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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tours, Anyone?

It was requested that we start a tour thread so here it is.

My thoughts:

- tours can absolutely make or break a school if there is any doubt in parents' minds. Crabby or indifferent office staff, snotty tour guides, lack of energy in the building, no family activities that say "this school is fun and welcoming". Worse of all ( to me) a lackluster principal.

- Having said that, I've been a tour guide in every school my kids attended. I loathe parents who come in and don't realize that the guides are volunteers and can't possibly know every answer. The answer to a question you don't know the answer to is "I don't know the answer to that but I'll find someone who does." (But tour guides should know basic school layout, clubs/after school activities available and whatever special programs are in the building.) I don't like parents who come in with their friends and proceed to whisper and act like they are at a coffee hour instead of a tour looking for information. Other parents ARE there for that purpose and it sure makes it hard to hear. Also, it's a little disrespectful to the tour guides who give their time and effort.

- at the high school and middle school level, parents often bring their students. Great! It's a good way to allow them to get a feel for the school and its student body. However, it is a district rule that students have to have an adult with them. The rule should also remind parents, "Adults, supervise the kids." I can't believe how many parents walk with friends and allow their charges to giggle and talk through the tour. Again, hard for others to hear and disrespectful to the tour guides.

- also, keep in mind that the tour guides generally don't make decisions on handouts or what rooms they get to visit or what time the tours are or how long they are

-tell the principal if you feel the tour was poor. They need the feedback to do better.

- most schools will not let you sit in on classes during the tours. However, some do so you can ask but if not on the tour day, most will let you come in during a set time and sit in on a couple of classes.

If you tour Roosevelt, look for me and say hi. (Don't worry, you'll find me. I'm always the shortest woman in the room and I'll be wearing a green nametag.) We want to do a good job so let me know if something wasn't good ( but keep in mind - our tours can sometimes be huge and we have a limited number of guides so we do the best we can). Ask to see Mr.Ruff (CAD and computer science) - he's one of the most enthusiastic teachers ever and takes pleasure in talking about his classes to parents and students (especially girls as he would like to encourage more of them to take engineering).

63 comments:

Jet City mom said...

I swear at the Nathan Hale tour, we were shown around by a teacher. ( its been a while)

this would be an easy ( and relatively cheap) area to get more bang for their buck.
I think the district should do more to support schools in this area- because you may get a building where the principal gives a talk, then adult volunteers or teachers answer questions on the tour, including opportunities to go into classrooms and ask questions of students ( or at night to see curriculum and talk to teachers), or you could get an adult volunteer who gives wrong information- but wrong in a way that the tour group would not know it is incorrect.

My daughter went to SAAS & really enjoyed being a tour guide- they had shirts so they were easily identifable as tour guides ( plus they got service hours).
The district could pay for shirts ( every school has shirts)- that would make a huge difference right there IMO.
I also think the tours should be coordinated so that there are few enough to schedule the principal/vice principal to hold forth and answer questions in the auditorium/library.

If we can send the principals to the east coast to look at schools to emulate, we can pay them for a few hours of overtime to do a little PR.

( and shouldn't we have a better idea of the assignment policy so we know what schools we should be looking at?)

Soccer Dad said...

Observations from a dad of three and gradeschool tour veteran:

Show up early if you can, to witness the kids as they come into the school. Do most seem happy to be there? Are they being supervised to get into their classes before the bell rings?

Write notes and questions on the hand-outs for comparison later, especially if you plan to tour several schools.

Don't be shy to ask lots of questions. It's a good way to find out how friendly they are to new parents.

Ask to see the fifth grade as well as the kindergarten, so you can see how the kids at that school turn out after six years there. If you are observant you might be able to compare classwork between the fifth grades of different schools, for example what math level are they working at, what book is the class reading as a group, quality of writing skills on wall displays, etc.

Remember the tour is just a snapshot of one moment in the life of a school! If you liked the school before the tour but were disappointed during the tour or someone was unpleasant to you, don't let that turn you off, try to go back and see it a different day if you can. You might get a better impression on the second try.

Never trust the enrollment guide if it states a school has a special program you want, for example drama or foreign language has a dot in that column. If that is important for you to know, ask the principal after the tour specifically what that school will offer in the fall. Sometimes these are limited afterschool programs with fees.

Sometimes parents leading the tour can't answer your question, but if you linger afterward you can meet other parents at that school and ask for their email in case you have questions later.

For the finalist schools you liked best, a follow-up visit can clarify your choice.

The more time you can spend in your top choice school, the better your chances to witness how a dispute or discipline situation is handled, whether kids appear engaged in the day's project or lesson, how well the kids and teachers seem to get along, how well supervised during lunch period and recess, and so forth.

Start early, don't procrastinate. The later tours can be more crowded. Try to go back for a second or third tour of the school you like best. A different day of the week and time of day might capture the atmosphere better because many schools have their core academics in the morning when kids are sleepy or hungry and project based work in the afternoon. If there aren't any more tours scheduled, ask the principal if you can sign in another day and just walk around the building quietly for fifteen minutes. You might be surprised how welcoming to parents that many principals are. Your drop-in visit could enlighten you as to building cleanliness, parent involvement, and other details. For example, during tours the library may be a little bit too tidy; during the follow-up is there evidence those books are being checked out and the library reguarly and heavily used?

