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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

School Tour Confusion Reigns (What Are They Thinking?)

(Update: January 9th - I talked with Tracy Libros' assistant, Paige, and they will be posting information on school tours. So there will be tours.

What made this a mess is because from my call to TOPS, principals were told one thing. Then, the district's press release only says open houses in the main text and in the list of open houses it says tours are in mid-Feb. Tracy, in her presentation to the board, said all schools would have tours mid-Feb. to mid-March. That's pretty confusing information and you have to wonder how it happened.

I am seeing now more schools are posting tour information. KEEP IN MIND that some schools are starting in January and some not until February. Really want to know? Don't depend on the district; go to the school website or call the school directly. No, it's not fun to have to do the work on your own but it may be the best way to create your own schedule of schools to visit. It would make it easier if some were in January and then some in February so that you aren't rushing around over just 2 weeks.)

Okay, so we had some information come out from our readers about school tours. What is currently available is information for the OPEN HOUSES (1 night only per school with a few Saturday exceptions). I said, "Oh that's just for Open Houses but each school generally has a couple of daytime tours."

From the Open House pdf (http://www.seattleschools.org/area/eso/OpenHouseSchedule.pdf)

Weeknight open houses will be held from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. and Saturday open houses will be held from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. unless otherwise noted in the schedule. The intended audiences for these open houses are parents and guardians; we apologize but no child care will be available. For interpretation services, please contact the school three days before the scheduled open house date. School visits will also be scheduled beginning mid-February (italics mine). Important information about the new assignment plan and enrollment is available at www.seattleschools.org.

Previously, the district had earlier tour dates (Jan./Feb.) because we were getting assignments in April. In the last couple of years, even though the assignments were now in May, most schools stuck with January and February tour dates. So I figured this year might be the same as there is NOTHING on the website to indicate otherwise.

So I checked several school websites and found nothing. Odd. So I called TOPS and got a very nice woman who told me that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had told all the principals that they were going to do Open Houses. I asked her, "What about daytime tours?" She said that the principals were told maybe in March but she would let them know. (Naturally, that is different from what the Open House Tour sheet says "...beginning mid-February".)

The point is:
  • Are there to be daytime tours? If not, why not?
  • Is it to be in February or March? Open Enrollment starts March 1 so that seems way too late. There are two non-school days in January plus Winter Break right in the middle of February. It seems - in order to have at least 3 daytime tours - that they should be starting mid-January.
Folks, I shouldn't be the one telling you this. This information should be on the News and Calendar page or on the Enrollment page and it isn't. This is the first bit of information that should be there after the new year started. We may be moving towards a neighborhood system but we still have some choice and there should be opportunities to visit the schools. As was previously noted, you can call the school and ask to walk through it but (1) you may miss something, (2) no one to answer questions and (3) I doubt if the schools want lots of parents calling to walk through alone.

Techy Mom reports that Lowell does have scheduled tours:

Lowell has 4 tours and an open house scheduled (from Lowell Link)
January 28, 2010
February 2, 2010
February 4. 2010
February 9, 2010
from 9:45am to 11:15am.

I also found this from Ballard:

Ballard High will offer 4 dates for current 8th graders to visit the school. Daytime visits begin at 8:15 am in the Commons. The daytime dates are Jan. 7, Feb. 24 and March 2nd.

So, in summary, call the schools you are interested in and ask for dates. At this point, this is all you can do as it seems the district doesn't even know what it is doing.

29 comments:

SE Mom said...

I was looking at websites yesterday trying to figure out about high school tours. Very limited info online.

I called Sealth and they have dates for both open houses and tours. I then called Franklin - they have a date for an open house and told me that the district will be communicating tour dates in the next week or so.

Whether the info from Franklin is correct or not remains to be seen.

seattle said...

Well the enrollment page is sure confusing. It says click here for open house dates, but fails to even mention that there will also be school tours.

As for touring schools on your own, some schools will allow you to do it and some won't. When we were looking for a school for our child we asked to drop by and visit at Olympic View Elementary. The secretary said they don't allow individual tours and we could not come by. Not satisfied, I called the principal, who told me the same thing "sorry, that you missed out scheduled tours, but we don't do individual tours". They wouldn't even let me walk around on my own. Of course, we didn't pick that school, it felt odd to me.

So if you plan to just do a walk through on your own you best check with the schools you are interested in to see if your allowed to do it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

My understanding is that the schools are supposed to allow parents, who ask in advance, to come in, sign in and walk thru the school. This is especially important during the open enrollment period.

Well, this will be interesting because I plan to do this very thing for a couple of schools. I'll have to see what they say.

Laura said...

