Disqus

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last Chance for Assignment Plan Input?

Folks, we are coming down to the wire on the Student Assignment Plan. Neither Charlie or I did post on the last community engagement (and somehow it just got away from me and I will try to this week) but what I came away with is that Tracy Libros, head of Assignment, want to know what is confusing to parents in the plan.

Again, she wants to know what is confusing in the plan.

That says to me that the plan is hardening and that there may be no major changes to the preliminary outlines. I urge you to go to the district website and consider all the materials there.

We are heading into summer which is a parent down time (I don't blame anyone for wanting a break). However, work at the district goes on and when we head back to school in the fall, the Assignment Plan will have its final look complete with boundaries. And that's when the shouting will start. If there are things beyond boundaries that you care about, read up and let Tracy know NOW.

A Board Work Session is scheduled today from (now) 4:30-8 p.m on the Assignment Plan. ( It had been 4-8 but now I see there is an Executive Session from 4:00-4:30 cryptically labelled "negotiations". I'm thinking that may be about the teachers' contract but I'll have to wait until the Board office opens to find out.)

22 comments:

Roy Smith said...

Watching this is a little weird - almost like the district staff is fully aware that the boundaries are likely to be the most controversial aspect of the assignment plan (and that many parents may not have much to say about other pieces of the policy until they know what the boundaries are, and then they will have lots to say), and so they are intentionally:

1) Setting the rest of the policy before boundaries are discussed, leaving parents in what feels like an information vacuum. When the boundaries are made public, and people have specific issues with how the other assignment policies play out in light of the proposed boundaries, the response will be "sorry, that piece has already been decided".

2) Angling for a compressed timeline from the time the proposed boundaries are made public until they are finalized so they can minimize public input/shove through whatever it is that the staff wants. Compressed timeline for public input seems to be the M.O., even when it is clearly not necessary or desirable.

But maybe I am just being too cynical.

Sue said...

I was just going to say what roy did! (Although not as well)

The boundaries and enrollment caps for the high schools are going to be the most contentious piece, as they well know. That is exactly why they are doing it last.

We are really powerless until those come out.

ARB said...

Can someone explain:

What happens to younger siblings of older students assigned under the old plan and not attending what will be the neighborhood school under the new plan? Do the younger sibs have to apply to their older sib's school every year to stay together? If so, what about after the older sib rises to another school and the younger sib loses the sibling preference? Will they have to make an abrupt change before they naturally would transition from that school? Will the older one have bus service and the younger one not have transportation? Am I missing something?

Same issues apply under the new plan to a younger sibling seeking to follow an older one to a non-neighborhood school because the older one attends a different school for special ed needs?

I need some assurances that families can be educated together and it looks like a simple sibling preference won't cover everything... pls correct me if I don't understand this...

ARB said...

My previous questions may be based on a misunderstanding of how students attending non-assignment schools apply to these schools. When i first read the draft plan, I understood it to mean that students had to reapply to the non-assignment school each year, when I reviewed it again, I am not so sure that is what happens... does a student stay in the non-assignment school, once admitted, through the last grade of that school?

SE Mom said...

Melissa-

I would really appreciate hearing what information was updated at the last meeting you attended.

What is the latest about choice seats for high schools?

Was the issue of enrollment to specialized high school programs in reference schools addressed?

Charlie Mas said...

I was at the meeting, but I'm afraid that I spent most of the time after the presentation in one-on-one meetings with District staff.

I still don't see anything that looks like equitable access to CTE at high schools.

I'm a bit troubled that while students living in a narrow geograhpic zone for an option school will have preference for enrollment there, students living in the transportation zone for the school do not.

Dorothy Neville said...

I was there. From the hand-out:

High school choice by lottery, no more income tiebreaker. No word on size of lottery. "Most specialized services will be provided at the attendance area high school." But that of course doesn't apply to IB or Biotech which were not mentioned at the meeting (as far as I can recall).

