By Charla Mustard-Foote
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The long-awaited meeting between the Cooper Elementary School community and Seattle Public Schools representatives took place Tuesday night. Approximately 140 people filled the school cafeteria (moved from the library to accommodate an overflow crowd).
Six of the seven Seattle School Board members, including West Seattle’s Steve Sundquist, attended the meeting to listen to community questions and concerns. Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris, Cheryl Chow, Michael De Bell, and Mary Bass were also there.
As announced last week (WSB coverage here), Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s “final recommendations” include closing the Genesee Hill school building, moving the Pathfinder K-8 program from there to the Cooper building, and reassigning most Cooper Elementary students to other schools. Cooper’s programs for autistic children will remain in the current location, but the “buddies” paired with autistic children will be moved. Parents were concerned about this disruption in the lives of students who weren’t moving.
This was the first district meeting devoted solely to the concerns of the Cooper community — originally scheduled for mid-December, but postponed because of the snow — and people spoke eloquently and passionately in support of their school. Under Washington open meeting laws, most members of the school board could not respond to questions but Sundquist, as the local school board member, and Carla Santorno, the district’s Chief Academic Officer, took on all questions and comments.
The community has been organizing its own meetings and anti-closure efforts, however, including the Cooper School Works website, and previous meetings we have covered here and here). Parents also developed an extensive telephone tree to share information: One father said he was called at 4:30 am because the callers knew his work schedule.
Translators were introduced at the beginning of the meeting, so everyone could participate fully in the evening’s activities. Translation was an issue at previous meetings, when some non-English-speakers did not know the service was available until it was too late for them to get on the agenda. The community made sure it wasn’t an issue at this meeting. District educational director Patrick Johnson, who facilitated the meeting, reminded the speakers to speak slowly so they could be translated.
There was a definite sense of urgency in the room, since the date for a final decision by the board on school closures is January 29th. The community wanted to make their opposition loud and clear. Teachers, parents, and grandparents, some from three generations of Cooper families, spoke about the effect the school has had in the lives of their children.
Four key points emerged over and over from the small groups, whose “assignment” was to come up with two concerns and one question. Here’s video panning the room as the groups gathered and discussed:
When the groups reported back, they were obviously speaking directly to the school board members in attendance.
* Do you understand that Cooper is more than a school (or a building)?
* What will happen to our kids — will they go to a failing school instead of one we’ve worked so hard to make successful?
* We did what you told us to do (raised WASL scores, set up special programs). Why are we being punished?
* What’s the benefit of this closure for our kids?
Santorno addressed this last issue directly: “I could tell you this will help your kids now, but I would be fibbing.” She did say that teachers could “follow their students,” and wind up in the same school. But speakers clearly weren’t satisfied with that answer. They see the school as central to a vital community, not as a building or a room that can be transported at will. The idea that the Cooper Elementary community could propagate what they’ve done across the school system didn’t seem to offer much comfort.
Following the reports from the small groups, the agenda called for “Open Testimonies.” The line was long and the speakers were passionate. J.J. Ball, mother of a kindergartener and senior analyst at Boeing, presented a detailed analysis of feasible options other than disbanding Cooper. (Read them in full here.) Part of the analysis contends that the Cooper building does not have enough room for Pathfinder students, also the subject of the banner you see in the background of this photo:
The audience enthusiastically cheered Ball, and some shouted, “Hire her.”
The issue of dispersing a diverse school with a high percentage of low-income students came up several times. A stay-at-home mom described what she went through to get the right placement for her daughter and offered to help other parents who didn’t have the luxury of spending a week on the telephone to get what they needed for their kids. Her offer was met with enthusiastic applause and hugs from other parents in line to speak.
Shelly Williams, a parent and former student, addressed the fact that Cooper was on the block again, and noted the achievements of the school in enrollment growth and academic performance (as . She was one of many Cooper advocates who suggested a connection between the school’s demographic (low income, multiracial) and its status as a target for closing.
A final speaker summed up: “Don’t we have enough buildings in this city without taking this one?” Talking with people after the meeting, it was clear that the Cooper Elementary community wants to stay together and that they know it might be too late. But they won’t stop fighting for what they think is best for their community and their kids. They see Cooper as a special place and want that to be recognized and rewarded.
* January 15 – Cooper PTA Meeting
* January 21 – Chat with Steve Sundquist – 9 a.m. – Coffee to a Tea with Sugar
* January 21 – School Board meeting – public discussion – 6 p.m. – John Stanford Center
* January 22 – Final Public Hearing – 6:30 p.m. – John Stanford Center (Speaker Signup Closed)
* January 24 – Chat with Steve Sundquist – 1 p.m. – Delridge Library
* January 29 – School Board – 6 p.m. – Board votes on closure recommendation
WSB coverage of the current school-closure process is all archived here.