Don't rely too much on parent tour guides for accurate tiebreaker or wait-list information. Be sure to double check with SPS headquarters.

If this year's chaos has one silver lining it's the extension of enrollment deadline through March. That gives you an extra month to think about it before you turn those forms in, an advantage to most years when February being short already and often closed a week for mid-winter break.

Always turn your forms in person, not by mail or fax. Allow for several hours waiting to turn your paperwork in, bring something to read because they are SLOW.

Happy touring and welcome to Seattle Public Schools!

Shannon said...

We are new to public school this year and are considering schools in the NE and the APP program for my to-be-3rd-grade son. My concern is that a number of the schools and programs we are considering are slated for change. While we can tour the facility, we are not going to be able to know what the program will look like in fall next year.

Eg. How will the APP split work? What is the "new" school at Adams going to look like? Is it worth applying to Thornton Creek if Summit kids from our cluster are looking for a home?

I feel that the tour process will be more like gazing in a crystal ball than looking at anything.

Does anyone have advice on this issue? How do I tour what doesn't exist?

anonymous said...

As far as tours go, I wish neighboring schools would coordinate with each other. Last year Nathan Hale's held their only rigor and relevance night on the same night as the Ingraham had their IB open house. So, I had to pick one to attend, and miss the other. Not good. These were different by the way than the morning school tours that happen several times. People always look at me funny when I tell them I start touring schools a year early, but this is exactly why I do it. There really is a lot to take in.

And thanks for the tips on school tour etiquette Melissa. I am guilty of doing some of thee things that you mentioned, and I'll be more conscious about it this year!

TechyMom said...

Shannon,
I have the same issue with changing programs in Central. One thing I can tell you is that it is always "worth it" to apply to a school you want, even to put it first. You have the same shot at getting into a school, no matter where it is on your list. It costs you nothing to apply, no fees, interviews, etc., only a few seconds to write the name of the school on the form. You may as well. Once I get my assignment back in May, I plan to go look at the school again, to make a final decision on public vs. private.

anonymous said...

Techymom, I think what Shannon was saying is that she doesn't know what her first choice schools will look like next year.

For instance she has no idea what the k-8 at Adams will do or be? Who will be the principal? Will it be a magnet? Will it be a k-5 and grow to k-8? Will it be mushroom k-8? What will the MS offer? Will it have a strong band like Eckstein? How about drama? advanced math? Sports or after school programs? What foreign languages will it offer? Will it have Spectrum?

If she applies to TC, and many Summit families do too, will the culture of TC change? Will any new openings at TC be filled with

It's not the process of choosing a school that was Shannon's concern, it was that the schools she is looking at will be affected by the many changes coming next year, and nobody really knows what the programs will look like.

Elizabeth W said...

If, while on a tour, you discover that a school's philosophy or practices are not what you're looking for, please don't argue with or bully your tour guide. That's not going to change the school within the time frame your child(ren) may attend. Instead, consider being thankful that you were successfully able to narrow your choices.

Also, please remember your job is to find schools for your children, not score status points for yourself. Ask questions if you have them, but otherwise consider observation your primary task. A couple years ago I was subjected to an unpleasant argument between two prospective APP families who had a strong disagreement on the correct amount of homework for first graders. I would much rather have been observing the class we were visiting.

hschinske said...

All the high school tours I went on last year (Garfield, Ballard, and Ingraham) were led by students. The Garfield presentation was *entirely* by students (and was much the best done and most interesting of the lot).

Helen Schinske

seattle citizen said...

How ARE they gonna fill the new K-8 at Addams, anyway? Some will be offered it because it's neighborhood, others will lottery in...

Here's an idea: gather a DIVERSE community of parents, and all agree to list new K-8 as first choice. Start meeting NOW to form an advocacy group to help the district figure out what's going in the building.

Is such as a mass-first choice filling of a new school possible? Or just (another) dumb idea from the desk of the Seattle Citizen?

seattle citizen said...

hmm, the more I think about it, the more I think it's possible to be "in on" the design of an exciting new program by opting and in and selecting Addams K-8 as first choice. This would allow parents/guardians to be an active group from the get-go, advocating direction.
Of course, if I had my druthers it would be p/g of all sorts of children: SpEd, ALO, Alt, multicultural...

Wow, Imagine the possibilities of making lemonade from the closure lemons: A brand-new school that allows the p/g and other community members to walk the talk by helping design the place. Hain't seen that since...AAA in '92?

Steve said...

We went through tours last year for our son (now in kindergarten). My recommendations:

- Don't listen to gossip about a school; go see it for yourself. Schools get "bad" reputations and they're hard to shake, no matter what the school does. We found that most people who said a school was "bad" (or "good" for that matter) had no direct knowledge of the place. Definitely go to see your neighborhood school

- Some schools give Powerpoint presentations, have snacks, and are really organized. More than anything, this is a sign that they know what they're doing, and probably that the PTA is pretty active. Sometimes hard to determine if there is substance behind this appearance, but I also saw this level of organization as a great sign.

- If you're looking for a school for your kindergartener, definitely visit the upper grades as well to meet the teachers, etc. K is just the entry point for at least 6 years at a school, so don't judge the place just based on the kindergarten program or teachers.

- Less important to me than the apparent quality of the principal is the way the teachers interact with him/her. Is there clear antagonism? Do they appear supported even if they don't think the principal is a great leader? Principals (and teachers) leave schools, but the climate they create often stays on.

