West Seattle schools: Your thoughts on ‘capacity management’?

December 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm | In West Seattle news, West Seattle schools | 41 Comments

After Seattle Public Schools staff presented a revamped proposal for “capacity management” next year – basically, how to relieve overcrowding – we asked West Seattle’s newly elected school-board representative Marty McLaren for her reaction. She in turn asked if we would publish her call for YOUR thoughts. So here goes. (If you didn’t see our story earlier this week, it’s here, including a link to the presentation made to board members last Wednesday.) You can comment here or contact her directly; the board is scheduled to get a more-or-less-finalized proposal for introduction at its January 4th meeting, and a final vote two weeks later. Her message to you:

I’m very interested in hearing views from West Seattle people about the short term options that the community/school district committee (“FACMAC”) has recommended to alleviate overcrowding at elementary schools in the Denny and Madison Middle School areas.

Background: The short-term solutions offered are intended for the year 2012-13 only. By identifying these options as soon as possible, we pave the way for open enrollment to commence on time in March, 2012. Open enrollment will allow families wanting their children to attend programs outside of their normal assignment area to request those assignments.

These short-term solutions for the coming year are intended to allow time for the district (with community participation) to design mid- and long term plans for program placement and for opening more classroom space to meet our projected rise in number of students.

So far, after extensive brainstorming and soliciting opinions from many members of the community, the district is recommending:

Madison Service Area: Opening the Boren School site and placing an option school there. If that does not draw off sufficient students in the 2012-13 year, the district is proposing to add temporary portables to Gatewood, Lafayette, and Schmitz Park. After consideration, moving 5th graders to Madison was not recommended.

1. Feedback requested: My impression is that, in this event — Boren not drawing enough students to alleviate overcrowding) most parents in each of the elementary schools prefer to add portables, despite the great inconvenience entailed, because they value keeping the community intact. Please let me know if I’ve misunderstood.

Denny Service Area: Similar to the above — Opening the Boren School site and placing an option school there. If that does not draw off sufficient students in the 2012-13 year, the district is proposing to repurpose available classrooms at Arbor Heights and Roxhill, and to add portables to West Seattle Elementary. After consideration, moving kindergartners or 5th graders to Boren was not recommended.

2. Feedback requested: Similar question to 1, above: Is it true that the parent communities of Arbor Heights, Roxhill, and West Seattle favor the district recommendations of repurposing classrooms or adding portables, should opening Boren not relieve overcrowding at their schools?

About the Boren option school proposal: I’ve heard two possibilities mentioned: a) That Boren be a STEM elementary school — that is, with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics focus, or b) that it become a language immersion program or international school. It could then feed into the Denny Middle School /Sealth High School pathway, as Concord already does. A third option which I’ve recently heard of is STEAM — parents at Hawthorne in SE Seattle are working with staff to create a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics.

Here’s what I know about these possibilities:

STEM: I’ve spoken with one highly respected, experienced, and accomplished West Seattle teacher who has expressed great interest in helping to plan such a program.

Language immersion: I have little experience, except that my brief visit at Concord Elementary in the fall impressed me tremendously. There’s an abundance of spirit at Concord, and community engagement is clearly very positive there. At our recent Board work session, some staff members said that it could be difficult to put a language immersion school into place in the short time we will have; others have disputed this.

STEAM: I only know that many Hawthorne parents are very enthusiastic about this idea.

3. Feedback requested: Please let me know what you think of the above possibilities. (Caution: I know it’s tempting to suggest other ideas for 2012-13; I think the time for that is past. However, other ideas are definitely welcome for the mid-term and long-term planning which will commence in earnest in January.)

41 Comments

  1. Might I suggest, as an interim solution, a six year commitment to re-opening Fairwood (or is it Fairview) off Fauntleroy?

    I am suggesting that in year 1, a full kindergarten enrollment, and option students in grades 1-5; in year 2, determine if overflow conditions still exist, and if so, enroll a full class of kindergarden students again – in a lather, rinse, repeat kind of process where, if demand fades, the school fades back into reserve status.

    Comment by GC — 8:39 pm December 18, 2011 #

  2. If I understand correctly, due to lapsed occupancy permits @ Fairmont Park & Genessee, the only WS building that can be opened by next fall (without incurring multimillion $ investment) is Boren. Not sure that even with the $ you could make fall 2012.

    Comment by Denny — 9:24 pm December 18, 2011 #

  3. Our child is 2 years out from entering Kindergarten and we are a family in the over-crowded Lafayette boundary. Another K-8 option school would be an appealing choice we would seriously consider. Either STEM or Language Immersion. K-8 moreso than K-6, if the Boren campus is capable of that.

