2 school updates: Seattle makeup days; Cooper closure fight

January 10, 2009 at 9:13 am | In West Seattle school closure, West Seattle schools | 8 Comments

MAKEUP DAYS: Just in case you haven’t heard this yet: According to the School Beat e-newsletter e-mailed Friday by Seattle Public Schools, three days have been tacked onto the end of the school year to make up for time lost in Snowstorm ’08 – June 17, 18, and 19.

COOPER CLOSURE FIGHT: As we mentioned yesterday, the Cooper Elementary meeting originally set for mid-December, canceled because of the weather, is now happening next Tuesday (7 pm, Cooper Library) — and certainly packs even more urgency now that the Cooper “program closure” is on the official list of “final recommendations.” The Cooper School Works anti-closure website has published more details about the meeting, noting that in addition to School Board rep Steve Sundquist‘s planned participation (along with district official Patrick Johnson), they have invited the rest of the board. A Cooper PTA rep has shared with us a letter detailing key points they’re making to fight the closure recommendation:

Hello, my name is Molly Gras-Usry and I am a Cooper Elementary Parent. I want to bring to your attention a very fiscally, socially and educationally irresponsible recommendation the School Board has made. The Seattle School Board recommends that the Cooper Elementary students be kicked out of their building so that the West Seattle Pathfinder K-8 Program can occupy the building come fall 2009.

This recommendation doesn’t add up. First of all we have been told all along that Pathfinder needs at least 391 seats. Cooper won’t give that many seats. The Autism Programs that have been invited to stay occupy 4 classrooms for 24 kids therefore taking away 75 of the planning capacity seats. Also, they have invited 8 of the Cooper students to stay at Cooper in the Pathfinder Program which brings the number of seats available to the Pathfinder program 378. Thirteen fewer seats than what Pathfinder needs. Also, bringing a K-8 program into a K-5 building requires the District to retrofit the school with lockers and labs costing the District more money rather than saving money.

Furthermore, Cooper doesn’t meet the criteria established by Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson for closing a program. A program must be tanking on the WASL and enrollment needs to be declining. Cooper Elementary has the strongest WASL scores compared to other schools with similar demographics and enrollment has steadily grown the past several years.

Cooper staff and students also don’t appreciate being told by a Seattle School Board member that Cooper students are “making a waste of a nice, new building”. I’m not sure what he means by that but I see the Cooper family making great use of their space. Due to Cooper’s 80% free and reduced lunch population, we don’t have extra funding for off site field trips. Cooper students enjoy on site field trips through the green belt land they occupy and incorporate their environmental exploration with art.

This isn’t excellence for all, this is excellence for SOME.

Thank you for your time.
Molly Gras-Usry, Cooper PTA

About halfway through her live online Q/A session at the Seattle Times website yesterday (see the transcript here), Superintendent Dr. Goodloe-Johnson answered a question asking how the district could expect students to succeed if a thriving program like Cooper is closed and the students dispersed to other schools: “Successful teachers that implemented the successful programs will follow students. We will duplicate successful programs in the new schools, and strengthen all academic programs. The success that students have experienced will continue.” District information on the closure process can be found here; WSB archives, newest to oldest, are here.

8 Comments

  1. Here we go again. The District staff have a habit of insisting that if they have a successful program, instead of learning from it and supporting it and partnering it with other programs to help them succeed, they should instead just dismantle it, and the people who made it successful will simply disperse to other schools and make them succeed, with a magic “poof!”

    If my mechanic suggested doing something like that with my car, I’d get a new mechanic. If I suggested such a plan to my employer, they’d laugh me right into the unemployment line.

    Headquarters seems to make their decisions based on buildings rather than on what’s going on inside the buildings. Parents, teachers, students, appear to be seen as interchangeable parts that can be shuffled around at no human cost. Schools are seen as nothing more than structures, not as organic programs made up of people whose decision-making processes might differ from those of our school administration.

    Hello? Maybe people don’t want to downgrade their kids’ educational experience. I’m an idealistic fellow, but my family comes first. We’re in a school that is working well for my family. I’m offered what sounds like a chance to sacrifice my kid to an untested theory that you can just take a school that’s really working and the people who make it so, grind it all into fairy dust and spread it around as a balm on the sore parts of the system, and everything will immediately reconstitute itself and clone its power into everything it touches. Maybe that will work. But if it doesn’t, then I have a ground-up kid and a sackful of sticky powder that’s all that’s left of several years of my labor.

    Forgive me if I am less than excited by the opportunity to take this gamble. I get kind of risk-averse when it comes to games where the ante is my family.

    I’m not opposed to change. My school is far from perfect. This change, though, I cannot support. It’s half-baked. It’s rushed. It’s a plan for bricks and mortar, not for flesh and blood. What I’ve seen of the research behind this plan wouldn’t pass a 4th-grade science WASL question. Give me a plan I believe in and back it up with some science, and I’ll throw myself behind it with all the energy I have, but when it’s obvious that you’ve drawn your graph first and then plotted your points too match it, don’t expect me to bet the future on it.

    The students in Seattle Public Schools are that future. The schools and teachers and staff and parents are the foundation for that future. Some parts of that foundation are solid and some are less so. Pulverizing the solid parts and mixing it all together and telling me it will all solidify in time to support what’s already being built on it is neither convincing nor reassuring.

