West Seattle school-closure fight: “Save Cooper … Again”

December 5, 2008 at 11:56 pm | In Pigeon Point, West Seattle news, West Seattle school closure, West Seattle schools | 41 Comments

That’s one of the slogans half-jokingly suggested toward the end of a small but spirited meeting at Cooper Elementary School tonight in Pigeon Point (map) – its first group meeting since Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson announced at Wednesday night’s School Board meeting that her staff — as requested by board members last week — was looking into possibly moving Pathfinder K-8 to Cooper instead of to Arbor Heights Elementary. The “Save Cooper … Again” refers to previous proposals to close or change the Cooper program, and some of tonight’s participants were veterans of those battles — read on for our report on the talking points Cooper is rushing to prepare as a late entry into the school-closure battle:

That’s J.J. Ball, who led tonight’s meeting in Cooper’s room 107. No cafeteria-packing crowd like Arbor Heights — but the meeting was called on short notice, with some participants suspecting much of the Cooper school community had no idea the school was suddenly facing another survival fight. Ball described herself self-effacingly as a rabblerouser, but it was clear others in the room knew how to rouse rabble too – before the 2-hour-plus meeting broke into small informal clusters of conversation, there had been tears, anger, and even a threat of legal action.

One thing that seemed clear – they were grappling for a way to find out how the process would work, what they were supposed to do, what meetings they needed to attend (starting with Saturday morning’s “community workshop” at the Filipino Community Center, in the same format as the one we covered Thursday night at district HQ).

Unlike Arbor Heights, which has not faced a closure threat before, Cooper is experiencing deja vu, though only a few in the room tonight alluded to experience with the previous closure proposals. The one Cooper fought off most recently (here’s a 2006 letter from then-superintendent Raj Manhas) involved Pathfinder, as is the case now. And it’s that school of which Ball spoke toward the meeting’s start: “I don’t know if the district put them into the position that they did, but no school has the right to push out another school. Even if they are alternative, that doesn’t mean they are better. So the idea that because Pathfinder needs another building, some other school has to sacrifice themselves, to make makes no sense at all. Same for Arbor Heights, as here, or Roxhill, or any place that might be suggested as the place they might go instead.”

However, as the meeting went on, some in the room seemed to settle on the idea that if Pathfinder had to go somewhere, West Seattle Elementary — which was High Point Elementary until it was “merged” with the program from Fairmount Park Elementary after that school’s building was closed last year — might be better. That didn’t emerge immediately, though; one attendee said, “I noticed that some schools brought up to be closed last time weren’t brought up this time … but I don’t want to name those buildings, because it’s like saying, take them, not us … but it seems like (the district’s) criteria is all over the place.”

After a period of voicing concerns and disbelief – they started to focus on specific points. “Busing is one of the things that Cooper has going against us, so I think we need an argument dealing with transportation,” one offered.

That refers to the fact that while Arbor Heights is pointing out to the district that more than half its students are from its “reference area” — the nearby neighborhoods — the percentage for Cooper is lower, 29%. But as they started to examine some of the district numbers, Cooper parents and staffers offered the thought tonight that many Pathfinder students come from the West Seattle Elementary area in High Point, so putting Pathfinder in that area might reduce the need for busing.

“43 students from the Cooper reference area go to Pathfinder,” noted one attendee.

Another voice: “I don’t want to promote the issue of Pathfinder moving in and pushing out some other school, but within six blocks of West Seattle Elementary, there’s EC Hughes, a vacant building that the district owns.” (Hughes was most recently interim home to South Lake High School until the end of last school year.)

Some discussion of that ensued. (Side note: In the online history posted on Pathfinder’s website, a 2006 tour of Hughes is described, including reasons why it’s not considered adequate for Pathfinder.)

It’s mentioned that Pathfinder also rejected a move into Boren, the former junior-high school that is currently housing Chief Sealth. One attendee says, “Pathfinder has openly rejected every other building except this one and High Point; what’s the common thread? (Those buildings) are both 11 years old.”

“We waited at Boren, how long? to get this school,” another says. “We waited so long to get this school, we deserve this school.” (Referring again to the online history of Pathfinder, it actually was co-located with Cooper, at Boren, in its second year, 1993.)

A parent breaks into tears as she says, “It irritates me that they keep trying to take this school. I really like this school. This is the first year my son got to go to this school.” Turns out, she attended Cooper during its years at Boren.

“This is about the haves and the have-nots,” flatly states someone at the back of the room, an assertion which comes up again a few times later. During the meeting, it also is suggested that the burden of school closures and threatened closures is falling more heavily on schools with a larger percentage of students of color, and economically challenged students.