    Comment by Monosyllabic Girl — 9:49 pm December 18, 2011 #

  4. Your suggestions on this blog are great, make sure to submit them to the Seattle Public Schools officials.

    Comment by represent — 11:05 pm December 18, 2011 #

  5. I want to know more about the STEM option, like what it’s modeled after, who’s planning it, who will staff it, what it will include and leave out, and I don’t think this will be addressed in time for the March enrollment deadline. Please do plan for portables before it’s too late. I can’t imagine signing up my child for a program that is in a temporary site, not yet staffed, I can’t visit, and is offered as a reaction to overcrowding, rather than interest and long-term planning.
    Also, what happened to the Montessouri idea? North and Southest Seattle offer this option, which can be visited, consulted with, replicated, and has clear mission.

    Comment by Neihgborly — 11:23 pm December 18, 2011 #

  6. As the parent of a preschooler I’ve been following this issue closely so apologies in advance for the long post. I would be very enthusiastic about any of these option programs if they are fully realized, attract enough students to build a strong school community, and alleviate the most crowded schools.

    STEM: Yes, but let’s do it right! Make SPS deliver a true STEM program and not repeat what happened at the recently reopened Queen Anne Elementary where a promised STEM program got reduced to a “technology enhanced” program. A STEM program should be modeled on one with proven results not another risky NTN-type model. As a math-focused school, can it get immediate permission to use the most effective math materials available (Saxon or Singapore not EM) like Schmitz Park and Mercer Middle School have done? That would draw more students and show the sort of commitment to excellence in math education that a STEM school should have.

    STEAM is an even more exciting, attractive proposal. It would have broader appeal than STEM, given the popularity of art inclusion (for example artist in residence programs) among well-funded schools in Seattle. But can such an innovative program be ready to open for next fall?

    Language Focused or Immersion: I suspect that this would be the most effective in drawing students from the overcrowded schools. However, I was recently told by an SPS administrator that another language program is not on the table for Boren because whatever program is put in would be designed to be a feeder for Madison/WSH since Sealth is already so crowded. I was told all language programs will feed into the international middle schools so a new option school could not be a language program. Is this true? Why can’t students have access to language education in all elementary schools? I know some already fund their own (Pathfinder with Chinese for example) in schools that don’t feed into the international schools. I have heard parents reluctant to select Concord for K because placement into the language immersion program is not guaranteed. Is that still the case? An option school could solve that problem and draw more students.

    According to a March 19, 2010 article in http://www.queenanneview.com a survey of that community (including mostly parents of potential students) showed “International/Language Immersion was the overwhelming first choice (77%) ” for an option program at Queen Anne Elementary. Montessori and STEM tied for second place. I suspect that we would see similar results in West Seattle. Is West Seattle not being given the a similar chance for input because STEM has already been decided on with little community involvement? It is critical that we select a program that can alleviate the overcrowded schools. Have students and prospective students from those neighborhood schools shown a preference for STEM? I’m very glad you are looking for input here, and encourage you to hold some community meetings soon.

    In the Dec. 2 FACMAC meeting minutes posted on the SPS website the “Overall summary” of community meetings on Short Term Capacity Management says  “West Seattle – strong preference for opening Boren as a STEM option school.”  I went to one of those meetings and the rating form used combined STEM and Montessori options as one answer along with a proposed reopening of Fairmount Park. It was unclear whether the answer meant both options would be co-housed at Boren or only one would be selected. How do we know that the preference was for STEM alone (as reported in the summary) and not for Montessori or just in favor of reopening Fairmount Park? I think many who selected this choice were showing a strong preference against portables and against mandatory moves to Boren (or Madison) for K or 5th classes more than support for STEM or enthusiasm for sending kids to any program at Boren. The survey simply made it the lesser of evils and the only choice that families could opt out of.

    Montessori: Why was it recently removed from the options for Boren? We have a great opportunity to start a Montessori option program at Boren in addition to another option program. I read it was removed from the Queen Anne Elementary choices in spite of great demand, because of the difficulty of staffing it, and the need to include older grades immediately with students who didn’t have a Montessori background. If Boren is opened as an elementary next year, we have a unique opportunity to grow a Montessori program there (alongside the a K-5 option school) starting with just K, K-1 or whatever fits the model best. We have a successful program at Graham Hill to model it on and by starting with just one or two classrooms we have time to recruit or train enough teachers as the grades are added. It could later be relocated into one of the other elementary buildings as schools are opened in upcoming years. Why miss this opportunity to do all that we can to alleviate the capacity problems in 2012 and give more SPS students access to proven educational options?

    The uncertainly about the permanent location of an option program at Boren really hurts its ability to attract students for 2012, so we must do all we can to offer quality options to attract students and meet their educational needs. If a language program is not going to be allowed, please support starting a Montessori program as well as supporting a strong STEM or STEAM option.

