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Friday, January 02, 2009

ESP Vision

A group, Educators Students & Parents for a Better Vision of Seattle Schools, has organized to oppose the current District Capacity Management proposal. They have an online petition to the Board asking for votes against the current plan.

This group has had at least one meeting and plans at least one event. I can't say more beyond that as I am not a member, but I know that some members of the group follow this blog, so they can speak for themselves and I invite them to do so.

35 comments:

Seattlehorn said...

Thank you, Charlie, for posting the link. While the petition is not comprehensive and is just one tool among many (flamers, chill), it sends a clear message of "we deserve a better plan" from a district-wide constituency of citizens, parents, students, and educators. We will collect signatures and deliver them to the board on Wednesday, Jan. 7 after a rally from 5 to 6 pm. Please bring your children, signs, and enthusiasm. And please, forward the petition far and wide throughout our fair city. Allons, citoyens!

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Back in 2005, CPPS was formed because of the closures. Has anyone heard from them on this round of closures?

seattle citizen said...

Trish,
here is a link to CPPS website:
www.cppsofseattle.org/News/Dec08/dec08newsletter.htm

It has some information about their activities around this round of closures. They have held a couple of meetings and other odds and ends.

Bless 'em for being active. Personally, I see an effort on their part ot walk the middle path, trying to gather people together but without so much of the angst that often alienates people from District movers and shakers. Unfortunately, it is often only when trouble looms that people organize, and then there is often too much vitriolic communication, and the District walls up.

Me, I'd like to see a larger organization of outside stakeholders gather, and take somewhat similar stances as CPPS has: work to be an outside group but not necessarily antagonistic to every move the district makes. But by doing what it does, and for various other reasons, I think CPPS has somewhat alienated some community members (and some comunity members have alienated themselves from CPPS), perhaps by this sort of "schmoozing" with District. I don't believe CPPS has a large base of support, but I could be wrong. Without a large base, two things can happen (both bad): One, the organization is ineffective because it has no real power; two, district can say it's listening to the community by working with just one group, like CPPS, thatmight not really represent the community.

So I believe we need a vast coalition of stakeholders, everybody in the pool, to both support the district in its efforts to find better ways, more efficient ways, more justuce etc, while also holding it accountable for what it says it will do.

There are many concerned and interested citizens, there are quite a few groups; put 'em all together and there's real, productive power.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a link that may be easier for people to use:
http://www.cppsofseattle.org

There have been - and are - other groups of districtwide stakeholders such as CEASE and the PTA which have seen varied levels of access and success. Surely there has to be some middle road between nay-sayer and cheerleader. Can't we acknowledge and congratulate the District when they do something good, constructively suggest improvements where they are needed, and scold them when they mess up?

I'm not opposing the current capacity management proposal because I believe that the District does have to do some capacity management work. I am convinced that they need to do some of it right away and I see no benefit in deferring some more of it. Most of the proposal is pretty good, although it does have some faults. So rather than opposing it, I am working to improve it.

The District is clearly open to suggestions for improvement and welcoming of them. This approach, while not ideal - they don't say what's wrong with the ideas they reject, so I don't know how to change them and re-present them - has been significantly more effective than previous efforts at cooperation. It is about as close as they have ever come to working cooperatively with stakeholders.

I know that even when gathered into a districtwide group, the bulk of people are essentially parochial: concerned primarily about their own child's school or program and not as ready to expend energy in advocacy for another school or program. The programs and schools that people know the most about are the ones that their children were and are in.

I try to take a global view. Even before the District, I was saying that middle school APP had to leave Washington - despite the fact that I have a child in that program. I would have preferred the program be re-located intact, but I acknowledge the need to split it. My other child is at NOVA, but I have not opposed that school's relocation to Meany. Instead, I've acknowledged the benefits of the move and I have been working to think of ways that NOVA can retain its autonomy and security at Meany.

For the first time, I think the District is ready to meet people at that middle ground. This reflects a huge shift in District culture and I think we need to recognize and praise it. As soon as I finish this comment I'm going to write a nice message of praise to Kathy Johnson for her openness to suggestions from the community.

It can't be all stick, and it can't be all carrots.

I'm glad that ESP Vision is organizing and getting involved. Some of them are sure to remain involved even after this crisis passes. This is how activists are created. If they stick around they will mature into a more nuanced view of the District and the people who work in it.

north seattle mom said...

I agree with Charlie on this. If you live in the North end of town then you are probably quite clear that the entire capacity process can't sit and wait for yet another year. The Board already voted to move Summit and they need to find a central location for all of those Summit families.

