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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jane Addams, Higher Enrollments and Fed Money

This article is on the PI website on the JA school. I am quoted a couple of times and yes, I pulled no punches. (The reporter, Nick Eaton, states that I am a blogger and co-president of the RHS PTSA but as I wrote to him this morning, I was not speaking for any PTSA.) From the article:


"Jane Addams K-8 could be on its way to closing before it is even opened. And the future of students who are enrolled there this fall is already up in the air.

Debbie Nelsen, the appointed principal for Jane Addams K-8, confirmed Tuesday that the district is working on a plan to create separate elementary and middle schools. In an e-mail to seattlepi.com, she said she did not know what schools would be established."

When might we know?

"Seattle Public Schools would not confirm details of the plan Wednesday. Responding to a request for more information on the plan, spokesman David Tucker said the district will post student assignment plan information to the district's Web site Friday in advance of the June 3 school board meeting.

The district is expected to hold a community meeting about Jane Addams on Monday, though no meeting has been officially announced.

Michael DeBell, president of the Board of Directors, did not return phone calls from seattlepi.com. He and Steve Sundquist, vice president of the board, met Tuesday with Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson about the Jane Addams K-8 plan, board Director Harium Martin-Morris said.

Martin-Morris said he did not know specifics, but said the district has unanticipated high enrollment in Northeast Seattle. What initially was thought to be a bubble of interest in the area is turning out to be a trend, he said."

Harium? Seriously? "A bubble of interest?"

So then there's this article in the Times about the uptick of enrollment (is this really a surprise given the economy). From the article:

"During the enrollment sign-up that ended in March, the school district received 400 more kindergarten applications this year than last.

District officials estimate that could mean anywhere from 200 to 500 more students in Seattle schools in September. It would be the second increase in two years — reversing a general downward trend over the past decade.

Officials won't know for sure how many students they'll have until September. While the increase in applications is encouraging, they caution it might simply mean families want a backup for private school in case a parent loses a job."

Why the uptick?

"And some see it as a signal that the public's confidence in Seattle's public schools is growing.

"I'm really excited," said School Board President Michael DeBell. "It shows we're doing plenty of things right."

I don't blame Michael for being hopeful that the uptick is due to consumer confidence. I don't think that's the reason but maybe.

So a post was written elsewhere ( by Ben) that said this:

"Yeah, but. Now that the feds are giving us hundreds of millions of dollars (which, we're told, will help "offset" the schools' budget deficit), where does that leave us?"

To that point is this editorial in the Times today that warns that the fed money comes with expectations (and the Times seems worried that the state may not meet them to continue receiving money).

"Now that the Times is saying enrollment will be up (with schools closed and teachers laid off), where does that leave us?"

That may leave us with not enough capacity where it's needed. This upward trend is not a surprise. The projections have been there for at least 3 years and it started last year. But it will not last if we have things like the Jane Addams situation where people feel jerked around by the district (welcome to the party).


"Now that there's word that Jane Adams K-8 will actually become a middle school, where does that leave us?"

It leaves some of us feeling...right (but that's a hollow feeling for the upheaval it will cause). Bravo to all the posts (not necessarily mine) that advocated this - you were right. It might behoove the district, as we have said repeatedly, to listen to the people on the ground, parents, staff and teachers. We know our schools in a way no district staff can.

I'm not sure where this all leaves us. I'm listening right now to a fascinating discussion on KUOW with Scott Oki, a former Microsoftie, about public education. He has a new book, "Outrageous Learning: An Educational Manifesto.", that applies business (entrepreneurial tranformation) to schools. He makes some good points and some funny points (principals as CEO, sound familiar?). This discussion will be available to listen later at KUOW at your leisure.

He advocates a "Mom March" on Olympia or even gasp! the Stanford Center. Maybe that is where this all leaves us.

22 comments:

Unknown said...

So what about a Summit of all interest groups? Many factions here: bloggers, PTA, CPPS, ESP Vision, and others. It seems that it may be necessary to take steps beyond personal blogging/commenting.

Bird said...

"I'm really excited," said School Board President Michael DeBell. "It shows we're doing plenty of things right."Seriously? Don't they do any demographic work? I could have told them 5 years ago they'd see an uptick in school age children this year, particularly in the north end. All you had to do was walk the neighborhood and look at the strollers parked at every other house.

An increase in the number of Kindergarteners doesn't show an increase in confidence in public schools; it just shows an increase in the number of Kindergarteners. Can you say "dot com baby boom"? Maybe an increase in later grades might indicate people are coming back to the public schools, but, in this economy, even that would be hard to say.

