By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Almost four full years ago, the principals of what were then Chief Sealth High School and Denny Middle School stood before a concerned crowd at Southwest Community Center and apologized for not enough community outreach about the plan for their schools to share a campus.
Flash forward to last night. The principals are the same – Sealth’s John Boyd, Denny’s Jeff Clark. The schools are both now “international” schools. And the shared campus is almost complete; a new Denny has arisen next to the remodeled Sealth, which reopened last fall after two years of work, and is scheduled to open this summer.
Last night, not far from SWCC — where they had faced concerned community members in 2007 — they stood together before a group to again talk about the shared campus – this time, about the practicalities, the procedures, the reality of what it should be like next fall, when the middle schoolers and high schoolers are on the same campus, the first co-located campuses in the district.
The meeting yielded new information, such as the schools’ start/end times for next year and expected enrollment.
Co-leading the meeting in the Sealth library were Sealth PTSA president Amy Daly-Donovan and Denny PTSA president Kathleen Steele.
There was even an opening musical act – a combo from the award-winning Sealth Jazz band played several numbers.
And that underscored one thing that’s also become reality in the years since the levy-funded co-location project became reality: The schools have been sharing some things already, particularly in the music program.
But in the Q/A portion of last night’s meeting, it was clear that parents are still wondering, and nervous about, what else will be shared, and how much the high-school and middle-school students will come into contact with each other; those were some of the main issues while the project was being planned, too.
Sealth principal John Boyd opened by stressing, “The thing I want people to understand is that this building was designed to house two separate populations, two autonomous schools. It was not designed to be one school mixed all together. There are separate facilities for Denny students developmentally appropriate to middle-school students, there are separate facilities for Chief Sealth students developmentally appropriate to high-school students.”
And, along with music, there are a few other shared facilities. The focus was on the advantages – “The facilities are phenomenal; the kids are going to love the state-of-the-art classrooms. Rumor is, Denny gets ‘smart boards’ in all classrooms.”
Denny principal Jeff Clark talked about the staff collaboration, and also about what has been enabled by the fact that the Student Assignment Plan sets up something else for West Seattle that doesn’t exist anywhere in the district – a pathway between schools: One group of elementaries feeds into Denny, which feeds into Sealth, while the other group feeds into Madison Middle School, which feeds into West Seattle High School. “I’m a big fan of the Student Assignment Plan,” declared Clark. “it’s predictable, and it’s set up so the educational pathway is sound and aligned.”
They’re working in “department groups” to create “sixth through twelfth grade curriculum maps,” he added. And because Sealth and Denny are both “international schools,” that in itself is its own kind of pathway, as they work to determine “what IS that ‘global perspective’?,” in Clark’s words.
The music collaboration, Boyd said, has enabled them to have three teachers, which means that beyond the basics, they can offer opportunities including steel drums and orchestra. He alluded to other “staffing efficiencies” as well as: “One of the things we’ve found, is that a lot of people want to partner with us, because it’s a unique thing, the sixth-through-twelfth pathway, and the co-located campus.” He was referring specifically to grants, saying the schools are “really ripe” for them because of those unique factors.
And it’s led to opportunities for older students mentoring younger ones. Offered Clark: “I can easily see identifying high-school students who might want to be a teacher someday, maybe crossing over to be a teaching assistant with a middle-school teacher. There’s no better way to reinforce learning. If you really want to learn something super-well yourself, you teach it.”
That discussion still left questions about how the two schools’ students might “mix and interact.” Boyd stressed, again, “two separate buildings, separate gyms, separate locker rooms, separate cafeterias during lunch.” As for where they might come into contact, besides music, he mentioned a “family/consumer science room (that) will be a shared lab,” as well as the Confucius Institute for Chinese-language instruction. “There would be some interaction there, and we want there to be.”
The principals said they hope the “schedules will line up” but that certainly won’t mean simultaneity, at least not for year one. They announced that Denny will start at 7:40 am and end at 2:10 pm; Chief Sealth will start at 8:30 am and end at 3 pm. “In the middle,” they’re trying for some alignment. They reminded attendees that Denny’s entrance is on SW Kenyon, the north side of the shared campus, while Sealth’s entrance remains on SW Thistle, on the south side.
What if you have students in both schools – will you be able to drop them off and pick them up together? Can the high-schooler be on campus early if they are dropped off with a middle-schooler. “As long as we don’t have problems,” Boyd replied, with a note of caution, saying that even now, “we have students who show up before I do.”
A few other procedural/logistical tidbits: Clark said he’s not planning to have Denny students use lockers, though the school is built with them “in case we want to in the future.” Regarding hallway security and supervision, a “thorough supervision plan” was mentioned, and Clark said his will be easier because instead of five separate buildings with breezeways, as is the setup of the current Denny campus, his students will be all in the same building – one grade per floor. And, added Boyd, “We have 80 to 90 cameras” that can be consulted if something happens and they need to see who was involved.
Both principals expect enrollment increases next year: Boyd said Chief Sealth, at 1086 right now, should be at its 1200-student capacity for 2011-2012, though he says the district is predicting more like 1100; Clark expects Denny to have 825 next year, up from 775 right now (its capacity, he says, is 940).
Some on hand were also interested to hear the Sealth tiebreaker factors for attendance determination, which are new: #1, if you have a sibling there; #2, if you were attending Denny; #3, if you are from anywhere in the West Seattle region, including South Park; #4, the “Garfield opt-out” plan (which was not elaborated on).
Transportation boundaries had been of some controversy for Denny parents this year, and for next year, Clark said, transportation will only be provided beyond the two-mile walk zone, adding, “which I continue to advocate is too far.”
Right now, though, the big job for staffs of both schools is continuing to meet to work out what it will be like to share a campus; another discussion with Building Leadership Teams is set for tomorrow.
Clark also issued an open invitation to a farewell event for the old Denny campus – Saturday, June 11th, 10 am-noon, he said, there will be a community open house, “to walk the halls one more time before the building goes down.”
For our entire archive of coverage dating back to the first 2007 community discussions of Denny and Sealth co-location, follow this link – newest coverage first.