Alternative Schools Coalition of Seattle prepares for the Alternative School Audit

The Alternative Schools Coalition of Seattle

Monday, March 23 2009

Potluck at 6:00 PM

Meeting 7:00- 8:00 PM

At TOPS K-8 2500 Franklin Ave East


A coalition building event in anticipation of the audit of alternative education in Seattle Public Schools

Please personally invite friends from other alternative schools and programs: those facing closure or change, those burned out but still caring students, families, teachers, supporters, principals, all are welcome. Numbers will count as we face the next challenge.


Follow up information from March 9th meeting.

Focused small group discussion of common ground between programs using the Seattle School Board Policy C54.00 on Alternative Education and report back to group at large.

Potluck A-F Treats G-Z Hearty Salads

We need help with small items like plates etc… Call Marilyn 722-0793

Here is a link to the FAQ. In the optional schools sections the question is

Will the District support optional schools under these recommendations?

Currently called alternative, non-traditional, and/or K-8 schools, optional schools offer a range of choices to students from across the District. We have asked the Council of Great City Schools to conduct an audit of our alternative schools so that we can better define the programs, assignment guidelines, and transportation choices available to families. We expect their work to begin in Spring 2009.

Does the district's word choice of "optional schools" reveal a lack of support for alt schools? An AS#1 parent sent the following letter to the Superintendent and Board:
Dear Directors and Superintendent,

I am writing in hopes that the terminology used in the latest FAQ's about the new student assignment plan is not set in stone. I find the term "optional schools" to have a negative connotation, and I think it will be yet another obstacle to success for many schools across the district. "Optional" to me says: unnecessary, not needed, excess, weak, disposable.

I understand the need to combine several types of schools into one category for assignment purposes, but I hope the district will find a way to present it to the public as a positive and exciting feature of Seattle Public Schools that people would not get in another district. SPS is a great place for education because of its unique offerings and because of its structure, which takes into consideration the needs of each family and each child. I hope the district will not belittle its own accomplishments by labeling these important schools as "optional".

Some other terms that would be much more suitable, leaving the negative connotation behind:

Choice Schools
Non-Reference Schools
Preference Schools
Elective Schools
Select Schools

Please, I hope you'll take this seriously. Terminology that is not carefully planned can easily sabotage a product's success in business; the same is true for our schools. Not everyone can look past the cover of a book, and this change will negatively impact schools that are enrolled through the choice process.


Megan Mc said…
I wonder whether the "optional schools" should have their own school director that would be responsive to each school's unique and varied needs and goals. I don't think that the alt schools (and K-8's especially) are well served by school directors whose experience and philosophy are aligned with traditional schools or a specific grade span (ie Ruth Medsker is a middle school specialist but she is in charge of K-8's).
beansa said…
Great letter Megan. Can I use yours as a template for my letter?

I wonder at the lack of support for alternatives in SPS. Maybe we've had these great alt schools for so long that people just take them for granted now? Another thing that rubs me the wrong way about the "optional schools" terminology is that "optional" sounds a lot like "unnecessary" to me. And the alts are absolutely necessary, especially with the district's apparent move toward greater standardization.

When I first heard about the proposed alt audit, I thought it would be a good thing. But I've read a few things lately that suggest otherwise. Does anyone know anything about the organization that will be doing the audit. I will go do some google myself as well.
I'm going to write a thread about the district meeting I attended this morning about assignment/high school math but there were a few things that pertain to this discussion.

They are looking for another name for alternative/non-traditional schools rather than "optional". Help them out if you can. There was a thought to call them "choice" schools because under the new draft assignment plan, you will have to apply to these schools (as opposed to doing nothing and being assigned to your assignment school).

Also, they said that the Council of Great City Schools would be doing an audit of alternative schools so you could look them up and see what that organization is about. I thought the Alternative Schools document was a pretty good one but obviously, the district wants to do it their way.
Kand4mom said…
All-lottery schools


All-city schools

All-Draw Schools

As opposed to reference-neighborhood schools
seattle citizen said…
As a member of the Alternative Coalition, the citizen group that drafted the proposal that became the District's Alternative Education Policy C54.00, and a member of the District Alternative Education Committee, coauthoring (with a wide range of wonderful and wise parents, staff and student representation) the Alternative Education Report of June, 2007 (an excellent synthesis of anchor concepts that support alternative education - the product of hundreds of combined hours of effort, eyesight lost poring over the literature on alts, pounds gained eating pretzels and nuts...)

I vote for "Choice Schools."
It has the aspect of the district assignment plan embedded in it, and it also happens to name one of the most freeing agencies known to humankind.
seattle citizen said…
I hope that the audit makes liberal use of the recent Board Policy (C54.00)and the more recent Alternative Education Report.

