Co-Housing / Co-Locating

Seattle Public Schools is following an ass-backwards process in which they are starting with construction plans and will then follow with decisions about where to put programs. There are programs that need a home, such as north-end elementary APP, The NOVA Project, new language immersion programs and more. A rational process would start with the question "What students and programs do we need to house?" and then determine what they need to build and where they need to build it, the District has chosen to start by designing and locating buildings, opening buildings, expanding buildings, and closing buildings and then, later, they will try to assign programs to those buildings.
As they do this, they will be looking for a number of programs to either co-house or co-locate. Some quick nomenclature. Co-located programs are two completely separate programs which are both in one building. The way that NOVA and the S.B.O.C. now share the Meany building is an example of co-location. Each school is a completely separate entity, each with their own principals, staff, and rooms. They share some space, such as the library, but they have separate identities. Other examples include Denny/Sealth, and McDonald and SNAPP at Lincoln. Co-housed programs are two programs that not only share a building, but also share administration staff and sometimes teaching staff as well. Among these are APP and the general education programs at Garfield, Ingraham, Washington, Hamilton, and Thurgood Marshall, Spectrum programs all across the district, Montessori programs, language immersion programs at Concord and Beacon Hill, and even COHO/NOMS for those with long memories.

Questions will arise about the probabilities for success when programs co-locate or co-house. There are challenges, for sure, as the programs inevitably compete for resources and attention. We have examples of successful co-housing, unsuccessful co-housing, and co-location with various degrees of success. What makes co-housing work? What steps should be taken to promote success?

One key to success is that each program must be big enough to form a viable learning community. Programs need critical mass. We see this with Spectrum programs across the district. The elementary Spectrum programs with at least 90-100 students, with one self-contained class per grade at least in grades 3-5 (even if they have blended classrooms in grades 1 and 2), are generally perceived as authentic and effective while those that cannot assemble this critical mass are viewed with skepticism. Generally speaking, however, a program should have two classes per grade so the teachers have a grade level peer with whom they can collaborate and consult and so the students have a mix of classmates instead of the same classmates every year. This critical mass requirement of at least two classes per grade creates a problem. In an elementary school, with six grades, that's twelve classes per program. That would be 24 classes for two programs. If we assume an average class size of 25, that's an enrollment of 600. And that's without any self-contained special education or ELL programs in the building. We don't have many elementary schools that can hold over 600 students. Consequently, it doesn't appear that any elementary school can house two programs of critical mass. One of the programs will have to be half size. Is it fair to put a program into a building where it can never grow to a size that would allow it to reach critical mass?

This isn't a problem for middle schools or high schools. Two classes per grade at middle school is just 180 students per program. Our middle schools, which are commonly built to house up to 1,000 students, could host two or even three full-size programs and still have almost half of the building available for a general education program. High schools, with capacities over 1,500, could also host three full-size programs of 240 and still have more than half of the building available for general education.

Another key to success is that the administration and the staff of the building must actually support the programs. We have certainly seen what A.L.O. programs are like in the schools where the staff has no interest in the program. Worse, we have seen what happens to Spectrum programs in schools where the principal and teachers are openly hostile to the program.

Scarce resources create zero net-sum situations. There will be times when programs compete for a resource and only one of them can get it. If the same program always wins every competition, that can sour the relationship. Steps should be taken to reduce the competition and the outcomes should be equitable. Voice is one of the most critical resources. Does one program's families dominate the PTSA or the Building Leadership Team? Does one program's families provide most of the volunteers and donations? How are jealousies and resentments created? How can they be prevented? Some programs, such as special education programs or ELL programs are not only small, but they are also, for a variety of reasons, also hampered in their voice and advocacy. They sometimes need other people in the school advocate for them.

There are sometimes significant differences in the culture or socio-economic status of two groups. That's bad planning from the start - not because it guarantees problems but because it creates challenges and it works against shared identity. If schools that co-house programs are going to create healthy cultures, they will need to create a single identity and culture for the school that transcends the programs within it. We can all certainly think of times when this either happened or did not happen.

How many programs can a single school successfully manage? There's a kaleidoscope of programs at Hamilton; I don't think I could name them all. There are other schools with just one program.

If the District approached their enrollment planning by first thinking of what schools, students, and programs they needed to house and then designed the buildings, that would be one thing. Given the way they are doing it, however, there will be programs that will need to share space. How can we make that work?