As bad as this process has been on all of seattle schools, it has been much much worse on the now homeless Summit Community. The Jane Addams building is very much needed to alleviate the serious over-crowding NE schools and Summit is a successful program that deserves a central location. Moving Summit helps everyone with capacity issues.

Moving Summit frees up needed capacity in the NE and then uses excess capacity in the Central area with an excellent program. I will not be signing this petition.

I also would encourage folks to ask for more information on the folks that wrote the petition. While they did a great job of outlining the issues with this process (and I agree with every point they raised) they did nothing to actually address what are real and serious capacity issues that simply can't wait yet another year for someone to solve them.

If the process from two years ago had actually been finished we would not be in such a big mess right now. If capacity imbalances are not addressed in a real and meaningful way, there really isn't much hope for a new assignment plan.

adhoc said...

I agree with Charlie 100%!

The fact is that there is excess capacity, and that must be addressed. The District has the duty and the fiscal responsibility to the tax payers and the families of SPS to balance capacity. They must look at closing schools. They can also look at reducing class size. This would be an alternate way to balance capacity. Though reducing class size won't help balance the budget, which is one of the District's goals, it would address one of the greatest concern of the parents of this district.

I also think Charlie is right in that the District has been more responsive to the community and open to input than ever before. They are not by any means obligated to "do what we say", but they have been "listening" to what we say.

Is the proposal perfect? No. There are certainly a few obvious flaws. But, I happen to think that we will see a final proposal that will address many of those flaws along with other concerns that the community has voiced. In other words I think that the District has been listening. So has the Board.

I also think Charlie is right in that the District should act swiftly. They should certainly take the time necessary to collect the appropriate data and do the necessary research. But lets not delay the process any more than absolutely necessary.

Closing schools is going to be tough whether it happens right now, or next year. The fact is some schools will be closed and no matter the criteria, no matter the amount of research, no matter the data, the affected communities won't like it. They will think it unfair. It will be ugly. There is no way around that. But for the good of the District as a whole, lets move on with the process. Lets take the time we need to do it right, but lets not drag our feet any more than absolutely necessary.

Seattlehorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seattlehorn said...

North Seattle Mom, let me add that it is a quirk of the hosting software that Andrew Helmstetter, who posted the petition, is listed as its writer. The writing was a collaborative effort among five or six others in ESP Vision.

Adhoc, I do not share your optimism, but would love to be pleasantly surprised next Tuesday with the final proposal . . . we will know then how well the district has been listening.

Meanwhile, it is not the task of a petition (or its signers) to write policy. Good grief! This is a rejection slip from an editor, who is very eager to see the rewrite.

Seattlehorn said...

I helped draft the petition. What would you like to know about me, North Seattle Mom? I'm a mom, age 47, graphic designer, two children, Lowell and Coe. You are welcome to contact me offline at seattlehorn (at) gmail.com

Those of us who collaborated on the petition have no hidden agenda. Like you, we find the proposals deeply flawed, for all the reasons explored on this blog.

We affirm IN THE PETITION LANGUAGE that the superintendent must address capacity issues. We are realists.

We simply demand a better plan.

I applaud Charlie's and others' efforts to work with the district on a micro level and encourage you to continue.

Meanwhile, if you can help apply pressure to get a better plan, why NOT? In its first day online, with virtually no outreach, 296 people have signed. I find that encouraging.

The petition is neither a carrot nor a stick. It is a customer return.

north seattle mom said...

First off -- Thank you Seattlehorn for both being active and doing something! I agree with activism even if I can't in good conscious sign this petition.

I guessed that the authors were central families and or Lowell families. To be clear on this, I agree with nearly every poster and the board when they say that the central area was the hardest hit in this proposal and also hit in a way that does not address actual capacity issues. Mary Bass said it at every board meeting and I agree completely.

That said, there are real and serious capacity issues in the north that just can't wait another year to solve and I don't see how spending the reserves is a great idea.

If the board has suggested spending the reserves as the solution while they study the problem for another year for the mythical new assignment plan, I think Charlie might have had a stroke before he started the long threads about responsibilities. Because it is simply irresponsible to continue to draw down on the reserves when we have excess capacity.

I also read Andrew's blog about the petition and I really agree with what you are doing. However, I think you are really only focusing on the Central cluster and not taking a balanced look at the entire district.

What about Summit? Don't they also deserve a good home. Won't Summit in the Central cluster improve the cluster?

West Seattle has just too much capacity, no matter how you look at it. Whichever school is closed, it is going to hurt. Waiting another year won't make it so that an entire school's worth of kids just shows up.

north seattle mom said...

As I think about this more, I think the petition is just simply "a vote of no confidence," rather than a petition to do this differently. I think signatures on a vote of no confidence is a great idea if that is what folks are affirming (no confidence) but I don't think anyone should be under the illusion that there is a proposal in this petition.

