Underenrolled Schools Taking It On the Chin: Why?

News about underenrolled schools in several regions of the district (plus one update at the end of the thread on high schools).
From the Madrona K-8 PTA:
Dear Superintendent Nyland-

We at Madrona K-8 have been struggling with enrollment issues for years. Enrollment is currently at 250 for next year. Our capacity is somewhere in the 500s. With the loss of our middle school we will have at least five empty classrooms.

We recently invited Dr. Blanford to a PTSA meeting to discuss enrollment issues. He listened and offered to talk to Enrollment Planning to get the District's perspective. We then invited Ashley Davies and Faauu Manu from Enrollment Planning to a PTSA meeting to talk about what we can to do work together to improve enrollment and build the school to full capacity.

At our meeting, Ms. Davies and Ms. Manu assured us that the District is doing all it can do and the burden is on the PTSA and the school to market itself to parents and attract them to the school. In both meetings, with Dr. Blanford and Ms. Davies and Ms. Manu, parents raised the issue of school boundaries and the fact that the boundaries do not contain enough students to fill our school. No one had an answer to that.

A few days ago we discovered that Leschi Elementary will be over capacity next year and the District will spend $100k to build a portable classroom. This strikes me and many Madrona parents as incredibly fiscally irresponsible and illogical. Madrona is about ten blocks away with five classrooms sitting empty.

But this is not just about a waste of money or a poor use of space. Madrona's under-enrollment causes hardships for our students. The money follows the students. With budget cuts we are losing a teacher, half of our academic interventionists, half of our Health Team, a PCP teacher, and a full-time nurse. The PTSA is taking on the school's supply budget so money can be redirected to saving staff. We risk losing the great progress we have made in the last few years, largely because we do not have the students to bring in District dollars.

We are asking the District to help our school.  It does not make sense to build a portable classroom at Leschi while we have empty classrooms and a strapped budget.
Equalize the load and send some students from Leschi to Madrona.

Thank you.
According to the PTA, the school/PTA was indeed told to market the school themselves and that Enrollment had done all it could.  Additionally, apparently the district seems to think it is hearing too much from these parents on this issue - I'm thinking staff means that they answered their questions so why do they keep asking?  That's never a good sign when staff wants parents to go away..

Madrona was suffering low middle school enrollment for quite awhile so it's hard to understand why the boundaries there weren't redrawn during the last boundary redraws.  It seems folly to have an overenrolled school next to an underenrolled one and pay for a portable for the former.

Madrona K-8 PTA members will be trying to testify at this week's Board meeting (agenda).  The agenda seems light so there's every chance they will get their opportunity.

Backstory on possible issues for Madrona K-8 from this 2007 Seattle Times story.

Apparently over in West Seattle (Alki, Genesee Hill and Lafayette) there seems to be a similar situation.  Here's the letter sent to Superintendent Nyland:
Dear Seattle Board of Directors:

We appreciate the work you are doing to figure out a plan to best accommodate Genesee Hill’s projected 150 kindergartners. We at Alki and Lafayette would like to ask that you include us in these discussions and bring together the West Seattle community to come up with the best solution for our area’s schools. We understand that capacity is a concern and moving one piece of the puzzle affects other pieces elsewhere.

At Alki, we have been experiencing the impact of enrollment projections being off, policy and boundary changes for the last few years now. Here’s a brief recap of what happened at Alki last year:

- During the 2015-2016 school year Alki was enrolled at 411

- During the summer of 2016 Alki was held by SPS at 389 even though Alki had a K waitlist of 9 students

- The waitlist didn’t move over the summer

- Appeals from our Principal to move the waitlist were denied, even when supported by Genesee Hill’s Principal

- At least 4 of the Ks on our waitlist were younger siblings, who were caught in boundary changes (3 Ks were younger sibs caught in other policy changes)

- Before the waitlist was dissolved, the K’s went to their newly assigned geo zone school and took their older siblings, increasing Genesee Hill’s over enrollment

- Alki ended up with: K/1 split, 1/2 split, 4/5 split

- Alki started school in fall of 2016 with 382 students
- Mitigation funding had to be used for split reduction which caused a 3rd straight year of issues for our bubble year;
bubble year = cohort of 89 Ks who in 2014-2015 were shuffled from 3 to 4 classes when 60 were predicted, then in 2015 - 2016 were scheduled to lose a teacher in 1st grade but PTA funded it, then in 2016-2017 some of the same kids started 2nd in a 1/2 split, then shuffled to a new teacher – this would have been avoided if we had been allowed to admit our 9 waitlisted Kindergarteners over the summer.