I'm not surprised at all that North Seattle schools are not allowing individual tours. As a parent, I would not like unsupervised people poking their head into each classroom; it would be too disruptive. I remember the tours at Salmon Bay -- there were so many of them, the groups were quite large, and it was incredibly disruptive to the teachers and students -- and those were only the scheduled tours. I would expect that if a stranger walked into an elementary classroom unsupervised, the teacher would stop what she was doing, greet the visitor, and try to figure out what they are doing/want. Multiply that by several people a day and that is just too disruptive to the students.

Kudos to the principals who say no to individual tours!

Melissa Westbrook said...

No one said going into classes. I wouldn't want that either. But walking the halls, looking at the library and the playground is not disruptive especially if the kids are in class.

If there is only one or two tour dates, you really think parents deserve no other alternative?

Anonymous said...

We did not call ahead to any of them. We politely asked at the desk about looking around and while no one said "no" we got varied receptions. Some were really happy to show us around, others could have cared less.

We did not go into a classroom unless asked in, and mostly we were. We were even added to one class's lesson. I know for certain that seeing these schools without the rose-colored glasses was a determining factor for us. If a school had outright forbidden us from going in at all, we'd never have chosen it.

Laura said...

Parents need to make time to go on the organized tours. If tours have not been conveniently scheduled, parents need to call the school, and insist that the school admin. offer more tours. I'm happy to advocate for more tours. I will never advocate for people just dropping by and touring a school. It's simply too disruptive -- especially in the north end where demand is so tight.

You need to ask yourself, would you be OK with another 100 people doing exactly what you are doing at a school.

It's not fair that more tours have not been scheduled, but simply dropping by a school unannounced to check things out, is also not fair to the staff that need to take time to check you in, keep an eye on you, and answer any questions.

And at my kid's elementary school, I don't want any strangers wandering around the halls unsupervised. Someone may say he's a prospective parent, but how am I to know that? Keep in mind, that anybody who volunteers or staffs a Seattle Public School is subject to background checks annually. What kind of checks should be done for each visitor roaming the halls?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Laura, I'm not sure you are understanding what is being said. No one said "drop in". Agibean did and found out some schools don't like that. So no dropping in.

But every office has a sign-in sheet as to who you are, who you are seeing, when you get there, when you leave. (And I can't tell you how many people come into a school every day without signing in.) I'm saying yes, you must ask in advance, sign in, wear a nametag and not go into classrooms.

Parents have the right to see a school they are considering and if there are only 2-3 dates (or 1 if some schools decide only on an open house which I hope no school does), what would you have them do? Sign up sight unseen?

Moose said...

Some prospective parents at my kids' school DID barge right into classrooms, despite being told where and how to observe. What would you have a school do? A teacher do?

Huh ?? said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Huh ?? said...

I was thinking that having only a few tour options is OK b/c you're not trying to tour all the schools in your cluster w/ the new assignment plan. Just the one that is your attendance area one. Right? Or am I missing something?

We've been trying to schedule tours for about 2 months and have had some resistance from the principal re: scheduling the daytime ones. This article at least explains that somewhat... appears to be a directive from MGJ.

Also, our tours are on designated dates w/ volunteer parent leaders. I thought that was how most schools did them (all the tours I took way back when were like that)

Thanks for the news.

seattle said...

No mom2two, your neighborhood school is not your only option. You can apply to any school in the entire district, and your child can attend that school if they have space for you (though you may not get transportation). Plus you could apply to any option/alt school in the district, though, again you may not always get transportation. I'd imagine that most parents will want to tour multiple schools and get familiar with their many options.

BTW - only Olympic View would not let us tour their school. The principal at Sacadjewea (Debbie Nelson) was very welcoming and made an appointment with me and personally showed me around. Bryant let me sign in at the office and walk around on my own as did View Ridge. Of course I did not disturb any teachers or go into any classrooms, but I did look at the art on the walls, look at the kids in the classrooms as I walked in the halls, watch kids interact at recess, etc.

Skeptic said...

I would encourage parents with concerns about a school to try the dropping-by method. Keep in mind that the parent volunteers who often lead the tours tend to be the ardent cheerleader types who aren't always able or willing to give a straight answer on some questions.

I will never forget the afternoon a few years ago when I showed up unannounced at Gatewood and asked if I could take a look around on my own without disturbing any classrooms. The principal was very friendly and welcoming and urged me to go right ahead. Then, as I was walking down the hallway a few minutes later, I heard a male teacher yelling at the top of his lungs at a class of students in a way that really disturbed me. As I walked by the open door, and he spotted a person who obviously looked like a parent (I was toting a toddler around and had that certain bedraggled look that goes with the territory), he stopped immediately. I wound up choosing another school for my kindergartner and was glad that I had gotten a more unvarnished view than the pep rally I would have been treated to on a regular tour.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, maybe Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is trying to discourage choice. After all, if the only school you have time to see is the Open House at your attendance area school, well then that might just be your choice. (But really, Option schools are all choice so there are other schools to visit.)