In addition, I might suggest that the auditing group spend a day down at The Evergreen State College whilst they're visiting our Great Northwest. A short tour and explanation of what makes THAT nationally recognized public school tick and why they succeed so in educating knowledgable, thoughtful, inquiring citizens would do the audit team good. It would give them a taste of what we mean around here when we say "choice."

(yes, word verifier, it's true...many at Evergreen SWANG around down there back when it was first established in the seventies...But they've matured, I swear!)

Omnia extares!
Go, Geoducs, go!
Eric B said…
I do not know if the audit will be similar, however CGCS did an audit of Alternative Schools in Milwaukee in Spring 2008. It seems that their Alternative schools are more of what would be called "Safety-Net" schools here. Report on Milwaukee Alt Ed audit
Megan Mc said…
Thanks for posting the Milwaukee report, Eric. One of the things that stuck out for me was the finding that:
Student suspension-rate data and multiple interviews indicate that implementation of the
district’s suspension policies varies across schools (Appendix C). This evidence suggests
that the district operates as a system of schools, rather than as a school system.

I certainly hope they expect Seattle's alternative schools to work as a system of schools rather than a school system.

At the last meeting we spoke about the importance of educating the board on what "alternative" means in Seattle and how it is different then how "alternative" is perceived outside of Seattle.
Megan Mc said…

The letter on the original post is Lara's. I asked her if I could post it on the blog since she doesn't have the authorization to create threads.
Charlie Mas said…
The District didn't like "choice schools"; I think they feared confusion between the expressions "choice schools" and "school choice".

They are in a tight spot because they don't want to call the alternative schools anything negative or negatively defined "non-traditional, non-reference" but they don't want to call them anything too positive either such as "innovative schools" because it makes it sound like the reference area schools are not innovative.

Another challenge is developing a new name for the safety-net schools. They are looking for something more positive than "safety-net".

What do y'all think about "opportunity schools" or "option schools" for the alternatives? Do "experimental" or "exploration" sound too uncertain?

I don't know why we can't call the safety net schools "re-entry schools", which is what they are without any judgements on it, good or bad. The kids will see right through a fake positive label. If we need a positive euphemism - and I don't think we do - then there's "opportunity schools", "foundation schools", and "advance schools".

What do other Districts around the country call their alternative and safety-net schools?
seattle citizen said…
I wonder if it's possible to "reclaim" the term alternative...Add a word, maybe...maybe from the checklist:

"Alternative Community School"
or sumthin'

Yes, Charlie, I agree that "re-entry" might be a good term schools. That is the function they serve (whether to suspended students, students who dropped out, students who are floating around the edge, teen mothers to come back to after childbirth...

It's not a glamorous title, but matter-of-fact and rather positive, if you think about it.

Safety Net conjures images of falling students, and while this might be true in some instances, its kinda negative
Maureen said…
I don't care for 'optional' at all but 'option' could be ok (TOPS is "The Option Program at Seward," maybe that's where they got the idea.

I prefer "Choice." Though the positive connotations may work better for omnivores than for vegetarians!

'Re-entry' sounds good for the relevant schools (as long as that truly describes what they are.)

I am concerned that the Council of the Great City Schools seems to have a reason to misperceive our alternative schools. Maybe we should start talking about them as "magnet" schools (not that I think they are.)

I am disappointed that the international schools are treated as neighborhood schools under the proposed assignment plan. Are there people out there who purposely did not choose JSIS (or recently, Beacon) even though it was their reference school? I don't understand how they can expect kids to learn math and science in a foreign language as a default--it seems to me that you should have to actively choose an emmersion program.
Josh Hayes said…
So, we had the meeting tonight (Monday); how'd it go? Anyone want to weigh in, or does this merit its own thread?

(WC: Speaking "hyprolly", as usual)
Unknown said…
How about "Opt-in schools" Positive without degrading the traditional schools. I would prefer Choice schools, but I can understand why they don't like it.
Megan Mc said…
I posted this on Harium's blog:

I still don't see the problem with calling them choice schools. This would apply equally to alternatives, language immersion, montessori, or any other "special program". Everyone who is there choses to be there - as apposed to a safety net school where someone can be assigned. It seems to me that you would have a separate assignment process for opt-in schools than you would for a safety net school since there are way more conditions on a safety net assignment.

How insecure is it that the district is afraid of naming these programs "choice" because it would imply that the traditional schools were sub standard? God forbid they actually promote these gems and try to draw in some of the 20% of SPS kids who attend their optional private school.

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