For the record, I have little confidence in this and I think many, many folks have no confidence.

Seattlehorn said "We affirm IN THE PETITION LANGUAGE that the superintendent must address capacity issues. We are realists."

On the petition it reads:
We acknowledge that the district is facing budget challenges. We also affirm that it is the right and responsibility of the superintendent to be a good steward of our public funds, and to manage capacity in our schools. However, this proposal is fundamentally flawed.

I don't think you really affirm anywhere the reality that something is going to have to change in the face of overwhelming, city, state and national fiscal deficits and the fact that many local families are also dealing with serious financial challenges. Something needs to change. There is just not enough money to keep everything the same.

While, I completely agree that much of the proposal is flawed, there is real capacity issues due to years of neglect of this topic that need to be solved now not later. Spending the reserves is not a plan, it is an emergency action.

Among the many things mentioned on this blog to address capacity was using the capacity by other organizations. Civic Light Opera was in the Jane Addams building with Summit for a long time and that worked for both organizations.

What about offering some excess high school space to the community colleges. This could be a serious win/win for capacity and student learning.

What about preschools and before and after care programs in under-capacity elementary schools. This could help to really create a community center and improve student learning.

Anyway, my point is simply that the budget issue is real. The capacity issue is real. The district has very hard choices to make to close an enormous budget gap. It is just unreasonable in the extreme to expect that we can maintain all of the buildings in the district and maintain all of the excess capacity in the district as is in the face of all of these changes.

The petition reads
We demand a better plan in which school closures are strictly a last resort, and instead urge the district to take the following steps:

I wish you had demanded that student learning had been at the center of a better plan. That I could get behind. I can't sign a petition to keep open half full buildings in a budget crisis.

Charlie Mas said...

So why can't the petition - or at least ESP - take a middle course.

Why can't ESP say that some elements of the plan - those that actually address capacity management issues instead of budget issues - are urgent and good and right and should move forward on schedule. So let's move forward with a new home for Summit K-12, close Meany, close T T Minor, move half of middle school APP to Hamilton, move Pathfinder to Cooper, and close the AAA.

And some elements of the plan - those that don't actually address capacity management should be deferred for further study and consideration. So can't we oppose the goofy, misguided, and pointless Montlake-Lowell-Thurgood Marshall musical chairs without opposing the more reasonable elements of the plan?

owlhouse said...

Charlie, thanks for the post.
NS Mom and all,
Please keep in mind that the ESP group has had, thus far, one meeting. I missed the first half, but left feeling a renewed sense of enthusiasm for Seattle schools. For me, this was the thoughtful and informed discussion I’ve been waiting for the city to have. There was a wide recognition that we need broader public support for our schools. I see the petition as part of a public-education campaign, as in, “Hey Seattle, your schools are in trouble. We need funding, standards, vision, commitment, leadership…” I’m not sure that city residents not impacted by capacity management issues have any idea what’s happening in our schools. When I’m feeling optimistic, I think that a more informed citizenry will better support public schools, and contribute possible solutions to some of the district's challenges.

I’m a first year public school parent and in my efforts to “get involved” I’ve heard from dismissive board members and watched district staff check their email dozens of times during public hearings. I’ve heard from “hands-off” city council members who seem to believe that schools operate in a vacuum and that building closures will not negatively impact neighborhoods. It’s my hope that the ESP group will raise attention, inviting the city as a whole, the “stakeholders”, to contribute to a more comprehensive vision, improving eduction for students city-wide.
~nora

north seattle mom said...

Owlhouse,
I agree with anything that inspires people to participate. I have gone to many many meetings over the years wrt schools and I think that any group that inspires people to pay attention is a good one. I sincerely hope ESP becomes an avenue for better schools for everyone.
Good luck and good activism!

Meg said...

I am participating in the ESP Vision petition, and, indeed, I'm a central cluster parent.

My personal stake is one that unquestionably leaves me with biases. However, having looked over the likely results of the proposal as a whole, I can say with some confidence that I believe virtually no cluster stands to benefit from this proposal.

Over-crowding is a real issue for the north clusters, and on Queen Anne. To that end, 4 classrooms are being added at Blaine, and 4 are being repaired at BF Day, which will provide, in the short-term, significantly more capacity relief than any portion of the proposal involving the NW and QA clusters. Does this solve the capacity issues there? No. But it may buy enough time to find a truly suitable site for SBOC.

In the N and NE clusters, capacity issues are highly unlikely to be solved by the current proposal. With the closing of the Pinehurst building, an additional 282 seats will be taken off-line. Projected joint cluster capacity will move from current 90.3% to 92.6% operating capacity. That doesn't look like relief to me.