    Comment by Fiver — 12:15 am December 19, 2011 #

  7. Way to go Neighborly. This is so well said. As Denny points out there is no way Fairmont or Genesee can reopen. Our short sighted district leaders have once again set themselves up for failure.
    One thing that leads to this is the yearly student projections the district does for every school. I teach @ Sealth and until last spring, our numbers were projected down each year. Meaning the district expected the school to shrink. However, every year the building correctly predicted our numbers would increase. Then the district would fund us based on their predictions and we couldn’t hire new staff until October. This is the status quo for the leadership.
    When the rebuilt Ballard HS in the late 90′s it was built for about 1200 students, then the district quickly over-enrolled it. This is not a new pattern.
    Finally, taking care of the elementary problem now does nothing to correct the overcrowding that is being experienced at Sealth and that will continue as this elementary “bubble” moves through the grades.
    The fact of the matter is that many of the NSAP lines were drawn for political/economic/racial reasons after board members were heavily lobbied. Now that the lines are not working they can’t go back and we are left with the worst of options.
    Knowing the district there will be no planning for the STEM program. Only a title and great expectations. Programs like that take off when they come from within the school community (IB @ Sealth, Bilingual ed @ Concord, Grade level teaming @ Gatewood, etc.).

    Comment by Seen this all before — 12:45 am December 19, 2011 #

  8. I could see the language immersion program in a elementary school setting being very popular in WS, especially if there were two language tracks (as as John Stanford Elementary (JSE) in Wallingford with Spanish or Japanese), such as Chinese and Spanish. We have a friend who attends JSE and there are many, many parent volunteers in the classrooms. That is the one key to its success—parents who are willing to invest in the school. The same is true of private schools.
    As far as a STEM school—to me, this is really limiting for an ELEMENTAEY school. Engineering, really? These are little kids. They are just learning to read and write and work in a group. Maybe by the time they are in 4th or 5th grade they could focus on STEM, but before that, they need to learn social skills, writing, reading, speaking in a group, time management, being a good global citizen—that’s what elementary school is about for kids. Language immersion can teach kids those skills. STEM seems better suited for middle school or high school to me.

    Comment by junebug — 1:23 am December 19, 2011 #

  9. My idea is to add portables as required for ONE year while working to re-open Genessee or Fairmont park as a K-8 school. Maybe move all spectrum from Lafeyette and Arbor Heights to the new school. Language immersion would be great, but maybe work on getting a STEM program working at Madison or WSHS.

    Most important would be to allow the math curriculum of the new school to be Saxon or Singapore math. I think people would flock to this arrangement.

    Comment by westseattleperson — 6:48 am December 19, 2011 #

  10. As an active community member with West Seattle Elementary, I would recommend that the classroom space inside of West Seattle Elementary that is currently being used by the YMCA school be repurposed for new classrooms. A portable could be positioned outside of the building for the YMCA childcare program if needed. That would keep all students in the building and feeling part of the community.

    I wouldn’t recommend the opening of a new school, rather I would recommend the development of a STEM program within a couple of West Seattle Schools. It seems foolish to open schools at this juncture considering the economic push of staffing a whole school. Let’s build on what we have – on what is already working.

    Comment by Laura — 8:05 am December 19, 2011 #

  11. A few points keep popping out at me:

    1) The “short term capacity solutions” are a mere bandaid. There is no “short term” when talking about enrollment. They start in kindergarten and roll through high school. Duh.

    2) When did the public schools become private/montessori/charter-like? Offering all these elite programs/alternatives does not make them a “public school for all”.

    3) With the money woes of the district we need to tighten the boot-straps and simplify, not spend tons of money on short-term solutions only to have to do it again next year.

    4) The district needs to fire the person who is coming up with the demographics/enrollment predictions. She’s been egregiously wrong for years now, and the public and staffs keep paying the price.

    Comment by Caprial — 8:31 am December 19, 2011 #

  12. West Seattle needs to open/re-open neighborhood elementary schools. Portables are only a very short-term solution. There simply are not enough classrooms for elementary school kids in the North end of West Seattle. While special programs like STEM or language immersion sound appealing, they will take time to draw support. When many parents voiced support for these programs, they usually followed up by noting that they would still keep their kids at their local neighborhood school. Everyone seems to like the concept of special option schools, but no one is willing to take the chance of enrolling their kids in one of these schools for 2013. This actually makes sense when there has been no clear program, location, or staff identified for STEM or language immersion and there is conflicting information about where these kids would end up going to middle school and high school (Denny/Sealth is already overcrowded and Madison/WS doesn’t have a STEM or language immersion program). We will have a failed option school in West Seattle, which the school district will use to justify closing the program, and still be left with too much over-crowding. It is time for the school district to bite the bullet, admit it made mistakes by closing too many West Seattle schools, and reduce overcrowding by opening new neighborhood schools.

    Comment by 3rd Gen — 9:09 am December 19, 2011 #

  13. 3rd Gen; Bingo! You are spot-on!
    Stop the rhetoric, make a plan, and stick to it to cultivate it. Simple is best.

