Tonight (Wednesday), the Seattle School Board will formally receive Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s “final recommendations” for the next round of school closures.
As we first reported when she unveiled the plan Tuesday afternoon, the West Seattle components of the proposal haven’t changed from her previous update a month ago – the Cooper Elementary School “program” is slated for closure, so that Pathfinder K-8 can be moved into the Cooper building (left) once the Genesee Hill campus – which had been closed for years before Pathfinder was placed there 15 years ago — is shut down.
You’ll probably recall that Cooper wasn’t on the “preliminary” list, first announced back in November – Arbor Heights Elementary was instead recommended for program closure and Pathfinder relocation. The superintendent was asked at the Tuesday afternoon media briefing to elaborate on why Arbor Heights is now “off the list”:
That’s not the only recommendation that has changed along the way.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson attributed the changes to a “collaborative” process:
In response to another question, she insisted that parental advocacy – which Arbor Heights in particular applied intensively from the moment they learned program closure was a possibility — did not sway any of the decisions along the way. Her report explains the change between Preliminary and Final Recommendation this way, after reiterating that “as … the only alternative and the only K-8 in West Seattle, (Pathfinder was) a likely candidate for moving”:
The Preliminary Recommendation identified Arbor Heights as the appropriate new location for the Pathfinder program because moving to Cooper would mean either becoming a K-5 (in order to accommodate all current Cooper students) or (1) that either West Seattle Elementary would need to absorb 140 students or (2) that Cooper students be assigned to West Seattle South cluster schools, contrary to the tenets of the current student assignment plan.
At the School Board workshop on November 25, 2008, when this Preliminary Recommendation was presented, School Board Directors indicated that staff should analyze the possibility of moving Pathfinder to Cooper despite the restrictions of the current student assignment plan. With this direction, staff began analyzing moving the Pathfinder program to Cooper.
In general, the Cooper building is a more logical choice for the relocation of the Pathfinder program. The building is nearly 30,000 square feet larger than Arbor Heights, and the building layout is more suitable for a K-8. Typically, K-8 programs prefer to physically separate the elementary and middle school students and the Cooper building allows for this. Cooper also has a full size field suitable for middle school PE. Cooper also is located on a large site that has a natural area that can be used by the Pathfinder program in support of their environmental education focus.
In addition, the location of the Cooper building — not in the heart of a neighborhood — is more appropriate for a regional draw. There are 309 students who live in the Cooper reference area, 92 of whom attend Cooper. Of the 309 who live in the reference area, only 36 live in the walk boundary. There are 8 students who can walk to Cooper who attend Cooper. Conversely, there are 225 students who live in the Arbor Heights reference area. Of these, 150 attend Arbor Heights. There are 215 students in the reference area who can walk to Arbor Heights, and there are 149 in the reference area who can walk to Arbor Heights and who go to Arbor Heights.
This is an important data point. As we move to a student assignment plan where students are assigned to a school near home, it is important to maximize the number of students who can walk to school. A building where most students will require transportation is therefore less appropriate for a reference area school and is more appropriate for a regional draw, because in a regional draw most students are transported anyway.
If this recommendation wins final approval, it won’t just affect Cooper and Pathfinder students — some other West Seattle schools will see student-population changes as Cooper’s current students are reassigned. According to Appendix G in the report (click ahead to page G-9):
Students who attend Cooper and live in the Cooper reference area are assigned to Pathfinder, Gatewood, Sanislo, or West Seattle Elementary depending on where in the reference area they live. … The other reassignments … contemplate that the Cooper reference area would be merged into the Sanislo reference area, putting it into the West Seattle South Cluster. Transportation would therefore be provided to students in the Cooper reference area who attend a school in the West Seattle South Cluster (Arbor Heights, Concord, Gatewood, Highland Park, Roxhill, Sanislo). Transportation is also provided to West Seattle Elementary from both the West Seattle North and West Seattle South Clusters. Cooper students whose reference area is in the West Seattle North Cluster (Alki, Lafayette, Schmitz Park) and who live close enough to walk would be reassigned to their reference area school. If not, they would be reassigned to West Seattle Elementary.