So, yes, I'm screaming my head off about this proposal, and am opposed to almost every point of it.

The Superintendent, per the School Board Action report of 10/24/2008, was supposed to provide fiscal impact analysis if and when a closure proposal was made. None has been provided. Having been an analyst (back in the day), I went through, and it looks like this proposal will involve total losses of $21.7M (mixed capital expense and revenue loss) for $4.2M in savings.

Our budget issues are pressing and need to be addressed. The Governor's preliminary budget release, though, indicates that the budget issues are NOT as pressing as we thought. I-728 funds are reduced to a bit over 75% of original amounts, which means that instead of a $37M shortfall, we're facing a $22.5M shortfall. That's not chump change, but it's an enormous difference, and I believe that it buys time for a proposal that isn't financially reckless, and doesn't move over 5,000 kids through the district.

north seattle mom said...

Meg,
Once again, I agree with alot that you have put out there. I don't think this capacity plan does a lot to address capacity. The board has also said that this plan has more turmoil that capacity management.

That said, I am really uncertain as to where you are getting some of the numbers in your analysis. Now granted the district has been playing switch the numbers a lot lately so it makes it hard for newcomers to find a solid number without a PhD in search technology to dig through the district website. So, I look at the 2010 facilities master plan when I crunch numbers as that doc was put in place long before the political turmoil and seems in my opinion to be the most reliable as those of the numbers that were used by the state auditor and the board to make the decision that the district as a whole had excess capacity.

According to the numbers in the 2010 master plan the NE cluster is about 1000 kids over capacity. So I have no idea where you are getting the delta from 90 to 92% operating capacity notion for the N and NE clusters combined. As the NE is significantly over capacity then that would mean that there is just tons of empty space in the N to create that average number and I can tell you there is very very little extra space in North.

Additionally, I have blogged repeatedly that closing AS1 at Pinehurst is just plain old stupid. I believe most of the board has said this as well albeit much more politically correctly. Closing anything north of the ship canal is just going to send those families to Shoreline or private as there is almost no room at any other school for them.

So the only reasonable hypothesis is that once again staff was looking for a token school in the North to close to make this look like a balanced plan. So once again, I agree that there was much more political management than capacity management in this process.

Also, the board also re-designated Olympic Hills as a dual cluster school to alleviate some of the crowding in the NE. At the time, they said that was the only excess capacity in the N that could be shared. They had originally considered sharing Greenlake, Olympic View and Olympic Hills as they are the three schools that share a boundary with the NE cluster but guess what? They couldn't do that because there wasn't any room.

The overall budget numbers may have changed but they are not nearly as low as you suggest. The $24M shortfall is the SPS operating budget shortfall. In other words, that in the minimum that we are short. I think the current estimates with the preliminary state budget are around $30M shortfall. Everyone needs to keep in mind that these are the first round of cuts. There are more coming. It is much more likely that the number goes up than down.

So bottom line
I agree that the plan is flawed. This plan only looks at building condition and number of students in the are and does not consider the most imortant part of the puzzle which is student learning. Come on, unless the building is downright unsafe, the building isn't important. What is important is that students feel safe and get a great educational experience.

However, any balanced plan is going to need to include some building closures. It is unrealistic in the extreme to think that we can continue to financial support empty buildings.

Meg said...

North Seattle mom-

Sorry. I should have said where I got my data from to begin with.

For enrollment and capacity, I compiled and compared data from 2 sources. The figures provided in Appendix 3 of the Superintendent's initial proposal (the facilities capacity/enrollment data passed out at several workshops) was largely what I used for capacity. I understand that those figures might shift. The MENG reports, although they provide interesting data, do not cover capacity. In order to compare enrollment figures, I also went through the annual reports of almost every school in the district to check if their enrollment figures lined up. I used scatter maps of enrollment to estimate where students from discontinued programs would return, if they do, indeed, do what the district expects them to.

The high schools in the N and NE clusters are what makes the overall capacity usage appear lower. Elementary schools in the two clusters currently operate at 102%. Middle schools operate at 94% (or should I say middle school, since it's just Eckstein in there), and K-8s are at 90%. High school enrollment between the two clusters, however, is at 77%. Even so, post-proposal, you would break out to 100% elementary, 87% K-8, 97% middle (returned students), and 81% high school.

You are correct that the initial budget shortfall was $24M. However, the reason I estimate $22.5M is because of COLA elimination ($6M) and the elimination of the medical increase ($0.4M). In Mr. Kennedy's presentation regarding the budget shortfall, he cited an estimated funding need of $24M, and then noted that COLA and elimination of the medical increase would knock $6.4M off of that. However, he added to that total devastation of the I-728 funds, which brought us to a $37.1M shortfall. When one considers that the I-728 shortfall has changed from $19M to $4.9M, one then arrives at $22.5M.