    Comment by Caprial — 9:17 am December 19, 2011 #

  14. Fix the problem. No STEMs. No STICKs. No immersion programs. No portables. Stop growth. Build new schools. Open the closed schools. Remodel the schools that we already have.

    Comment by WSTroll — 9:35 am December 19, 2011 #

  15. 1. I can not speak for the entire community but my answer is YES

    2. Again, my personal answer is YES

    3. STEAM or Language Immersion (NOT STEM)- the arts are sadly viewed as optional. The absence of this curriculum robs our children of the intellectual, personal, and social development that art education supplies. All people are different. We excel in different areas. With all the testing and cutting and reduction of music, dance, theatre, and visual arts programs, it seems like we are trying to raise robots. One of the things that makes America great is our artists and freedom of expression. Please allow our children to continue their necessary education in public schools.

    Thank you.

    Comment by KatieK — 9:37 am December 19, 2011 #

  16. I agree with 3rd gen. I think the best solution is to put portables on current sites for ONE year, and get the ball rolling NOW to reopen neighborhood schools. A STEM/STEAM school sounds great, however what I really want is a neighborhood school that can best provide a well-rounded education in the basics of reading, writing and math. Building upon the basics with teachers that are well-skilled in sciences, arts and technology and nurturing social skills will enhance what our students need. My other choice is for the west seattle schools to secede from the SPS system and create our own smaller, more effective district. SPS is too big to manage itself.

    Comment by ttt — 9:39 am December 19, 2011 #

  17. @ junebug: This is our first year at John Stanford International School (JSIS), my kids attended Alki Elementary before we moved. In my opinion the parent involvement and volunteering is much higher at Alki Elementary. I know this first hand because I have been a volunteer at my kids’ classrooms for years. I believe the reason JSIS is in such high demand is because the language immersion as well as the student:teacher ratio-in the foreign language classes is 14:1, yes, that’s right, in a public school!
    They have run out of room and now their options are:
    -portables
    -losing the music room (technology room was lost last year)
    -transferring 4th and 5th graders to McDonald Elementary
    -shrinking the reference boundaries
    -combine McDonald and JSIS reference area

    This is a mess and parents owe it to their kids to participate and find a sustainable solution. Please get involved, write to the SPS officials and attend capacity meetings.

    Comment by represent — 9:52 am December 19, 2011 #

  18. @Laura — before saying “don’t open more schools” spend a day or two at Schmitz Park and Lafayette. Both schools are extremely over-crowded and are expecting to each have to add two portables next year. Schmitz Park building currently ONLY holds K-2. The rest of the school (3-5) are already in portables.

    The district needs to open a new school and it needs to be open for the next school year. My guess is they are tossing out the idea of STEM or STEAM as they think it will get parents to voluntarily move their children instead of what inevitably will need to happen -redraw the school boundary lines and redraw them based on geography – not on social or economic lines. It will be wildly unpopular when it happens but it really needs to be done.

    Comment by yeah-me — 10:52 am December 19, 2011 #

  19. If we want to solve the actual problem, over capacity, then we need to a reopen a neighborhood school asap. Option programs, especially ones with no real planning or community input, sound nice but do NOT solve the problem, especially in the short term years. Fairmount Park’s location naturally draws from overcrowded Gatewood, Lafayette and Schmitz, and is in an area that clearly does not have a neighborhood school option. It takes courage and leadership to actually solve the problem at hand, and fix past district mistakes vs. compounding them with “quick” fixes that waste resources and time. Fairmount Park needs to be reopened as a neighborhood school asap (2012-2013 at the latest), sibling grandfathering should be seriously considered to ease the burden on those families who’ve been caught in the middle of district poor planning, and STEM can continue at Boren if it actually draws anyone until a more permanent location is established. Why is West Seattle afraid to ask for what it knows it needs while north end neighborhoods get their schools reopened? Stand up for WS!

    Comment by Cares about Kids — 11:30 am December 19, 2011 #

  20. What I am hearing is that parents in WS want another permanent school building opened for elementary education and soon. Special programs are not necessarily optimal. Over-capacity is the problem that really needs to be solved, long term.
    I have lived in WS since 1998. When we first moved to our block, the only kids on the block were a couple of older teenagers. Now, there are TWENTY kids on this block, and 9 of them are under age 4. I think anyone that’s lived in WS for any length of time has seen a similar change in demographics.
    I have always been a fan of the neighborhood school idea, with boundries based on geography. I agree with @yeah-me that that would be a fair long-term solution as long as all of the WS elementary schools have equal education opportunities and similar programs. When certain schools offer art and music or language, but others don’t, that’s when people start competing and scheming to get their kids into a different school.

