea.

Sahila wrote: But if we do so poorly, how come many of our scholars go on to be honours students in high school.

I have heard this anecdotally many, many times, and I have no particular reason to doubt it is the case. However, we have never had any numbers that actually demonstrated that we were doing the same or better as other schools in areas like this.

A big part of the effort to develop an alternate assessment methodology for the school was to try and capture effects like Sahila mentions and put numbers on them that could be compared to other schools. I don't know what ultimately came of this effort because I was never directly involved, but I strongly suspect that the failure to develop some sort of data cannot be laid solely at the feet of the district.

As Sahila points out, it is difficult to use other criteria (if we even had anything of substance to show) if the only criteria the district uses is the WASL. I think there is a valid argument to be made (and not just by AS#1, but by most schools) that this is too narrow a criteria to judge academic performace.

Of course, in the case of AS#1, the whole discussion of academic performance would be moot if the school didn't have a multi-year-long trend of declining enrollment. If the school was full, AS#1 could legitimately tell the district "this whole WASL thing is irrelevant because we are an alternative school and families are still demanding what we have to offer."

I personally don't buy for a minute that this declining enrollment trend is the fault of the district. To hear the people who have been with the school for years and decades tell it, AS#1 has nearly always felt hostility from the district, but that didn't keep them in years past from being full with a wait-list.

Most people, when selecting a school, do not ask themselves "hmm, what does the district or the enrollment center think of this school?" Rather, they form an opinion based on research, school tours, and the experiences of family and friends (and their own experience after they have spent some with a student enrolled there). AS#1 is not suffering declining enrollment because the district is hostile; it is because the school is ineffectively presenting itself in the forums that people actually use to make their decision to initially enroll or to remain enrolled.
North End Mom said…
You bring up a very good point in your discussion about Northgate Elementary. Due to choice, the demographics of some neighborhood schools become skewed. It will be interesting to see if this can be resolved, to the benefit of many schools, with the new assignment plan? Will higher-income families be willing to invest in their true neighborhood school, or will they fight the restrictions placed upon their choice to go elsewhere?
anonymous said…
The state, the district and the school board are the ultimate authorities. Like it or not, they make and enforce school policy and they set the standards. A school can not just decide that they don't like a particular policy, rule or law set by the district or state and simply refuse to do it. You can advocate for change, but you can't break rules.

It benefits a school to try to work within the system as best they can to find agreeable solutions for all involved. AS1 does not seem to be able to do this.

If you don't like the WASL, the standard assessment tool the district offers (and many of us don't), then it is up to you to either find another tool that is acceptable to both your community and the district, or advocate for a change in the policy. You can't simply's against our philosophy, we refuse to comply, and offer no alternate solution. At least not when the school is a public entity, and is accountable to the tax payers that support it.

When you refuse to work with the district, when you refuse to comply without an agreeable alternate solution, you must be prepared for the repercussions that will surely come. In this case you refused the WASL, without any official substitute for it, and the district as well as the federal government have perceived your performance to be well below standard. Now the district is mandated to take sanctions.

It's great to be activists. To advocate for change. It's what we should do. But that means working together, and coming up with solutions. Not stamping our foot, crossing our arms, and sticking our tongues out at each other.
seattle citizen said…
It's true that state, district and board are the ultimate "deciders" of assessment tools. However, individual students, with parent consent, CAN "opt-out" of the WASL. But this means a "O" is averaged into the school's overall score. This hardly seems fair, and blows large holes in both using the WASL as a reference when looking at school success, and the use of the WASL in NCLB. If people can voluntarily opt out, but that choice negatively effects the school's overall WASL score, then what good is that score? It becomes virtually meaningless (and this is without debating the usefulness of the WASL itself)

That said, the school's score IS, crazy or not, what is used to analyze acadmic "performance". Sometimes the only thing used. Sigh. What DOES this say about everything else taught in schools, like, say, art or history or music...
anonymous said…
Why can't the district just take the 0's out of the total average and look at what the kids who actually did take the WASL scored? That would give a better picture of performance.

Anyway, I hope with Bush out of office, and Dorn at OSPI, the WASL will be a memory of days past pretty soon, or at the very least get a major overhaul.
anonymous said…
It is a fact that a family has the right to have their child opt out of taking the WASL in elementary and middle school. In fact a child does not have to take any alternate assessment or even be assessed in any way whatsoever.

However, in order to graduate from HS a student must either take and pass the WASL or pass the districts alternate assessment?