Ball reminds the group that “this time, the district didn’t (originally) choose to push out us, or Roxhill, or High Point (West Seattle Elementary) … they were going after Arbor Heights, which I think, in the South Cluster, has the lowest percentage of free-lunch (low-income) kids. They were picking on the more affluent schools, not the lower-income or minority schools.”

“But they’re picking on us NOW,” comes the interjection. “That’s the point.”

Returning to talking points in favor of saving Cooper, Ball notes it has two “special” programs for which it’s known – the Earth Project (find out more here) and its autism-inclusion program (later described as “our best-kept secret right now,” with a mention of a $10,000 grant recently received for a “buddy program to pair general-education students” with autism-program students). Others point out that Cooper’s test scores are higher than other schools with comparable demographics. And its technology program is mentioned later.

But the talk quickly veers back into why Cooper would be in the crosshairs again, and what could be done: “They want this particular school,” insists one woman, who adds she’s already started speaking with lawyers “about what we can do to push back.”

Having covered several other meetings on the issue in recent days, we hear similar themes from the Cooper community members, as from the Arbor Heights community members: “I don’t think they have provided enough legitimate reasons why this school (would/should) close.”

Then, back to the talking points. Many believe that Cooper is unfairly singled out for circumstances over which it has no control – a low percentage of neighborhood kids because there aren’t enough kids in the neighborhood, perhaps — “the reference area was drawn to include Harbor Island and the golf course,” says one person incredulously; a low percentage of families making Cooper their “first choice” at enrollment time because the school has been threatened with closures or mergers repeatedly in recent years: “Four years in a row, they tried to move us out.”

And Cooper just isn’t well-known, yet another attendee offers. “If I had a penny for every time I hear, ‘Cooper? Where’s THAT?’ … they don’t know where we are. There’s nothing on Delridge that gives you any indication there’s anything up here. Nobody comes up this hill unless you’re going to Cooper or going to home.”

“Enrollment could increase if the word was out there in the community,” is one suggestion, quickly followed with a claim that the district had once promised to market Cooper, but never did.

“Despite that,” says one, “we HAVE grown.”

Another voice cautions that they don’t want to spend all their time complaining when they address the School Board or other decisionmakers. And it’s acknowledged that the school does have room for more students: “We have five classrooms that aren’t used. If you’re the district, you have to look at that.”

“We came close to having another class full this year,” it’s pointed out.

“But people were being sent here because other West Seattle schools were full, not because this was their first choice,” came the retort.

“There are kindergarteners here who were on waiting lists for other schools. Let’s ask them now, are you happy you’re here?”

Back to crafting an action plan — “So what are we going to do now?” is the question.

They start talking about who will attend tomorrow morning’s district hearing, and tomorrow afternoon’s gathering with School Board rep Steve Sundquist (both in the WSB Events calendar). “Two opportunities to make noise,” as Ball puts it.

Noise about the talking points they are just now starting to gather: “Why aren’t they looking at the possibility of filling the school with Pathfinder students instead of telling us we have to leave?” is one question. Someone else brings up one of the proposals from a previous school-closure round: “They wanted to combine the two schools before, and neither of us had any interest.”

“I think it’s a good idea, myself,” counters a man across the room. “Our teachers do a great job of teaching solid, basic skills. They (Pathfinder) do a great job of experiential education. If you do the basics K-2 and then go experiential, you have a very solid school.”

“From previous experience,” is the retort, “Pathfinder wants a new building, bottom line.”

“Well, and we can tell them they’re going to have a fight, trying to get ours.”

“If our kids are dispersed, the most likely schools are West Seattle and Roxhill, where scores are half of what ours are – so if the district is interested in academics, then our school should remain and receive new students instead of going to a program that is worse academically.”

The talking points gel; next, trying to figure out how to rustle up enough bodies for a show of force at key meetings. “I remember going down with our signs and our T-shirts last time,” is one memory. “We have support … I know our bilingual parents will support us … they don’t have to speak, they just have to be there.”

They talk about plotting strategy concurrent with another parents’ meeting that already is planned for next Thursday, while kids who accompany parents to the school watch the movie “Kung Fu Panda.”

That leads to the joke, “Kung Fu Cooper!”

The last major group topic of the meeting is how to get the “Save Cooper School” — “Save Cooper Again,” one person half-jokes — message out; websites and flyers are discussed. Much praise is murmured for Arbor Heights’ tightly organized “Save Arbor Heights” campaign, which had its own website even before district staff officially announced the recommendations 10 nights ago — “I think we can learn a lot from what Arbor Heights has done for the past few weeks,” is one comment. “(We need to) just get out there and say something. We’re people, not a building.”

