West Seattle school-closure hearing: Cooper makes its case

December 17, 2008 at 4:02 am | In Arbor Heights, Genesee Hill, Pigeon Point, West Seattle news, West Seattle school closure, West Seattle schools | 27 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

40 speakers, 3 schools, 2 school board members. Those are the numbers from last night’s school-closure public hearing at the Genesee Hill Elementary building that Pathfinder K-8 has called home for almost 15 years. And numbers were the reason the hearing had to happen at all – a $24 million-$37 million budget shortfall faced by Seattle Public Schools, with $3.6 million a year potentially to be saved by shuttering school buildings including the long-deteriorating Genesee Hill. The district’s been proposing closing it for years — without also closing the Pathfinder “program” — so the issue has been, and remains, where does Pathfinder go?

Three weeks ago, Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s original “preliminary recommendations” for citywide school closures/changes — under the banner “Capacity Management” — tagged Arbor Heights Elementary as the future home of Pathfinder, with AH’s “program” to be “closed.”

What ensued, if you will forgive us the movie reference, seemed a bit reminiscent of the scene in the original “Star Wars” movie where Governor Tarkin is threatening to blow up Princess Leia’s home planet unless she reveals some secret; he says that if she doesn’t want to see her planet vaporized, “then name the system.” In the movie, she was expected to reveal her secret base; in real life here, schools suggested for closure were told “name a better alternative.”

In the case of Arbor Heights, only one alternative was on the district radar.

First, a one-minute recap, which we originally published on November 25, between the unofficial word of the “preliminary recommendation” and the official announcement hours later:

It’s been two years since the previous closure process hit its low point, an ugly ruckus during a board meeting in October 2006. Before that, the most controversial West Seattle aspect of the fall 2006 proposal was a plan for Pathfinder K-8 to move out of the ex-Genesee Hill Elementary and “merge” into the Cooper Elementary building in Pigeon Point; Roxhill Elementary was also proposed for closure; earlier in the process, there had been an even-more controversial proposal to move Pathfinder to Boren (where Chief Sealth is temporarily headquartered now). When all was said and done some weeks later, Pathfinder and Cooper kept their status quos — even though all agree the Genesee Hill building is in sorry shape — and ultimately, the Fairmount Park Elementary building was closed, with that school’s “program” merging into the underenrolled then-High Point Elementary, since renamed West Seattle Elementary.

As subsequently detailed in our “live” updates (look at the 9:51 pm entry) during the School Board work session at which the “preliminary recommendations” were formally announced, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson explained that district staff had arrived at the conclusion that Arbor Heights and Cooper were the only possible West Seattle buildings Pathfinder could be moved into. (Thanks to Mark M for this Google Map of all three.) What ruled out Cooper, she said at the time, was the fact that it’s in the West Seattle North cluster, and if its “program” were discontinued, since other North cluster elementaries were full, its dispersed students wouldn’t be able to stay in their cluster, while no such problem existed in the South cluster, home to Arbor Heights — several other South cluster elementaries had plenty of room. After listening to that, West Seattle school board rep Steve Sundquist and north end rep Peter Maier both questioned whether Cooper should have been ruled out on that basis, since the district was moving toward a focus on neighborhood schools, and Arbor Heights had a larger percentage of its enrollment from its neighborhood.

Fast forward a week to the next regular School Board meeting, Dec. 3. Speakers include six Arbor Heights parents who propose multiple alternatives to closing their programs (as reported here). Later in the meeting, the superintendent presents an update on the school-closure process, including a mention that staff is “evaluating” the possibility of having Cooper be Pathfinder’s new home instead.

At a work session the following Tuesday — December 9 — Dr. Goodloe-Johnson presented a new set of “potential final recommendations,” and it basically swapped Arbor Heights for Cooper.

So in the past week, the Cooper community has found itself doing what the Arbor Heights community did two weeks earlier — strategizing how to save its school “program” from shutdown.

Tonight was its first formal chance to make the pro-Cooper case to the district, at the tightly formatted, state-required Genesee Hill public hearing. 40 people were allowed to speak, mostly based on preregistration by e-mail and phone. They were supposed to limit their comments to issues related to the potential closure of the building — which certainly applied to Cooper, Pathfinder, and even Arbor Heights.

