West Seattle as Its Own Micro-District

First off, I really like West Seattle. I'm not a native so let me know if I have this wrong but what I always heard is that SW Seattle is considered "West Seattle". So that area has two high schools, two middle schools and a number of elementaries that serve their area. And, since West Seattle is a somewhat isolated area, most families stay in that area for school.

Second, I really like the West Seattle Blog. They do such a great job of covering that whole area like a little mini-city. There seems to be such a sense of community over there. They also getsome pretty interesting reader comments on their stories.

I was checking out what was being said about the departure of Bruce Bivens, the current principal at WSHS. Just as you would expect there are differing thoughts about his departure but then some tension crept in over the differences between Chief Sealth High School and West Seattle High School. Here's what one commenter had to say:

Currently have students at both schools, like both schools for different reasons. My family’s experience summarized through my students:


*more classroom disruptions/poor behavior

*energized teaching staff

*district publicity for school bordering on “cult of personality” status

*staff does excellent job of presenting opportunities (scholarships, internships, career ideas etc) to students of all different levels

*often perceived as the “underdog”

*history of administrative decisions made unilaterally by principal

*many different opportunities for a kid to fit in

*possible unintentional segregation of students due to IB program

*racially and economically diverse


*very strong history and alumni involvement

*beautiful campus

*seems to have more drug and alcohol usage (or perhaps it is more noticeable?)

*seems to be a bit in flux with the hybrid period schedule

*strong PTA, possibly more parental involvement

*my student here seems to have many more projects and homework, although both students took “honors” classes

I know more about Sealth than WS due to the time my children have been there. The one thing I am certain of; any student could fail or succeed at either school. If, as a parent, you are concerned enough to be reading this blog and researching the schools, your child has the advantage right there. Parental involvement is the key.

And another parent:

As parents of a Madison 8th grader, we’ve been looking into high schools a lot this year. West Seattle High under Bivins has a reputation as the lesser of the two Westside high schools. Self-motivated achievers can do well at both, but while Sealth has purportedly a bit more of a “gang presence”, it also…rumor has it…does a better job of getting it’s legions of slackers, “ghetto”(their words not mine)wannabes, and immature misbehavers interested in its academic offerings, and not letting them steal the show from teachers who want to teach instead of manage behavior, and kids who want to learn…really the great unspoken truth of modern public schools. I definitely hear a lot of “I wouldn’t send my kid to either of those schools”, but private school isn’t an option for us, nor do we want to become one of the growing number of West Seattle parents sending their kids to Vashon.

SW/West Seattle are more isolated areas in our district and thus the comparisons between schools become sharper. It probably makes for good competition in sports. But it is interesting to see how the district's initiatives and decisions play out in one distinct area. (I do like that "cult of personality" status named by one commenter; I have to say that the district does seem to spend a lot of time on saying how great Denny/Sealth will be together.)

With the closure of Cooper AND the new SAP AND the massive remodel/rebuilt at Denny/Sealth, it makes for an interesting place to watch it all unfold.


West Seattle said…
The perception is that Sealth is by far the better of the two HS’s as far as academics go and I would agree with that based on my experience.

When looking at HS WSHS was last our list, Sealth was 2nd and we got into our first choice, Center.

We were so unimpressed with WSHS even though that school is a mile from our home. The leadership was dismal and the organization was non-existent. (note: Susan Derse was the principal the year we were looking).

WSHS always seems to be noted for large fights etc. whereas you do not hear that happening at Sealth (though maybe that is a case of reported vs not, I don’t know). Whether earned or not, my experience is that many in the North end of WS would not consider sending their kids to WSHS as it is today.
zb said…
Yeah, the WS blog is fabulous. I'm convinced that a resource like that alone would have a significant effect on the bottom line of businesses + real estate, even without counting all the community buildings stuff that happens. I think I know more about the accomplishments of kids are earning in WS than in my own neck of the woods, 'cause we don't have a forceful blog.

We need to produce the same elsewhere (I've hear Bothell has good community coverage) and there are incipient beginnings elsewhere, but the WSB is an amazing model (and, I think, really the result of some pretty amazing founders).

And, though there are geographic reasons why its a micro district, I think the WS Blog is participating in creating the community, too.

(and, no I don't have anything substantive to say about WS schools, and if I did, it would all come from the blog, anyway.)
SolvayGirl said…
I have friends who can see WSHS from their house and opted for Sealth instead. They are very involved parents who value education and wanted a good learning environment for their child.
SP said…
Unfortunately, that is the sad reality of West Seattle- a tale of two sets of schools, one the poster child of the district (and gradually earning the respect from families even outside of West Seattle), and the other a high school with a trade school reputation, definitely not the "school of choice" for college-bound students.

The WSHS principal has not changed this reputation- last year he met with a large group of 8th grade parents interested in finding out more about rigorous offerings at the school. The principal showed up with only one representative, the autoshop teacher, and the parents were so discouraged from attending that school that NOT ONE of those families signed their kids up for WSHS for 9th grade.