Again, I should have spelled out how I got to $22.5M as a shortfall.

I'm actually not against building closures. But I am against the proposals that the Superintendent has put forth.

Seattlehorn said...

Good work, Meg. On its 2nd day online, the petition is at 415 signatures and rising rapidly.

north seattle mom said...

Meg - Great analytical and leg work there! I hope you keep crunching district numbers for years to come.

I had guessed that you might be using the numbers from that initial report. At the board meeting when those numbers were introduced, the board questioned those numbers as they were brand new, never before seen, capacity numbers that were very very different from the 2010 facilities master report capacity numbers.

Essentially, staff managed to re-write all of the capacity numbers in the NE so that the 1,000 kids the NE was over-capacity were now just pretty much the normal capacity numbers. To be fair, the first few extra hundred students were not really a problem at all. A few buildings were a little crowded. A few classrooms were larger. Playgrounds were a little crowded. Eckstein was really crowded but it was all manageable.

But the last couple of hundred extra kids really broke things up here. Class sizes ballooned. Schools were assigned 30 kids into each K class. Music and art rooms were converted to extra home room space. Extra lunch periods were added at every school. Gym time was taken away.

It is just just crazy to describe Eckstein, the only middle school as under-capacity. It was built as an 800 kid school. They added a ton of portables and it works at around 1100 but it is quite crowded and now all of a sudden with the swish of pen it can handle yet more kids. I don't think so!

It was these magical numbers that were being used to justify closing AS1 that caused the board to request the new analysis due in the middle of January with a realistic functional number. That is why those numbers are coming so late in the process is because the board questioned their accuracy based on parent testimony.

There was a person from the NECC at the last board meeting and she testified about how the current capacity numbers couldn't be used as they were not sustainable. I agree with that assessment.

So I think you can see from my tone here that I pretty much agree with you on nearly everything you have blogged and nearly everything on your petition. The plan was flawed. The numbers were just made up as far as I can tell. It sure seems that every time the board asks where a number comes from, they have to do a new report. This does not inspire confidence in me that they are really prepared for the enormity of the undertaking of re-arranging 10% of the population of Seattle Schools.

However, all that said, I think capacity has gotten so imbalanced and the budget issues are so severe that change is inevitable and the change is going to include closing some buildings in the south end and it is going to hurt and hurt like hell. I don't think causing the process to wait another year is going to make it hurt any less and indeed will probably make it hurt more.

I am not surprised by the number of signatures. Folks are frustrated and they should be. This is a bad plan and folks don't want to wait until Tuesday to see if staff actually listened and revised the plan to be a more sensible one.

All in, I applaud anyone that is willing to do the work that you are doing. Bravo! But I can't sign it because I think buildings do need to be shut for next year. I am shocked to see so many Summit signatures on the petition. I think they don't realize that asking to stop the process is asking to stop finding them a home. I think Summit deserves a home in the central area.

Meg said...

Ok. This is an enormously long comment. Pardon me.

I plugged through the FMP capacity data (I spend my Saturday nights in reeeeally exciting ways). I should have done it sooner (better late than never?).

In the N and NE clusters, capacity numbers were bumped for the following schools (amount in parentheses): Bagley (+5), Northgate (+14), Olympic Hills (+13), Pinehurst (+38), Olympic View (+30), Greenwood (+6), View Ridge (+14), Laurelhurst (+2), Wedgwood (+29), Decatur (+93), Sacajawea (+3), Bryant (+44). Capacity numbers remained the same for Eckstein. Using the FMP capacity numbers, the two clusters as a whole are running at 92.5%. Elementary capacity is at 108.4%. The superintendent’s numbers, by contrast, put total cluster capacity at 90.3% and elementary capacity at a still not-fun 102%.

I don’t deny that these levels are untenable and need to be addressed ASAP.

There is an alternative school in almost every cluster. Although all are technically all-city draws, in non-Central cluster alternative schools (Nova has a near perfect city-wide scatter map), the bulk of enrollment comes from their own cluster or neighboring ones. Effectively, the schools are filled with local kids that, for one reason or another, general ed didn’t work. I think alternative schools are an important part of the system as a whole. The fact that this proposal targets 7 alternative programs (Nova, Pathfinder, Thornton Creek, AS#1, Summit, the Center School, AAA), aiming to close 4 and radically alter 1, is extremely disturbing.