In elementary schools, the tours tend to be PTA/parent volunteers. Middle school can be a mix of parents and students. I can only speak for Roosevelt but I think most high schools use student body leaders for the tours (with a few parents sprinkled in). All of them have some problems and sometimes the info can be sketchy, incomplete or even wrong. I still think you can get a lot out of walking through a school during a school day whether on a tour or not.

Sue said...

I do think Melissa hit the nail on the head in her last comment. This is exactly what i was thinking.

Of course there are no tours! You are supposed to choose your neighborhood school, so why on earth would you need to choose any other school or even look at a school? They are equal! they are all bastions of academic excellence! Whats the problem people? (evil chuckles from the Stanford Center)

Josh Hayes said...

Let me just say that if anyone would like to tour AS#1, just call the office and tell them you'd like to tour. I'd be happy to take you around any ol' time. I know that we're ramping up planning for tours, so at AS1, at least, we're planning to offer our usual scheduled tours, and as in years past, those who can't make the scheduled times can be accomodated by parents like me.

One other word about the situation reported at Olympic View. My son is now in 7th grade, but when we were looking at kindergarten schools for him (so, what, 9 years ago?) I was told I could not bring my 1.5 year old toddler along on the tour. Period. Didn't matter if I was willing to take her out of the room if she fussed, just a straight no. And then they told me, "but you can come to the open house in the evening!".

"And the teachers will be teaching their classes then?" I asked.

"Well, of course not!" they replied.

"Then what will I be able to see?" I asked. They seemed flabbergasted that I'd actually want to see teachers teaching, rather than cool playground equipment. So, maybe they still don't get it at OV, I dunno. I toured JSIS, BF Day, Northgate, AS1, AE2, and Bagley with my daughter in the backpack: no problems. Never did figure out why OV was so bothered by the idea.

Central Mom said...

If teachers are school's doctors, then front office staffs are school's nurses. They know what's what at a school, and take care of a million details and smoothing of "situations" that teachers don't have the time to focus on. So take a clue right from that 1st staff interaction at the schools you want to see. If they aren't up to par, then that's a first warning sign.

And Melissa's experience w/ TOPS, BTW, is standard there. The front office staff is great!

zb said...

"Well, maybe Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is trying to discourage choice. "

No, really, ya' think? I do believe that school administrators think there will be less touring with the new SAP.

Charlie Mas said...

If all of the open houses are on the same day and time, then how can you go to more than one of them? Even if each school offers two or three open houses, then you could only go to two or three?

This will probably be enough for most folks, but it won't be enough for some. In addition, there are many for whom an Open House won't show them what they want to see - teachers at work.

TechyMom said...

And of course no one would want to tour a school to choose between their neighborhood school and a variety of private school options. Well, no one except something like 30% of the families in Seattle. But, oh, I forgot. If they don't have to tour and choose between public schools, they won't want look at private school. Or something.

Central Mom said...

LOL TechyMom.

I continue to be troubled by the obvious disparity between N/S Capitol Hill academic options. Here's a little good news...I think there may be a couple non-neighborhood open spaces at both Montlake and Lowell next year, given enrollment projections. Good choices! So if you don't want to deal w/ NE crowding or S Capitol Hill choices, and you can figure out your transportation, go visit those schools. For sure the Montlake principal has always made it a point to welcome out-of-area families to the program. It's a gem.

TechyMom said...

Central Mom, where did you find those enrollment projections?

Central Mom said...

Techy Mom...
No official spreadsheet. That would be the Ye Olde Capitol Hill School Staff Grapevine. (And an anonymous board member.)

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did e-mail Tracy (and all the Board this morning). I figured that Tracy, the school secretaries and the Board would bear the brunt of the outcry if there are no tours made available (except at schools that decide to do it on their own a la Ballard and Lowell).

If this is what the district is doing, they need to say it is and put it out as news. (Did they really think no one would notice until it was too late?) They can take their lumps as they get them (although again, I think it's the school secretaries and Board who will).

If they are doing tours, they need to say so and say by what date schools have to post the info.

Again, here is a case where you either have some degree of incompetence or some degree of quiet manipulation. The district has always had tours and for them to suddenly not show up, without notice or explanation, is wrong.

Unknown said...

I agree that it's lovely to wander through a school on a school day, and yes, you can learn something more, or at least something different, than in an evening open house or even a scheduled tour. But shouldn't we be focused on what's best for the kids inside the classrooms, not for parents who want to turn over every stone to consider every alternative for their incoming child? Is it really best when our schools spend their winters and springs dealing with an influx of shoppers, and are distracted from their main task at hand?