How awful that DeBell sees this as a stamp of approval for what the distrcit's been doing. I think our family's reaction to recent changes has ranged from disappointed to horrified and yet we have a five year old this year, and given the state of the economy, we'll be going public.

Sue said...

I did laugh when I saw Director DeBell's comment. Yes - they are doing plenty of things right, but there is also a mini-baby boom, and the economy is in the toilet, so many people are being forced to choose public over private. (although my child's private school had a unexpectedly huge surge in kindergarden applications as well for next year that could not all be accomodated) I think people hedged their bets.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Working Together, I'll put out feelers on that. I might be able to get space at RHS. Any thoughts about when? Before or after school lets out? I would like to maximize the number of people who would attend.

SolvayGirl said...

Make the location someplace Central to increase attendance. It's pretty difficult to get to RHS at 6:30 on a week night from the southend.

Roy Smith said...

This was also reported on KUOW this morning. The item that caught my ear was: "The district says it will release a comprehensive revision to the student assignment plan tomorrow (Friday). And that the school board will have it on their agenda next week."

Does anybody know about this? Is it just the rules (drafts of which have been kicking about), or is it the maps too?

As far as Jane Addams goes, if they intend to turn it into a middle school, the faster the better (i.e., fall 2009 would be best). Creating a limbo K-8 school helps nobody. The district should do something to minimize the upheaval for the families of K-5 students who are getting screwed by this (whether the limbo school is created for a couple years or not, they are getting screwed), but I'm not holding my breath that SPS will actually do the right thing.

On a personal note, my family and I are relocating to Edmonds this summer. We made this decision a few weeks ago based on reasons unrelated to schools, but this latest round of upheaval certainly has made that decision look even better.

I will probably continue to keep an eye on this blog and contribute to comments, as I think that the quality of Seattle's school system impacts the quality of life of our entire region, not just those who live within the city or have school-age children, but I am no longer participating as one who will be personally and directly affected by most of what goes on in SPS.

anonymous said...

Melissa I would be happy to help you plan a meeting and do some footwork (look for a space, contact other organizations like CPPS, ESP, etc)

As for when, the sooner the better.

How can I contact you?

WendyJ said...

I really don't understand why they are doing this now. Is it because nobody wants to go to Addams, or the enrollment was higher than expected. My husband and I have attended mtgs. with the Northeast Cluster Coalition and this is exactly what they were trying to warn the district of for the last year or so.

SolvayGirl said...

Off topic...but should be of interest to anyone concerned about public schools.

Check out this item on the Rainier Valley Post. It's initially about a brazen, day-time crime in Columbia City, but the commentors start railing about the schools. It definitely illustrates what SPS is up against in dealing with problems in the southend.

http://www.rainiervalleypost.com/?p=9675

If we organize as a coalition to address problems with SPS, community activists should also be included. Contacting Amber Campbell at RVP would be a good place to start.

Unknown said...

Michael DeBell interprets the increased enrollment as a sign of confidence in SPS? Wishful thinking or shameless opportunism. It's a sign of the terrible economy forcing people to pull their kids out of private school. This is a national trend and has nothing to do with unjustified confidence in Seattle's dysfunctional school system.

Robert said...

Does anyone know if there are current school by school enrollment numbers and wait list information posted online anywhere?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Roy, it is presumably the third draft of the assignment plan (I have been waiting for it so we can all good over what is going to be presented to the Board on June 3rd). There will likely be no maps; boundaries will come at the end of the summer/beginning of school. Naturally. You wouldn't want to have too much time for people to argue and staff can say, "This has to be decided now so we can print the enrollment guides."
The implementation is to come after the assignment plan is completed (I'll recheck my notes from the last assignment plan work session but I believe that is what I heard.)

Good luck, Roy with your move.

Roy Smith said...

I actually think the maps are (for most neighborhoods) not going to be all that controversial. The majority of arguments in most areas will boil down to people being upset that they found themselves on the wrong side of a line for their children to attend their preferred school, but on a systemic level, those complaints really will mostly just be whining. So detailed maps at this point may not be really necessary.

What I think would be valuable, at this point, is to know what the staff is thinking on some of the big hot-button policy items: for instance, what factors are going to be prioritized when drawing the lines for high school reference areas (I'm thinking of Ballard, particularly). I personally would like to see the lines drawn in such a way that if a student lives in the walk zone of a school, then they have guaranteed access to a school they can walk to - this is in the interest of keeping transportation costs and associated carbon emissions down. If that idea were adopted, then the draw area for Ballard would necessarily extend far enough north that it probably would be impossible to also include both Queen Anne and Magnolia in the draw area as well.