The current proposal moves to close Summit. The last “proposal” to move them to RBHS, in the far SE was, at best, a feint; like most cluster-located alternative schools, the majority of Summit’s students are from the N and NE clusters. 344 of their students are from the N, NE and NW clusters, with an additional 68 from the Central cluster, bringing the neighboring cluster total (and yes, I’m going to count NW as neighboring here) to 412/532 students, 77.4% of their students. I think Summit students and parents DO realize that signing the petition could leave them without a home. But it’s very, very likely that the final proposal will still propose to cut the program. And because their building isn’t being closed, they’re not legally entitled to a hearing, which means they have to scrap for speaking minutes at other school closure hearings and board meetings, and hope that schools with numerous speaking spots will play nice and cede a few. They understandably want to put the brakes on the whole thing.

Financially, it looks like closure costs in the N and NE clusters will run a minimum of $2M, and lost revenue from departing students will run over $600K. It would be a huge capital expenditure to re-open a building like Sand Point or John Marshall. But with financial data like this, instead of playing a shell game to move 847-1,112 students around and kill 2 alternative programs in the N and NE clusters, it’s worth considering. Capital expenditure can slowly be shaved down by increased student revenue (something the north clusters might get if the schools weren’t miserably over-crowded).

I believe in closures, too. They suck, but sometimes, they’ve got to happen.

Both proposals have a helter-skelter ready-fire-aim quality to them, with employment of data that is extremely suspicious. Anyone else notice that transport for Lowell, in 12/3 update to the board, was listed as costing the district $700K annually, but on 12/9 it was acknowledged that the district makes a teensy profit from APP transportation (state money.)? And that AS#1 and Pinehurst were grouped together in both presentations for their transport- which no other schools were- and in the 12/3 presentation listed as having upwards of $900K in transport costs and in the 12/9 presentation, as having $500K?.

I don’t think the data is particularly trustworthy, either, but it’s what I’ve got to work with.

Even with the available data being questionable, the current proposals look like disasters.

Capacity balancing, the stated goal? Not happening. Financial savings? It’s, um, not looking positive. Resulting capital expenditures and revenue losses look like they could comfortably exceed the total budget shortfall. It is optimistic bordering on delusional to think that the final proposal will be more sensible. I DO hope for it. I’m just planning for something a little grimmer.

Am I excited to ask to put the brakes on this? No. I’m not. But the Superintendent’s brief was to balance capacity and propose building closures to address pressing financial issues. This plan neither addresses capacity issues and is financially reckless.

Lastly, I really, really hope to be done doing legwork on this sort of thing as of 1/29. Saturday nights shouldn’t be about capacity data.

Charlie Mas said...

Welcome to my world.

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

Andre has posted Meg's detailed analysis
here.

Beth Bakeman said...

Meg,
Your data analysis work is great.

One small correction: most alternative elementary and K-8schools are not all-city draws. Of the schools impacted by this proposal, several are (AS#1, Summit K-12, AAA). But Pathfinder is, and always has been, a West Seattle-only alternative school in terms of priority for enrollment and transportation. And other alternative schools not impacted by this proposal (Orca, TOPS, Salmon Bay) and one impacted by this proposal (Thornton Creek/AE2) draw from 3 clusters, but are definitely not all-city draws.

I bring this up again because it is a persistent misconception about alternative schools.

I'm glad you affirm the importance of these schools for children who are not well served by traditional schools. And I appreciate your detailed data work. I believe that is the one thing that Board members and district staff are most likely to pay attention to in this discussion.

adhoc said...

AEII/Thornton Creek is only a two cluster draw school (North and NE)

adhoc said...

It is another misconception of alternative schools that they serve kids that do not do well, or can't make it in a traditional school. This is simply not true.

Alternative schools are not safety net schools, they are not last resort schools, and they are not catch all schools. They are schools that people seek because they have unique, non traditional approaches to learning. They generally utilize progressive pedagogies and teaching styles. Thornton Creek's "ELOB" comes straight out of Harvard.

Most kids that attend alternative schools do just fine in traditional schools too, though an alt school may be a better fit for them or their families. These schools are very important to our district, but I would be very cautious with wording when corresponding to the district. I would avoid statements like "filled with local kids that, for one reason or another, general ed didn’t work. ".

As a parent whose child attended an alt school for several years, I can tell you that we didn't choose it because traditional schools didn't or couldn't work for our children. We chose the school because we liked the community feel and "ELOB" curriculum. Our oldest son graduated from Thornton Creek and is now in a traditional MS where he is doing very well. Our younger son transferred out of Thornton Creek and into Bryant for 3rd grade. There were no issues whatsoever, and he is thriving in a traditional setting.

The majority of kids that graduate from Thornton Creek go to Eckstein for MS, and I have not heard of any issues with moving into a traditional setting.

So, please be careful labeling alt schools as a place for kids that can't make it anywhere else. It is simply not the case.