Each of those 40 people — 9 of whom didn’t show, clearing room for wait-listed speakers — had up to 3 minutes, and their remarks constituted the entirety of the meeting, aside from scripted opening remarks by Sundquist, outlining the rules. (One such rule, for the audience to keep quiet and avoid demonstrations of support or opposition, was repeatedly ignored; almost every speaker drew spirited applause.) He was one of two School Board members at the hearing, along with Sherry Carr, who like him was elected a year ago and therefore hadn’t gone through the previous school-closing process (they are in the center of this photo):

If you had arrived at last night’s hearing without knowledge of the backstory, you might think Pathfinder was proposed for shutdown, rather than — or in addition to — its building. Those who spoke on behalf of Pathfinder – parents, teachers, even students – outnumbered everyone else, almost 3 to 1. That of course is the luck of the draw – who called or e-mailed first; only one Arbor Heights parent spoke, but they had more spots on the list – they had signed up back when their school was facing the ax.

Their audience, in addition to Sundquist and Carr, included several district officials, one of whom was identified as a district lawyer. Two district communications managers were on hand as well.

Pathfinder PTSA president Jennifer Giomi was up first, setting the stage by saying, “I hope you will discover who we are.”

“Who (Pathfinder is)” unfolded in many descriptions over the subsequent two hours; the teacher who spoke after Giomi described it as a “remarkable school” and noted its 9 percent American Indian student population, while also describing its economic diversity — two children in one class living in shelters, for example: “Children (here) can talk about their lives, when it’s easy, when it’s hard.”

Only one person from Arbor Heights spoke, parent Dana Varon. She spoke of the value of her school, the value of Arbor Heights, the value of Pathfinder. “If the West Seattle community values Pathfinder – and I think everyone does – then why do they have to move into somebody else’s building? Give them their own building … I think we have to come together as West Seattle and say, this is not OK. I don’t know what the answer is … but this is not the answer.”

Back to a parade of Pathfinder advocates: Parent Lashanna Williams, who listed a nearly infinite lineup of activities with which the school is involved. Parent Terry Simpson, discussing what “experiential education” — a Pathfinder specialty — meant for his atypical son. “Whatever clever ideas come up in the 11th hour of this process, I beg you to make this your first thought — run it by professional educators at the affected school and see what they have to say about its impact.”

Pathfinder parent Leslie Harris, who spoke of her middle-school daughter, said there is no room at West Seattle’s other public middle schools for the 150 who are attending Pathfinder.

Pathfinder parent Sarah Kelly tried to clarify the sometimes-derided label “alternative,” and again mentioned the school’s Native American focus: “It is a matter of import that we circle back to native culture in this school because native culture is still relevant.”

Next, a passionate defender of Cooper, Charita Dumas, who has spoken out at both of the Cooper meetings we attended – here is her entire 3-minute speech on video:

The second Pathfinder supporter to speak after Dumas, Heidi Jindrich, offered a lament that Pathfinder had turned up in the closure process, in one form or another, so many times in recent years: “I think of how much time we have spent making these no-brainer arguments (to support the school), and I think what a tragedy we couldn’t spend our time volunteering, being teacher’s aides, helping our children do their homework, instead of sitting in meetings for six years … Just please make a decision so Seattle Public Schools can start building our program by focusing on what matters, teaching and learning, not on facilities.”

She was followed by a ubiquitous presence at all district-related hearings, West Seattle resident Chris Jackins, who does not support closing any schools, and frequently files, or advocates, legal challenges to school sales and other proceedings. He said, “Genesee Hill is a good site in a nice neighborhood … The district should support Pathfinder in making improvements to the site.” He also noted that the district has been losing students after closing schools, so ending closures, he posited, could increase enrollment.

Two Pathfinder students spoke, including 8th grader Alyssa Kaplan, who said the program “teaches you how to learn … and how to be a person.” Pathfinder parent Jean Hamilton offered empathy: “It’s a difficult night for all of us in the room; there are no good guys, there are no bad guys, all of us want the best for our children’s education, in a difficult economic situation.”

Pathfinder parent Amy Daly-Donovan recapped the school’s history of closure proceedings and facilities searches. “We all know this building is one of the worst (in the district), but we have worked very hard to make the best of what we have. … So here we are again. There is no ideal answer at this point … I’m not sure what the best answer is. I do think it’s important those making decisions know the background.”