Siblings first over lottery in high school, which means that lottery winners get to bring their entire family, reducing the availability and effectiveness of lottery seats over time, I'd think.

Lots of questions about the siblings of grandfathered in kids. At our table were two moms in that situation, one whose younger child starts in 2010 and the other in 2011, and they were told that in the first case, sibling would get to follow grandfathered child but in the latter not. Or something like that. It was still sort of confusing to me.

Option schools tiebreakers (in order) siblings, geographic zone and then lottery. Sure would be nice if it were straightforward lottery, but I know not a lot of folks agree there. Funny though, some that defend the sibling preference hard, also argue emphatically against the geographic preference, because it mucks with simplicity. Seems to me that lottery only, without any other tiebreakers would be the simplest and most fair. If folks absolutely wanted to guarantee siblings are placed together, they have that option in their attendance area school.

Tracy had a couple issues she wanted feedback about specifically. If a student is in a K8, rising to 6th grade, where should they get default assignment? Their current school or their middle school by address? I think the discussion got muddled because some were thinking of K8s that are all option to begin with, but I believe the issue is more pertinent with Jane Addams, where kids are assigned there for K5, but might not want that sort of middle school experience.

Another issue for rising 6th graders. What if the student (by grandfathering or lottery) is at a school that feeds Middle School A, but by address is supposed to get admission to Middle School B. What should be the default or guaranteed assignment? Stay with cohort or get assigned by address?

ARB said...

Thanks for the summary, Dorothy.

I still think that:

-the policy on grandfathering needs to be clearly set out NOW, it will make a difference for people deciding where older sibs go in 2009 if this decision will impact younger sibs who will be under the new plan.

-the district needs to set a policy for families with one sibling who, for various reasons CANNOT (as opposed to simply does not WANT to) attend the attendance area school--in my case, I am concerned with special ed needs. They need to realize that family support is necessary for these types of students and cannot have a plan that leaves siblings of special needs students attending a different (the attendance area) school. Again, a sibling preference might help, but does not completely account for this situation.

anonymous said...

"Another issue for rising 6th graders. What if the student (by grandfathering or lottery) is at a school that feeds Middle School A, but by address is supposed to get admission to Middle School B. What should be the default or guaranteed assignment?"

After middle school would those grandfathered kids have to be assigned to HS B too, in order for them to stay with their co-hort?

I would think grandfathering would mean that you could remain at your current school up to the highest grade that school serves. For your next school you get assigned to your reference school and can apply for another school if you so choose. I would not be in favor of grandfathering kids for 13 years all the way from elementary through high school, though I would be in favor of grandfathering through the highest grade their school serves. Grandfathering all the way through school seems a bit much.

Gouda said...

I did not attend this last round of meetings because the previous round were so poorly run. It was Tracy giving a presentation and community members left to discuss things amongst themselves. It was a disaster.

Absolutely not worth my time.

As for boundaries, I did some research a couple of years ago when this was all coming into play. In most districts, boundaries are the last thing that gets decided.

There will always be winners and losers in boundary drawing. It is better to have the guiding principles in place before the wars over boundaries begin.

I did see in some districts that there were specific community-based meetings with several boundary options. Members within that community were then asked to give input on which boundaries made more sense than others. The feedback from community members in those districts seemed really positive, especially considering how robust the engagement was.

And that brings me full circle. How robust is the engagement? Is having a series of meetings really engagement? If the meetings are poorly run, but there are interpreters available, does that mean that SPS gets to check their boxes and say "we did that"?

The disappointment is that I know that Tracy would prefer to have a Q&A and not the weird format that the District mandated. People don't show up to engagement meetings to engage with each other, but to engage with the staff and board members. Why is that not obvious to the folks at the District?

SolvayGirl said...

I agree with Dorothy on the tiebreaker issues for the option seats lottery.