Conclusion: We believe there needs to be more flexibility for local principals to work together around capacity and waitlist issues. Dissolving the waitlist before start of school is a luxury we don’t have in a capacity constrained environment. Mitigation funds were made necessary because the flexibility of voluntary moves was eliminated.

Suggestion: Create a two-tier deadline to dissolve waitlists. Dissolve the waitlist for option schools before start of school. Dissolve the waitlist for neighborhood schools after start of school, allowing more flexibility and voluntary moves.

As I am sure you have already experienced, West Seattle community is very engaged and we are here to help find solutions to these complicated problems. If there is more information we can provide, please let us know.
I am also hearing this may be an issue at Stevens Elementary as well.

Susan Chua We have the same problem at Stevens, and some of our families are getting notices that they have to go to Lowell, though they've been at Stevens and don't use District transportation. Parents were asking Dr. Nyland last night why families who have kids at Stevens can't stay and can't bring their younger kids when we are underenrolled. We're slated to lose 3 teachers between underenrollment and the levy cliff issue. Unless enrollment changes, we're likely to get only 1 back.
Also, this piece to the high school capacity management puzzle from the Soup for Teachers Facebook page:

Bonnie Manley Heidal The high school boundary task force will be looking at Cleveland.

At least two major changes on capacity availability within our buildings are; 

1) increased enrollment growth and 
2) the addition of two high schools becoming available in the future (Lincoln in 2019). 

To that end, the report will include an examination of:

a. Creation of new boundaries for Lincoln High School (directly impacting Ballard, Ingraham, Roosevelt, and Nathan Hale) by Fall of 2017.
b. Exploration of boundary revisions for Garfield, Franklin, Rainier Beach.
c. Exploration of Cleveland continuing as an option high school or changed to an attendance area school, which would then need new boundaries.
d. Exploration and creation of possible phase in timeline for boundaries of 12th comprehensive high school downtown


Anonymous said…
RE: "Creation of new boundaries for Lincoln High School (directly impacting Ballard, Ingraham, Roosevelt, and Nathan Hale) by Fall of 2017," I believe this means the task force will be working on this and will release their recommendations on boundary changes in fall 2017, and NOT that the boundary changes will take place then, or even that they'll be finalized then. Fall 2017 seems to be when the public discussion can start.

Reading correctly?
kellie said…
If that is the mission statement for the high school capacity task force, they are already in trouble.

1) There should be NO consideration for the potential 12th high school. The theoretical memorial stadium high school requires approval from the voters. This theoretical high school, presuming it would be levy approved, will be on line will around 2025, at the earliest. As we have already seen, planning boundaries more than three years in the future creates more problems than it solves.

Not to mention, that the need for 12th school is predicated on Lincoln being successfully and fully enrolled.

2) Restricting the boundary shifts to only North end schools is silly at best. Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield are all directly adjacent to Lincoln and some of the Garfield boundary is a natural fit for Lincoln.

The wait list issue mentioned is real and dissolving wait lists before school opens hurts all schools.

Anonymous said…
Anyone missing Tracy Libros? Or the flexibility of clusters?
Anonymous said…
Also, the district enrollment department has floated a proposal that Option Schools take higher # of students in the k-2 classrooms than neighborhood schools. Option schools at 26 with neighborhood schools at 21 or 22. the option schools get FTE relief of some sort if they do this.

not sure of anything else but supposedly this will be voted on this week by the SPS board?

QA Parent
QA Parent, the Board meeting agenda doesn't reflect anything about Option schools nor do I see this on the C&I ctm meeting today.
Anonymous said…
What were clusters and how did they work?

Anonymous said…
It just came up on the soup for teachers FB page this weekend. April 1st posting. I haven't been able to find it on any agendas either, but do know that Option Schools are being contacted by Enrollment about it.

QA Parent
Anonymous said…
@QA parent--this was approved and announced to Principals last December. The lack of community engagement is sad. Makes you wonder if those principals actually want the bigger class sizes and flexibility and staff support....

Hmmmm...ya think?

Makes Uwonder
Anonymous said…
Clusters were groups of 4-5 neighborhood schools. There was no guarantee of placement in your neighborhood school, but you were guaranteed placement in a school in your "cluster." If you enrolled during open enrollment, you might get into your preferred neighborhood school of choice, but you also listed (in order) your other school preferences. There were distance and sibling tiebreakers to get into a given school and they had caps on enrollment. The talk each year was about the radius for enrollment at the more desirable schools - was it 1 mile, 1.5 miles? Families shared info on how best to list your choices. All in all, it was a stressful process for families, but provided the district with flexibility for capacity management. If you were new to the district and missed open enrollment, or if you were not within that concentric 1 mile radius of a school, you were SOL. The remaining spaces were at the least desirable schools in the cluster.

not nostalgic

(but miss TL)
Anonymous said…
On, no thanks. That sounds like the option schools in north seattle. Great if you're really close by or know how to operate within the SPS system.

