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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Priority Assignment and Choice

Here's a copy of a letter I sent to School Board members and District staff today. I haven't had time to run this by anyone for feedback, so I'm interested to hear what blog readers think of the idea.

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School Board members and District Staff,

If you go forward with the closure of any schools or programs, please consider letting the students/families displaced by the closures have both priority enrollment and choice within the cluster where they live.

As Tracy Libros said last night, the current proposal for assigning students prioritized having students closer to home over having large groups of students and teachers staying together in the move. I know some Cooper parents are advocating the opposite, and are looking for a way to have their school program moved intact.

But not all parents/families want the same thing. Some parents may be thrilled to have first priority enrollment for an open spot (after siblings) in a school close to home. Others might be happiest if their children could in large cohort groups along with their teachers. And others might prefer to have first priority enrollment for an open spot (after siblings) in another school within the cluster, whether or not it is the one closest to home. I don’t think the District should make this decision or even try to guess what is best, but instead leave the choice up to the families.

So here is my proposal:
1) After the vote next Thursday, don’t provide families with an initial assignment for their students. Instead, provide families of any displaced students with the option to enroll in any school within the cluster and then run through the enrollment process giving those students first priority after siblings.
2) Then, notify those parents/families of where they were assigned.
3) Finally, allow any parents/families a chance to resubmit an application during the Open Enrollment period so that as they learn more about where their children’s friends and teachers are placed, they can change their mind about what might be the best placement for their children.

Three additional notes:
1) For ELL students or other students with special needs, details need to be provided about which schools offer the programs they need.
2) Because of the changes in the Cooper reference area, you might consider giving Cooper families first choice for any open spot in either the West Seattle North or West Seattle South clusters.
3) For Summit K-12 and AAA students, the priority for alternative school proposed last night could be added on to the cluster priority, in effect providing students for whom the alternative nature of the school is the most important priority at an alternative school, and students for whom location is more important priority within the cluster.

20 comments:

ParentofThree said...

I think the fact that a parent needs to state the obvious is cause for concern.

Well done!

reader said...
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seattle citizen said...

Well put, Beth.
The "move a whole cohort" concept is problematic from a staffing point of view, however. As we have heard recently, there are seniority and displacement issues to be addressed, both in the idea of moving a large Cooper cohort and in moving other groups, such as APP.
Here's an example:
If they can't move ALL of Cooper, but just, say, half the classroom groups, then there are teachers at Cooper who would be displaced. If they were moving a classroom of students, say, to another school, it might be that a teacher at Cooper with more seniority than the classroom teacher would get to choose to go along to that new location.
The issue of staffing for a group like APP, as another example, is also difficult. Assuming that APP teachers are trained in APP, that they have some particular APP skill, one would hope that Hamilton would fill the APP staff positions with APP teachers. There IS a "gifted" category on teacher certs, so if the new Hamilton jobs were advertised as Gifted, Gifted category staff would get first crack.
But if they move half the APP students to Hamilton, it is not a given that the staff would follow. Maybe another displaced educator has a gifted category, and wants a Hamilton job. If that staff member had seniority over the Washington staff member that would have goe with the job, as it stands now the teacher with seniority would get it, and the Washington staff member would then become displaced.

Anyone interested in the staffing issue can go the SEA website and click on the CBA. There you will find rules about staff and displacement.

seattle citizen said...

And of course, one wonders whether Summit staff would be able to stay in the Addams building as part of the "new" K-8.

seattle citizen said...

SEA CBA

http://www.seattlewea.org/static_content/contracts/contracts/Cert%20CBA/CertCBAArt2.htm#51

samdinista said...

Dear School Board Directors:

The window for public comment is now closed. At every meeting, big and
small, I have been struck by one thing - the residents of this city
have spoken in one unanimous voice on this matter. As a life long
resident of Seattle, I have never seen the city so united. WE have
spoken with a single voice on this issue - black, white, latino, rich,
poor, gay, straight, north end, south end, central district - and that
unanimous voice has been raised in opposition to these closures. This
community has refuted the districts numbers and justifications for
these closures, The community has proven its case that this proposal
does grave harm to Seattle Public Schools, does not save money, does
not create capacity in the north end and does not serve the needs of
our children.

Maria Goodloe-Johnson has failed to prove her case. She has failed
to inspire the community. She has failed to create viable data that
holds up to scrutiny. She has, however, succeeded in proving that she
lacks vision, support and competency.

You were elected to represent your constituencies. Your constituency
has spoken clearly and unanimously.

Vote no on January 29.

anonymous said...

The fact is that there is too much excess capacity in the Seattle School District. The District is operating inefficiently. Some schools do need to be closed, and capacity needs to be balanced.

I can go along with an argument to slow the process down and make sound choices. But saying that Seattle is united in wanting to stop the closures is a false statement. There are many, many people who understand that there is a true need to reduce capacity, and that something has to be done.

No matter when we face this challenge, and we will have to face it whether now or next year, or further in the future it will be ugly. People will not like it. Nobody wants their school to be closed. But it is inevitable.

samdinista said...

The testimony from the community is unanimous - This proposal does not meet it's stated goals. It does not save money. It does not create capacity where it is needed. It is not equitable. It is not logical. It is based on easily refutable data.
There is a consensus that something needs to be done, but that in no way translates into support for any part of MGJ's plan.
The community is united in it's desire to table this proposal and spend the time and energy to find a real, equitable solution that does not force parents to leave the district, resulting in a net loss of funds, exacerbating the budgetary problems.

seattle citizen said...