"Siblings first over lottery in high school, which means that lottery winners get to bring their entire family, reducing the availability and effectiveness of lottery seats over time, I'd think. "

Anything other than a simple lottery completely reduces the effectiveness of the lottery over time. The first year there could be a 1 in 20 chance (made up numbers) but, counting for sibs, that could quickly reduce to 1 in 10 or 1 in 5 within a year or two.

This happens at private schools all the time—a students chance of admission is almost always in direct proportion to the number of siblings coming up through the ranks.

And...just what options are included here? As Dorothy mentions they did not discuss specifics like IB or Biotech. And what about superior drama, art, and/or music programs. I think it is very unfortunate, for example, that an exceptional musician who lives in the southend may never get to perform with one of Seattle's award-winning bands (Roosevelt & Garfield).

Roy Smith said...

It seems like getting the policies right for sibling preference, for middle school assignment for those at K-8s (or in K-8 reference areas), and for grandfathering kids in from the old plan are the areas most likely to determine the ultimate success or failure of this assignment plan.

It looks like to me that unlimited sibling preference that overrides every other criteria (I haven't delved into the proposal in detail, but it seems like that is what is proposed) is a recipe for making sure that families stay together at the expense of every other stated goal of this plan. Dorothy says it well: "If folks absolutely wanted to guarantee siblings are placed together, they have that option in their attendance area school." A sibling preference makes sense in the cases where a child cannot attend their attendance area school (and perhaps in the cases of kids grandfathered in from the old system, and maybe for option schools as well, but the devil is in the details on those ones), but other than that, sibling preference has a very high chance of wrecking the system, particularly if siblings have priority over children living in the attendance area.

I don't have any good suggestions on how to resolve the issues around K-8s or grandfathering from the old system, but those subjects do need to be addressed, hopefully in a more thoughtful way than anything that has come out thus far.

Dorothy Neville said...

"After middle school would those grandfathered kids have to be assigned to HS B too, in order for them to stay with their co-hort?"

Clarification. There is no feeder school concept from middle to high school. the boundaries will be different.

SolvayGirl said...

Why should a sibling be guaranteed an option middle or high school just for the sake of keeping a family together?

Say a student chooses a school for an IB program, or the biotech or a specific arts program because they have the capabilities to do well in that program. Let's consider my hypothetical musical prodigy...

John Smith excels at the saxophone. He lives about as far south as you can get in the District. His reference school is RBHS—which has an orchestra, but a fledgling one at best. Through the luck of the draw, John gets into Roosevelt to participate in the award-winning jazz band. He thrives and is working toward an application to the Berkley School of Music in Boston—success story.

Now...John is a junior at Roosevelt. His sister Mary will be a freshman the following year. She has no musical talent, but puts Roosevelt first on her enrollment form, hoping that her sibling preference will snag one of the coveted option spots. (This is taking the tact that no audition and/or teacher recommendation is required for these options spots—that would certainly change things).

Mary gets in. She and John have ONE year together at Roosevelt before he graduates. Their younger brother Harry is eagerly looking to the day that he too can attend Roosevelt.

Just how is this fair to anyone?

Sue said...

I could be reading this wrong, but it is my understanding that the reason the option seats at the high school exist is so that the enrollment department has some leeway for years when the there are more kids in the attendance area for the school than there are attendance area seats. At least that is my understanding from meetings I have attended. And the sibling thing complicates things for sure.

Example: School A has 1000 seats. 900 are reserved for attendance area. 100 for lottery. (the district's diagram) Lets assume 250 of those seats are for freshman. Year 1 works fine, but in year two there are 350 freshman in the attendance area who need seats. This eliminates the 100 option seats. Attendance area trumps sibling so if there are 50 additional prospective freshman who are siblings of kids who are already in the school, they are out of luck. So that year their will be no sibling tiebreaker, or open choice lottery, Because they have to accomodate the kids in the attendance area first. Right? that is what the proposed rules say anyways. If you are a kid in the attendance area with a sibling in the school, I suppose you would have double priority or something.