And as the meeting ebbed to an end, that seemed to echo a statement from its beginning: “We are a school, a community, and we have as much right as any other to continue to exist.”

After tomorrow’s meetings, there are three meetings of West Seattle note coming up on Tuesday: At 4 pm, the school board begins a “work session” at district headquarters, to review community comments from the two “workshops,” to look at new data, and possibly to start evaluating “possible final recommendations,” according to the superintendent’s suggested agenda for the event. Then at 6 pm, there is a district-organized meeting at Arbor Heights for the latest on the closure proposals; at 6:45 that night, Pathfinder plans its own meeting, one week before the formal 12/16 district public hearing in its building. All are on the WSB Events calendar.

41 Comments

  1. I was amazed at how little parent participation there was at this meeting. It seemed like it was almost all staff who spoke other than JJ, the leader. I couldn’t tell if that was because the parent population couldn’t understand (the need for translators was mentioned) or if it represented a lack of parental support for the school and that the “Save Cooper” campaign is really just school staff trying to save their jobs. In any case, it was a stark contrast to the Arbor Heights campaign which seems to be very parent driven with wide-spread community support.

    Comment by EJohnson — 7:31 am December 6, 2008 #

  2. As a very involved neighbor in the Pigeon Point community you need to take into account the lives that these COOPER parents lead. Look at the diveristy differences between the two schools. Once you do a little research you will all too quickly relaize that you are comparing apples to oranges EJohnson.

    Comment by Pete — 9:07 am December 6, 2008 #

  3. So is it accurate to say that the more diverse school is going to get the short end of the stick because of its diversity?

    Comment by Jennie — 9:20 am December 6, 2008 #

  4. I hate to see any school close. I’m an Arbor Heights parent and would hate to see either Arbor heights OR Cooper close down for Pathfinder.

    Comment by Bonnie — 9:37 am December 6, 2008 #

  5. My point being that a lot of the parents at Cooper are not as able to attend meetings and protest the way that other schools parents might be able. You have a greater number of parents at Cooper that fall into these categories – - homeless, don’t speak English, are working multiple part time jobs to just put food on the table than at almost any other school in the Seattle School District. You also have a school that has one of the hgihest rates of free (or reduced price) meals in the city. Also, remember that the good folks at Cooper are a bit behind the eight ball in coparison to Arbor Heights for example. The Arbor Heights folks have known for some period of time that their school was on the list, but Cooper was not on that list and has come into the picture much later. The meeting last night was hastily called and was on a Friday night with little notice to the Cooper families or the Pigeon Point and greater WEst Seattle community.Trust me when I tell you that the teachers, staff and the Cooper community are doing great things with few resources and is always a step behind. There are some of us in the community that do beleive they get the short end of the stick at times due to the cultural, ethnic and econimic status of the population that attends this school. BUT all of our children deserve to be treated equally.

    Comment by Pete — 10:17 am December 6, 2008 #

  6. Well said, Pete.

    You won’t see an Arbor Heights type movement to save Cooper, because we are not Arbor Heights. But Cooper families are committed to keeping their kids in a stable, supportive environment, not displacing them and sacrificing the home we’ve built. Last night’s meeting was a bit chaotic and yes, staff had a lot of input. Teachers have an much invested in our children as parents do- to suggest they are simply trying to “save their jobs” is pretty disrespectful.

    We have more meetings planned for next week as we figure out what there is to be done to save our school family. Cooper might not have tshirts and signs and banners, but we have a lot of heart, we have an amazing facility with an incredible staff, and we will not be dismantled without a fight.

    Comment by brittany — 11:21 am December 6, 2008 #

  7. School closures are the worst thing the district can do. They disrupt students lives for VERY LITTLE FINANCIAL GAIN (if any). They fracture the city’s neighborhoods, pitting one school against another. Parents act out of fear as the education of our children is a very primal concern. This is scary stuff. Educational programs are not improved by closures necesarily. Smaller, neighborhood schools, with smaller class sizes are more expensive but they are the correct model. If we could rally together and get the state to fulfill its obligations we would not need to endure this torture every two years. The cycle will only repeat itself…we’ll see 20% loss of students through closures as they move outside the district. This will add to the empty seats and we’ll end up back at the same spot. Where does it end…When we have one mega elementary school in the south and one in the north? We need to slow down the process and rethink everything behind it. The data that was used, the criteria for closures and test scoring, etc… Also the assignment plan needs to be re-worked first and foremost. This was brought up repeatedly at the Filipino Center meeting. Some from our school, Arbor Heights were very vocal in speaking to that point. Lets work together not against each other. –A Proud West Seattle Homeowner and Arbor Heights Parent

    Comment by Cryptical — 1:05 pm December 6, 2008 #

  8. I would really like to have a gathering of folks from all the West Seattle schools to try to solve this issue. Let’s work together for the best solution for everyone, not splinter into the PF/AH team against those OTHER West Seattle schools.