Anonymous said…
The option school class size is a complicated issue, and one that should have a lot of public discussion and communication, not just rubber stamped through in either direction. In addition to attrition issues, the way we enroll right now means that option schools typically have smaller class sizes, especially in the upper grades, than neighborhood schools. When option schools reach 27 students per 4th grade class, they stop enrolling students. Not so for neighborhood schools, which end up with oversized classes and/or unplanned splits.

I don't really know what to do about this, but it is definitely not true that giving neighborhood schools and option schools the same base staffing ratio as neighborhood schools will end up with both having the same size classes. Option school class sizes will be smaller, and option schools already tend to be wealthier than the surrounding schools, so it's hard to say we need to funnel extra resources there. I'd be interested to hear what other people think, and wish we had longer to discuss this.

Anonymous said…
isn't the challenge with NOT capping enrollment at some level for Option Schools is that, as an "all city" draw, where would you draw the line? Students could just keep enrolling all year long. 40 kids, 50 kids per class until people self-select out? Neighborhood schools have to take new students but only from within a defined reference area, not from everywhere.

I do like the idea of some sort of increase on the Option class sizes so they are equitable with the neighboring schools. And have the option waitlists stay around a little longer than neighborhood schools is a good idea to ensure all seats are really filled.

Option Parent
Anonymous said…
Is there a list of schools with portables (or other indicators or probably overcrowding)? With this data, enrollment data and a review of boundaries, it should be pretty easy to determine if there are systemic situations in which SPS has added portables instead of extending boundaries to under-enrolled schools. Perhaps there is capacity - it's just not being used, and instead, SPS is packing more kids into portables. In my view, when a school is "full" (at capacity without portables) and there is a neighboring school that is under-enrolled, you put the kids there.

The thought that it is the PTSA responsibility to "market" the school and attract more people is ridiculous when issues like boundary lines and funding are largely out of the control of parents.

Church Lady said…
A lot of schools (option and geozone) have trouble retaining students year after year. In general Seattle parents find a lot of the schools insufficient. There is a lot of educational neglect and occasionally negligence going on in our schools. Particularly for any kids who are not cookie-cutter average. Kids who need diagnoses for learning disabilities or need more challenge in the form of advanced learning or both are just tossed to the roadside in our schools. There is a reason 30% of Seattle parents are paying for private school. And there's another big chunk of families who would jump ship if they could afford private school or figure out how to get their kid admitted.

Why can't the schools retain children? What are the families looking for that they're not getting? I'll give you a hint: most of us absolutely do not want some kind of whites only country club with a Stepford wife PTA and a bunch of golfer dads. We just want some challenge for our kids. The curriculum is too dumbed down and too slow. Pick up the pace and the schools will stop hemorrhaging students. Or allow the kids that need a faster pace to pick up the pace.

Stop rationing our children's educations!
Anonymous said…
We live simply, shop at thrift stores, and drive used cars in order to provide for our children and make education a priority, yet we are given the message that the self sacrifice is nothing more than "privilege." My child is a voracious reader and craves more challenge, but is given the message that a hunger to learn is something to be ashamed of rather than celebrated. The teacher told the class it was pretentious to use big words! I'm with the commenter above - we just want some challenge for our kids.

tired parent
A teacher told the class it was "pretentious to use big words?" Unbelievable.
Seattle Ranter said…
A lot of schools are anti-intellectual in a weird way, since well, you know, they're schools. Of course parents aren't keeping their kids enrolled there. If you can get your kid into another public school that will let kids access even slightly more challenging school work and ask them to put in just a modicum of effort, what parent wouldn't go through the trouble of figuring out the SPS hoop-jumping system:

1) tour all the public schools you can (really! touring schools used to be something just families interested in private school did. public school families just sent their kids to the assigned school and they were educated there. Seattle families can no longer take this for granted. now we all have to get off our impecunious asses and tour everything. Did you tour the option schools you have a conceivable chance of getting your child into? Rumor has it they might allow one year of math acceleration if you beg. Did you tour the 3 or 4 closest geozone schools? Were you horrified at how much they varied? So not equal, Seattle! Wow. Way to let down parents who aren't rich, Seattle.)
2) find out when open enrollment is (psych! it's only a week or two long! And, psych, it's in Febru-fricking-ary! Now it's not just rich people who have to arrange next fall's schooling for their children in February, it's also parents who don't want their kids to end up at the worst of the 3 or 4 surrounding geozone schools)
3) find out if any of the schools ever admit any kids from outside the geozone (live two blocks from a great school geozone? psych! you may still be screwed, because even if that school is your go-to Spectrum school you forgot to play the advanced learning lottery AND it's overenrolled and even siblings can't always get in each year. So even though there's a functioning, educating, adequate school very, very close to you, your child doesn't deserve to go there because you live 2 blocks from the geobarrier between rich children who deserve educating and poor children, like your own, who will get the Little Orphan Annie poor workhouse version of a school where people have very low expectations for your child and how fast they can learn stuff. Seriously, kiss recess goodbye because at the poorhouse school your address qualifies you for, your child will not have time for recess. They will have to devote every possible minute to learning and relearning and re-reteaching and reviewing the same fundamental basics ad nauseam until some educational bureaucrat determines their chances of passing a standardized test to be sufficient. The kids two blocks over will be making art and having a garden educator. Your child will be in the poor house waiting for the slowest kids to learn their addition tables. And it could take a while. Because the slowest kids have trauma to work through. And malnourishment. And loud people doing drugs at their house until 3 in the morning. And dyscalculia that no one will ever detect because educators don't actually believe anyone will notice if children in the poorhouse schools get MTSSed into a ditch along the education roadside.)

part 1
Seattle Ranter said…
Part 2

4) think about playing the advanced learning roulette game. (psych! needed to decide that by October 8 and then you and your potentially qualifying child needed to do an Esther Williams swim-a-thon maze of hurdle jumping to make it into some category that might qualify your kid for some math they don't already know if the stars all align. But even if you and your child, synchronized, make all the hurdles, the Spectrum school might be overenrolled. Also they got rid of Spectrum anyway, ha ha! And your child may or may not do well in their cattle car casting call of academic potential testing (the group weekend middle-school CogAT-arama). And you may walk away scratching your head because even though your child will ultimately turn out to be profoundly gifted with an IQ of 170 when you test them 10 years later (because you're still having trouble finding a school program that will work for them), you will erroneously take SPS's advanced learning score at face value and mistakenly assume that your child isn't that bright after all. Whoopsies!

When you point out that the kids who live two blocks over are getting access to math to learn that they don't already know AND library books to read that look fun (even pop-up books! and books about science! and books written since the millennium!), you will be blamed for the "privilege" the kids who live two blocks away have. People will bash you for not being content with the Little Orphan Annie workhouse that denies children the right to be children and assumes they are cogs to be whipped into shape for work in some kind of industrial revolution factory. The jobs of the future are all in coding and healthcare and designing factory machines. The kids two blocks over may or may not get those jobs. The 28% of Seattle kids in private school will have their pick of them. Because they already get to learn coding. Also in surrounding school districts. Mercer Island? Coding.

Seattle, if you live two blocks this way or that way it shouldn't make so much difference. But it does. And that is why people are pouring out of some of the schools. And not pouring out of others. Stop training the city's children for nonexistent factory jobs. Train them to work at Microsoft and Google. Train them to be electricians and plumbers and solar panel installers and landscape architects and nurses and dentists and doctors and financial consultants. Train them for the jobs of the future, not the past. Give up on the workhouse mentality. Embrace IB. Prepare them to go to college
Anonymous said…
District has told option schools that they will have larger class sizes than the neighborhood schools for next year, even for option schools that don't have attrition. We should be lowering the class size for all students. At the least, let's keep things equitable.

This is in response to some language immersion schools wanting larger class sizes in the lower grades so they can handle the attrition that comes with some older students leaving because it didn't work out as well as expected. The option schools that have attrition issues should have dialogues with the district but the district shouldn't compromise the students at other option schools with larger class sizes than the neighborhood schools.

Option Watcher
Anonymous said…
Which option schools have class sizes larger than neighborhood schools? Not the high poverty distinction? Where I live 4th and 5th grade is 30-31 students at neighborhood schools, and our nearby option school has more like 27 and 21. I know the district keeps a lid on this information, but I think smaller class sizes at option schools is an unintended consequence of the NSAP, when before everybody could cap enrollment. Now neighborhood schools cannot, and since kids don't come in convenient packages of 22 or 27, class sizes can balloon. Teachers are paid a pittance more for the overage, but students just get larger class sizes.

Ghost Geozones said…
Some of the neighborhood schools have remarkably small classes. The schools that people don't want to go to. They start out with full kindergarten cohorts and then as the parents realize the education is super watered down, they pull their kids out as fast as they can find a better option. The neighborhood schools are NOT all full. Only some of them. Some of them are like ghost towns.

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