- I think high parent involvement is a good thing, so ask the parent guide about this on the tour, and try to get some specifics. How much money does the PTA raise (sometimes an indicator of involvement)? What groups or committees are there?

- Look at the web sites for the schools before you visit to get an idea of what they have to offer. Great way to take a virtual tour. Try not to judge the school too much by the design of its site, however; not every school spends a lot of resources on this.

anonymous said...

Many of us have given input as to what we would like to see happen at the new K-8. But, the Board hasn't even voted yet to adopt the proposal yet. At this point we are not even certain that Summit will move and a new school will be created. The Board can scrap the whole plan. Meanwhile I have to choose a MS in 6 weeks.

If the board approves the proposal and it is confirmed that the new K-8 will happen, that leaves 5 weeks to figure out all of the details, and details are what will be needed for families to opt in.

Five weeks to figure out if the school will offer Spectrum? Advance math? What foreign languages the MS will offer? Who will be the Principal? Will the school have a theme like science and art magnet? If so, how will science and math tie into the the program? Will it have a strong after school program? How about electives? Sports? Band? Drama? Will it be a k-5 and grow to a k-8? Or will it open up as a k-8 next year? Will it be a mushroom or chimney k-8?

Only after we know what the school will look like, will people confidently choose it. I can't see how all of these questions can be answered in 5 weeks.

seattle citizen said...

Ad hoc, you are right about the fast schedule. How about:
Organize parents/guardians NOW to "stand by",ready to decide if they want to "first choice" in as a group. If Board passes recommendation to start new K-8, IMMEDIATELY contact district as a group, explain your purpose, and ask to be a part of the design process. IF the design appears to be MAINLY what you want (and you know what the Stones said, people...) THEN people can decide whether they will continue the plan and opt in as group by "first-choicing the school.
Win/win: District gets helpful assistance in putting the thing together, parents/guardians get to be part of that process and assure District they will continue the experiment by staying with, supplying all sorts of new and pedagogically proper processes and assessments, et al...Students get a new program that designed from the ground up to offer 21st.5 century education!
Of COURSE it would work out that way!
Well, maybe not, but there's a rare opportunity, it would be a shame to waste it.

anonymous said...

All good ideas Seattle Citizen. Thanks.

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

Shannon: Coming from the North, you are probably safe to consider APP for your kid. The new location in the South has all the challenges associated with relocating the North kids won't have. It will still be a strong program, even at half its current size and even if its less than it is today. Eventually, in spite of everthing, the teachers and parents will get it back to where it is now. Not so sure about the South APP. The inequities between the two are obvious and certain.

anonymous said...

wseadawg,

What are the inequities between the two Lowell sights? Why will the one that remains at Lowell and shares the building with TT Minor be better off that the south location that shares the building with Marshall? What will the Lowell site have that the Marshall site won't?

Rudy D said...

adhoc, please give it a break. We know you don't believe us when we answer, so why do you bother asking the same questions every day?

anonymous said...

Rudy D, I think you have me mistaken for someone else. I have never asked this question before.

anonymous said...

Sorry Rudy D, I should have asked, are you referring to my last post to wsdawg re the APP lowel spit or some other??

Rudy D said...

Please keep messages on topic of school tours.

Melissa Westbrook said...

AdHoc, c'mon, it's obvious. Lowell APP will likely have the same principal and most of its staff. Continuity right there. Half the parents stay and they all know how the school works, how to have a strong PTA. Continuity again. Those Lowell students that remain will have building familiar to them.

The split-off APP parents and students don't know the building, the neighborhood, the principal and may only know a few teachers who transfer. They don't know if there is a functioning PTA (the Marshall website doesn't seem to indicate that). They are told by the district to bring their considerable organization skills and fundraising skills into a school where they don't even know if they will be welcome (the skills not the kids).

There are huge differences. That said, I'm sure they can worked out. But I think no matter which school any APP kid ends up at, there is profound sadness at saying goodbye to friends and teachers.

CS said...

Definitely go on the tours and if it's high school, take your student to see the school during the day if you can. Matching a school's culture to your student can make a HUGE difference to their success, especially in high school.

Don't put a lot of weight on public perceptions. I had a student at The Center School and a lot of what we heard people say about the school was totally unfounded and sometimes comical. Talk to parents, students and teachers that have first-hand experience with the school.

Sue said...

Back on tours:

I have been on elementary, middle and high school tours. I have been a tour guide and a touree. A couiple of point I have picked up along the way...

At the high school level make sure you attend their open house night as well as the tour. It is usually in the evening, and the staff and principal are there to answer questions, and they have more time to do so than during a tour.

I would also just like to remind touring parents, especially at the elementary level, that these are young children you are observing in their classroom, and your presence is disruptive and distracting to them,even if you just stand and watch. PLEASE be aware that you are a guest in the school, that kids are trying to learn and teachers are trying to teach. The place to ask questions is not in the classroom, but AFTER the tour or in the hall later. (you would think this would be common courtesy, but some people need to be reminded every year)

Thanks!

Soccer Dad said...

For new parents to SPS, don't let the latest bad news about the closures and budget cuts discourage you from checking them out via tours. There are excellent schools in our city, with dedicated teachers and happy kids who have no idea what's in the papers that day. There are weak schools as well, which will be obvious from your visit.