    Comment by ProudLion — 2:40 pm December 6, 2008 #

  9. There is a meeting coming up that might fit that bill. I found out about it from saveseattleschools.blogspot.com – look for the one at West Seattle Elementary:
    http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/2008/12/working-together-thinking-ahead-update.html

    Comment by WSB — 2:46 pm December 6, 2008 #

  10. Ok, this whole school closures thing really confuses the heck out of me. We have a 2 year-old and live in Cooper’s boundaries. So what would happen then if Cooper closes? Will she just go to Pathfinder instead? Just moved from California so we are unfamiliar with the districts situation, but does the district just too poor to build a new school for Pathfinder? I guess it has to do with the fast growth rate of Cali but new schools were built all the time. Love West Seattle by the way =)

    Comment by BB_10 — 3:21 pm December 6, 2008 #

  11. BB_10, right now Seattle has a choice system, so you can choose your top 3 selections for where you want your child to go to school. There is a complex assignment process – it is not a given that you will automatically go to the school closest to where you live. This plan is being reviewed as we speak and while there are no details yet, it sounds like the District may be moving towards less choice.

    It is not impossible but pretty close to it to get funds allocated for building or renovating buildings. This issue is compounded by the fact that there is excess capacity in some parts of the city so they can’t really justify building new facilities when they have half-empty buildings around.

    Comment by add — 4:52 pm December 6, 2008 #

  12. The district does not want to build a new school for Pathfinder because it would cost ~$75 million. If Cooper closes, the general assumption would be that its reference area would be assigned to one or more North West-Seattle Schools. You could still chose any school in the District (although that might change in the future). Pathfinder K-8, because it is an alternative school, is an option to all, but no child is assigned to Pathfinder. However, the idea to move Pathfinder is not even a proposal yet – just something the District is investigating, so there are no certainties at this point. Indeed, the proposal that is currently on the table is to leave Cooper as-is.

    Comment by Eric B — 5:41 pm December 6, 2008 #

  13. I am sorry if people took my comment the wrong way. I even suggested that the problem could be the differences in population. However, given that their parent population can’t/won’t speak, how can we tell if Cooper is being defended by staff simply not wanting to lose their current jobs or if Cooper is really a great school serving families who dont have a voice? I agree that comparing them to AH, is unfair. However, given the response by the community to the closure plan, it is clear to me that AH has strong community support. That is not clear from Cooper’s response (or for that matter any of the responses above). I will be honest, I don’t know the Cooper school – but given that in the last 5 fewer than 20 families chose it as a first choice, if great things are going on in the school, very few people other than the staff are willing to talk about it.
    As for those that say “don’t close any schools,” I agree wholeheartedly. I also believe that the state should fully fund education, and that all children should receive a fantastic education. I also recognize reality, and that is that open, expensive, half-full schools are expensive and therefore drain finite resources from other students.

    Comment by EJohnson — 10:38 pm December 6, 2008 #

  14. Regarding the comment, “I don’t know if the district put them into the position that they did, but no school has the right to push out another school. Even if they are alternative, that doesn’t mean they are better.”

    Yes, the district DID put Pathfinder in this position. NO ONE from Pathfinder asked for or has “tried to get” Cooper, or any other school. Not staff, not parents, no one. If you read the notes from the meeting on 11/25 when the recommendations were first presented, it was Board Members Steve Sundquist & Peter Maier who brought up the question of Cooper as a possibility, which came as a surprise given the history. That, plus other groups suggesting that Cooper should be looked at, led to the staff actively considering it.

    Let’s please refrain from innuendo and assumptions about others’ actions and motives.

    Comment by add — 11:07 pm December 6, 2008 #

  15. And then on 12/3, the superintendent’s presentation attributed that to board members:
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/08-09agendas/120308agenda/superintendentpresentation.pdf
    On page 20 of that briefing presentation, under the heading “questions/concerns from November 25 meeting,” this is exactly what it says:
    >>Questions about locating Pathfinder at Arbor Heights or at Cooper
    ○ Response: At the work session on November 25 the School Board indicated that the option of altering the Student Assignment Plan to permit the location of Pathfinder at Cooper should be evaluated. Staff are evaluating this option.< <
    It is described as a "potential option for final recommendations" in a shorter document described as a summary of that presentation, which you can find at:
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/December3_Summary.pdf

    Comment by WSB — 11:28 pm December 6, 2008 #

  16. Steve Sundquist, the West Seattle school board rep, is a Pathfinder parent, or a former Pathfinder parent. What makes Pathfinder so special? — that fact. Shouldn’t basic education stay alive and the alternatives be cut in hard times?

