Option Schools and Larger Class Sizes

I hadn't intended to write about this yet as I am still waiting for some answers from the district but here's what is being said at the Soup for Teachers Facebook page:
If you are at one of the option schools listed below -- you will have LARGER class room sizes in 2017/2018.

Option schools are being enrolled at 26 students for kindergarten - 3rd grade while attendance area schools are being enrolled at LOWER class sizes (22). (HCC is a “pathway” school, and while erroneously listed on the option school website, it will have the lower class ratio.)

The district is doing this because:

--two option schools (Pathfinder and language immersion) asked for larger K cohorts to mitigate attrition at the upper grades;

--More parents are asking for option school placements than there are spots;

While some option schools have asked for flexibility, the MAJORITY of option schools do not want increased class room size.
Increasing classrooms at K is a 6-year commitment.

To mitigate the increase in size the district is offering additional funds for 2017/2018 and “funding” option schools at the 22:1 ratio.

For Thornton Creek this means we’d get an additional 1.0 FTE, .5 PCP and a .5 certificated staff. There is no guarantee that this funding will continue in future years.

And more importantly, while we appreciate that the district is looking for creative ways to increase capacity, our teachers and staff are emphatic that the lower class sizes are critical for student success.
Not all option schools will want the lower class sizes and will appreciate the increased funding.

Please make it clear if you are representing your child or school. If you are at an option school that wants increased class size and appreciates the extra funding – I know the district staff would love to hear from you too!

What we’d like to see is a policy where option schools are enrolled like attendance area schools but if option schools want a waiver for higher class sizes, that can be granted. This is the only equitable option for students and teachers.

Please let your communities know through your school email lists and Facebook pages. It's important to be heard asap -- before student assignments are determined. The staff to email are: jdberge@seattleschools.org; aedavies@seattleschools.org; mftolley@seattleschools.org; superintendent@seattleschools.org; schoolboard@seattleschools.org

Louisa Boren STEM K-8 School
Cedar Park Elementary
Licton Springs K-8 School (formerly Pinehurst)
F.A. McDonald International Elementary School
Orca K-8 School
Pathfinder K-8 School
Queen Anne Elementary School
Salmon Bay K-8 School
John Stanford International Elementary School at Latona
Thornton Creek Elementary School
Hazel Wolf K-8 School
 end of Facebook notice

I had heard from some parents and I note that the speakers list for tomorrow night's Board meeting includes several speakers on this topic.  (Other speaker topics include ethnic studies, rebuilding Rainier Beach High, funding IB and the budget.)

It is not clear to me exactly why this is happening or what sort of notification that parents received.  I think Director Geary referenced it somewhat in last night's Board work session on the budget, saying that some schools took the money but chose to use it for other things then class size reduction.

Does anyone have direct knowledge/comment from their school leadership or Executive Director?


Anonymous said…
This statement is not correct!!

"Option schools are being enrolled at 26 students for kindergarten - 3rd grade while attendance area schools are being enrolled at LOWER class sizes (22)."

Attendance areas schools are not enrolling at 22:1. They may be funded at 22:1 but there is NOTHING stopping them from going well-above 22 (and they do). The Ks in our building all have 26/27 students in them. The option school 6 blocks away has 18/19 kids in each K. Wait-lists dissolved before school started and because of no-shows, the option school classes never filled. I think if an option school is in a neighborhood with overcrowded schools, they should be over-crowded, too, Otherwise, only the kids lucky enough to win the "option" get small class sizes. It's inequitable. I wish those fighting this change, would please stop saying neighborhood schools are enrolling at 22:1. It is not true.

Anonymous said…
It is vital that the language immersion schools be able to have larger K and 1st grade classes. These schools cannot take in new students after 1st grade unless they pass a language test. Due to normal attrition, the upper grades often shrink, and so the schools are not sustainable without larger K and 1st grade classes. My 4th grader had 27 in her K class, and it was not a problem.

Anonymous said…

There's an easy solution to that all schools can agree on. Don't close the waitlist so early!

Many option schools would happily backfill any extra seats if they exist, but the district isn't letting them after the waitlist close, so the seats stay empty. It is completely artificially problem made by the districts waitlist dissolving policy.

Even if there wasn't a waitlist, August is a great time for the district to advertise to overcrowded schools again one more time if there's any room nearby, neighborhood or option; this would also help with the disparity in overcrowded and under crowded neighborhood schools, by offering that as an incentive to switch and smooth out the enrollment.

- Solvable
Anonymous said…

The statement you are objecting to is talking about the plan for 2017-2018, not what is happening now. I realize the actual numbers may end up higher but this is the PLAN for staffing. I agree with "Solvable" - that having wait lists dissolve later - possibly only option school wait lists - would help mitigate this problem. That way Option Schools can start the year at the same level of students per class as neighborhood schools.

Option Parent
Crunch, there are neighborhood schools who are underenrolled and don't want to be. It's a bit crazy all around.
Anonymous said…
Option Parent- The 22:1 plan for next year is identical to the 22:1 funding plan for this past school year. The budgets have been written, and there is no additional staffing coming our way despite the fact that every class is well-over this number. This "plan" has no teeth. It's a funding goal they have no intention or capability of making happen at non title 1 schools. There are not enough classrooms to make it happen at our school.