He's right. In fact, Pegi McEvoy said this at the Eckstein BEX IV meeting. She said that capital programs builds/renovates the buildings and then C&I decides what goes in them. That is backwards.

(But we should keep in mind that we are not building any one building for any one program. Woe to the school that says this is "our" building. If the district wants it, they'll take it over.)

I think for something that is not a one-off program (like Special Ed and ELL that encompass many different needs), you could co-house with them. But, as Charlie points out, you have two programs that either want to grow or are likely to grow, then it becomes a question of who gets to grow?

And, when you are talking about putting one established program into another school, then it is a tug-of-war over resources, naming, etc. It certainly doesn't have to be a "war" but you could see how resentments could built.

Now in the perhaps new elementary at Wilson-Pacific, you might be able to co-house as two communities could be building an identity together. For example, if you moved half of APP North in there and had a gen ed program.

But then you have this issue of where does the rest of APP North go? Maybe to a rebuilt Rodgers (except that the district needs more space to take the strain off of Bryant or View Ridge).

Maybe Jane Addams (but I hear they have little room because they have become a Special Ed magnet).

Maybe Thorton Creek but gee, it seems like asking them to be a K-8 AND take on another program is a bit much. John Miner, the principal, is a smart, hard-working guy but he's not a miracle worker.

I want to do a separate thread on the World School at Meany because I see a new narrative is being written about them and it's not a good one.
Anonymous said…
Add to the list the Homeschool Resource Center, currently at Wilson Pacific, which serves around 200 students (and growing).

Seattle parent
Benjamin Leis said…
I know you mentioned this idea in one of your last posts and I was thinking about it yesterday. It seems to me to be silly not to talk with program planning during the capacity planning process but I don't think its the value should be overstated. The building are going to for the most part outlast any special programs installed in them and have to be reusable over time. Ideally you're trying to anticipate both where to put APP today, if we need to deal with an upsurge in population will this work and will this building be useful 50 years from now as well all at the same time.

Charlie Mas said…
Ben, I certainly understand your point. The buildings cannot be so specific to the programs that they are not useful for any programs they might house in the future.

When the District builds a K-8 on the same property as an existing K-5 school, doesn't that suggest that they will not both be attendance area schools? How smart is it to build two attendance area schools so close to one another? Never mind that Wing Luke and Van Asselt at AAA are just three blocks apart.

Also, given what I have just written about the minimum capacity of any building that would co-house two full-sized programs, shouldn't the District be building elementary schools with capacities of 600+ instead of 500?

Where did that magical 500 number come from?
Steve said…
I also wonder about the definition of the word "program" in the eyes of the district. When a single location (North End Elementary APP, at Lincoln) has 450 kids and will have more than 500 next year, is it still just a "program" or is it... (gasp!) a "school"? With NSAP, the argument could be made that a "school" is the educational site for kids within a specific boundary, but the geography seems like a somewhat arbitrary criteria when you consider what a school is.

Given how the district believes "programs" can be split and moved at will, it seems they have secondary status to "schools," even though most of them have the same components of a neighborhood school (and in the case of North End APP - which I think is the biggest "program" - as large a population). As has been discussed on this blog, kids in the APP program don't even exist at the school they attend in District planning calculations.

What is a "school," and what will it take to get the district to consider "programs" as the schools they are?
Anonymous said…
Wouldn't streamlining and whittling some of these programs down help?

How cost sustainable is it to offer language immersion in K-5 schools? Do you have language immersion continuing on in MS and HS? Or just language classes in MS and HS? Do we need to offer spectrum and ALO (in name or in action) in schools? Why can't we just make sure all schools provide the academic challenges that meet kid's individual needs? (Hello Ed Directors) Make sure kids will be on an assessment continuum and working in various small groups to keep them challenged, learning, and progressing. Why offer STEM in some ES or MS? District should improve and make sure there is a hearty curriculum behind these subjects and the LAs (yoohoo C & I) from K-12. Create teaching guidelines and standards so teachers are allowed to add depth to these courses and infuse their passion for writing, chemistry, geography, music, arts, etc. into these subject matters. Give teachers some reasonable flexibility.

Another word create a real educational accountability and management system so we don't need so many programs to draw, entice, balance population and achievement differences. Stop with the grade promotion and inflation. Stop with using ineffective texts and so many standardized testings.