    Comment by saddenedaboutallofthis — 10:40 am December 7, 2008 #

  17. Basic education should not only stay alive, it should be strengthened to make all schools excellent. But for children whose needs aren’t met in traditional programs, alternatives are needed. “Alternative” doesn’t mean “fancy’ or “extra.” It means offering an alternative to kids who need different learning and social/emotional options.

    Comment by WS mom — 12:37 pm December 7, 2008 #

  18. Re: saddenedaboutallofthis – since this seems to be a point in need of clarifying, according to various online discussions I’ve monitored, off our site as well as on:
    Steve Sundquist listed his daughters’ educational paths in his first response to questions beneath this P-I blog entry during his campaign last year:
    http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/chalkboard/archives/124363.asp
    He wrote that both attended Pathfinder for K-5 (as detailed in the PF online history at:
    http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/pathfinder/pathfinder_k8_school.htm
    it was a K-5 until the district mandated in 1999 that it expand to K-8 )
    His oldest daughter graduated from Chief Sealth last June, as shown in our coverage of the graduation ceremony:
    http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=8293
    Also a data point, school closure/change proposals involving Pathfinder have been on the table for almost four years (early 2005). Sundquist took office in early 2008.
    The various proposals that have involved Pathfinder during those four years are detailed on that same school history page linked above, as well as explanations of why that school’s community opposed some of those proposals, so it’s interesting reading if you haven’t seen it yet. For longer reading of what’s been said about various proposals during these processes, the transcriptions of hearings in the 2006 school-closure processes are all available from the school district website. I’m finally going to put up a post with those links at some point later today/tonight.

    Comment by WSB — 1:03 pm December 7, 2008 #

  19. I am so disappointed to read that the Cooper attendees at the above meeting want to turn this district mandated school move into a fight with Pathfinder. They are showing their ignorance and immaturity.

    I am a Pathfinder parent, and I have to say that I don’t hear any parents or staff saying they want to “take” someone else’s school. The process 2 years ago was horrible. None of us want to go through that emotional wringer again.

    Pathfinder’s building is in horrible shape! The kids are too hot or too cold most of the year — picture kindergartners in their snow coats in the winter mornings, then stripping down to tank tops with the door open in the afternoon. We can’t drink out of the sinks in all the classrooms, or out of all the water fountains because of the contamination from old pipes! THAT is why we need a newer building.

    I believe that the expeditionary learning model gives children a way of seeing the world as a connected whole — I want my children to have the opportunity to learn their basics in this inclusive, caring, bigger-picture environment.

    If a school is going to preserve its program then its leaders need to be demonstrating the values they are teaching. Drop the accusatory tone! We all want what is best for THE children — my children, yours, and those strangers that will be running the country some day. And we have to work with less money than before. It stinks. It is broken and we have to fix it.

    Comment by toniw — 1:45 pm December 7, 2008 #

  20. toniw I don’t recall every saying Cooper’s fight is with Pathfinder. I find your statement that we are “ignorant and immature” as totally uncalled for. I have never heard anyone say that Pathfinder doesn’t need a different building. It’s just the idea that your students need for a building should destroy another set of students chance for a good education and continuing the great work that is being done there that is being questioned. It’s not the Pathfinder community that is seen as the source of that idea.

    I am very thankful that there has not be much of an accusatory tone from anyone, except for the fact that there just isn’t enough time in the District’s schedule to do an equitable job. And perhaps the District hasn’t done enough other things to close the budget gap before putting us all through this. Even without the current budget panic the community of West Seattle supports the need for Pathfinder to move to another building – just not our.

    Comment by ProudLion — 3:14 pm December 7, 2008 #

  21. Keep in mind, for SW and West Seattle, this didn’t have to happen. When the district presented its BEX list a couple of years ago, they claimed that it represented the schools in the worst condition and/or most safety issues. (I campaigned against the list – not the BEX itself – because I didn’t believe their claims.)

    Now we see that the district fudged that truth because they now say that the Mann Building (housing Nova High School ) and Genesee Hill building (housing Pathfinder) are two of the worst buildings (and have worse scores than many of the buildings on the BEX list).

    One of the schools getting a remodel is the New School. Now the district wants to close African-American Academy and move an elementary into it.

    What they really should have done is close AAA, move New School into it (they are just over a 1 mile apart) and taken that BEX money for New School and built a new building for Pathfinder.

    There is one more idea out there being floated which is to put Pathfinder into the closed Denny building. While the Denny facility isn’t in great shape it’s better than what Pathfinder is in now, it’s a middle school and there could be a lot of shared busing with Denny and Sealth.