Then an intense speaker on behalf of Cooper — Raymond Williams, who said he had two children at Cooper and one at Pathfinder:

Another Cooper parent followed, Shelley Williams (“no relation”), who mentioned deep ties with the school, including having attended there herself. She alleged racism is the reason Arbor Heights was taken off the list: “I don’t know why Arbor Heights was the original recommendation, but it’s clear why they are not now: Race and money. Parents with money can pull their kids out of the district. And they vote. Cooper – those ‘poor people’ don’t vote. We were added only after a white school with money hatched plans.”

Pathfinder parent Audrey Kaplan worried that the district’s commitment to alternative education was waning; Kari Nyland, parent of a special-needs student at Cooper, said, “I’m pretty baffled by this whole process … I did not have a choice about where my son would go.”

Beth Bakeman, a Pathfinder parent who founded the respected saveseattleschools.blogspot.com site during the 2006 closure process, said, “I don’t want to see any children forced to leave schools where they are thriving academically and socially.”

Several Cooper supporters followed, including J.J. Ball, who led the two recent meetings we covered at the school as parents and teachers started to organize what has become the “Cooper School Works” campaign. And from Pathfinder, teacher Andy Darring, who opened by saying, “This is an incredibly painful conversation”:

Subsequent speakers talked about a Pathfinder middle-school program taking students to China to work in an orphanage, and the Blazing Trails onsite child-care program at the school. Parent Heather Hisatomi praised its teaching style and referred to it as “deep learning.”

Later, Pathfinder parent Jason Kirk spoke against the concept of closing schools, offering to yield his time to anyone who could address “the transfer of longheld public assets to private ownership.” Andrea Lister finally jumped up, and cited the sale of the former Cooper School — now Youngstown Arts Center — “for less than its value, which leads to part of the deficit of the Seattle public school system, which is why we are here, why these schools are being pitted against each other.”

Perhaps the most vivid line of the night came from Maria Aliza, a Pathfinder parent with a special-needs child; she said, “I think it’s absolutely inappropriate that Pathfinder is put on the head of the hammer that would come down and shatter and scatter another community, since (Pathfinder) is about inclusion, diversity, respect. … (But) it’s an uncomfortable building and something needs to be done. If we don’t want to shatter another community, an appropriate building needs to be made available, or we need to make this one appropriate.”

Defense of both schools continued; no one overtly mentioned another way for the district to save what it says it needs to save. The second-to-last speaker, Mary Lane, said, “How sorry I am that we are all here … It’s my first year in the public schools. I don’t think I understood before what all the fuss was about school closures. I am sorry for all of us to be here.”

The final person to speak was the only one to use a translator, Sara Cabrera Aparicio, advocating for Cooper to stay open because her autistic son is thriving there.

The meeting ended on a tense note, with the crowd chanting TRANSLATE! TRANSLATE! as a man stepped forward in hopes of becoming the 41st speaker, having just heard that translation was available. Sundquist repeated several times that the man was welcome to speak with him and Carr afterward, but that the 40-speaker limit could not be exceeded. Some heckling ensued; he ended the meeting, and the crowd settled into a low roar as attendees prepared to venture back out into the subfreezing night.

WHAT’S NEXT: The School Board is scheduled to hear an update on the closure/change process from the superintendent at its meeting tonight, 6 pm at district HQ in Sodo (weather permitting). The superintendent is scheduled to present “final recommendations in early January,” with a final School Board vote at the end of the month. The full transcript of last night’s hearing could be on the district’s Capacity Management site later today (a Monday transcript from another hearing made it to the site Tuesday). If you have something to say about the process and proposals, the district has reiterated that your opinion is welcome at capacity@seattleschools.org

27 Comments

  1. We would probably like to see all of our schools stay open and offer a variety of options, but here’s what’s missing for me…

    I haven’t seen any statistics that show why Pathfinder is more worthy than AH or Cooper of remaining open. Are there that many more K-5 students – let’s compare apples to apples? Is there a waitlist? Do they plan to grow (and if so, why NOT put the work into Boren as an investment in Pathfinder’s future)?

    Comment by GenHillOne — 7:29 am December 17, 2008 #

  2. pathfinder is considered more “worthy” by the school board because they are an alternative program. they use a different, non-traditional curriculum. the school board wants to keep at least one alternative program in each neighborhood, i think.

    which is all well and good, and more power to pathfinder. but letting them take over another school is out and out wrong. i think pathfinder parents would agree! they don’t feel any better kicking kids out of a school than we feel getting kicked.

    sigh.