That leaves programs like Special Ed, ELL, APP (with tighter entrance and a curriculum), IB/STEM/biotech in HS to manage. It also leaves option/alternative schools that are designed for long term sustainability (not just a designation to pretend to fix short term capacity/desirability issues).

-simplify (or is this going to PO too many folks?)
Charlie Mas said…
Steve, A "school" is a building. A "program" is a learning community (students, teachers, and administrators) in that building.

That's how we can have Van Asselt at AAA, Aki Kurose at Sharples, Lowell at Lincoln, Pathfinder at Cooper, The Option Program at Seward (TOPS), and STEM at Cleveland. Most programs are in schools with the same name as the program. You never hear folks talk about Montlake at Montlake or Stevens at Stevens. However, if there is a program in those buildings, such as a specific special education program, an advanced learning program, a Montessori program or an ELL program, you may hear about it. Such as the Montessori program at Leschi.

Does that help?
Charlie Mas said…

It is expensive and difficult to offer language immersion in K-5 schools, but that's also when it is most effective.

It does continue a bit at middle school (with more planned), but not at high school.

Your question "Do we need to offer spectrum and ALO (in name or in action) in schools? Why can't we just make sure all schools provide the academic challenges that meet kid's individual needs?" reflects a charming naivete.

It is immeasurably difficult for our schools to provide advanced students with academic challenge outside of schools which have a very high concentration of high performing students. It often doesn't happen even in them. It is, essentially, a non-starter. So, yes, we do need Spectrum and we do need ALOs, in fact, not just in name.

Another (charming) misunderstanding is the belief that the District regards it as their role to "make sure" that there is anything happening in our schools. The District refuses to accept a quality assurance role. I share your wish that the District would assume responsibility for educational accountability and management. I, too, wish they would stop with the grade promotion and inflation. I, too, wish they would stop with using ineffective texts and so many standardized testings.

Unfortunately, that would require a revolution in the District's perception of their role.
Anonymous said…
Charlie -- you make a good point about the need to be thoughtful about what programs to co-house, and that we need to consider capacity. But -- your conclusion that we can't co-house elementary programs in a building with less than 600 kids is counterfactual. Thurgood Marshall has successfully co-housed 3 distinct elementary communities -- gen Ed., autism, and APP. Their numbers are just above 450, with 2 new classrooms planned for next year. Elementary cohousing presents challenges but it can work. A north end APP school cohoused with another program could require 4 fewer classrooms than thurgood marshall (the TM autism program has 4 homerooms plus a therapy room). TM's 3 co-housed programs have 22 classrooms, 24 planned for next year. Remember that APP and spectrum both have zero kindergarten classrooms and could both start at 1 1st grade for a critical mass. Yes, if you are starting from a blank slate, it is a real challenge to plan for 3 communities, but 2 elementary programs can be co-housed. Also - consider growth. Since APP is growing so fast, splitting APP North in half will actually help control growth and capacity problems. If APP is split into 2 groups of 225 kids and paired with a slower growing program of comparable size, or paired with an option program that can be capped, the school's growth can be managed as well or better than one mega-APP site with rapid program growth. If you can find a building to house the APP North population of 550 an growing, that same building can be used to co-house 2 smaller programs of 225. TM APP has been at around that number (9-10 APP classrooms with controlled growth), and it has worked for them. I agree that we should consider the ideal delivery models for our programs and schools first, then look at whether there are buildings to meet those needs, or whether buildings need to be re-modeled or built to meet the district's needs. It seems disingenuous for the APP North folks to say that they can't split and co-house because there are no buildings available for them to co-house in, yet simultaneously ask for a huge new APP-only building at Wilson Pacific because there really isn't a building for a big north end stand alone APP program either. Capacity is a huge problem whatever the housing model, so let's evaluate the best model first, and see if we can develop a solution to deliver that model.
- South end APP parent
Walnut said…
I would be curious to see how the distract tracks the "success" of the Denny/Sealth co-location.
Because from a pure pragmatic POV that campus is a disaster.
Anonymous said…
"If APP is split into 2 groups of 225 kids and paired with a slower growing program of comparable size, or paired with an option program that can be capped, the school's growth can be managed as well or better than one mega-APP site with rapid program growth."

The problem is, what option program is going to welcome 225+ APP students into their school at their own expense? What option program wants to see its own enrollment capped? What happens when the choice is between letting in a younger sibling to the option program or allowing APP to grow?

What option progams exist in North Seattle right now that both have the room for and would welcome 225+ APP kids in 2013?