    Comment by junebug — 11:46 am December 19, 2011 #

  21. What about opening a STEAM/Spectrum specific school? Currently, Spectrum takes up 1/4 of the classrooms at Lafayette. There are also many kids on the waitlist at Lafayette and elsewhere who would like to get into this program. In addition, there are kids at Arbor Heights who are technically in “spectrum”, but don’t have access to the same type of program that exists at Lafayette. If a STEAM school combined with ALP existed, it would be very attractive, especially if the school’s math curriculum was not Discovering Math.

    With regards to the redrawing of boundaries, it may seem like a great idea to people who are not going to be affected by them. However, there are families who have already had to endure multiple boundary changes and would likely be in the line of fire again if this were to happen. The same neighborhoods hit hardest by school closures and subsequent multiple boundary changes, would be hit again by enormous uncertainty and stress. There has to be a better way and this is not it!

    Comment by kayo — 3:43 pm December 19, 2011 #

  22. I agree with Kayo. Further, West Seattle has no APP option at all – other than sending our children to Thurgood Marshall.

    Combining APP, Spectrum, Language Immersion and/or STE(A)M seems a relatively simple way to shift capacity from 1-5th grades at multiple schools.

    The schools that would be opened / refurbished to house such programs would still be in the general neighborhood and reasonably accessible for West Seattle residents.

    There are quite a few families not enrolling in APP / Spectrum programs (though their children qualify) because of access issues (classes are full, commute time is not acceptable, etc.)

    Comment by Gray — 4:11 pm December 19, 2011 #

  23. I still strongly believe that Spectrum should be moved out of Lafayette so the program can grow and others throughout the West Seattle north and SOUTH clusters can easily get into the program.

    Comment by WSMama — 4:29 pm December 19, 2011 #

  24. APP, Spectrum, I get it…your kids are bright, you want the best, etc. However, by definition of the testing Spectrum is supposed to serve the top 10% and APP the top 1% of that ten percent. Do these numbers sound familiar in today’s heightened political context? The goal of public schools is to provide the best education to all students. Not cater to an elite few. (This from a teacher of accelerated kids). Those few kids do need and deserve accelerated programs but they should not get them at the expense of most kids.
    I am a parent that had to fight tooth and nail to get my kindergarten child into the school where their sibling already attended. Yet I know that if done thoughtfully, transparently, and in a grandfathered method redraws can work. Will some people be upset? Absolutely, bureaucracy is ugly, but it is a sustainable long term solution WS parents want.

    Comment by Seen this all before — 4:34 pm December 19, 2011 #

  25. Moving Spectrum or combining with STEM/STEAM only reduces overcrowding if people are willing to pull their kids out of their existing schools and move them to some new location. They are not. Talk to parents with kids in Spectrum at Lafayette or to parents who are excited about the Singapore math instruction at Schmitz Park. No matter how much they like the optional programs, most would elect to keep their kids at their current neighborhood school-especially if the teachers that have made those programs a success would rather stay at their current school than follow the program to a new building.

    Comment by 3rd Gen — 4:51 pm December 19, 2011 #

  26. The issue with redrawing boundaries is that the same families are affected again! We just went through this a few years ago and I don’t want to switch again. We live by Ercolini park, so we are basically equidistant to four schools. Every time there’s a change, our neighborhood will be affected. This is only acceptable if current students and siblings are allowed to stay, which means it won’t help overcrowding much next year.
    Also, moving Spectrum to another school is ridiculous. Why should those kids be isolated? Would that be acceptable if we were talking about special ed students? All children benefit from being in a school with diversity of students.

    Comment by Mary — 5:55 pm December 19, 2011 #

  27. I don’t think spectrum should be isolated, but moved so there is more room in the program. Or…institute a similar program at the new school.

    Comment by westseattleperson — 6:47 pm December 19, 2011 #

  28. I disagree that APP should be in the mix for consideration. I believe there is a separate advanced learning committee dealing with capacity and the right program structure holistically for advanced learning, making changes in a vacuum would be problematic for the rest of the city.

    Also, APP’s viability depends on having sustainable size to adequately support the model. I have not run the numbers but have to believe that if the top 2% of kids qualify, you won’t have enough kids for it to be viable as a West Seattle (or any neighborhood, for that matter)option.

    Comment by annie — 7:28 pm December 19, 2011 #

  29. @3rd gen – you are totally correct. My child tested into spectrum and I opted to keep her at Schmitz Park instead of moving her to Lafayette.

    On boundry lines — believe me, I live two blocks south of the Jct. We are not supported by a neighborhood school. Fairmont would be our neighborhood school if it were open. When my daughter started kindergarten we were in the Gatewood boundary; with last years new boundary lines we were put into Alki. This effectively shifted us from heading to Denny to heading to Madison. So.. Yes, even though changing boundary lines are painful and stressful.. They still need to be done! When you purchase or rent a home you should know what school your children are going to. It really is that simple.

    Take a protractor and put the point on the school and then draw a 1-2 mile circle. Where the circles overlap apply common sense for where you send those children. There is only so much density in these neighborhoods. The schools will be able to accommodate the subtle shifts of population.