Do I have that right? So it looks like sibling may not be the guarantee people think it is for popular high schools, since attendance area is the primary, guarenteed spot.

Please correct me if I am wrong - it is confusing!

SE Mom said...

My understanding of the high school option seats were to also allow for kids to get into schools other than their reference school. This is especially important because there are specialized programs at different high schools
(music, IB, Biotech).

At this point though, I am confused about how many lottery seats will be available to make access to those programs viable. If the district really wanted equity to program access, since the high schools are all pretty different, there would be a system implemented other than a limited lottery.

I just emailed Tracy Libros - maybe I will get an answer from her about what number or percentage of option seats for high school are currently being considered.

Melissa Westbrook said...

These are good questions all and I think what I will do is attend this Work Session, try to suss everything out, create a master paper and cross-reference with Tracy (including questions) and create a new thread. I'm not saying I will write it any more clearly than staff but I'll try to hit all the questions I see here. When difficulties arise, well, we can take a straw poll here and see what rises to the top.


As for the format of the public engagment on this, I have heard from some parents, at every single one of them that I attended, how much they detest this format. I complained as well. It is designed to keep people apart and leaves us hanging with questions that almost never get answered.

Here were the factors Tracy listed as Factors in creating boundaries (she gave them in no order but people wanted to know what makes the top of the list):

- proximity of students to schools
- safe walk boundaries
- efficient bus routes
- balancing of target enrollment in elementary feeder schools (must fit boundaries)
- seats at international schools (smaller boundaries for open choice seats)

The economic tiebreaker was dropped by the Board who thought to do without it for a couple of years to let this new plan settle in and then review.

Among some of the questions raised:

- is there a timeframe for reviewing boundaries? (answer here was every 5 years)
- when does opening a new school come into play?
- diversity versus transportation costs (what trumps)?
- people wanted to see a prioritized list for boundaries
- does program trump assignment?
- why doesn't high school have a feeder system under this plan?

Sue said...

I think I may have posted this on Harium's Blog, but how things work now at the high schools for the academies, is you are accepted for the high school first, then once you have your enrollment docs in hand, you apply for a seat in the academies. Currently, most academies allow entrance in freshman OR sophomore year, so that kids in the school get a chance ro be in the academy.

I have seen nothing that indicates this will change. But I do think that parents think you apply for the academy at the same time you apply for enrollment, and this is just not the case.

Now, if they are talking about changing that procedure, that is a HUGE piece that has not been publicised.

TechyMom said...

Interesting... It works the opposite way with elementary option programs. Leschi Montessori is treated as a separate school from Leschi general ed (separate school codes). Laurelhurst Half Day and Full Day K are separate school codes too. Is that true of APP, Spectrum and language immersion too? What about middle school APP and Spectrum? I wonder why there are different systems? The separate school approach seems much more fair to students who are really looking for that program.

WV thinks this is loony. I agree.

Sue said...

I should clarify - this was the case two years ago for high schools, and I don't know what the deal is with the music programs.

Anyone register for high school this year with more up to date info?

Roy Smith said...

I'm surprised yet pleased to see that the economic tie-breaker has gone away from this particular discussion. If diversity is a priority for our society (and to be clear, I think that it should be), the correct forum for dealing with it should be city housing and land use policy, not public school assignment policy.

If the city intelligently encourages diversity in neighborhoods, then you should get diversity in the schools more or less automatically.

If the schools attempt to address diversity through school assignment policy when the city is doing nothing to encourage diversity in the neighborhoods, all it does is add yet one more priority to the mix when it is clear that the plate is already overfull, destroy any realistic possibility of having strong neighborhood schools, and impose additional transportation costs.

SE Mom said...

I just read through the draft of the new assignment plan rules from the May 19th meeting.

I can not find any information or even mention of seats being set aside for choice seats for high school. Set aside choice seats are still mentioned in summaries (including Frequently Asked Questions) on the web site.

I am hoping Melissa will have some additional information when she posts about last night's work session!