The autism programs that are currently at Cooper will stay and become part of Pathfinder, under terms of this proposal.
For a clearer picture of how other schools might be affected, tables toward the end of the report show how school populations would change if all students to be reassigned were moved “instantly” to their new schools (the district qualifies this by warning, “these are NOT enrollment projections for 2009-2010”) – to see all these projections, citywide, in full, go through the report at this link and find Appendix H, which starts with page H-1 (we are only listing the ones here with double-digit changes in student population):
*Pathfinder K-8, currently 388 students, would increase to 430; its two biggest ethnic groups, white and Hispanic, would change from 64%/15% to 61%/15%
*Gatewood Elementary, currently 291 students, would increase to 394; its two biggest ethnic groups, white and black, would change from 69%/13% to 54%/24%
*Highland Park Elementary, currently 378 students, would increase to 410; its two biggest ethnic groups, Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic, would change from 33%/31% to 32%/29%
*Sanislo Elementary, currently 290 students, would increase to 321; its two biggest ethnic groups, white and Asian/PI, would change from 39%/28% to 38%/27%.
*Schmitz Park Elementary, currently 321 students, would increase to 332; the percentages of its two biggest ethnic groups, white and Asian/PI, would NOT change (80%/9%)
*West Seattle Elementary, currently 282 students, would increase to 355; its two biggest ethnic groups, black and Hispanic, would change from 38%/26% to 38%/25%.
It’s not just about the decisionmaking timeline, which we will recap in a moment. There’s also the issue of the transitions that will need to begin after the final vote. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson confirmed Tuesday that there will be “design teams” even for programs whose students will be dispersing to various schools, such as Cooper. According to her final report, such teams will be tasked with addressing issues including: “How can staff and students be supported for the remainder of (this school) year?” and “What is the best way to transition students and staff who are moving?” But they won’t be formed until after the School Board’s final vote on January 29th. The full report does say that the “programmatic design team” for the Cooper transition would “include representatives from both Pathfinder and Cooper, especially representatives from the Cooper autism program” (which as mentioned earlier would be staying at the Cooper building, to become part of Pathfinder).
Now, the timeline:
Tonight — School Board meeting, district HQ in Sodo, 6 pm (starts with a public comment period, but that required advance signup starting this past Monday at 8 am, and there’s already a full list — see it on the agenda)
January 21 — Another School Board meeting, district HQ in Sodo, 6 pm (that too will start with a public comment period, and signups will open the preceding Monday, 1/19, at 8 am; district website explains how to sign up)
January 22 — Final public hearing on the closure recommendations, district HQ in Sodo, 6:30 pm (signups are open now – call 206-252-0042 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org )
January 29 — Special School Board meeting for a vote on the recommendations, district HQ, 6 pm
End of February — The district says “new assignments will be mailed (by then) to students affected by (the closure) plan”
March 2-31 — The rescheduled district Open Enrollment period (pushed back because of the closure process)
As the superintendent cautioned today, nothing’s final till the board vote in three weeks: “It still could change.” But in the meantime, affected families are digesting the news — we expect to hear from some of them at tonight’s board meeting (at least one of those who made the public-comment list is from Cooper) — and not pleasantly; Raymond Williams, who spoke at the Genesee Hill public hearing last month, forwarded us three links to recent district newsletters (here, here, and here), with a note “Can you say Ironic? These are webpages in the Seattle Schools site “School Beat” on the exact pages that address school closures. Apparently Cooper students and staff is appropriate to display as a model of excellence and diversity on three (of the last four) “School Beat” issues. I am speechless on this one!”
The district’s official site for the closure process, aka Capacity Management, is here; WSB coverage is all archived here, newest to oldest.