    Comment by westello — 3:40 pm December 7, 2008 #

  22. There are Cooper parents speaking out. But, it has taken longer to get the word out to the Cooper population. Many of them do not speak fluent english. There are far fewer with computers at home. There aren’t many parents who stay at home or pick-up/drop off their children at the school, many work 2 or more jobs to support their family.

    Saturday afternoon there were a number of Cooper parents (and Arbor Heights parents) meeting with Steve Sundquist, many more than parents from Pathfinder.

    One recent immigrant talked about the support his daughter got from Cooper teachers and staff. How his daughter was reading english after 3 months at Cooper when she had made no progress after a year in another school district. How his daughter’s teacher called their house to talk about his daughter’s progress and what they could support her education.

    Like that man, I am overwhelmed by the support we get for my daughter. Her teacher and other staff members have called us a number of times. Her teacher gave us her home phone number so we can work together with her. Though Cooper Elementary was not our first choice, we were wait-listed for Lafayette, we would not switch schools now. I don’t believe our family would get the same level of support at many other schools.

    Comment by west seattle steve — 5:15 pm December 7, 2008 #

  23. I live near Cooper elementary, but my kid goes to Pathfinder.

    Here’s why (and hopefully this will clear up some misgivings about Pathfinder that I am reading above…).

    Alternative doesn’t mean that the kids need special attention because of needs…In PF’s case it means that the curriculum is taught in a different way with a different philosophy than a typical (traditional – although I hate that term) school.

    The learning is “expeditionary” and interdisciplinary. Here’s an example: one of my son’s favorite times was when his class did an exploration (a 6 week chunk of time) centered on the idea of “houses and homes”. In this 6 week period of time, all the reading, math, geography and history curriculum centers around the main topic of houses and where people live and what they call and value as “home”. This gives a real thing to attach the typical learning objectives to. After reading, writing, artistically exploring the idea of houses and homes, they went on field trips to homes to see how differently people lived. They went to a dome home, they went to a penthouse apartment, they went to a homeless encampment. In all these cases the kids were encouraged to engage in conversation with the folks who lived there and themselves. My son still has great conversations about this (and many other topics) regularly. My wife and I love this.

    Is PF academically rigorous? Of course. They are part of the school district and has to hit the prescribed marks. Do they approach the academic process differently? Yes, they do with an approach that works hard to give kids a well rounded view of their world and promote the skill of academic curiosity. It is this focus on developing curiosity that keeps us at PF.

    I would also like to note that the PF PTSA and surrounding community have never adopted an attitude of “let’s run those kids out of the school and take it over.” That sentiment is truly out of character for the Pathfinder community. Would they take an opportunity given to them to improve on their physical surroundings (my son where’s his coat most days as the heater in his classroom doesn’t work), of course PF would take the opportunity. Any school in similar physical shape would do so. Does this make PF the aggressor in this decision? I don’t think so.

    I hope/encourage parents/teachers/students/staff at all the involved schools work hard to state their best case in non-accusatory style. Focus on the board, not other schools. The schools aren’t going to make the call. Schools can work hard to influence the decision, but ultimately, the school board will make the call.

    For the kids sake, I wish us all luck.

    Comment by ChrisW — 9:24 pm December 7, 2008 #

  24. I understand what you are saying. But, ultimately, to keep the PF program together, you have to displace another entire school, perhaps one that includes neighborhood kids for the most part. Is that fair? We’re focusing on the value of our neighborhoods and trying to keep what we can together to give our children a solid foundation. It’s nice that the PF folks can have another way of learning. We’re hoping to have a basic way of learning along with neighborhood values. I’m sure the Arbor Heights people feel very strongly the same way — they have a lot of neighborhood involvement and it is also wrong to try and displace them? I’ve read they would go to five different schools? What does that do to a child? And, I also read their building was built the same year as Pathfinder’s, so shouldn’t they get a new one, too?

    Comment by saddenedaboutallofthis — 9:42 pm December 7, 2008 #

  25. The Arbor Heights buildings and Genesee Hill (Pathfinder) buildings were indeed all built late ’40s-’50s, according to the district history. However, there must have been some maintenance problems because the history of Genesee Hill
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/historybook/genesee-hill.pdf
    says the building was chosen for closure in 1988 – 20 years ago! – because of its “poor condition” (the district was deciding at that time between Genesee Hill and Schmitz Park). Pathfinder was placed there in 1994 after having spent its first year “co-located” with Roxhill and its second year “co-located” with Cooper at Boren.
    http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/pathfinder/pathfinder_k8_school.htm