Adhoc, please define "efficiency". I think I've said here that I agree that there could be some efficiencies gained, but maybe it doesn't need to come from consolidated buildings...

What I'VE heard, loud and clear, is that many want a process that doesnt' just look at closures (and we have some inkling that the district ISN'T just looking at closures, hence the stated desire, right or wrong, to "grow" ALO by splitting APP), but people want a plan that both recognizes economic exigencies AND even more important, reconfigures services to be both more "efficient" (in whatever way it can be) AND better serve students.
So:
What is "efficient"? An obvious reply, tho' faulty in my opinion, would be: Everyone learning the same thing at once, in large classes (the "Safeco Field, large-screen" model. But of course this doesn't serve students well.

So we must redesign the system, but at the same time improve services to students (at least, as has been said, "do no harm.")

Can you name some efficencies to be had? Can you define and defend the efficencies of closing buildings?

anonymous said...
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AutismMom said...

Gee, we've had so many reviews that point out that we need to close buildings. How long do we need to wait? We really do have a budget problem... now the legistlature is saying the deficit will be more in the 8 to 12 billion range next year, instead of the currently estimated 6 billion. That means every penny is going to get squeezed from everything. Any plan can be indefinitely lambasted by special interest groups (namely, the families of those whose schools/programs are closed or moved). I think this process and plan has been much better than the last time around... where the district simply went from school to school... looking for the weakest link in the parent complaint chain.

anonymous said...

School closures are inevitable because there is a tremendous amount of excess capacity. That is a fact plain and simple. It will have to be dealt with either now, a year from now, or in the future. And whenever it is dealt with it will be hard. If we take a year to study the closures and make sound decisions, that would be great, but people in the affected schools will still be unhappy. They will still think the decisions unfair.

It is not efficient to run schools that are 40% full. It is not efficient to have hundreds of empty seats in Central area schools, etc, etc, etc

I would rather take the bull by the horns and get this over with now. We have been through 3 rounds of closures. Enough is enough. Lets do what has to be done and move on. Lets stabilize this district.

And, yes there are many families who feel this way. What families have you polled to be so sure that all families are opposed to closure? Have you polled the families at Eckstein, Bryant, Roosevelt, View Ridge, Wedgewood, Ballard, Garfield, Franklin, West Seattle, Maple, Beacon Hill, Kimball, McGilvra, Cleveland, AKI? Are they opposed? Or are you basing your "everyone is against closure" theory on the families from Summit, AS1, TT, Lowell? The families of affected schools that are speaking out? Just something to think about.

anonymous said...
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anonymous said...
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samdinista said...

The feedback from the public hearings and the community hearings has been unanimous. No one advocated for closures, or spoke in support of MGJ's plan. If there are parents who support MGJ, they have been silent. Like it or not, the window for public comment is now closed. If there is a little minority of MGJ supporters out there, they missed their opportunity to argue their position.
MGJ failed to make her case.
SPS parents successfully made their case.
Watching MGJ trying to spin her position amid her shifting justifications reminds me of GW Bush trying to justify the invasion of Iraq. She also reminds me of former FEMA head Michael Brown with SPS as a drowning New Orleans while she preens for the cameras.
She has no support and no credibility.

TechyMom said...

I'm not convinced there's all that much excess capacity. The functional numbers show us at 91% full. 9% is not really a huge cushion. There are also many, many kids who live in Seattle and don't go to SPS schools. Will some come back with the poor economy? Would some come back if we had programs south of the montlake cut that anyone wanted to attend? I'm not sure we have too much capacity. I think we have an assignment plan that combines with uneven program placement to allow that capacity to clump in certain areas.

Tosca said...

Samdinista,
A small point about accurately describing the public testimony. You wrote: "The feedback from the public hearings and the community hearings has been unanimous. No one advocated for closures, or spoke in support of MGJ's plan."

At the Lowell hearing on Tuesday, at least 2 people I heard absolutely did advocate for the APP split. Others of us (like myself), can support a split of APP if there is more information, planning and thought put into and communicated about the spilt.

Granted, APP is not a closure, but it is part of MGJ's plan. It's not fair to be so absolute in your statement.

Ben said...

True, 2 or 3 people at the Lowell meeting spoke in favor of the currently devised split.

What does that have to do with public sentiment toward the school closures?

owlhouse said...

And while we're considering just how much excess capacity is too much- District Enrollment Trend Graphs show the potential for major single year growth.

1989- 41,002
1990- 43,601
+2,599

1995- 46,225
1996- 47,075
+850

Regardless of capacity needs, this plan has utterly failed to build confidence in the leadership of this district.

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities-plan/demo/demo.html

Tosca said...

Ben,

I was only trying to say that we should always be careful with our rhetoric. I agree, and made the point, that the APP split is not about school closures anymore (although is was orginally). But it is part of the plan and there are people who do favor it.

I'm sure that in combing through public testimony, there were other statements in support of closures (although probably not many). I just happened to use the Lowell hearing to refute the statement that "no one spoke in support of MGJ's plan."

I realize that this seems like splitting hairs, but I personally object to untrue statements when more accurate ones can make the same point just as effectively. To say, for example, that overwhelmingly and passionately, people have spoken in public testimony against closures and against the lack of clarity, reason and efficacy of this plan, to me would be equally effective and as well as true.

Just as it is important to use accurate numbers and data to support your argument, it is also important to use words and rhetoric with care and truth in order for people not to dismiss your point of view.

Sorry for nit picking and end of sermon. And my apologies to Samdinista for being the target of my soap box speech.