I agree that the wait-list dissolving before school starting is a huge part of the problem. I think a wait-list at an option school should never dissolve, especially if priority is given to kids who are at schools with extreme over-crowding.

I remember reading a lot of angry posts from parents upset when staffing changed Oct 1st, because of wait-lists moves that happened in Sept. The wait-list date was changed because parents demanded stability from day one, instead of Oct 1st. It was great in theory, but it's causing under-enrollment at option schools, and additional over-crowding at some neighborhood schools. The district is trying to create blanket wait-list and class size rules that apply to all schools (with differing needs), and it's not working. Different numbers and wait-list rules for each option school sounds like a huge headache for enrollment, so I don't know what the solution is.

Melissa, I agree the whole thing is craziness. The district seems to be ignoring the empty schools who are begging for bigger boundaries, while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on portables at bursting schools blocks away. Not sure if it's incompetence, or if the board is afraid of making the loud voices angry, but somebody needs to start balancing numbers at our schools in a way that makes sense. Nobody likes a boundary change, but sometimes that's what needs to be done.


kellie said…
I think every school is missing the gift that was Tracy Libros. Many people have no idea who she was or what she did. However, Tracy was masterful at managing enrollment and ensuring that everything was in place for the start of school. When she retired, a number of senior people in the department also retired or moved elsewhere.

As such, there just isn't the institutional memory of how to delicately manage all of the wait lists and the domino effects that moving one list, can have on multiple schools. As the district as a whole has been running well over 100% capacity for years now, these intricate moves were critical to ensure a balance across the district.

The current enrollment team would vastly prefer (for good reasons) to simply eliminate wait lists and remove some of the choice elements. The limited choice system is tricky and management intensive.

That said, our limited choice system is vital to capacity management and is an extraordinary way to get families to volunteer to move out of over-crowded schools into other schools. It was a HUGE but understandable mistake on the part of enrollment to dissolve the wait lists before school starts.

Dissolving the wait lists, makes things easier for enrollment but has 100s of little unintended consequences at the school level and one of these consequences, is this uneven enrollment at option schools.

All schools have a challenge with their show rate. There are simply students who show up the first day of school and were never enrolled and students who are enrolled who never show. Without wait lists, the neighborhood school are required to absorb the new folks, and option schools are unable to add anyone to backfill the no-shows.

Lynn said…
According to this month's personnel report, tomorrow is Joe Wolf's last day with SPS. I'll miss his willingness to engage and answer questions here.
Anonymous said…
Even without the waitlist problem, funding option schools at the same staffing ratio means option schools have smaller class sizes than neighborhood schools. They stop allowing kids in when they reach the target class size, and other schools keep adding kids until they get to 27 more to add a whole new teacher, meaning all class sizes are above target with "remainder" kids. If we actually want it to be equitable, option schools have to have higher class size targets. 26 and 28 sounds about right, honestly. I wonder if parents in option schools are just not aware of class sizes in schools around them. Maybe they think we've all had the small class sizes they have. I wish!

NE Parent
Anonymous said…
I've always enjoyed Joe W's pictures of SPS buildings in progress. Joe, if you are reading this, we wish you the best in your next endeavor.

appreciative parent
Anonymous said…
I have a hard time reading messages from option school parents playing the equity card.

Can o-worms
Anonymous said…
Having a hard time following what the Downtown People now say they will do. No doubt school staff and parents are confused. But here's what our option school understood and NO. The budgeting was NOT ok. If anyone has an update to see if the following has been fixed, please update the blog.

Downtown People said it would stay with initial enrollment larger class sizes (pre-McCleary limits) for option schools because as has been pointed out, as families move for whatever reason the option school class sizes get lower, Enrollment does a bad (very bad) job of letting families know they can join the schools in older grades (except I guess in the language immersion schools) and the option school class sizes end up underenrolled in older grades. They DON'T WANT to be underenrolled in older grades. But until Enrollment steps up to the job of letting families know they have the RIGHT to go to their neighborhood school but their CHOICE to go to an Option school with openings, Option schools will struggle with underenrollment in the older grades. It is not PARENTS job to fill those spots no matter what Enrollment says. It is ENROLLMENT'S job to communicate with families. I so feel sorry for Madrona and Licton Springs and all the other schools who have not maintained enrollment because of THE DOWNTOWN PEOPLE not the school communities.

So what is wrong with smaller class sizes, which everyone wants? Because underenrollment comes with a diminishment of funds. Schools lose staff. Schools deal with split classes. Etc. So, option schools told downtown. Sure, give us larger class sizes. That helps avoid losing staff. And what did downtown do? Gave them larger class sizes WITHOUT staff to support the larger class sizes. In neighborhood schools, the larger class sizes, since McCleary, have come with additional teacher support. Like a .2 or .5 or etc. teacher for mitigation. When extra kids arrive unexpectedly the neighborhood schools get extra staff unexpectedly. What the Downtown People wanted to do was build in higher class sizes for Option Schools with NO extra staff. Bait and Switch. Possibly even illegal under McCleary? Either because enrollment and budgeting colluded, or because they don't know their right hand from their left.