Why shouldn't AS1 and any other families opting out of the WASL at younger grades, have to take an alternate assessment too? Shouldn't all schools and all students be held accountable?

They can't take the zero's out because that is how a lot of testing fraud is done. If the kids that you know will fail are just magically absent on testing day, then your school magically passes.
Roy Smith said…
Why can't the district just take the 0's out of the total average and look at what the kids who actually did take the WASL scored?

There is actually a reason that opt-outs are counted zeroes when averaging the school's results: if a school's performance (and thus job performance for principals and teachers) is evaluated partly by the average of only students that take the test, then there is an incentive for teachers and administrators to encourage poor performers to NOT take the test, thus inflating the average.
seattle citizen said…
Is there available the number of students who took the WASL for a particular school for, say, last year? If there were, it would be a relatively simple thing to subtract the number of students who took the test from the number of students purported to be enrolled at the school and come up with the number (roughly) of "zeros" factored into the results. Schools that are being negatively impacted by WASL scores might do this themselves: Figure out how many students didn't take the test and use the above calculation to present score that, while not "official" is at least more representative.
Sahila said…
Adhoc said:
"Sahila, you have to ask yourself if it is fair or equitable that 70-80% of your students come from the north end? Both Summit and AS1 are all city draw schools, and all children throughout the district should have equitable access to your program. Don't you agree with this. But all families do not have equitable access. A south end student or a student from West Seattle is expected to commute an unreasonably long distance to get to AS1. Thus AS1 doesn't attract students from the south end, West Seattle and many other parts of the it should."

I understand West Seattle has an alternative school - I believe its called Pathfinder...

I dont know what South Seattle children get for alternative options in their geographical area...

We have families from the south and west who either bus or drive their children to AS#1... there's a map somewhere on the SPS site that shows where our population comes from...

AS#1 has no restrictions on where kids can come from; for now we have all city bussing, I dont know why south and west parents dont want to come to AS#1, or Summit or T/C, or Salmon Bay, or Tops or whatever other central/north non-traditional programme takes people from out of cluster/reference - you need to ask them that, or take up the equity issue with the Board, as we are attempting to do...
Roy Smith said…
Regarding alternative school options available in each area of the city:

Currently, AAA, Summit, and AS#1 are all-city draws.

Each cluster also has two regional alternative schools (with the exception of Queen Anne/Magnolia, which only has one) which serve them (i.e., SPS provides transportation). The regional alternatives are: Thornton Creek, Salmon Bay, TOPS, Orca, and Pathfinder.

The regional alternatives available in each cluster are:
NE: Thornton Creek, Salmon Bay
N: Thornton Creek, Salmon Bay
NW: Salmon Bay, TOPS
Central: Orca, TOPS
S: Orca, TOPS
SE: Orca, TOPS
WS-North: Orca, Pathfinder
WS-South: Orca, Pathfinder

Access for alternative programs thus is (theoretically) basically the same for all students. In practice, it is currently a heck of a lot better to live in NE Seattle if you want convenient access to an alternative program.
anonymous said…
OK Sahila put on your thinking cap.

You say you don't know why students from South Seattle and West Seattle don't choose AS1 or Summit? Let me explain it to you. AS1 is on the opposite side of the city from these locations. Most people don't want their kids on exorbitantly long bus rides every day.

Then you say, sarcastically "I understand West Seattle has an alternative school - I believe its called Pathfinder..." So I must ask you Sahila, with this mentality, why is AS1 an all city draw school? Why offer all city busing? After all almost every cluster in the city has an alt school, so why not have AS1 only draw from the north cluster, where it is located? It would save tons on transportation.

And finally, Sahila you say "We have families from the south and west who either bus or drive their children to AS#1... there's a map somewhere on the SPS site that shows where our population comes from..."

This statement directly conflicts your earlier argument that AS1 is a neighborhood school. Which one is it?
anonymous said…
Sahila, will you send your child to Summit if it moves to RBHS? Will the majority of the Summit families send their kids to RBHD? From what I hav heard the majority are not willing to do it. Think about that. Then it will make sense to you why people living in the RBHS neighborhood (SE Seattle), or South Seattle or West Seattle don't bus their kids way up north to Summit or AS1.
Maureen said…
I think it must be very difficult to represent your (much loved) school to the world. I think there is a role for AS#1 in Seattle and I will be unhappy if it is closed for purely financial reasons. I think the #1 determinant of whether or not a public school should be funded is whether or not they can fill their seats (a wait list is icing). Unfortunately it might not be fair to judge AS#1 by this standard since they have been under attack by the District forever. Just my opinion.
Sahila said…
I said that 70+ of students at AS#1 come from the north end... for them(wish I knew how to bold and italicise), AS#1 is(bold) their neighbourhood alternative(bold) school...