    By the way.. When the Triangle is finished.. Where are those kids going to go to school? It won’t be completely filled with childless people……

    Comment by yeah-me — 9:29 pm December 19, 2011 #

  30. Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. This is a very informative thread. I’ll keep checking in.

    If you want to email me on this topic (martha.mclaren@seattleschools.org), it would be helpful if you would prominently and concisely state your preference for the short-term — 2012-13 school year:

    STEM, Language Immersion, Neighborhood school, STEAM, or other. The idea of a neighborhood school, which would have to be initiated at Boren for next year, seems very popular; it’s unclear how viable is the possibility because of the boundary issues — I’m looking further into this.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write.

    Marty McLaren
    Director, Seattle School Board District 6

    Comment by Marty McLaren — 6:57 pm December 20, 2011 #

  31. Ms. McLaren… thanks for soliciting feedback directly via the blog! I believe that the District must commit to opening a new neighborhood school in the Madison Service Area as soon as possible. This is the only way to solve the short-term capacity issues without limiting future options for the long-term.

    I love the idea of STEM (and STEAM), but I don’t believe it should be only offered in a option school. And, I don’t believe it can be a successfully designed program in nine months! The District should take the time to build this new program right.

    Here’s an idea… redraw boundaries NOW around a new neighborhood school at Fairmount Park. House the kids at Boren in the first year while the school is updated. AND, establish a STEM/STEAM track in that school. If there is room, make it available to students from around the service area, but give kids in the school’s reference boundary first priority.

    This would: 1) solve the problem of overcrowding in the short term by immediately drawing students out of the other service area schools, 2) give the students and parents who would be going to this new school something to take pride in immediately, 3) create the opportunity to let a new program develop over time while achieving broader goals, and 4) if the STEM/STEAM curriculum is successful, allow for it to be replicated at other area schools without creating the need for new option school buildings. We all would like strong STEAM programs at our schools. This way, the curriculum could be developed and proven at one school and then exported throughout the district to existing neighborhood schools.

    Thank you for your thoughtful attention to this important issue. I urge you to do the right thing and fix the mistakes the District has made in the past by closing neighborhood schools in West Seattle. Open a new neighborhood school now!

    Comment by Alex — 7:36 pm December 21, 2011 #

  32. I love the STEM idea for several reasons, 1) that it’s important at this time in our history (refer to http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-stemed-report.pdf) 2) that it can attract grant and private funding and 3) it would introduce greater educational diversity and richness to the neighborhood and city. But I agree with the points others have made that it’s more appropriate for Middle School than elementary, and would recommend as a better alternative developing outstanding STEM programs at Madison Middle School and/or West Seattle High School. These two schools need more development in this area.

    I also agree our neighborhood needs to properly fix elementary school overcrowding by opening a neighborhood elementary school, and I also think Fairmount Park has the ideal location to provide relief and attract a diverse population from the surrounding area. The district redrew boundaries for Stevens Elementary and north end schools, and this will be appropriate for overcrowding here too. Adding portables isn’t a great option, but is better than breaking up schools for short term, so long as we move on a real solution right away like opening a neighborhood school. If a STEM must be developed at the elementary level, I like the idea of establishing a mixed neighborhood and option school, but not relying on STEM to draw kids until it’s a proven success — obviously that doesn’t solve our overcrowding problem. I think it’s awesome that a well-respected teacher backs the idea and would support it.

    More generally, I strongly advocate for equitable capital investment in north West Seattle for the next round of capital funding, and not make West Seattle neighbors fight amongst each other over resources… we should resist the nudge to bust down one school to build up another, or move good programs out to make space. We’re neither rich nor poor as a neighborhood, so working toward fairness and equalizing the long-term capital investment across the city would be a big help to our community. We should also appreciate and add to diverse programs and community that Alki, Schmitz, Lafayette, Pathfinder and Gatewood (and hopefully a future Fairmount Park) offer our kids… build up and modernize educational infrastructure, raise every boat and provide great schools for every child.

    Comment by Ferdinand — 11:20 pm December 21, 2011 #

  33. Very well said Alex!

    Comment by ttt — 11:44 pm December 21, 2011 #

  34. There are other “option” programs I’d like to see included in the discussion. 1) a parent cooperative elementary modeled similarly to Maplewood in the Edmond School District – http://www.edmonds.wednet.edu/mw/site/default.asp. This would lend itself nicely to the strong preschool co-op program that currently exists in our community via South Seattle Community College 2) an elementary IB program – http://www.ibo.org/pyp/. This seems like a natural fit with Sealth’s IB program yet it may cause feeder issues if these students would be guaranteed a spot at Denny/Sealth 3) a “Pac Rim” themed program (similar to Pathfinder’s Native American or TOPS’s social justice) – this could be a program where Chinese and Japanese are also included (not necessarily as immersion).
    .
    Of the programs already mentioned, I feel strongly that STEM is NOT an appropriate program for elementary aged students. It is way too specific and limiting. Montessori is a much more appropriate choice to consider.