Not in any way OK, and at least some of the veteran staff at Option Schools seem to have caught the ploy and called attention to it.

Feeling Outraged
Anonymous said…
What is the net effect of the proposed changes to the "Provision of Instructional Materials" policy? It seems to only reference Board adopted materials, but many classes and courses do not use board adopted materials. Have you looked at the adoption dates of high school science texts, for example? And what adopted materials exist for LA K-8, or high school, for that matter? What about IB and AP classes? Are texts for AP/IB classes considered supplemental, so not covered by the district, but by schools?

I was very surprised when my child's class was asked to purchase all of their LA novels for the year. Even at Half Price Books, that cost adds up. Some classes just don't have texts - teachers post links to documents that students print out at their own expense. I'm not sure how this will change with the policy revisions.

Anonymous said…
To add on, imagine trying to discuss a novel when students are reading from 4 or 5 different printed versions of a text. Page numbers don't match, so students literally can't be on the same page.

Anonymous said…
No, feeling outraged, neighborhood schools do not typically get part of a teacher for extra kids. Sometimes for excessive splits they can request an extra teacher(and be approved or denied), but option schools get that too, and nobody's getting that this year. But when 10 extra kids show up we just get...10 more kids. If it tips us over the next "line" on the wss ratio we get more staff, but we are never exactly on it like option schools, so we always have larger class sizes than option schools.

I am sure this sounds shocking and ridiculous if you are at a school that can control enrollment. It is! As bad as your deal may sound, it is better than what neighborhood schools are dealing with right now.

NE Parent
Anonymous said…
NE Parent: I believe your description was true before McCleary class size restrictions took place but not since. Now student overage past McCleary limits comes with new staff resources. Maybe not a full teacher, but at least a percentage of a teacher. That's what "staffing at 22 students" means. More resources.

If your school chooses not to deploy the resource toward ameliorating the extra students, that is on the school leadership.

I, too, saw what SPS tried to do to the Option Schools, which SPS administration makes no secret of disliking because they do not fit into neat little funding boxes. I wondered if the Option schools were going to push back and it looks as though word got out.

Anonymous said…
Speaking of option schools, what is happening with Cedar Park? Are they going to survive this craziness?

Fix AL
Just compare this thread with the other one Melissa started on last night's work session, where five of the seven board members concluded it was more important to keep the Executive Directors and other non-essential staff at the Central Office employed rather than find the money to solve this or other ongoing problems.

One could say that these class sizes are going up in order to let the Executive Directors keep their jobs.
Anonymous said…
I don't understand why managing the wait lists is so hard. The district has everyone's choices, and people are already given wait list positions. With all the tech expertise in this city, you mean to tell me there's nobody who can write a computer program that will facilitate the shuffling so more people can get one of their top choices? It can't be

rocket science

Anonymous said…
Is there any data from the District about how many kids there are in each grade at each school?
It would be nice to see actual data on this across the district.

Anonymous said…
EdVoter. We are a non option school. We got staff at the beginning of the year to get us down to 22. Once the year started and we got more kids, we did not get any more staff. What makes you think schools get more staff after the school year has already begun? As a neighborhood school we just have to keep taking whoever shows up with no additional staffing.
Lynn said…

That data is available in the P223 forms.

Anonymous said…
The P223s give the number of kids per grade, but not necessarily the class sizes, since schools with a lot of kids and not enough space have to have split-grade classrooms in order to cram them in.

Class sizes at neighborhood schools can grow all year long, as new kids move into the attendance area. Also, schools in immigrant neighborhoods experience class size increases throughout the year due to kids who were initially assigned to a bilingual orientation center before being reassigned to their neighborhood school.

-North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
Note that Option Schools WILL and DO take students mid year, especially at the upper grades. If a student is struggling at their neighborhood school, they can ask for a transfer to an option school. Sometimes they also take "new-to town" students as well. It's a myth that Option Schools close their doors on the first day of school no matter what and no one can get in.

You have to have some sort of cap on Option Schools, given their all city draw nature. Their geography for being "forced" to accept new students is just too big to NOT have a cap. Whereas neighborhood schools have a much smaller geography so numbers are on their side.

To that end, though, I like the idea of a floating cap on enrollment at Option Schools based on class sizes at the neighborhood schools in a reference area, if neighborhood schools get too high, Option school can rise and take the next few new students that come in.

I also like the idea of having the Option School wait list stay open a week or two longer than neighborhood schools. If class sizes are out of balance at the Option vs. Neighborhood schools, they can move the wait lists to rebalance a bit.

Option Parent
Anonymous said…
Service schools take students mid-year. I've personally never heard of anyone getting into an option school who didn't apply during the enrollment period the year before, but maybe there are exceptional cases?

-North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
I think option schools should have a sliding cap based on the needed relief from surrounding schools and I think they are an opportunity to create diversity by having target percentages by race, gender and SES. I'm sure this is illegal or not PC, but I think it's a great opportunity. Geozones should be much bigger, too. Have you seen how tight the geozone is for Hazelwolf?

Social Engineering

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