If proposals on policy decisions like that were forthcoming, then we could have a useful policy debate about whether keeping transportation costs down or providing children access to the "neighborhood high school" really is the priority.

Interestingly, if the Jane Addams plan goes through as apparently proposed, the other controversial assignment area problem in the north end, middle school assignment, may have basically gone away. Maybe SPS has another rabbit in their hat to make high school assignment area controversies disappear? Like re-opening Lincoln as a regular high school?

TechyMom said...

I'm pretty astounded that the Times article makes no mention of the baby boom hitting K last year, this year, and probably for the next few years. It must be either the economy or that SPS is doing the right things, not that there are just a lot more 5 and 6 year olds in Seattle than there have been for a long time. I'm sure the economy has some impact, but since a lot of private schools also saw increased applications and enrollment, that can't be all of it. Very sloppy reporting.

steve in west seattle said...

West Seattle calling in.

It seems our "Kindergarten Bubble" continued this year as well. They have added a Kindergarten section at Schmitz Park, and both a K + 1st grade at Lafayette. I heard Lafayette is kicking Hiawatha out of the portable they use for after-school care so it can be used for a classroom. I don't know where they fit the other classroom, or what Schmitz Park did.

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

Anyone rememember that staff recomended that Jane Addams be a middle school back in November? It was the School Board (who have a strong attachment to K-8s for some unexplained reason) that made a late switch to a K-8.

North End Mom said...

Yes. Very sloppy reporting in the Times article. No mention of the kindergarten classes that were added to already swollen NE schools last year, and still remain this year? I guess those don't count as "added classrooms," if they were already there?

What about the families from the NE cluster who were sent over to Olympic Hills? I heard that it actually happened (can anyone confirm this?).

Is it really exciting to stuff 28-30 kindergartners in a classroom? I don't think so.

I'm trying to think positively. I'm hoping that creating a neighborhood school at Sand Point (if that is the plan?) will be a good thing. I know that a comprehensive middle school at Jane Addams is a good decision for the long term.

Charlie Mas said...

The School Board chose to put a K-8 in Jane Addams instead of a middle school because the staff showed them data that indicated that the District had sufficient middle school capacity in the north-end for the foreseeable future. What they knew they did not have was elementary capacity.

suep. said...

"It also may mean that the district's decision earlier this year to close five schools didn't drive away as many families as some had feared — at least not enough to cause overall district enrollment to drop." -- Seattle Times

Okay, so SPS says there are 400 more incoming SPS kindergarteners next year, and this is due to either a) the baby boomlet (demographic theory) or b) the simply fabulous job the Board and Superintendent are doing managing the schools (Pollyanna theory).

But what do the application numbers look like for all the other grade levels? Are they the same as last year, up from last year, or has there been any attrition?

Is there anything in the Times article -- or anywhere else -- that proves that enrollment for the entire school district is up? Or is the only spike in K?

And if entire enrollment is up -- then why the heck is the Supt/District laying off teachers?What kind of math are they using to calculate these decisions --Discovering?

Stu said...

It also may mean that the district's decision earlier this year to close five schools didn't drive away as many families as some had feared — at least not enough to cause overall district enrollment to drop." -- Seattle Times

Idiots. Over-enrollment in the North end, where there were no closures. Over-enrollment in Kindergartners, who are just students who haven't been driven away yet!

Middle school in the Northeast has been Eckstein. That's it, one school. It's been overcrowded forever, has waiting lists for Spectrum, and has needed some relief for years. The school board "chose to put a K-8 in Jane Addams" 'cause they thought they'd be able to keep a percentage of Summit kids there. That would stop them from filling other programs in the area.

Northeast Seattle needs two, big, middle schools, with obvious feeder patterns, AND more elementary schools. Perhaps they could even strengthen, if possible, the arts program at Eckstein and then have a Science/Math focus at Jane Addams...give families a reason to pick one or the other...without busing, of course

Does anyone know if there are ANY Northeast/North schools with vacancies?
Just curious.

stu

Sahila said...

Stu - AS#1 is short at least 20 kids if we're to meet this year's enrolment criteria for staying open after this year, about 95 if the District keeps us to our recently determined (and increased) functional capacity...

Roll up, roll up.....