    Comment by Public School Advocate — 1:06 am December 22, 2011 #

  35. What if we quit customizing public instruction for a chosen few, and get back to public school for all? Charge tuition for the “alternative” schools, and stop charging tuition for full day kindergarten?

    Comment by Caprial — 12:52 pm December 22, 2011 #

  36. I would also like to add that there are many parents whose voices are not being heard here. What about all the families who either don’t speak English, don’t have computers, or don’t feel they have the voice to speak out? I live in North Delridge, a neighborhood that was already affected by the closure of Cooper. In that instance, louder voices drowned out those of folks in my area. Once again, we are in the firing line for boundary shifts. It is so frustrating to be in this situation again. It is so easy to vote for boundary shifts when they don’t affect your family or area. It is so easy to make a change when the voices of those impacted are quiet. Please keep this in mind.

    Also, how would a boundary shift solve an overcrowding problem without actually removing kids from another school? I see people on here talking about a kinder, gentler way to shift boundaries. How is that going to solve the crisis any better than opening an option school? You would have to draw a circle on a map, scoop up all the kids in that area and force them to move to the new school. Otherwise you would be in the same situation as an option school. How happy would families affected by that be, especially if they are happy with their school? I am guessing there would be some pretty angry folks out there.

    As a North Delridge and Lafayette parent, I am continually dismayed by the weekly emails that the parent organization is sending out advocating for removal of north delridge kids from the school (and asking for parents to bombard the school board with emails). These are the same people who say they don’t want the school torn apart. However, you can’t have it both ways. If you advocate for the removal of kids in an entire area from your school it is the same as removing a program such as spectrum except that those kids probably don’t have the test scores or loud parents that those in spectrum do.

    Maybe a new neighborhood school is the best way to go in the long term. The capacity situation is extremely frustrating for everyone and we have to figure out a solution going forward. It just seems to me that some areas have already paid a bigger price for prior school closures and to target this same population of folks for boundary shifts and uncertainty is unfortunate and unfair. Especially, when that community does not have the loud voice to fight it as other parts of west Seattle do.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Delridge mom — 2:12 pm December 22, 2011 #

  37. Delridge Mom – I do not beleive anyone is advocating removing current Delridge students or their siblings out of their current school. If a neighborhood school was opened in your neighborhood, the proposal is to have it serve new families of K students and their siblings in the new boundary. I read Lafayette’s update and grandfathering of current students and their siblings is an essential part of the idea to open a neighborhood school. I really understand your fear, but Lafayette is not suggesting losing your family or your child’s younger siblings from the school community, anymore than losing its 5th graders or Spectrum. However, we need a REAL long term plan that will gradually lessen the capacity crisis…and an option school is highly unlikely to do this….in fact, it may likely help with WS southend’s capacity problems without solving anything in WS north. Adding portables for a few years to accomodate families like yours who are already enrolled at a school is totally doable, as long as there is long term solution in place. All neighborhoods deserve a neighborhood school–and no family should be ripped away from a community they are apart of now. Hang in there! When you say “maybe a new neighborhood school is the best way tot go in the long run,” I agree–BUT with sibling grandfathering to reassure/protect families like yours.

    Comment by Cares about Kids — 2:56 pm December 22, 2011 #

  38. Cares about Kids…I guess I just don’t understand how a new neighborhood school and boundary shift wouldn’t force kids out. How else are you going to influence the overcapacity problem at existing schools if you don’t do that? If you take the slow and gentle approach, the enrollment numbers would probably be pretty similar to that of an option school. The option school would also help the problem of overcrowding in the south end, thus hopefully solving the problem for everyone in West Seattle. Not just those in the north end.

    My biggest concern is that not everyone reads the WS Blog. Not everyone is getting Marty McLaren’s email asking for feedback (or emails from their PTA). Not everyone has the means to do that. I hope Ms. McLaren and the school board appreciate that and take that into consideration when making a decision.

    Thanks. (Delridge Mom)

    Comment by kayo — 3:34 pm December 22, 2011 #

  39. I like Delridge mom’s point about families that don’t speak English or don’t have computers, and hope West Seattle schools will be allocated resources to respond to this using the Families and Education Levy fund I voted to support last month … I think funding the previous levy was behind the success at Asa Mercer that was described at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016936142_mercer05m.html.
    It works. There’s also a new FCC program to provide low cost computers for families with children who qualify for free lunches that would be good to look into. These resources should go to families who really need the boost, and it sounds like we have some who do. Among those who are financially OK, many are still poor of time though, at every school and in every program– many families have two working parents or are scrambling to keep small businesses afloat and little time to pipe up either. This includes Spectrum parents.