Always try for your first choice on the enrollment form, even if you think it's a long shot. Sometimes principals on the school tour can answer your questions about how long the waiting list was this past fall and whether they worked all the way through it. That's no guarantee things will turn out the same way this fall, but might encourage you to stay on if your child does get wait-listed to your first choice school.

Of course, whenever you visit please follow the laws which require all visitors to sign in at the school office. I've heard teachers have called police after unknown adults were seein in the hallways without a visitor badge!

Laura said...

I know this is slightly off-topic to tours, but does anybody have any blog links that explain the current school assignment choices? I was with a group of next-year kindergarten parents last night and there was enormous confusion. Should they put down their true first choice, their true-second, or third choice etc.? Or should they put down their reference school as their first choice, so as not to risk their guaranteed (or almost guaranteed ) assignment there? All these families are northeast (wedgwood, view ridge, laurelhurst, bryant ref. areas).

I told them to put school choices down as they really want them, but others doubted that information. And there was further confusion about how to handle opting to an alternative wait list instead of your first choice.

Shannon said...

This link is to a geek who analyzed the CODE of the SPS assignment on their machine. It explains the algorithm :)

http://www.cybermato.com/projects/school-assignments/

If nothing else, it makes me laugh that someone DID this.

TwinMom2003 said...

Hi Laura,

The cybermato link explains how the algorithm processes applications very well.

Listing a school as first, second, third choice, etc. will not make a difference on gaining entrance or not, as the order of your choices is not one of the tie breakers.

Reference school is one of the tie breakers so listing your reference school as one of your choices will help you gain admission vs. a non reference area student.

You are not guaranteed entry to your reference area school. You are only guaranteed a seat at a school in your cluster.

At current you can list your choice for wait list in Section 6 of the application. If you leave this section blank you will be assigned to the wait list of your first choice school as a default. If you want to be on the wait list of a school other than your first choice list it in this section. You will then be on the wait list of the school you list as long as that school is higher on your choice list than the school you are assigned to. Otherwise, your wait list choice will be cleared.

TwinMom2003 said...

Here are the current tie breakers (for traditional schools.)

1.Sibling:

Sibling Preference – all three conditions must be met

a. An older sibling has attended the school the year previous,
b. An older sibling will attend the school the following year,
c. The child applying is applying for an entry level grade for the school

If you qualify for Sibling Preference you are guaranteed a seat at the school for 2009/2010.

Sibling Linkage-
a. An older sibling currently attends the school
b. If more than one child is being enrolled, one of them gains entry through the assignment process for the upcoming year.
c. Valid for schools listed as a first choice only.

2. Reference School

3. Distance
• Distance is measured in a straight line from your residence to the school, the “as the crow flies” option.

4.Lottery number (the number randomly assigned your application when it is processed.)

And, this is directly from the Cybermato site on how the algorithm processes applications:

“The order in which the forms are processed does not matter. The kids are assigned a random "lottery" number for each school they listed. If kid C is processed after kid B, but C (per the various criteria, siblings, cluster, distance, and if all else fails, lottery number) has a higher priority for a school to which B is already assigned, then B will get "bumped" out and C gets into that school. Then, if that happens, kid B gets processed again, starting with the next school on their application, and may in turn bump out an kid A who is already assigned to that school, etc. Allowing for that "bumping" process ensures that the order doesn't matter, because this way even if your application happens to be the very first one fed into the computer and the very first one that it looks at when doing the assignments, you could still wind up with your last choice (or not even that one), if other kids have higher priority per the specified criteria. It's a well-designed, fair system. Note that forms received after the deadline are processed separately, and basically only have a shot at whatever slots are left after all the forms received before the deadline are processed and all those kids are assigned to schools. So don't be late!”

Central Mom said...

One enlightening question to ask the principal or vp (NOT a parent) is how many spots were open for K (or 6th grade or 9th grade) students last year AFTER sibling placement and other specialized programs. While sibling placement of course will vary from year to year, this will give you some idea of the amount of "general" openings in a particular class.

At that point, calculating your own relation to other possible tiebreakers (distance, reference school etc.) you will get at least an indication of the likelihood that your child will be enrolled.

This is a better gauge than asking about wait lists, because often schools have lengthy initial wait lists, but tend to move them in the beginning weeks of school. Although, asking how many kids moved OFF a waitlist into a classroom can be helpful to know.

As an example (and not to pick on JSIS, but the school is in my general vicinity) if (and this is made-up data) out of 50 kindergarten slots last year 20 were filled with sibs and 5 went to "specialized program A", you would know that 25 slots were filled w/ regular enrollment kids.

Add to that your knowledge that JSIS is a popular program, there are many elementary-age kids in Wallingford, and only 1 kindergartener moved from the waitlist into the classroom last year. Now, as a hypothetical West Seattleite, you might decide to spend your time getting to know other schools better because your odds of enrolling at K at JSIS will be miniscule.

Your outcome may not be negative, either. Especially if you have the option of providing your own transportation to school, you may find that popular neighborhood programs (I know, I know...not the NE right now) have more spots available than their reputation among fellow parents may indicate.

Central Mom said...

And, an additional plug here for considering a K-8 school. Take the time to tour one. Many K parents don't like the idea of sending their kids to a school w/ "The Big Kids", but many of the schools are set up w/ completely different entrances and hallways for the younger crowd.

