Boundaries Work Session

I'll try to hit the major points I heard along with quotes (and color commentary).

Just upfront, it was discouraging.  It's now 2013 and so many questions - Special Ed, Advanced Learning, K-8s and others - lack clarity and definition.  What was troubling is the number of "exceptions" to current policies that are out there.  

There was also the issue of the so-called Program Placement Framework?  Where is this and should this be guiding the decisions made?

As well, the presentation used excerpted quotes from various policies - Board or Superintendent or WAC - to justify their work.  But it seemed somewhat random.

Growth Boundaries link.  To find it on your own, go to the district website.  Look for "enrollment" under the Schools tab.  Halfway down the menu on the right side is the Planning for the future: Growth Boundaries. 

This was gone through rather quickly with few questions.

Special Education
Also gone through quickly but the issue is the vagueness of what was in the presentation.  "Design not finalized" and "implementation subject to collective bargaining" make it hard to know what is coming.  

Advanced Learning
It was interesting to hear the discussion around Advanced Learning, mainly because it mostly made no sense.  There was a little discussion around why some families, even if they suspect their child may need more rigor, don't test or, they do but then don't access APP or Spectrum, especially in the south end.

Here's a thought - ask.  Just as SPS has no idea why people leave Seattle Schools, again, ask. 

DeBell pointed out that any talk about splitting APP could be "contentious."

Martin-Morris asked if there was an assumption of self-contained classes in the model and Michael Tolley said yes but they were discussing the model and "anticipated the Taskforce looking at this?" 

This "taskforce" comment - along with several others noting this group - prompted me to stop and e-mail the Board and Mr. Tolley and Ms. Heath to explain that there was NO taskforce. The "taskforce"  had not finished our work from last year, were asked to stay on this year but NO one contacted us - not once - the entire year.  Oh, and not one word of thanks - from anyone in the district - for our months of work. 

Director Carr said she had spoken to families at Lincoln and they were "okay" with the notion of splitting the middle school program as long as it was large enough (250-300) to have a cohort.  She said - with a straight face - that they fear it will become like Spectrum and vary in quality.   Several of the directors concurred with this idea of Spectrum quality and its unevenness from what they had heard from their regions. 

Director Carr then followed up - and bless her for it - and said that:
1) there should be a specific set of standards that schools should work to
2) she is puzzled how the oversight of APP seems good but that "Spectrum seems to run itself."  She said she sees two programs, one with high quality and one of mixed quality.

Dead silence met her statements.  

Ms. Heath was asked about what was happening at Whitman and made it sound like the changes there in Spectrum was minor.  No one mentioned how the changes came AFTER open enrollment and is quite different from the way it has been delivered before.

Option Schools
Tracy Libros of Enrollment said there may need to be more option schools because of the unevenness of the distribution of them in the district. 

Director DeBell brought up one of his favorite questions - what is the district's thinking about the role of K-8s
Ms. Libros explained that with the three attendance K-8s, the attendance area part is only for K-5 and that students can choose to stay on or go to the middle school in the region. 
DeBell pressed on, asking if if Wilson-Pacific opens (adding middle school capacity), couldn't all K-8s become option schools?
Libros said she didn't think that would work numerically and, as well, because of where they are located.

There was then a discussion around Pinehurst K-8 with DeBell pressing the issue.  He asked about a minimum size in order to provide the necessary services (and the costs).  Mr. Tolley tried to shrug this off saying they needed to think about it.  DeBell said that they had kicked this discussion down the road a lot.  I don't think he was happy with this lack of clarity and understanding around K-8s.

International Education
Again, an area of much confusion.  To note upfront, Ms Heath is new and I think may be struggling to wrap her head around what is here within SPS.  This is also a place for leadership to step up and provide that clarity because if the heads of departments don't know what it all means, how will parents?

The issue that Charlie and I both noted was that Ms Heath did not provide an especially clear explanation of foreign language immersion versus dual-language versus international schools.  One point that we believe most parents might not know was brought up by Director Carr.  Carr asked if you can  have international education without immersion.  Heath said yes.  But then, Heath said that all the students at the international schools are part of the program.  That is not the understanding that we have heard before.

Libros explained that if a student is assigned to a foreign language immersion school (because it is their attendance area school), but don't want the program, they can leave but then move to the alternative attendance school.   However, this is only true for JSIS and McDonald because their programs are aligned but Concord and Beacon Hill have different populations (and, Concord is so geographically isolated that it will remain an attendance area school).

This led to an interesting discussion - started by Director Carr, quite on her game - about whether JSIS and McDonald might need to go to just one language.  She suggested feedback from families especially around keeping Japanese versus some Chinese dialect.
Libros said on the operational side that you get attrition at the upper grades with not enough "heritage" speakers.  DeBell weighed in with some historical context, saying that when JSIS was Escuela Latona, it didn't do well. President Smith-Blum pointed out that other regions of the district might have more native speakers which supports this program well (both for the students and the program). 

Again, as I have stated in the past, the district gets an idea and runs with it without looking down the road and saying, what happens in year 5, 10, 15 and does not consistently take a pulse of what is working and what isn't.  I fear - for the sake of the McDonald community - that they will likely experience more upheaval than they deserve.  They are the ones, in this particular case, who are going to feel the brunt of some poor or less-than-well-thought-out programming decisions.

This area was confusing as well as we were told that there are some STEM programs that are school-based (like JA) but others that are district-based (like Boren).  Okay but what does that mean?

West Seattle
There was some discussion over portables at Schmitz Park and Smith-Blum asked about eco-portables if the district is going to continue bringing in more of them.  Director McLaren also asked about the planning principal for Fairmount Park. 

This was a short discussion but it lead Charlie and I to wonder how this is different from language immersion.  Smith-Blum wistfully ventured that maybe by 2020, there could be a couple of these in the NW or SW/SE. 