The reality is that even organized tours during the school day are disruptive on the students. Everyone knows it. But our schools have traditionally done some, to accomodate legitimate parent interest and curiosity. Parents wandering around are also disruptive, even if they've signed in, and happen to be wearing a visitor's badge. We're all worried about strangers in the hallways. I've followed people to ask politely "can I help you" only to be told "oops, I guess I put the visitor's badge in my pocket by mistake." (Maybe the person felt they'd get a more accurate sense of the place if they were perceived as an existing parent than as a visitor.) When people "peak" in the classroom, even through the window of the door, a student notices, word immediately spreads and it takes time to get the focus back on the lesson -- even if the door was never opened. Those "chance" conversations with educators nad administrators in the hallway take those educators and administrators away from whatever they were doing to further the educaiton of the students they already have, including, maybe, having "chance" communications with parents of students in the school. Multiply that by 10 or 20 or 50? Well, let's just say that I'm starting to worry about the loss to the education of my student.

Imagine your own workplace if people could wander in and ask questions whenever they felt like it. How would you get anything done? Unless you worked in sales. Then it would be your job to respond to such inquiries, of course.

We're used to treating our schools like commodities -- we can go to as many car dealerships as we want to before we decide what to buy, so why not as many schools? Well, when our schools are so well funded as to have full time marketers on staff, I'd say great. But now, I'd like us to consider curbing our entitlement mindset a little bit, and not view our schools like our own personal shopping malls. Sure, go to an open house or a tour or two. But the school day needs to be organized primarily around the needs of the current students. Not prospective parents.

Sorry to be a grouch.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So you never went on a tour? For most schools it's 3 mornings a year, for Pete's sake.

Anonymous said...

Rosie,

I don't think it's nearly as nefarious or as disruptive as you imply, not for most parents. We missed all the tours when our daughter was starting K, because she tested in early, and the test is given well after tours are offered. Our only other option besides showing up on non-tour days would have been to chose a school sight unseen. We narrowed down our choices based on what friends said and the school websites offered, then toured those we had an interest in.

First off, we did not see any classrooms where looking in disrupted the classes to the point of stopping instruction. In fact, as I mentioned, we were brought into one room to be part of the lesson. A good teacher can keep kids on track when someone looks in or walks in-it's not like admin or other teachers never set foot in other classrooms! Schools aren't hermetically sealed!

I grew up in a city, which, like most, does not offer school choice of any kind. You live here, you go to school X; you live there, school Y. Middle schools are regional and high schools are as well. My parents STILL took us to look around before we started at each new building-and we weren't the only ones.

We're IN the system now, so we have examined schools at tour-time in any moves since K, but I personally think that if a school is shut to the public, then that's as worrisome as you feel it is being too "open". I want to know what goes on in the schools my child is attending. I don't want to have to wait until she is THERE to find out I've made a mistake.

Unknown said...

Yes Melissa. I went on a tour. I went on several. And no, of course I don't think you shut the schools. I think it's completely appropriate that schools have a couple of tours during the day and one or two open houses during the evening. But Melissa commented somewhere in this thread that if the tours and open houses aren't convenient then we need to start insisting on more. And lots of commenters talked about getting in there and just showing up for self tours. That's what's causing me concern.

I think there needs to be another perspective, and that's the perspective of the folks inside the school. It's important to remember that tours and open houses take time, volunteer time from parents and staff. It's wonderful that some staff choose to stay late and participate in open houses, but am I being selfish in saying I'd rather they spend most of their volunteer time on the kids already in the classroom rather than following Melissa's aadvice and asking to add even more open houses? Most schools are having a harder time getting parent volunteers in general these days. Is the best use of the limited parent volunteer resource squiring around new potential parents? I'm just trying to throw in the other side of the coin here.

Balance. As in all things, and I think it needs to be remembered here too. Hearing "no, we won't add another open house" doesn't mean the District isn't trying to deprive you of your right to choose the school for your kid. It may be that the Shakespeare play has already been rescheduled twice and there's not another night that can be added to an already overburdened school calender, and teachers are tired and have families they want to get home to, too, by the way.

So yeah, maybe there are fewer open houses and fewer tours than in the past. But I'm not sure that's a bad thing. There's no indication that there aren't "enough."

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Rosie, that is not what I said. I said this

"If there is only one or two tour dates, you really think parents deserve no other alternative?"

If you were following the thread, the issue was the district issuing information ONLY about open houses, not tours. This is completely different from what has been done in the past. I pointed this out. Then, in trying to check, I found at least 3 different answers from 3 different sources in the district. Again, confusion.

So I said if the only thing parents had was one or two open houses, then it was valid to ask to see the school during the day.