K-8s offer *now* what the district has been working on for quite some time and still hasn't rolled out: predictability in assignment and continuity of student friendships and parental interaction for 9 years.

K8s allow teachers to create a curriculum -- and a focus on an individual student -- that flows between elementary and middle school, instead of the sometimes-jarring school transition at grade 6.

This may be only my impression, but I've found the families of most K-8s to be particularly involved because they are committed to one school "family" for the bulk of their children's childhood, vs. elementary only.

Melissa Westbrook said...

One other thing about assignments that I posted elsewhere but bears repeating. You can list up to 6(? or some number over 4) choices.

Fill them ALL in.

Why? Because, if for some reason you don't get your 1st or 2nd choice and DON'T put down a 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. choice then your application goes into a holding pattern. Then, while everyone else's applications are being run for their 3rd, 4th, 5th choices, yours is holding. After they are done, you get what's left over.

The main thing is - YOU make the choice of what your choices after 1 and 2 are even if you don't really want to go. Don't let the district decide for you.

momster said...

i just posted this on the 'eyeing the exits' post, but it could be useful here given the discussion about trying to figure out your probability of getting into any given school.

it's the district's data on first choices (how many people put the school as first choice); actual assignments (who got in); and wait lists by school by enrollment year, going back to 2004 - here

laura, you were right to tell people to put their actual first choice first - if people don't, thinking they're "wasting it" and risking their chance to get their 2nd or 3rd choice school, they are denying the district the information about what schools people really want - which can lead to their thinking that some programs aren't as desired as they really are.

if the district knows what's 'popular' or desired, maybe they'll work to replicate the program elsewhere.

and central mom is right on in advising that you ask how many seats are usually available after siblings and any other preferences (e.g., thornton creek gets preference at salmon bay for 6th grade, after siblings - so the anwswer to how many seats are available for 6th grade would be 120, but the answer to how many are actually available to the public after current sb 5th graders, siblings and thornton creek would be significantly fewer).

also ask how many seats they are planning to make available for the year you're enrolling - last fall, eckstein reduced the number of 6th grade seats by about 40 from the previous year, to begin to make the school smaller over time.

hamilton, conversely, increased the number of 6th grade seats available (can't remember by how much) - because 1) lincoln could take more kids, and 2) the new hamilton will be bigger than the old (i think).

principals and tour guides will likely not know some of this data - print out the attached, bring it with you, and show them.

North End Mom said...

Laura,

In NE Seattle, it largely depends upon what reference area you live in, but there are some very high-demand schools and very crowded reference areas. There is very little true "choice." I would suggest that you definitely tour your reference area school, and learn all you can about it. If it is not already your first choice, take a tour or go to the open house, and at least find out more about it before you write it off. You might be surprised. If not, it was worth a shot.

Also, take the time to tour as many of the schools within the cluster that you can, because you never know how your assignment will play out, and it would be terrible to be assigned to a school you never set foot in.

Finally, because of the delay in the enrollment process, most, but not all, of the NE schools shifted their tour and open house schedules accordingly. Some still have early tours (Jan-Feb), some have tours over a long time span (Jan-Mar), and others have later tours (late Feb and Mar). You can check the PTA websites for the school tour information (PTA web sites have external links from the main school web sites).

Probably the only thing close to a guarantee in this process is sibling linkage or picking your reference area school as your first choice. Unfortunately, living in the reference area does not always guarantee entrance to your neighborhood school, as in the case of some schools with high demand and a densely-populated reference area (ie, Bryant).

Good Luck!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the pdf link momster. It is very interesting data.

It was a little disheartening to realize our kindergartner was one of 6% that received a mandatory assignment (after listing 10 choices - 8 of them in SE Seattle, and 5 in our cluster).

Anonymous said...

Based on last year, I can add that distance really does matter, even if you're considering a school in another cluster. If you are on the border of another reference area, consider those schools too.

We have friends whose reference school is Greenlake. They are on the Eastern side of the North cluster. They listed Wedgwood (NE cluster) as a 2nd choice and that's where they were assigned for Kindergarten 2008. Meanwhile, a large number of Bryant-reference area families (NE cluster) ended up assigned to John Rogers, the in-cluster school furthest from their home. My friend's child in the North cluster was physically closer to Wedgwood than these Bryant families, so that's how it played out.

I have mixed feelings about it, particularly when it resulted in some of my neighbors being assigned to a school in our cluster that they never toured and is 50+ blocks away from them. But on the other hand, would it be fair to be so strict with the cluster system that you are truly limited to your own cluster?

Bottom line: it goes to show that you can get an out-of-cluster assignment to a popular school if you're close enough to it "as the crow flies"

Jet City mom said...

while I would agree that dont judge a school by its website- I will say that when a school updates their website every day and takes pains to have accurate information- it is a blessing- as it makes it so much easier to figure out what is going on.
And a principal who answers emails the same day or the next?
THII- thank you
Still- how many teachers really use The Source?

But like college tours- you can learn a lot from the questions other parents ask ( and what sort of prep the school has done- handouts? coffee? cookies???)

TwinMom2003 said...

North End Mom,

I politely disagree on one point.

Listing your reference school as your first choice will not improve your odds of gaining entrance. You can list it third, fifth, or ninth and not change your odds.

It is all about demand and tie breakers.

If there are 20 openings at View Ridge and 20 applicants list View Ridge as their first choice all 20 will get in.