    Comment by brittany — 7:43 am December 17, 2008 #

  3. as for the investment in the future: this is not a concept that the school board understands. they redefine the word “shortsighted.” they want to balance their budget right this second, and when they end up without enough schools for our growing population 5-10 years down the line- having closed schools to save money in the short term- then they’ll be scrambling to find $$ to build more schools. what a crazy cycle.

    Comment by brittany — 7:47 am December 17, 2008 #

  4. the meeting was a wash- i felt bad for the children in the room. there were speakers who spoke with out care- with out caution to the children. understanding the emotion that goes along with school closures is a no brainer. but being a role model- speaking respectfuly and passionate is a possibilty. one look at the back of the room- all the kids playing together- they didn’t care what school they were from- what color someone was- they were just playing. they are the important factor in this process.

    so people please remember that children take their lead from the adults in their life. be a leader- be a stong, respectful, positive, brave leader.

    no one wants to close schools, i know i don’t- however ranting and calling out of turn does us no good- none of us.

    organize- organize- organize…. get the rules straight- be advocates for your parents in advance, find out what your non english speaking parents can do to testify- BEFORE the event

    speak to the value of your school, what makes it special- not about mythical racism.

    yes one school may be more diverse by race- but do we really want to boil it down to race? shouldn’t we be past that? can we as a community get past that? i do understand the feeling – please don’t think that i am speaking with blinders. i am a minority, my children are as well.

    i would just like us as school, educators and parents, not to speak ill on one another. If is through no fault of our own that we are in this situation.

    remember the golden rule… at least regarding our communities…

    say what you wish to the school board but remember that our children are watching.

    Comment by SPS parent — 7:58 am December 17, 2008 #

  5. Honestly, the district is not looking at who is more “worthy.” The most defining difference is that the current WS middle schools would not have room for the 150+ displaced 6,7,8th graders if they closed the Pathfinder program. The district mandated Pathfinder to become a K-8 school 10 years ago(even with an opposition vote from community, staff and parents) and never backed them up with the funds to provide appropriate facilities. Pathfinder is an amazing program and deserves to remain intact as much as the next school. The bottom line is…the district dug and hole and really the only option is to do good on their mandate and make space available for a K-8 school in West Seattle.

    Comment by Lisa — 8:39 am December 17, 2008 #

  6. Since when is it ok to speak poorly about whole communities – and to do so in front of children?

    i understand the emotions surrounding school closings… i really do.

    but it’s possible to be a brave, respectful and strong leader.

    race was flung around the room as if it were a dirty thing. we should all be proud of who were are. our schools are all diverse. i do understand looking at racial diversity- but that’s not what it’s all about. i’d like to think that we could move beyond the aspect of race. on one hand it’s a ‘no-no’ to mention it, but when it suits a moment- it’s ok? this is coming from a woman of color. my children are people of color… but i have never ever ever spoken to them about the color of their skin.

    in no way to i let them thing that their skin color will matter in anything other than the way that they become toasty brown bears in the summer.

    Last night- did any of the parents look at the kids in the back of the room? i did. they were all playing together… didn’t matter what school they went to… didn’t matter what color their skin was… they were just having fun.

    Remember that our children learn to be leaders from their leaders. Lead- lead pro-actively, lead positively, lead with a kind heart and with a purpose.

    organize your group- be an advocate for your community. don’t put down others down in order to build yourself up. be advocates for the people in your community who need it. it takes a ton of work and a lot of time- late nights, less sleep.. but research what you need, for example the translator last night.

    all and all, i believe that it’s great that we’re able to have these open events, be a part of the process, whatever role it will play.

    but as we do it, can we all remember that none of us are here on our own doing. let’s teach our children to lead and fight for what they believe in- with grace, grit, hard work and knowledge.

    the anger should not be with school communities, it should be directed at the school board.

    but remember when you direct your anger, the world’s future leaders are watching and learning.

    Comment by SPS — 9:23 am December 17, 2008 #

  7. sorry i went back up and it was gone… sorry for the double post

    Comment by SPS — 9:24 am December 17, 2008 #

  8. As noted in the introduction to the story, Cooper WAS in the preliminary recommendation, released on the 25th of November. Cooper then and there got notice that it was being looked at. For Ms. Williams to say that they were “…added only after a white school with money hatched plans” is patently false. Also, in regards to the ability of the last speaker to speak, at least one Pathfinder parent offered to cede their speaking spot to the Cooper community. The offer was not accepted. To then claim a lack of access is unfortunate – don’t complain you are cold wen you have just refused a coat.
    Finally, if you are angry about these proposals, your anger really should be directed at the District, not the Board. The District is the ones who have made these proposals.