They zipped through the last slides of the presentation and one stood out to me.  The Cedar Park notation says "attendance area elementary school pending funding (after use as an interim site)."

This is NOT good.  To spend close to $10M to reopen a building that hasn't been used in decades just as an interim with NO real plan or commitment to it being a real school is wrong.   Just wrong.  They need to look around and say if we are going to need an interim building that MAY become an attendance area school which is the better one - Cedar Park or Lake City?  The answer is clearly Lake City. $10M is a lot of money considering all the capital needs we have.

In an ironic wrap-up, President Smith-Blum thanked the staff for their work but then asked where the program placement framework was. 


Anonymous said…
Is there no talk at all about where the other north end Middle School APP programs would be?
Hamilton and....?
I do think that where APP lands would factor into parents decisions about where they send their kids.
Anonymous said…
With elementary schools as crowded as they are now, how is a proposal that includes additional self-contained elementary APP sites doable?

CapacityCapacity said…
Still not sure why they are talking about changing existing APP, option schools, and international learning at all.

The problem they are trying to solve is capacity. That can only be solved by opening new schools. The district staff should be focused on opening new schools and what programs (like STEM and Spectrum) might attract people to those new schools.

District staff shouldn't be spending time trying to mess up or move existing programs, especially existing schools and programs that are doing just fine where they are and being left alone where they are.

Sometimes I really wonder about Seattle Public Schools. As if we didn't have enough problems trying to educate kids using scraps of funding, we have these administrators messing up anything that is working and creating new problems for all of us.
Anonymous said…
So much and so little going on all at once.

1. Boundaries: looking at the current boundaries (

There is little change to the Hamilton boundaries. I though Hamilton was overcrowded. Moving APP out (or reducing the size of the cohort there) won't change enrollment much. Eckstein will get big relief.

2. Elementary schools are part of middle school clusters,so the middle school boundaries imply change to elementary baoundaries. Little talk of that yet. The Wilson-Pacific / Whitman boundary line seems to run down the middle of both the Broadview-Thompson and Viewlands enrollment areas, and it looks like a fair bit of redrawing in the NE.

3. APP - the cohort was just split! Another split is damaging to the program. If APP is moved from Hamilton, as it seems it needs to be, let it move together into it's own middle school. Wilson-Pacific seems ideal. Isn't the "plan" (a term SPS uses very loosely) for this cohort to go to Ingrahm?

Anonymous said…
APP north is going to a 3 middle school plan in two years,and APP south to 2, that is certain.
Elementary APP schools are not yet indicated in number but one could assume one to feed each middle school.
Maybe Immersion will be started at other schools to siphon off non SAP kids from JSIS.
Will APP come to a HS in each middle school zone as well?
Will option programs like Immersion be available more widely and be programs within schools?

Anonymous said…
One other question. How the heck do you put an APP elementary program in a school? Do you put it in Whittier with one of the few self-contained and waitlisted Spectrum programs, or Lawton which had a brewhaha over self contained and now does...well, something positive but not really sure what, or Adams,Loyal Heigts? Who is going to be happy to see APP show up at their school? Even parents with qualified kids who stayed put or returning families, ouch, this could be awkward.

Tami said…
“Carr asked if you can have international education without immersion. Heath said yes. But then, Heath said that all the students at the international schools are part of the program. That is not the understanding that we have heard before.”

At JSIS in 2000, when there was just K and 1st grade as dual immersion classes – the rest of the school had an international education plan. Hamilton had a great International Education Coordinator – Sue Raney. The district might not have supported it, might not have marketed or advertised it well, but it did exist. My understanding from Karen Kodama is that the same international perspective is supposed to be used in teaching at all international schools. However, it my experience, SPS can name a middle school or high school “International,” but it can’t make the school embrace it. 13 years on I wouldn’t say that all of the HIMS staff love the concept.

“Libros said on the operational side that you get attrition at the upper grades with not enough heritage speakers.”

I would argue that the attrition in the higher grades is not due to the loss of heritage speakers (in my kids’ 10 years at JSIS, the number of heritage speakers was less than 20% per class), but due to the fact that the immersion/international program is so weak at the middle school and high school level that it is not criteria that families use to choose a school. In the north, HIMS offers 1 language immersion class per grade in Spanish and Japanese. There are so many other programs, APP, Spectrum, Orchestra, etc. that it’s difficult to insure that a student gets the schedule s/he wants. Next year, Ingraham will be an International School, but I haven’t heard that the language program will be doing anything different for the immersion students – which means that there is no reason for the international/immersion program to use that as criteria for choice.
Anonymous said…
Tami is right. There really isn't an immersion program at middle school--it's just a single class. If you happen to have a conflict with another class you want more, you're out of luck. Until there are enough elementary immersion programs feeding into the MS, the problem will persist. The current JSIS Spanish 4th grade class, for instance, has fewer than 20 students, and MacDonald does not yet have a 4th grade Spanish class. If this cohort loses a kid next year, then a few others peel off the following year to attend other middle schools, there won't many left to fill up a class at HIMS when they get there, even if the schedules all worked out perfectly (which they often don't). You need a critical mass of kids in the pipeline to really make the immersion pathway work.

mirmac1 said…
I think this is Shauna Heath making it up as she goes along again. Here is the information presented last spring on international education at a work session. My beef at the time is, based on the Venn Diagram on pg 3 of the Presentation, why aren't ALL schools "international schools". Another thing that was a laugher was the incredibly small data set (n = 27) they used to "prove" that learning math in Mandarin improve student growth. Finally, as is well-known among special education families, the numbers for JSIS reflect the fact that it is essentially a SpEd-free zone; no programs of any meaningful value are present to serve students with disabilities.

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