If 21 applicants list View Ridge as their first choice, and there are only 20 seats then the tie breakers will weigh in.

First tie breaker is sibling. Do any of the applicants qualify for sibling preference or linkage? If sibling preference they are in. Sibling preference is guaranteed entry for 2009/2010.

If sibling linkage and the school is listed as first choice then they are very likely in. But, this is the only case where choice listing makes a difference - as sibling linkage is only in effect for schools listed as first choice. So if sibling linkage and first choice, as this is the first tie breaker you are likely in. If sibling linkage, but you do not list the school as your first choice, the link breaks - you don't have the sibling tie breaker and the decision goes to the other tie breakers.

Next tie breaker is reference school. If all 21 applicants have a sibling and have View Ridge as their reference school it moves on to the next tie breaker.

Next tie breaker is distance, "as the crow flies." If all applicants have a sibling at the school, and it is their reference school, then distance kicks in. IMHO this is the biggest factor beyond sibling preference that gets you into a school in the NE. If you are .5 miles from View Ridge and all other applicants are less than that - they are in and you are out.

The last tie breaker is lottery number. But, even if you have the lowest lottery number but don't have sibling, reference, or distance, you are 21 on the list so you don't get in.

However, the wait list is composed using the same tie breakers. So, if you have listed View Ridge as your first choice and left the wait list option open (which means you are listing View Ridge as your first choice for a wait list.) With all tie breakers considered - as you only lost out on distance you are number 1 on the wait list and very likely to get in.

And, to expand on a point that Melissa made earlier.

You can list up to 10 schools on the application for your school choice. You can even attach paperwork to list even more choices.

The assignment algorithm will process all of the choices you list based on the tie breakers. If after going through all the schools on your list you don't gain entrance into any you will be assigned to the school closest to you --- within your cluster -- that has space available.

If you reside in the NE Cluster, or another way overcrowded cluster, it is very much to your advantage to fill up all ten of those choices on your application. Otherwise, as Melissa said, the processing of your application will stop after the choices you have listed. If you don't get into any of the choices you have listed, because of tie breakers and demand you will get a mandatory assignment.

Many in the NE Cluster had a mandatory assignment last year - and as North End Mom said, to a school they had not even looked at -- so it came as a horrible surprise.

For the 2009/2010 year you are guaranteed transportation within your cluster if you are assigned to a school that is not your reference school.

If transportation does not matter to you then do tour schools outside of your cluster.

In my personal example...we reside in the NE Cluster with Bryant as our reference school. However, we live closer to Greenlake, and other NW cluster schools than we do to say John Rogers which is at the very tippy top of our cluster.

Please try out reference sites such as greatschools dot net and schooldigger dot com to see which schools are closest to you, as distance is one of the tie breakers. Cluster is not. And choice listing on your application is not.

owlhouse said...

Tour The NOVA Project
Thursday, January 15
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
2410 East Cherry
http://www.novaproj.org

Students, staff and parents will be onsite to answer questions. Get a first-hand view of a program thriving in the Mann building.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll probably get dinged for this but folks, if you are going to judge a school (or PTA) on whether they give you coffee and cookies, then you'll likely leave many schools (probably middle and high school)unhappy.

Honestly, as a co-president, I don't have the money in my budget for food or the volunteers to come in for 3 hours to man tables. I need that money for mini-grants for teachers, teacher appreciation days, principal discretionary fund, etc. We can get upwards of 300-350 per tour and that's a lot of coffee and cookies. (And then you get the people who want tea or where's the OJ for the kids; it turns into a nightmare.) And, some people can be messy and Roosevelt doesn't even allow drinks and food into our auditorium.

Maybe it is easier at the elementary level.

I'm just sayin'.

North End Mom said...

Wow, TwinMom2003. Thank you for the detailed analysis. It certainly is a science!

Hopefully, things will open up a bit in the cluster if the new K-8 at Jane Addams goes through.

anonymous said...

Hi Melissa - I went on the Roosevelt tour this morning and was impressed! I thought you all did a great job with 300 plus (???) parents. Well organized, and very informative.

I especially liked the students on the staget hosting the Q&A session, and student tour guides. It's great to get the kids perspective too!

It was good to see you to and put a face to your blog postings. I wanted to come by and meet you but it was so crowded after the tour, I couldn't find you, and after a couple of turns I was disoriented - it's a huge school!

Good job on the tour...it was well done.

Elizabeth W said...

TwinMom2003 @ 11:49 on 1/14 has it mostly correct, but there is an error in her description. For the most part, she gives a good feel for what's going on, and I do agree with her recommendations. However, one of the specifics chosen for her example is not correct.

She writes: If there are 20 openings at View Ridge and 20 applicants list View Ridge as their first choice all 20 will get in. (Emphasis mine)

This is not true. It pre-supposes that there are no second (or later) choice applicants to View Ridge who cannot get into their first choice school but "out rank" one or more of those 20 with first choice.

Suppose there is a parent in the View Ridge reference area who lists John Stanford International as first choice and View Ridge as second choice for her only child, who is entering Kindergarten. In all but an extraordinary year, the child will not get into John Stanford.

When it is time to make assignments to VR, this child has lower priority than all View Ridge siblings Kindergarteners. After sibling space allotment, this child's priority is based on reference school (which is View Ridge) and then distance. Though View Ridge is her second choice, she will have higher priority than any of those View Ridge families who (a) similarly don't have a sibling enrolled already, but (b) live farther from the school.