    Comment by Eric B — 10:28 am December 17, 2008 #

  9. Brittany, the district by law must balance their budget every year, it is not a choice for them. So short sighted or not, each year decisions will be made for that year.

    GenHillOne, your question is valid and has not been answered. There is a clear implication that Pathfinder is a more worthy school community than others, as reflected by the continued effort to find it a more suitable building (by displacing another school community).

    Lisa, I think there is room for the middle school “seats” between Madison & Denny, (no portables in use at either site, where there have been in the past) but unsure if the parents would go?

    Lastly, at some point all of us need to set aside this unfortunate process and look at some statistics the blog already provided here: http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=12572

    For a West Seattle community that many pride on being diverse, our elementary schools are pretty much white or not, have or have not. Not a lot of blending, gathering of differences. This likely leads to very distinct educational experiences and perspectives of the district and support. So who are the leaders that help us begin to come together more instead of pitting communities against each other?

    Comment by Denny — 10:29 am December 17, 2008 #

  10. It doesn’t boost students or anybody else, but I imagine it actually may be in the school district’s best interest to turn neighborhoods against each other. The more the district can divert attention from its administrative waste and mismanagement, the easier it can frame the need for school closures as an Act of God for which it can’t be accountable.

    Comment by Alvis — 10:34 am December 17, 2008 #

  11. I will point out that even if Pathfinder resisted the move and said we’ll wait for the next BEX and stick it out in our bad building until then (and then is probably another 7-8 years), it wouldn’t stop a closure of a building. The district would simply close another building (likely an elementary) in SW/West Seattle. And the fight would be on between which school it would be.

    Pathfinder is the only K-8 and only alternative school in the whole region and it’s doing fairly well. I wouldn’t say they are more entitled but if they are it for this type of programming, then they need to have a decent place to be.

    Comment by westello — 11:43 am December 17, 2008 #

  12. Denny, I agree that having segregated schools in West Seattle is a bad thing. Research shows that having a high concentration of children living in poverty in one school negatively impacts individual student achievement, even with all other factors being equal.

    But this problem is not specific to West Seattle, it’s district-wide and also common to other urban districts around the country.

    One possible solution, which I’ve been discussing for years with Board members including Darlene Flynn who was very supportive of the idea, is to have an income-based tiebreaker for enrollment in schools in which there is a low concentration of children living in poverty.

    Comment by bbakeman — 12:02 pm December 17, 2008 #

  13. Thanks for devoting a long post to this meeting, WSB.

    Could you and/or others who were present speak to the issues that Sable Verity brought up in a recent post? (I wasn’t there.)

    http://sableverity.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/sundquist-got-english/

    Specifically:

    “[Sundquist] also said that if a parent wanted to testify via an interpreter that they could do so at the end of public testimony, stating that interpreted speeches take more time and he wanted to be sure that non-English speakers had ‘adequate time to testify’ (because it would take longer than the typical 3 minutes).”

    I have a bunch of questions about this.

    –Why would non-English speakers need to wait until the end to speak? It would still take the same amount of total time for everyone to testify, regardless of the order they spoke in.

    –Did his statement make it seem like non-English speakers could just wait for the moderators to get through the list so they would then get their chance to speak? Or did he make it perfectly clear, and allow time for interpretation, that everyone had to be on the list and that all speakers and their interpreters needed to be “properly identified” to district staff?

    –Did 40 people really get to speak?

    –Why does SPS let people (many of whom won’t even make it to the meeting) sign up in advance? Why isn’t it run like a City Hall meeting, where you sign up when you arrive? It seems that allowing people to sign up in advance stacks the deck in favor of English speakers, Internet-connected parents, etc. (basically all the people who already have all the good cards).

    –Did anyone else notice that the security guard only got up when black speakers stepped up to the mike?

    I understand why SPS would want to limit the number of speakers and enforce that limit, but the way they ran the meeting doesn’t sound fair.