The district has further undermined any chance of offering two sets of equitable secondary schools in West Seattle, with the new attendance area maps funneling 6 elementary schools to Denny/Sealth and only 4 elementary schools to Madison/WSHS. What were they thinking?
wsnorth said…
We found the same thing, Sealth is our choice. Historically, Derse was a nightmare and I don't think many will miss Bivens - a good administrator, perhaps, but not a leader. The NSAP really put WSHS at a disadvantage - in recent years it has been full with wait list and actually has a very high % (for SPS) of graduates continuing on to a 2 yr or 4 yr college. If WSHS gets a strong charismatic leader who will listen to local parents and add acedemic rigor it could be a very good school. Please, district throw us one little bone over here!
SP said…
WSNorth- I'm curious where your data comes from on the relatively high % of WSHS graduates continuing on to 4 & 2 yr colleges? This is usually self- reported information (by students and then the schools) and is not very reliable. Is it available on the district website with a recent school-by-school comparison?

I did find on a flyer for prospective parents that in 2008, 42% of WSHS graduates reported going on to a 4-yr. college but that is quite low compared to the Seattle Times School Guide data (older, from 2005) where 6 of the other comprehensive high schools reported higher rates (Ballard, Roosevelt & Garfield between 60%-70%). Even Franklin came in at 52%, Ingraham & Hale at 50%.

I do fully agree with your comments at the end- "If WSHS gets a strong charismatic leader who will listen to local parents and add academic rigor it could be a very good school." But parents have to jump in and make this work with their neighborhood support or it just won't happen.
wsnorth said…
The data was from the Seattle Times (2 + 4 year college = 84%), I guess it is out of date. The Times also lists WSHS as having the highest graduation rate, but I suppose all these #'s are suspect, too.


Antecdotely, it does seem to be a great place for "trade/tech"" school path students, not so great for the "private university" path students. Hopefully, academics will improve.
seattle said…
What exactly makes WSHS not so great for private university bound students?

Do they offer 4 years of language?

Do they offer a handful of AP classes?

Do they offer Calculus and Statistics?

Do they have decent (doesn't have to be Duke Ellington worthy) art offerings? Band, drama, dance?

Do they sports for those interested in sports scholarships?

It seems to me that in almost any school, even RBHS, a student could choose to take classes to allow them access to just about any college.

I don't know much about WSHS so I could be wrong though? Anyone?
seattle said…
Charlie Mas posted something a long time ago that I still think about. There are some college scholarships that are offered to students who perform at the top of their class.

A students chances of a full scholarship to a 4 year university might be much better at RBHS where the senior class is about 80 students who are predominantly under performers, than say at Roosevelt, where the senior class is about 412 students who are predominantly average to high performers.

Not saying I would pick a school based on these averages, but it is something to think about.....
wseadawg said…
Everything in West Seattle is bad. It rains more, crime rates are higher, raw sewage runs through the streets and people live in shanties on the playgrounds at elementary schools.

And every kid in every school is armed with a weapon, wears a black leather jacket, has tattoos and drives a stolen car. And Alki Beach is covered in litter, oil spill residue and discarded needles and medical waste.

I would stay away from West Seattle forever. Its soooooo bad. Please don't come here. I mean, DON'T GO THERE!

seattle citizen said…
I was going to spend my vacation on Alki. I had my flights, hotel, rental...all set up. I was looking forward to a week in West Seattle!
But you've convinced me: I'm changing my reservations to Magnuson. The NORTH coast of Seattle is....better.
Beth Bakeman said…
We moved to West Seattle last fall because of a great school (Pathfinder K-8), but also because of a great community, including the fabulous West Seattle Blog that supports and feeds the strength of the community.
wsnorth said…
Well, since they closed two of WS elementary schools and overcrowded the rest, this is becoming true, at least:

"[students attend school] in shanties [portables] on the playgrounds at elementary schools.
I am very sad to hear about the portables. The Facilities staff had said for years that portables were really not a good choice. BUT, when it's their choice, great. Those schools that have had portables for decades (Green Lake and Eckstein, for a couple of them) seem destined to never get away from them.
wseadawg said…
And pirate attacks on the Water Taxi, and live shelling by the Navy on Alki Beach...Horrible, horrible place!
WS said…
Gee whiz, thanks for the kind words. We are huge fans, in turn, of saveseattleschools.blogspot.com ... which we evangelize as nothing less than the best SPS coverage around, pro or am.

By the way, and this is no secret since we said this publicly while covering a Steve Sundquist coffee chat, plus we believe in transparency anyway, we were affected by the whole NSAP thing.
We are blocks from Sealth and the second redrawing put us into WSHS.

We have just received our letter admitting our incoming 9th grader to Sealth. Nothing personal against WSHS, but the proximity factor among other things is big. We will continue to do our best covering both schools (plus West Seattle's lone private high school, SLHS) - and thanks to all the very knowledgeable parents and educators who take the time to flag us to issues, and the research they've done ... We call our style of news coverage "community-collaborative" and it truly is, thanks to thousands of amazing people.

-Tracy (WSB editor)
Charlie Mas said…

A lot of West Seattle kids also go to Vashon.

Do many go to Kennedy in Burien?
WS said…
Anecdotally, I do know of more than a few who go to Kennedy. But some also go to O'Dea, and some to Evergreen in Highline ... our coverage mission is to cover what's within West Seattle borders, so that's why our focus is WSHS, CSIHS and SLHS.
wseadawg said…
Charlie: Of the three Catholic K-8's in WS, the bulk go to Kennedy, but a bunch also go to O'Dea, Holy Names, and Seattle Prep. Virtually none go to SPS as many left SPS during elementary years. Can you imagine why?

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