TwinMom2003 said...

Thank you for the correction Elizabeth.

What I meant to say is if there are 20 seats and 20 applicants, all 20 would get in.

Thank you for correcting me -- want all to understand how it really works and not contribute to the confusion.

Shouldn't do this so late at night!

Roy Smith said...

Is anybody aware of what decisions have been made (or even if any decisions have been made) about what the proposed K-8 at Jane Addams will feature, or who the leadership will be?

north seattle mom said...

Something else for NE parents to consider is that Olympic Hills is now a dual N and NE cluster school. That means that NE parents can receive a surprise mandatory assignment to Olympic Hills.

So NE parents really do need to tour every school and likely list all of them in rank order on your assignment form.

anonymous said...

No, Roy Smith nobody is talking. I have emailed Harium and asked him what to expect of the K-8. I have also asked him on his blog. No response as of yet.

I would like to know who the Principal will be? Will it have a specialty focus like math/science? Will it be a k-5 and grow to k-8, or will it start out as a k-8? Will it be a mushroom or a chimney model k-8? What foreign language will they have? Electives? Arts? Sports? Will they have 3 years of science like Eckstein, or less like other schools? How about advanced math?

So many questions, and no answers.....and I am expected to choose a school in 6 more weeks.

North End Mom said...

This might be obvious to some, but not to others. Open enrollment is from March 2 - March 31st this year. That means you can enroll anytime within that time period. It is NOT first come, first served. There is no "early bird" tie breaker.

I'm mentioning this because some schools are still giving tours well into March.

For those of you planning tours, I found this page on the SPS website with links to tour dates and open houses by cluster:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/eso/schooltours.html

North End Mom said...

Here is the full link address: http://www.seattleschools.org/
area/eso/schooltours.html

TechyMom said...

Same thing for Montessori at Leschi. Should I tour Leschi (probably)? Should I ask to sit in on the Montessori class at TT Minor, since they're not giving tours? That seems kind of rude, given what's happening to the school.

What about the general ed program at Lowell? Minor's not giving tours, but it's supposed to be the same teachers. I'm assuming Lowell's principal, but is that true? Who will be teaching K? Will the K be made up of APP sibs, neighborhood kids, or a mix? A mix of APP sibs and neighborhood kids sounds like a nice diverse school. But, what will 1st grade look after most of the sibs test into APP? There's a good chance my daughter would test in, but I can't be certain?

What about the general ed program at T. Marshall? Will they still have uniforms and silent passing next year, or will they adjust it to make it more compatible with APP? This one, I guess, I can ask at a T Marshall tour, but do they even know yet? Will that exciting new PTA (sarcasm) have after school language and scienece classes up and running by September? Will the families currently at the school balk at tuition-based classes?

Lastly, I'm white, educated and affluent. Does the district consider it to be a good thing that I'm considering T. Marshall with APP there, since that takes overflow off the Montlake, Stevens, McGilvra? Or a bad thing because the suddenly the general ed program is whiter and doesn't achieve the goal (if it's a real goal) of getting families of color to look at APP? What will the district do if Marshall fills up with white kids from Central? Will the district move APP again? There's also a good chance that even a small number of affluent families joining the school will push the FRE numbers below 40% (projected at 40.6% for next year) and loose Title I money. No longer being a low-income school is probably a good thing in the long run, but is that money accounted for? Will the PTA, the one that will magically appear when APP parents arrive, really be able to make that up? Oh, and the mythical PTA will likely want to spend the money on different things than the Title I money is currently spent on. Is that ok?

SolvayGirl said...

Two friends went to the tour at RBHS last week. Well at least they showed up at the school on the date and time that the District had listed on their website. No one in the office knew anything about a tour. They scrounged up a student to show the friends around.
Though everyone they spoke with was enthusiastic about the school, there were no hand-outs, no official info and no presence of the principal. My friends were, understandably, not impressed—though they agreed that it appeared that the school was doing a great job serving its current population.

For my own recent tour/open house, I was glad I had attended the open house at The Center School last year as it was much more informative and seemingly planned out. This year, it consisted of talks by the principal (whom I liked very much) and counselor (ditto for her), but unlike last year, there were no teachers or students on hand, and just one first-year parent. There were also no hand-outs, nor actual tours of the school facilities for parents. If I had not gone last year, I would not be as impressed as I am with the school.

Emeraldkity has it right when she says the District needs to support the schools in the art of giving tours. If the District wants people to consider their neighborhood schools and/or less popular schools, they need to help those schools sell themselves as long as they allow such generous choice.

anonymous said...

Wow, what a difference from the Roosevelt tour. There must have been 300+ parents and their teen. The huge auditorium was standing room only, and they had 9 very large groups touring the school simultaniously. Lots of handouts, a speech by the principal, Melissa Westbrook on behalf of the PTA, one of the councelors, and several students. Hale also got a good turnout....maybe 100+ parents, hand outs, band playing, principal's speech, etc.