Meg said...

Beth- thanks for the clarification on how alt schools work on a cluster basis. Dumb mistake. Duh.

Ad hoc- I am very, very sorry if it seemed that I was characterizing alternative schools as places that take kids who can't make it elsewhere. It was not my intent. They are valuable to the district (and obviously their clusters, and communities) for many reasons. They serve as incubators for teaching methods and... well, I agree with everything you've said. I am really really really (keep going with the reallys for a while) sorry if it seemed that I was saying something considerably more offensive. I can see how it might have. You are dead-on that my phrasing effectively implied as much. So again, my apologies.

Sahila said...

Thank you adhoc for writing to clarify that alternative schools are not just the place of last resort for kids who dont fit in anywhere else...

That's a prevalent and very damaging misconception...

We at AS#1 have a diverse student/teacher/family community... some of our students are with us because the school meets their needs better than any other available, while others are with us because the school's educational, social, political philosophies best matches those of their families...

Not all alternative schools are the same, either...

For anyone who wants to learn more about alternative schools, why they exist and the diversity of people who make up their communities, I would suggest you read through the transcript of the Community Hearing held at AS#1 on Dec 15th. I would encourage you to notice the very broad spectrum of humanity that makes up our population...

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/pinehurst_hearing_121508.pdf

Seattlehorn said...

This is an invitation to join us for the 2nd meeting of ESP VISION:

6:30 pm, Tuesday, Jan 6
Garfield Community Center

We will plan for the rally on Jan. 7, a press conference on Jan. 8, and a march on Jan. 25.

Meanwhile, please help us get the word out about the petition.

And a bit THANK YOU to everyone on this site for increasing understanding of the issues, regardless of differences re: strategy.

Beth Bakeman said...

Meg, AdHoc and Sahila,
The discussion around how alternative schools are described is really interesting to me. I am a huge fan of alternative schools. For me, one of the strongest things in favor of many alternative schools is that they have a clear educational philosophy/approach and that the principal and teachers all agree on it. I truly believe this leads to better teaching and learning, and a stronger sense of community.

But I regularly use language describing alternative schools that may be confusing to people who don't know me (or alternative schools) well. In my earlier comment I said alternative schools are important for "children who are not well served by traditional schools."

And my children are certainly in this group. According to all school/district measures, my kids excelled in traditional school. I definitely don't mean to imply that they didn't "do well."

But they weren't happy. The fun and excitement that is naturally part of learning for my kids (and many kids) was not present at a traditional school. I want my kids to love school, love learning, and feel like what they learn at school has meaning for them. And the integrated, hands-on educational philosophy implemented by extremely talented teachers at Pathfinder does exactly that.

But I also know plenty of kids in alternative schools who started at traditional schools and either spent most of their time in the principal's office or were referred to separate special education classes. They come to alternative schools like Pathfinder to be a valued part of the learning community rather than a "problem" identified and separated from other kids.

So I'm guess what I'm trying to say is that alternative schools serve many different important functions for children and families. I'm very glad our district has, in the past, supported the importance of their existence. And I'm nervous about what this closure proposal, and other actions and comments by the Superintendent, mean for the future of alternative schools in Seattle.

Beth Bakeman said...

Seattlehorn, I've added your Tuesday meeting to this post. Please let us know the details for the press conference and the march so we can post those as well.

SPSMom said...

Meg, great job on the analysis. One thing to note is that I believe the Center School was taken off the list for closure (along with Rainer Beach and Aki Krouse) at the 12/17 board meeting. You have it listed as being closed and the approx 300 students returning to homebase schools (which probably would not be possible for those living in the Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield areas!)

Melissa Westbrook said...

In some ways, alternative schools in Seattle are our "charter" schools. They were mostly created by parents with a vision (just like most charters are created by educators/business with a vision), use public money and serve kids (and parents) who want/need something different than a traditional classroom. With alternatives already part of our district, we don't lose money in our district and we have the benefits of a wide variety of teaching applications.

Given that this state has turned back charters 3 times, I have to believe that many parents in Seattle, at least, realize what good things we have going here without charters. That said, Obama and Duncan seem interested in charters, alternatives and other non-traditional schools. I have never seen mention in Obama's literature any support for voucher programs.

north seattle mom said...

Meg, I agree with everyone that has complimented your excellent analysis and I would add a compliment on your excellent presentation skills as well. In particular, I LOVE your school age population chart. I think that is the part where the district keeps getting it wrong.

Melissa seems to be the resident BEX expert so she will probably correct me on this but I remember that Mel posted that the $10M for the SBOC was already promised (and allocated?) in the BEX funds so it is not a cost of the move but an already existing levy cost and therefore outside of this process. The SBOC was promised a new home, located closer to their core population so the move of the SBOC is (an all thing relative) planned move and one that will have to happen at some point because of QA capacity issues.