    Comment by JvA — 12:12 pm December 17, 2008 #

  14. One reason that Pathfinder is being singled out is that it is an alternative school and, by District Policy must be maintained. It is a lengthy policy, but it is there for all to read:
    “In order to affirm and strengthen alternative education throughout the District, the District will provide assistance in areas such as communications, budget, or technology, designed to maintain and expand effective alternative schools at all grade levels.” You can read the entire policy on the district website. The District needs to follow those policies. If you disagree with them, feel free to advocate for changing them. However, unless that policy is changed, closing or otherwise destroying the Pathfinder program is not an option.

    Comment by Eric B — 12:47 pm December 17, 2008 #

  15. So Eric, is it being maintained and expanded? And is it effective? (i.e. how is enrollment, testing, other measures) – this is the information I was talking about above.

    Thank you for pointing out the policy, it is worth discussing, but I don’t think “because they have to” is a particularly flattering argument for remaining open.

    Comment by GenHillOne — 1:00 pm December 17, 2008 #

  16. -Re: What Steve Sundquist said at the start of the meeting. The court reporter transcript should be online soon so it can be read there (the transcript from a Monday meeting elsewhere was up Tuesday night):
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/index.dxml
    My notes say only “Sundquist opens by reading prewritten rules” – Everything he said after “welcome” was from a script. I rolled video on part of his reading, but put the camera down after he read the part that explained the purpose of the hearing, before he finished reading all the “how it works.” (I’ll go look at the clip just in case it ran longer than I recall.)
    Re number of people who spoke – again, the court-reporter transcript will be the official record on this. My notes show 40-plus, but some people yielded to others, so the total number of names in my notes is somewhat convoluted. I noted when Sundquist announced there had been 10, and that jibed with my count thus far, but did not type the subsequent announcements, though he made them.
    -Re: the rules. You have to ask SPS that one. Or better yet, someone who has been covering the district closely for longer – many of the authors at saveseattleschools.blogspot.com (Melissa Westbrook, Charlie Mas, Beth Bakeman) are a fount of information on such things. I would also suggest that lobbying for future changes would be an excellent thing to do, for anyone who would like to see it run differently. I wasn’t covering neighborhood-level news during the last round of school closures, but all the hearing transcripts are available online, such as the previous two Genesee Hill hearings:
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/06consolidation/geneseehill.pdf

    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/06consolidation/genesee101006.pdf

    Re: the security guards. I was sitting in the front row, far right if you were facing the crowd from the stage, angling my chair to face the speakers’ podium since I was shooting handheld video of some speakers. The security guard(s) were in lime-green T-shirts that said SECURITY – I remember a fairly short woman with short dark hair – and they were generally standing alongside stage right at the front of the cafeteria, not far from where I was sitting. I made one notation of one of them having moved, and that was about 12 speakers in, between a Pathfinder teacher named Amy Pendley (sp?) – I don’t recall her skin color – and a student named Alyssa Kaplan (who my video shows appeared to be white; note that I do not have everyone on video, and had a pretty bad angle on those I do have).
    If I were an editorializing type, the main thing I would say about how the meeting was run, was this: It might be helpful to have a professional mediator, rather than place meeting-running in the hands of one of the ultimate decisionmakers like a School Board member. Other Seattle Public Schools processes we have covered in the past year-plus have employed consultants in that role – even when the subject matter wasn’t so emotional and therefore wouldn’t have seemed to merit a professional facilitator/consultant. In particular, a woman named Regina Glenn was involved with many of the Denny/Sealth consolidation events, including being an “impartial” (albeit district-hired) meeting coordinator, and seemed to be something of a calming presence. If I were reformatting school-closure hearings, I’d have somebody like her running them.
    Interestingly, looking at the October 2006 transcript I linked above (from the last closure hearing at Genesee Hill), five school board members were present – including Irene Stewart, the West Seattle rep before Steve Sundquist (she declined to run again), but she didn’t “moderate,” fellow board member Brita Butler-Wall (no longer on the board) did. Then-superintendent Raj Manhas was also at the hearing. In comparison, because this time around they’re compressing the whole thing and running simultaneous hearings, only Sundquist, board member Sherry Carr, and various lower-level officials were on hand last night – TR

    Comment by WSB — 1:07 pm December 17, 2008 #

  17. The introduction to the meeting last night included a nod to where the interpreters were in the room, so that if needed, you could gather around them. That was it – then the testimonials began. The 40th speaker used an interpreter, and I watched the Somali moms and dads around me perk up, surprised that this translation was a possiblity. One of the Cooper dads quickly moved to the microphone with a Somali translator, only to be told that there wasn’t room for him.