    Comment by Al Boss — 11:34 am January 10, 2009 #

  2. Ms. Gras-Usry brings up some good points, however I have to respond to the statement “bringing a K-8 program into a K-5 building requires the District to retrofit the school with lockers and labs costing the District more money rather than saving money.” The district is not “required” to do any kind of improvement or upgrading – Pathfinder’s middle school grades have existed without lockers or science labs (unless you call one sink and some microscopes a science lab), and a gym designed for little kids, ever since it was mandated to become a K-8 nine years ago. It’s hard to imagine that with all the focus on the fiscal problems that the district would suddenly step up to fund those things after all these years!

    Comment by add — 1:18 pm January 10, 2009 #

  3. Al Boss -

    Well said. Thank you.

    Comment by Alvis — 2:33 pm January 10, 2009 #

  4. Absolutely! Dr. Goodloe-Johnson seems to think individual teachers somehow are the miracle that makes a school successful, the seeds that make it all happen. They are essential, but the interaction of the group, and the trust of the whole community is also essential. People working together are key. It takes years to build the trust of the community groups, particularly the ELL communities that make up such a large part of the Cooper school. When their school is gone, you start again from scratch to build that trust. Sacrificing these kids’ education while it’s attempted to re-build that trust is, as Molly said, irresponsible! Assume you can replicate something, destroy it, and then have nothing to pattern a second attempt on when you fail is a fools gamble that I don’t think many parents would sign up for when it comes to their kids education. Would You?

    Comment by ProudLion — 3:44 pm January 10, 2009 #

  5. Newsflash – both Boren and current Denny buildings have lockers, larger gyms and lab space. Both have wings that could house subgroups like K-2, 3-5, 6-8 with room for a successful program to grow.

    Comment by GenHillOne — 8:45 pm January 10, 2009 #

  6. There are a couple of inaccuracies in the letter that I would note, besides add’s correction. First of all the criteria for closures never mentioned either enrollment or the WASL, as claimed. I can’t understand why one would fabricate criteria when they were set out on Nov 12 and are up on the District website. The criteria (abbreviated) are geographic need, building condition, cost per pupil, proximity to other schools serving the same grades, and academic performance. The last criteria only references if the school has made “expected annual progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.” It says nothing about WASL scores tanking or declining enrollment.

    Ms. Gras-Usry also claims that the Cooper school gets no extra money for field trips because they serve a poor community. The truth is that the Cooper school gets a large amount of extra money because they serve a poor population – they chose not to spend it on field trips. Cooper actually receives more than three times the amount of money per student than Pathfinder. For instance, this year Cooper was allocated 27 FTE teachers and $388,000 to educate 300 students. Pathfinder was allocated fewer than 22 FTE teachers and only $188,000 to educate 391 students, nearly 25% more students! When one looks at the facts and not the perceptions, it is clear that Cooper is a wealthy school that serves a dominantly poor population, while Pathfinder is the school that is resource-starved but serves a mixed/diverse population.

    This proposal is tremendously important and I don’t mean to indicate that there are not real issues that might cause one to question the Superintendent’s proposal. However, by passing along inaccuracies as truth, the discussion cannot go beyond simple “don’t close my school.” Where it needs to go (IMHO) is how can we do what is best for all students in the Seattle Public Schools?

    Comment by Eric B — 11:52 am January 11, 2009 #

  7. Eric oversimplifies school funding when he compares the number of Cooper teachers (27) to Pathfinder teachers (22) and sums of money based only on one data point, overall school enrollment. Pathfinder and Cooper serve very different populations of students. The additional FTE reflects Cooper’s three Autism teachers, 6 Autism Instructional Assistants, 1.6 bilingual teachers, and additional FTE for PCP teacher for Cooper’s Autism program. Additionally, the differences in money allotments reflect monies set aside for special education classrooms and the bilingual program, as well as Title I money set aside for instruction and parent support. Simply comparing overall enrollment to funding and teacher FTE does not reflect the needs of the students within the school programs (for Cooper, English language learners, students with Autism, students living in poverty), the class sizes of specialty programs, and the strict requirements of spending Title I funding. It also must be noted that Title I funding is designed to target academic interventions designed to increase the academic achievement of low-income students. Comparison of funding across school programs must take into consideration the differences in student populations served within different school programs and not simply compare total enrollments.

    Link to Cooper Budget:
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/finance/budget/purplebook/09/cooper.pdf

    Link to Pathfinder Budget:
    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/finance/budget/purplebook/09/pathfinder.pdf

    Comment by Becca C. — 1:24 am January 12, 2009 #

  8. Becca is absolutely correct. I did oversimplify the budget. There are many very valid reasons why Cooper does and should get greater resources than Pathfinder. I only meant to give evidence that Ms. Gras-Usry was factually incorrect when she stated that “Due to Cooper’s 80% free and reduced lunch population, we don’t have extra funding for off site field trips.” I realize now that reading my post one could interpret that I intended to say that Cooper did not deserve their greater resources. I did not intend that nor do I believe it, and I apologize if I left that impression. I would, however reiterate my position that discussing facts and not fallacies will lead us to better understandings and a more thorough discussion of the issues. For that, I thank you Becca.

    Comment by Eric B — 10:47 pm January 12, 2009 #

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