    Comment by WSB — 10:08 pm December 7, 2008 #

  26. Thanks for the info. I am a grandparent, have friends in the Cooper area and family in the Arbor Heights area. I’m central. My family’s children at Arbor Heights also have environmental problems – there is still potentially mold in the building. The kids wear coats in class, too. Not sure if the drinkng water is safe even though they say it is. I understand that Pathfinder is not a program of needs, and that is the point. It is great they get a choice of program. We just want the basics. And my friends at Cooper would be hurt if they have to give up the programs they have there. My family’s children would be put in who knows what school, not with their friends, and put on buses when they now walk. Their building may have beenm maintained, but it is in need, too. And, the neighborhood has supported the school from the begining. While we support the program at Pathfinder, why should my friends who do have needs at Cooper have to go elsewhere, and why does my family — who also has needs — have to be moved out of the neighborhood to somewhere else where they don’t have any say or priority where they go and are removed from their friends in school?

    Comment by saddenedaboutallofthis — 10:35 pm December 7, 2008 #

  27. WSB — are you a Pathfinder parent? I love this sight, but it does seem that your informatin has historical refernces that benefit Pathfinder?

    Comment by saddenedaboutallofthis — 10:36 pm December 7, 2008 #

  28. I’m looking up Pathfinder info because it’s so far been the one school that’s having questions and inaccuracies bandied about. I participate in comment threads to share additional information on many topics – this just happens to be the biggest WS story of the moment, and I’ve been doing copious amounts of research on its many ramifications, so I’ve got a lot of links handy (and more to come). I have linked to history involving all the schools previously (note this post, for example:
    http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=11451 )
    For what it’s worth, since you ask, though I am not a public figure and under no obligation to disclose but lest anyone wonder, we’ve got no dog in this hunt, or however that saying goes. Our son attended:
    Lincoln Park Cooperative Preschool
    West Seattle Montessori
    Alki Elementary
    Lafayette Elementary
    Washington Middle School
    and is currently distance-learning online through Washington Virtual Academy (which is a public-education program but not affiliated with the Seattle district) — TR

    Comment by WSB — 10:43 pm December 7, 2008 #

  29. Thank you. Just wondered.

    Comment by saddenedaboutallofthis — 10:55 pm December 7, 2008 #

  30. saddenedaboutallofthis, I join you in the sentiment expressed by your name. I, too, am saddened about all of this. As a Pathfinder parent, I don’t think our program is better or has any more right to exist that any other program in West Seattle. And I certainly believe that all kids deserve a stable, wonderful, learning environment.

    I don’t want any other school program to close, I don’t want to “take” anybody else’s building.

    Warts and all, I wish we could just stay in our Genesee Hill building.

    But the district is proposing to close our building whether we like it or not. And just like other parents, I want my kids’ excellent school program to continue to exist.

    Short of saying “OK, please close us…we don’t mind,” I can’t think of anything to say that would make other parents’ in threatened schools happy. So, for the most part, I stay silent, hoping for January 29th to come quickly so that, whatever decision is made, we can stop having discussions like this that create conflict in the community.

    Comment by PF Parent — 11:01 pm December 7, 2008 #

  31. Just a correction – Arbor Heights has actually been considered for closure before. We were on the closure list two years ago, supposedly because of the poor condition of our building. We half expected to be on the list again for the same reason.

    I’d also like to point out that the Arbor Heights community is also quite diverse, both in terms of income and ethnicity. We volunteers (none of whom are stay-at-home parents) rushed to get a letter out to parents the day before our community meeting, and had a PTSA member who spoke Spanish translate it for us — our student body is 16% Latino (compared to 6% in City of Seattle). And 35% of our students receive free/reduced lunch.

    Comment by SRiley — 11:05 am December 8, 2008 #

  32. As a pathfinder mom, i know that as a community we need to unite. our fight is with the school board and how they spend our money. we do need to close buildings, money says so… and our building is old.

    there have been so many arguments about ‘types of parents’ – you know it’s just that we’re all parents. we’re all busy. i am a single mom of two children, i am active in our community (west seattle) and i try to be active in our state as well.

    i make 42,000 before taxes- so you know where that puts me. i don’t qualify for any state aid for anything.

    i pay all my bills and attend meetings that are important. sometimes people work shift- they can’t make meetings.

    pathfinder is a unique school, the approach at learning is different, that’s what makes is special. it’s an alternative school. the approach is whole.

    i just don’t like people to say that we are out there looking for buildings to move to. we’re not. this whole thing really stinks.

    but i think that all schools, all STAFF, all parents need to keep it positive about the other schools. our kids are friends. the last thing they need to hear at SCHOOL is how their friend bobby’s school is trying to take over his/her school.

    so please in the interest- keep it respectful…keep it honest.. direct your anger towards the correct target- the school board.