What a shame about RBHS. I just don't understand why an under enrolled school would not do any community outreach? Why they wouldn't advertise their tours? Or prepare for them properly? Why not go to the neighborhood MS's PTA meetings and personally invite them to a tour? Or put flyers up in the community centers, or at the boys and girls clubs, speak at MS assemblies? Why don't they do something......anything?

anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sahila said...

adhoc - small schools; minority populations; personal, community and school survival issues; and organisational weaknesses ... its a different world/reality... you try putting on all that razzamatazz with all the extra hours and resources that requires when you maybe have only 20 or 30 families who can be active in the school....

Catch 22 - no resources to put on the show to compete with other schools equals no resources to put on the show to compete with other schools equals no resources etc, etc....

anonymous said...

I'm not talking razzmataz, I'm talking the basics......like the principal being at the school tour. The office being aware that there is a school tour happening. That doesn't take a huge PTA.

Sahila said...

I dont know what's happening with communication about school tours and what the schools are told about tour start dates and by whom, if anything...

I'm one of a group of parents at AS#1 working on the enrolment issue - we're working on providing info sheets, getting a new website online, helping host tours, organising an Open House and Info night, putting out advertisements etc... I know that we (parents) didnt know tours had started until the first tour date had been and gone... one of our parents found out when tours were scheduled by checking the District website...

I dont know if the principal and office staff knew tours had started - it seems to me unlikely that they would know and not let us know, when we are all working so hard to avert the threat of closure ....

Though, how we can be expected to attract new families to the school with the closure guillotine hanging over our heads I dont know.... and how can we not tell families of the situation - dont we have a moral obligation to disclose where things are at, so that people can make a fully informed decision? And if you were a prospective new family, would you enrol your child, knowing how precarious the school's existence is, even if you absolutely loved everything about the school?

katie said...

At his coffee hour this morning, Harium said that the principals for the schools should be announced this week. He said that announcement would be to get the design teams started and to help facilitate tours. So there should be an announcement for the new Jane Addams, and the split APP programs.

Megan Mc said...

An example of the lack of support from the district for under-enrolled schools.

I contacted the district and informed them that we (AS#1) wanted to update our tours and information blurb on the website so parents know that we are adding an information night and open house.

I specifically asked that someone contact me so that we could create an open dialog between our school and the enrollment center given that we are are trying to increase our enrollment by 100 kids (if we are going off of the new ridiculous functional capacity numbers).

That was last Sunday. I haven't even received a "we'll get back to you" response.

The district needs to do a better job supporting the schools that don't have a well oiled enrollment program. Our enrollment committee is made up of families from Kindergarten, First, and Second grade and most of the families are new to Seattle. We are lucky to have parents with marketing experience to guide us through the process. We've spent 3 Sunday afternoons working on refining our message and working out logistics. Only one person came to the scheduled tour last week - and he was from the central area.

AS#1 should be included in the N, NE maps so that parents know it is an option even if they weren't looking for an alternative school at the start. The small school, inclusive environment might appeal to them over an over crowded traditional program or the huge K-8 planned at Jane Addams. AS#1 uses the same math, science, and writing curriculum as the surrounding traditional schools and I know the literacy program used in my daughters' class is a hugely successful researched based best practice called The Daily Five.

North End Mom said...

Megan Mc,
A simple, effective way to get the word out about your school tours and open house is to make small (1/4 sheet?) flyers that can be posted on bulletin boards at area coffee shops, community centers, and preschools...anywhere you think there would be potential future AS-1 families, within the clusters you will draw from. I'm not saying you should cover telephone poles, but if the flyers are well-done, and if you ask permission before posting, most business owners will let you advertise. The private schools do it all the time. Just be sure to go back and remove them when the tours are over.

Honestly, though, for many parents, the test score issue is a big hurdle. Currently, there's no means to compare AS-1 to other alternative schools or to area traditional schools, and when prospective parents are shopping for a school for their incoming kindergartner, many are looking at what information they can find online or in resource guides. They will filter out a school with extremely low or confusing test scores, without following up on the reasons behind the scores. They are making these decisions before they hit the streets on tours.

Taking the WASL, or whatever version of it may exist in the future, will be one of your best recruitment tools, because I have no doubt that your children will do well.

Megan Mc said...

Dear North End Mom,
Thanks so much for the suggestions. We have completed an FAQ sheet that addresses why AS#1 has low WASL scores. We have a flier being published and plan to do outreach at local preschools. We are also putting up a sign on the fence in front of the school advertising tour dates, Information Night, and Open House.

You are right that the WASL scores will stick out for some families which is why I need the district to get back to me about posting a link the FAQ and flier directly on the district's AS#1 site.

North End Mom said...

Megan Mc,
There is a link to your school website off of the SPS AS-1 webpage. Could you add a FAQ section on the AS-1 School web site? That might be helpful for prospective parents. Also, some schools have a separate website for their parent group (linked to their school web site). This might also be a good place to put FAQs for prospective parents.

Maureen said...

Megan Mc, If I were you, I would try to contact the parent coordinators at all of the Co-op preschools in the north end. They might be willing to distribute AS#1 info to their parents. (Often they host kindergerten info nights). North Seattle Community College sponsors tons of co-ops (see coops.northseattle.edu ) and the type of families drawn toward co-ops are likely to be open to Alternative schools as well. Good Luck!

north seattle mom said...

Megan, I would also suggest contacting the nearby schools and the north end alternative (salmon bay, bagley and thornton creek). Especially, the over-crowded schools. The over crowded schools might be willing to have some material about AS1 on their tours. I have been on several tours where schools recommended looking at neighboring schools