    Also, all West Seattle north kids are affected by overcrowding, and families across West Seattle got the same business. As I recall, the District targeted Alki intensely, but with uproar after uproar they settled on a shell game of closures that moved Pathfinder to Cooper. Some kids within a few blocks of Lafayette got uprooted and had no choice but to go elsewhere as assigned. All announced at the last minute with no time to respond. I don’t know, maybe the root of the problem is that schools closures got rushed through and boundaries changed without a capacity reason. The district might have waited for the census a year later but rushed the changes through so fast… maybe revenue allocation had something to do with it, if the district wanted money that should have been spent on West Seattle’s children to go to something else, or a different area.

    What I hope comes out of this is better schools, period, with adequate capacity and good programs that are fitting for a variety or little people. I do think Spectrum is a great program and appropriate to provide accelerated learning for kids who thrive in that setting, just as it’s important to have Families and Education outreach, a Pathfinder style of school, and a community-building school like Schmitz. But let’s not destroy things, please, or change in a way that makes some children feel unwelcome, outed, or make kids cry. Let’s build up and improve, and proceed in a manner that provides an example to our children on how to solve big problems well.

    I was thinking an environmentally-oriented STEAM program that gets kids outside might just be the ticket if we could pull it off at an elementary… that would be age-appropriate, healthy, draw community support and attract kids like a magnet– half option, half neighborhood. Same with Cooper– look at mixing option and neighborhood to the extent it can. The mutual exclusivity of option and neighborhood schools isn’t necessary, wanted or desirable– and it’s good to mix, just not to tear apart.

    Comment by Ferdinand — 8:03 am December 24, 2011 #

  40. Marty- Thanks for asking for input, but I think the question needs rewording (and several of the commenters point this out). If asked, “How many of parents of actual elementary age kids would sign their own kids up next year for a STEM program at Boren?” I think you would hear deafening silence. The district has proven itself inept year after year with empty promises and failed initiatives.
    Next, from past examples in Seattle recently of opening option schools in overcrowded areas, it is doubtful that more than 100 kids will sign up- a huge financial drain to run a school (salaries for principal, teachers, special ed/ELL, lunch room staff, secretary, custodian, etc plus operating expenses…) and not much more than a drop in the bucket of actual relief to the overcrowding! No, the real reason behind the district pushing Boren being reopened by next Sept. is they will lose their occupancy permit for the school, and supposedly it would cost 10x more to open it in the future. Yes, Boren offers a relief valve, but there has to be a better & more equitable plan first that parents are willing to buy into.
    The reality is that the district waited far too long to admit that they totally blew it with school closings, and have now failed to give enough time to properly plan for the next steps, so we are still in band-aid mode.
    Other posters are correct that language immersion cannot be an option for the northend WS kids as the whole program is supposed to be set up with a connected middle school-high school path and Denny/Sealth is already overfull, so much that not all of the north WS kids at Denny even made it into Sealth this year, and its headed for more severe overcrowding in the next few years. NOT ONE student from the waitlist made it into Sealth this year, despite repeated assurances from the Board & the district that there would be plenty of room at Sealth for all of the north WS kids as wanted to attend for many years into the future. Also, the fact that there is a 14-1 student/teacher ratio in the language immersion schools in othe Seattle schools really makes the argument against this as a solution to overcrowding,
    Finally, as the Sealth teacher pointed out, the boundaries were improperly drawn, at least when it comes to the middle & high school maps. It is as fundamental as four elementary schools feeding into Madison/WSHS and six into Denny/Sealth, and it is a recipe for disaster which both the previous school board and the district refused to acknowledge. These boundaries have to be redrawn as Madison & WSHS are now 30% less (less students= less funding = less programs) while students & teachers at Sealth are wasting their time with study hall classes and teachers with their desk on a cart!
    West Seattle has a unique geography which the standard NSAP failed to recognize. Let the WS community get together and plan ahead of time, for a proper solution. Six weeks or two months is only enough time for bandaids.

    Comment by tk — 10:11 am December 26, 2011 #

  41. Thanks again to all for the thought-provoking commentary — including concerns, information, analysis, and ideas. There are some very interesting ideas being floated on this blog. Also, I appreciate the awareness that many people who don’t blog have needs and concerns which must be understood and respected.

    One clarification for tk: The occupancy permit for Boren could be maintained by other reasonable choices such as placing Interagency classes in the building; I don’t believe the need for occupancy status is the driving force behind the recommendation to place an option school at Boren.

    Some of the hard questions needing to be decided quickly are based on unknowns: how accurate will the projections for next year prove to be? (Our projections must basically consist of guesses, no matter how well founded.) Will the extra capacity provided by a program in the Boren building be successful in drawing students out of the overcrowded schools? Will that extra capacity prove to be necessary next year?

    Lots to consider here; again, thanks for all the dialogue.

    Comment by Marty McLaren — 11:32 pm January 1, 2012 #

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