    Comment by WSM — 11:59 am December 8, 2008 #

  33. Cooper- did you attend the board meeting last week? I remember hearing AH speaker after speaker saying, “move PF to Cooper” i didn’t hear a single PF parent speak at that meeting.

    Comment by WSeattlite — 12:02 pm December 8, 2008 #

  34. Regarding what Arbor Heights parents did or did not say at last week’s School Board meeting — We have video of all six of the speakers’ 3-minute presentations, in their entirety, in this post:
    http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=12347

    so anyone who wasn’t there but wants to hear for themselves is welcome to do so. There were several alternative proposals offered – and that was in response to what School Board members had said going back to the original November 25th meeting – you can’t just say “don’t do X,” you have to tell (them) what you think could/should be done INSTEAD of “closing school X.” Doesn’t necessarily mean the alternative would be “close school Y instead of close school X” but the district is trying to figure out how it will get to its goal – which in this case, appears to be, the closure of a MASSIVE budget gap.

    Comment by WSB — 12:28 pm December 8, 2008 #

  35. WSeattlite, what would you propose a PF parent say at the meeting? By suggesting which school I want as if I were shopping for a building would only serve to villianize myself. PF parents are smart to keep their mouths shut and their eyes open at the meetings if not the blogs.

    Comment by HighPointDogWalker — 3:48 pm December 8, 2008 #

  36. I have a question – what would be the fate of Cooper’s autism program if Pathfinder occupies Cooper’s building? Would students presently enrolled in that program be relocated to other schools with equivalent programs, or would they experience a decline in instructional quality as a result of having to move? Or, could the autism program be retained if Pathfinder occupies Cooper’s building? I’m asking these questions purely on an informational basis, not to express an opinion for or against the proposed plan.

    Comment by MikeB — 4:02 pm December 8, 2008 #

  37. Can I just say that who speaks at a board meeting does not give any indication of interest/passion/etc. – it is really tough & competitive to get a speaking slot as they only allow 20! The district starts taking reservations at 8am the Monday before each board meeting; at this last one they were all full by 8:02am.

    Comment by add — 6:05 pm December 8, 2008 #

  38. As I read this and other blog entries, I realize that WSB is right, and there is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there about Pathfinder K-8 and these proposals. However, that is somewhat our fault since we are not always great about getting the correct information out there. To try to improve this, I would be happy to confirm or deny rumors about our advocacy, history, program, etc. I was the leader of our facility advocacy team during the last spate of closures and was the PTSA co-president last year – I may not know everything, but I think I know as much as anyone. Do feel free to email me with your questions/rumors and I can let you know what is the truth as best I know it. e_ebaer@earthlink.net
    I can tell you that we have NEVER advocated for the closures of schools for our program and that I asked the Board to separate closures and repurposing so that schools would not be pitted against each other.
    -Eric

    Comment by Eric B — 10:13 pm December 8, 2008 #

  39. MikeB- since there is no proposal yet on the table for Cooper to close, there is no real answer to your question yet. I would observe that the preliminary proposals tended to keep such programs in their current building (i.e. the AH self-contained special ed programs are supposed to stay put.)

    Comment by Eric B — 10:20 pm December 8, 2008 #

  40. As a brand new transplant to West Seattle and a parent of a Cooper Kindergartner I can say that I am shocked and in Awe at most of you. West Seattle is supposed to be a progressive place. Seattle in general is much better that the School system in LA county. That said It is inconceivable to me that we would abandon our strongest communities because of poor choices by policymakers in the past.

    ALL SCHOOLS SHOULD REMAIN OPEN and a Pathfinder remodel should be where our Tax money should go. To further control, limit choice

    Comment by James — 6:00 pm December 11, 2008 #

  41. James, I totally agree it would have been better for them to build a new building on Genesee Hill. Westello, one of the great advocates for Seattle Schools even advocated rejecting the last capital bond in part because because it did not include money for the Genesee Hill Building. That took incredible guts – more than I had! But in any case, the next capital bond/levy (BEX IV) election is over 4 years away, and then it takes a few years to do the planning and constructing. It would take even more time if they decided to go back to the levy model rather than issuing bonds as they did last time around. In short, There is little hope for building a new building in West Seattle within at least 6 years as I can see it, and it is more likely 7-8 yrs out. In the mean time, they would have to pour millions into the GH building to keep it running, and nearly 1000 Pathfinder 6-7-8th graders would go through their entire middle school years in portables. So, you are right.. we are paying for the sins of the past policymakers (or at least bond writers.) I don’t have a solution for something that will right that wrong, however.

    Comment by Eric B — 10:32 pm December 11, 2008 #

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