    The system of these hearings must be changed.

    I estimated that half of the parents from Cooper that attended the meeting were Somali, only one was scheduled to speak – and he spoke English. We, the board, the district, everyone, must make it much more clear that EVERYONE can be heard. For those who have said that Cooper should have prepared for this, how do we prepare anyone in our community, in a matter of days, to truly understand what the process of these meetings is?
    First, start with translations on paper and written communications.
    Then, introduce the translators at the meetings by allowing them to speak IN THE LANGUAGE THEY WILL BE TRANSLATING to the community of non-English speakers they are here to serve.

    I was shocked by how English-centric the meeting was, even when the theme of “diversity” was constant throughout all the testimonials. I applaud those who brought up the “dirty” racism at the meeting – I know it is only one piece of the segregation we perpetuate in our community – let us all have the freedom to discuss it.

    Comment by Save Schools — 1:15 pm December 17, 2008 #

  18. Thanks for the replies, WSB and SS.

    Comment by JvA — 1:30 pm December 17, 2008 #

  19. right save schools- we can discuss it honestly and openly with emotion and reason- but not with 3 year olds, 5 year olds, 7 year olds… in the room— let’s be adults and handle our selves as such

    Comment by SPS — 1:32 pm December 17, 2008 #

  20. Those are excellent suggestions Save Schools.

    Comment by GenHillOne — 1:33 pm December 17, 2008 #

  21. The TT Minor hearing transcript from last night has just appeared on the Capacity Management page …
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/TTMinor_Hearing_TranscriptDec15.pdf

    so Genesee Hill can’t be far behind. I will make a note here and in a separate post when that happens (although I’ll be offline for an hour or so shortly; if anybody sees it first, please post the link in comments here, thanks!)

    Comment by WSB — 2:04 pm December 17, 2008 #

  22. If some of us do not want to discuss segregation with our “3 year olds, 5 year olds, 7 year olds… in the room”, at what age is it appropriate? When they no longer have to experience the damage caused by segregation? When will that be?

    Sheltering our children from the facts of life is the choice each parent makes, and it is the constant tight-rope of decision making that educators cross each day in our classrooms.

    If we believe in the power of change, we must believe in the power of choice. For any of us to set a guideline of what is appropriate for anyone, of any age, to hear, we are suppressing CHOICE. We are suppressing CHANGE.

    Let us not bury ourselves in the limitations of our personal doctrines, but allow the freedom of everyone to make their own choices.

    Comment by Save Schools — 2:07 pm December 17, 2008 #

  23. it can be discussed with them in the room- age approp. don’t you think? would you talk about sex the same way to a 5year old as you would a 15 year old .. no.. word choice is important.
    i am just saying that i wish that people had been more thoughtful of who they were arguing for and the manner in which they did it. you drill into someone’s head that white rich people get what they want and they’ll grow up believing it. is that what you want them to grow up thinking? no- we don’t- i know i don’t want my children (of color) thinking that way.

    i am not for supressing anything- i am for using common sense and treating people with respect.

    Comment by SPSP — 2:46 pm December 17, 2008 #

  24. GenHillOne, as far as I know, there is no plan to expand Pathfinder K-8. It is definitely successful academically and socially, and doing very well in terms of enrollment, except in 6-8 where the students are in portables across the parking lot. Parents and students have had serious concerns about that.

    Here’s a data snapshot:
    • 396 students.
    • 259 elementary, 137 upper grade
    • 65% Caucasian, 35% other races, 5% of that 35% Native American.
    • 37% of our students are on free/reduced lunch program.
    • 16% of our students have IEPs.
    • Pathfinder enrollment has grown from 0 to 400 in about 15 years. In that time district enrollments have stabilized or dropped.
    • Pathfinder K-8 PTSA has 185 general members and 12 Board Members. It manages, on average, 4 fundraisers and over 10 community building events a year.
    • Pathfinder K-8′s Building Leadership Team is comprised of staff and parent representatives.
    • Pathfinder K-8 has a 4 member Native American Advisory Board which guides and supports Native American studies at the school.

    Our test scores are good, although with some big variations by grade and subject, but as with most alternative schools, we focus on a lot beyond the test. The community service work that our kids have done in West Seattle, the leadership roles they are taking in our school and in the broader community, and the successes they have in other schools after they leave Pathfinder all help tell the more complete picture of how successful our school is.