--worried for 2013
NESeattleMom said…
Lowell @ Lincoln now has its own budget and its own BLM(is that the acronym?) Last year L@L had only its own BLM, but not its own budget. The only things it will share with Lowell on Capitol Hill next year is the name Lowell, the librarian and the music teacher(s?), and a 5th grade field trip (possibly) To me, if it has its own budget, and completely separate principals, then they are separate. If Lowell on Capitol Hill is a school, and L@L is a program, it is confusing.
South End, you make a lot of assumptions.

"Since APP is growing so fast, splitting APP North in half will actually help control growth and capacity problems. If APP is split into 2 groups of 225 kids and paired with a slower growing program of comparable size, or paired with an option program that can be capped, the school's growth can be managed as well or better than one mega-APP site with rapid program growth. "

APP isn't necessarily "growing." They are either finding more kids who are eligible or those that have tested in (but went to a Spectrum program or stayed local) is more likely. There is a ceiling on how many kids would qualify.

And what option program would want to be capped? Why would it be a good idea to co-house with an option school that has its own program and then say, well, here's APP so you are capped at a certain number. Good luck with that co-housing.

You say:

It seems disingenuous for the APP North folks to say that they can't split and co-house because there are no buildings available for them to co-house in, yet simultaneously ask for a huge new APP-only building at Wilson Pacific because there really isn't a building for a big north end stand alone APP program either.

I don't think anyone has said there are no buildings to co-house; there is an issue of making the best possible outcome for both programs.

I have not heard from a single APP parent asking for a new stand-alone building. John Marshall was considered but it seems the district has other plans.

I would ask you to be careful with your words unless you can verify that you heard them directly from a Lowell at Lincoln parent.
Anonymous said…
NE Seattle Mom-

You are talking about the BLT - Building Leadership Team.

South APP - Any decision made about north elementary APP will affect TM. I have heard many times recently that TM is two to three years away from out-growing TM and something will need to change there, too. The district will look at what decisions were made in the north while making the decision about what to do with TM.

I am at L@L and no one is asking for a new building. We are asking to stay together for at least a few years until all the new teachers have some experience in the program. As I am sure you understand, many L@L families are hesitant about sharing buildings because we were just kicked out of a shared building. North APP families also don't want to be responsible for kicking another school out or capping a program. That isn't any more fair to an option program than it is to APP.

-L@L parent
Anonymous said…
Melissa you said there's a ceiling on how many kids would qualify for APP. Do you mean there is a certain number of spaces for APP and no more, or a theoretical number given that it is for students in the 98/99th percentile range in cognitive ability and the 95th percentile range or above in both reading and math achievement?

Charlie Mas said…
@South end APP parent,

Yes, Thurgood Marshall currently has three programs and they are currently co-housed - with surprising success. That is a testament to a talented administrator, Ms Breidenbach. She has shown a deft hand, a focus on culture, and an ability to retain staff.

TM's enrollment on October 3 was 451. They will soon have problems that come with success. The school has a capacity of 383 without portables. That number comes from the district and can be found on this document.

For some extraordinary reason, the District expects the enrollment at Thurgood Marshall to shrink. I don't think their expectations are right. Especially since the school is growing. It will have two portables next year and perhaps more every year after that. In other words, Thurgood Marshall is already over-crowded. Neither APP students nor attendance area students can be denied assignment there. A capacity conflict isn't just coming - it's here.

Thurgood Marshall appears to work now, but that's only because the attendance area program is so under-sized. I am told that Thurgood Marshall has only 7 homerooms for the attendance area program there. That means that five of the six grades have only one class for that grade. That does not allow the teacher a grade level peer for collaboration nor does it allow for any mixing of students. That's not a full-size program. It lacks the critical mass to be a viable learning community.

Two elementary programs can be co-housed, but only if one of them is under-sized and never grows.

As for growth, splitting APP will make it grow faster, not slower. Distance is a real factor is the decision to participate in APP. The closer the school is to home, the more likely families will choose to send their child there. With two locations, the designated APP site will be closer to families' homes and MORE will choose to participate, not less. APP growth will be faster with multiple locations, not slower.

The proposal to have two programs of 225 share a building (whatever the two programs may be), dooms each program to be undersized and to never have the critical mass necessary to be successful. Even with small classes such a program can never have more than nine classrooms. That means half of the grades has only one class and half of the grades have only two classes. That's barely enough peers for half and no peers for the other half. It dooms the programs to never be as effective as they can and should be. That is NOT the ideal delivery model for any program.