Also, the BF Day renovation and repair was already voted on by the board in Nov, so that is also not part of this proposal. Now the very very interesting thing here is that the board voted to make BF Day a dual cluster school so that QA families could go to BFDay because of over-crowding on QA. A group on QA had requested that Old Hay be converted back to a neighborhood elementary school. The board voted for the dual cluster option because they didn't have the resources to both move Summit and the SBOC. Go figure, they must have found the resources.

Someone more familiar with West Seattle than I am would need to comment on the WS numbers but I know the report said that WSN would be over-capacity by 56 students. Does 56 students put the cluster at 119%? Also the Pathfinder students come from both WS clusters so the percentage

I really really liked the way you broke out capacity by elem, middle and HS. It makes it really clear how much of the capacity issue is really at the HS level and not at the elementary level where the closures are focused.

Anyway, thanks for making your analysis so transparent. If the district made presentations like this one, I would be more likely to trust their analysis.

Meg said...

Someday I'll make a short comment. Really.

On the Center school: I listened to the same comment from the Superintendent, and I hope the Center School remains open. But I also heard a fair amount of hemming and hawing "if the financial picture" sorts of extras that caused me to leave it in my analysis as a whole. And, from a strictly numbers perspective, there aren't enough kids there to really change the answer even for their cluster, much less overall. Also, the capacity issues for that cluster aren’t at the secondary level.

On BF Day and Blaine classroom additions: My slides probably weren't totally clear on this– it was hard to decide, in trying to make a concise analysis, what to include and what to cut. I didn't think I was perfectly clear on the fact that the classrooms would be coming online at BF Day and Blaine, but I decided it was time to stop futzing around and finish up. I was trying to point out is that these already planned classrooms do a better job of addressing (temporarily) the over-crowding in the cluster than the current proposal does, in a way that makes financial sense. In the SBOC contract details (provided in the 5/24/2006 School Board Action report), the $100K of pre-design planning is not BEX or BTA. Additional funds (the $10M) are to come from the future sales and rentals of district property, in short, not levies, but revenue that could otherwise be used for a whole lotta other stuff. SBOC seems amenable to moving; it just seems like they want a more-considered and overall more suitable location, and they would understandably like their fairly recently made contract to be honored. Given that it appears renovations will be funded from the general pool of incoming revenue, it seems like it makes financial sense to honor their contract, and use the short amount of time that the extra amount of classrooms will buy to find a better solution. Did that make sense?

On West Seattle North: Your questions made me realize I made a dumb mistake (um. Also called a typo.) on the West Seattle North elementary populations. I thought I’d gone over things pretty carefully, but… simple mistakes still happen. I’ll try and get that adjusted on what’s posted soon. Corrected, this is what it looks like: there are currently 5 elementary schools in West Seattle north: Alki (102% capacity), Cooper (slated for closure, but with 223 kids from the cluster), Lafayette (94% of capacity), Schmitz Park (101% of capacity) and West Seattle Elementary (67% of capacity). If the current proposal is implemented (and we’ll find out about the new one tomorrow afternoon), there’ll be only 4 elementary schools in the cluster, and 223 of them will need to be redistributed to 158 empty seats. A few more kids will be returned to the cluster (about 9 at the elementary level). Elementary cluster capacity will go to 105% (110% if you use the FMP capacity numbers). Either number is still higher than what the N and NE clusters are currently operating at. 70+ kids can move the dial pretty quickly when 1 of 5 schools is taken off line at a cluster that already had elementary capacity at 84.3%. Sorry about the typos.

On high schools: using current capacity data, Garfield and Ballard are currently operating over capacity. The thing is, although Franklin has 430 empty seats, it's still at 75% capacity. Arbor Heights (for example. I am not trying to suggest program cuts) operates at 70% of capacity, but obviously has nowhere near 430 empty seats. It's a relative thing. I wish I had something more insightful to say there, but… I don’t.

The one thing I will say about district data analysis vs. my own is that if I make a mistake and admit it, I might look a little flaky, but I’m just one person, doing it in my spare time. It would be crazy not to expect a mistake or two. The district staff putting data forward are seen as untrustworthy the moment they make a single mistake, and their work gets incredibly intense scrutiny. To an extent, that’s fair— presumably there are several people putting the district data analysis together, and they ARE being paid to do so. Do I wish they were more transparent about their data sources and assumptions? I do. It’s hard to trust work when someone says “trust me” but refuses to explain. Still, given the level of scrutiny any of their data receives (and just given the level mine has received), it’s hard not to be a teensy bit sympathetic.