Its the same for Summit, where 80% of their students come from the north end...

Dont get mad at me - I didnt make 'all city busing' a policy... I dont know why you guys have busing at all, except that I understand that its a hangover from the desegregation days - there's no busing in any of the other countries I've lived in - parents get their kids to school one way or another...

Though from an ecological standpoint now, busing makes sense - better to have 40 kids on one bus than 40 almost empty cars on the road...

I think Roy put out a list of all the alternative schools available to each geographic educational area... it seems to me that each area has something alternative on offer... its obvious some families see something special they want at AS#1 or Summit and they are willing for their children to travel the distance ... its a choice for each family, and right now, means of access is provided by the busing system... I really dont know why you are arguing with me - shouldnt your beef go to the District? - or expect me to defend systems and policies I havent had a hand in setting up...

As to whether I would send my child to Summit at RBH - I've never advocated that move for Summit - it was a poison pill designed to kill the Summit programme and would never have worked anyway... and no, I wouldnt have sent my 5 year old that far to that school with those problems...

Would I have sent a high school student? I would be making my choice on what alternative programmes are available, comparing their various merits and demerits, assessing the staff/leadership, assessing the logistics (time spent in travel, ease of access to extra curricular activities), and make my decision then.... Location is not necessarily at the top of my list of deciding factors... in my own life, I travelled more than 15 miles each way, each day for most of my schooling, and I sent one of my daughters to the best co-ed high school in Wellington, New Zealand, which was located in the 'roughest' part of town... and she got there and back on public transport every day...

I'm not really interested in arguing for argument's sake, or for indulging in some sort of interesting, challenging intellectual exercise to figure this stuff out...

These are kids, these are decisions that affect them for the rest of their lives, these are things that will impact the wider community, these are equity issues...the whole thing is fundamentally flawed and forcing the rearrangement of the puzzle pieces will not fix the problem... our kids - all our kids - deserve more than this and I am frustrated that we adults are playing this game with the District... they set the rules and we play along, more or less willingly, even though its their job (italics and underline both words) to serve us... think its the tail wagging the dog, myself...
Sahila said…
correction - 70%+ of AS#1's student population comes from the north end, not 70 students
Josh Hayes said…
Man, what a cruddy interface! The comments I'm responding to are way way way down....

Anyway, I'm another AS1 parent, and I'd like to chip in.

adhoc says:

You say you don't know why students from South Seattle and West Seattle don't choose AS1 or Summit? Let me explain it to you. AS1 is on the opposite side of the city from these locations. Most people don't want their kids on exorbitantly long bus rides every day.

This brings to mind a funny story. Last year at the SSD kindergarten fair, the district assigned AS1 table space, as it does for every single school there. Guess what schools we were lumped in with?

Think crazy.... got it?

Yes! West Seattle! Because we're just so frickin' close! It's only, what, 12 miles, as the crow flies?

The point is, the district has gone out of its way to hide AS1 from the parents who ought to make up our core constituency.

In addition, of course, district staff regularly hallucinate about what our program entails ("Oh, you don't want to send your child there!", they told me, "it's a hippie school! They run around with no clothes on all day!").

As for moving the school, I don't think most AS1 people object to the idea. It's the district that has no intention of doing that. They have made it clear that closed buildings will not be opened: closure of AS1 at Pinehurst therefore means closure of AS1. I would have thought that the Marshall building near Green Lake would make a great colocation for AS1 and Summit, but as I said above, there vill be no openink of ze closed buildings.

Finally, if school "average" WASL scores are simply listed with actual participation rates, the real WASL score can be robustly calculated, with error bounds, even! Of course, the district doesn't want anyone to know that.

Finally, all this blather about closing schools to save 3, maybe 5 million dollars, is dopey: where's the rest of the 30 million dollar shortfall going to come from? Cuts in district staff? (insert sardonic laughter effect).

I feel real pain for all the other parents who are wondering where their kids will go to school next year. I'm fortunate to be in a position to homeschool if I must. Most parents aren't, and it is they who bear the brunt of this straining at an elephant to swallow a gnat.

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