    When the transcript of the public hearing from the other night is posted soon on the page Tracy mentions above, I’d recomend reading through some of the testimony to get a picture of how successful Pathfinder is.

    The transcript also tells the story of the successes at Cooper and the importance of that school to the kids and familes there.

    If you have additional Pathfinder questions, you can look at our website (http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/pathfinder/welcome.html) or you can also e-mail me (bbakeman@comcast.net).

    As Tracy reported in the main story, I don’t want any children to be displaced from schools where they are thriving academically and socially. In testifying about how wonderful Pathfinder is, and why having an alternative education option is very important for West Seattle, I’m doing just that…communicating how wonderful and necessary Pathfinder is. I do not want Pathfinder to displace any school community.

    Comment by bbakeman — 9:24 am December 18, 2008 #

  25. Really good post, WSB, thanks.
    As one of the many speakers for Pathfinder I find it VERY unfortunate that Cooper representation was so weak at this meeting. It is too late to do anything about this now, but in the future…
    1. It would have been the very least AH speakers could do to show up to the meeting and cede thier time to Cooper; particularly since AH offered Cooper instead of their own school.
    2. The suggestion to have translators introduce themselves after the board introductions should be more than suggestion – it should be written into the hearing process as a matter of procedure. I’ve emailed the district this suggestion, for what it’s worth.
    3. Honor the rules of the process. You are the adults. Topics of racism and classism are off the table and don’t speak out of turn while others are speaking. This was stated at the start of the hearing. Don’t like the rules? Don’t play.

    Comment by HighPointDogWalker — 1:17 pm December 18, 2008 #

  26. Several students from Cooper were at the meeting who were in second grade. As a teacher, I was excited for them to be there to see their community members, parents, and teachers stand and speak passionately, including addressing issues of race and class. In my experience as a queer person, it has been always positive to see and hear people with experiences similar to mine and to hear them call out when they see oppression happening. I hope for the same empowerment for youth when they hear racism and classism challenged. The rules of the meeting say that racist remarks are not acceptable, discussion about racism is absolutely okay. As for people speaking out of turn, there are many cultural differences and values regarding communication. African Americans are often over interpretted by whites to be “angry” when sometimes it is just a way to show passion about something. I am not African American so I will not say more to this, but I encourage those of us who are not AA to educate ourselves more on cultural differences in communication. Furthermore, there is plenty to be angry about. While I always hope we can be careful with the feelings of others, some emails written by an Arbor Heights PTA person spoke in a callous manner (e.g. “let’s offer up Roxhill on a silver platter”) which is enough to make anyone angry.

    My final comment is about “mythical racism.” The myth is that racism doesn’t exist anymore. We only have to look at Cooper’s history and the segregation others have mentioned above (not to mention what’s happenign now) to prove this. First Cooper students were in an old building on Delrigde, when they finally closed that, Cooper students (who have always been predominantly low-income, people of color, immigrants) were put in a temporary building (Boren) for 10 years. Finally a new beautiful school was built for them. The district chose to build it away from the neighborhood, the benefit being it had a beautiful setting. It’s first year open it was full, then the district changes boundaries and suddently Cooper’s underenrolled. The district has attempted to close the Cooper program 2-3 times since then. Requests to change boundaries, bus kids, etc. to build enrollment have never been accepted. Of course now that Cooper is slated to be closed they are willing to break the busing boundary to ship our kids south. Finally looking at the input process. I went to the Sat. Dec. 6 workshop where low-income folks and people of color were highly underrepresented. We even had a case of a white parent who sat at a table that talked all about the concerns of Cooper and autism students who then went to the mike and talked all about Lowell. Why? Because he can. Because the system let’s him. He apologized profusely, but the damage was done. There is so much more to be said, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Comment by CMJ — 4:47 pm December 18, 2008 #

  27. Re: Westello’s post: “I will point out that even if Pathfinder resisted the move and said we’ll wait for the next BEX and stick it out in our bad building until then (and then is probably another 7-8 years), it wouldn’t stop a closure of a building.”.

    Let’s keep in mind that Pathfinder doesn’t get to make this (or any) decision – I think many would be totally fine with “let’s stick it out til the next BEX” but unfortunately it’s not up to any school community to decide what happens. It is the decision of the District and/or Board.

    Comment by add — 5:54 am December 19, 2008 #

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