I tell you what, south-end APP parent, you tell the Thurgood Marshall APP community that their enrollment is capped at 225 and you tell the attendance area program that their enrollment is also capped at 225 and you tell us how cool they are with that. (Except, of course, that neither program's enrollment is capped at all).

Your example of a program that works is like the the guy falling from the twentieth floor reaching the fifth floor on the way down and claiming that everything is okay so far.
dj said…
Charlie, I will go you one further. The reason that Thurgood Marshall has not experienced what Lowell experienced so far is not just because the attendance area is small, but because even the students in the attendance area do not attend (if you look at enrollment in the general education program, most of it is from outside the attendance area for the school). In other words, right now, TM can control growth because the general education program is not popular with the neighborhood, so there is not a large or growing neighborhood group with both the entitlement and wish to attend. That could change. Even if if does not change, modest growth in the student population entitled to attend APP would push the building.

I think this is a good argument for the district planning longer-range for both north and south-end APP at this point. It may be best to have both in their own buildings, which may or may not require (in the future) a different geographic split.
I meant a theoretical number for a cut-off. Interesting, though, some districts have cut-offs for their programs like there is a cut-off for Spectrum. So the district could say no to expanding the APP program if they wanted to.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlie Mas said…
Thanks for the hint, dj.

Here is the data on Thurgood Marshall from the District's annual data summary. Go to page 152 of this report and you will see that there are only 49 attendance area students enrolled at Thurgood Marshall.

That is, by far, the lowest enrollment of attendance area students anywhere in the district. The next lowest is Northgate with 83.

Thurgood Marshall will only work as a co-housed school so long as the families in the Thurgood Marshall attendance area don't discover it.
Charlie Mas said…
My point, which seems to need repeating, is not that co-housing or co-locating doesn't work or can't work, but that it requires a big building for it to work well. If each program is allowed to be big enough to achieve the critical mass necessary for a viable learning community, it should have at least two classes per grade. This requires 24 homerooms, which translates into capacity for no fewer than 600 students.

There are programs that are smaller than that, but they suffer for it.

The exceptions are special education programs, ELL programs, and advanced learning programs, such as Spectrum or A.L.O.s, which can participate in the general education program's learning community. These programs do not have to be full-sized to be viable (although they do have other critical mass requirements).

It would be better if either:

a) The district built elementary schools big enough to house two full-sized programs or

b) The district did not try to co-house full-sized elementary programs.

I'm not saying that co-housing doesn't work or can't work at the elementary level. I'm saying that it needs more space than the District provides for it to work well.
Anonymous said…

Melissa, previously you posted your email address so that somebody could send you something, but I did not write it down.

In your capacity as members of the Advanced Learning Programs Task Force, I would like to cc you and Charlie some parent feedback on the topic of this important co-housing thread, a letter recently sent to Thompson, McEvoy, Vaughan, Capacity Management, etc., that was not written for blog posting here. Strangely, the SPS link to the ALPTF includes no email address for any such AL parent feedback, so could either you or Charlie post an email address I could use to send you a copy?

Thanks so much to both of you for all your excellent work for our kids,

ALPTF parent feedback?
Charlie Mas said…
@ALPTF parent feedback?,

There is a link on the home page of the blog. It is on the right side, just below the list of contributors.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Charlie!

ALPTF parent feedback?
Anonymous said…
Administrator : why the deletion of the 8:45 comment on 4/13/12?
- curious
Charlie Mas said…
curious, for the only reason that comments are ever deleted: it was unsigned.
Anonymous said…
@Melissa (4-12, 12:20 PM)

They SHOULD rebuild John Rogers (and make it larger), but not to shove in 1/2 of north APP. There has been a lot of family-oriented housing development in the Lake City area, and development of 14 acres along Lake City Way is in the planning stages (potentially including new housing). See:

Even with some pretty dramatic shrinking of the John Rogers attendance area, with chunks going to Olympic Hills, View Ridge and Wedgwood, Rogers is budgeted to add a kindergarten classroom next year (this year John Rogers was held to 2 kindergartens, but they quickly grew to 30 kids each). The building simply cannot handle 3classrooms per grade level. It was built for only two, and the facilities can not handle the addition of a portable "village."

(oh, and please note that there is no "d" in Rogers- thanks!).


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