(WSB cameraphone photo of the crowd just before public comment began)
Though it was not an agenda item, the just-announced co-locating of K-5 STEM and Middle College High School at Boren generated discussion, and a promise, at last night’s Seattle School Board meeting.
After half a dozen people voiced concern during the public-comment period, three board members did too, including West Seattle’s Marty McLaren, who promised a “public discussion” on the issue.
Ahead, more of the discussion, plus a budget item that might – or might not – relate to K-5 STEM’s eventual permanent home:
To recap, after we reported eight days ago that the south branch of Middle College HS – an alternative public-high-school program meant to help prepare its students for college, preferably by immersion in a college atmosphere – was definitely leaving South Seattle Community College, the district then announced Friday morning (WSB coverage here) that its new home would be portables on the Boren Building site in Delridge.
The announcement came in the form of a letter to Middle College HS families. The news was a surprise to families who had enrolled for the new K-5 STEM school opening on the same campus next fall, with no hint that another program would be there too. An explanatory letter was sent to them on Monday (as reported here). They had contacted school-board members over the weekend, including McLaren and the other first-year director, Sharon Peaslee, with some attending her community-conversation meeting. And some signed up on Monday for a chance at the pre-assigned public-comment spots last night.
First to address the situation was Kathleen Voss, parent of an incoming student at the new school, who said it was wrong for the students of both schools. For one, high school behavior, she said, has no place on an elementary campus; for two, the security measures promised by district officials in the letter to K-5 STEM families would be “demeaning” to the high-school students, she said. She also noted that the families’ request for a formal meeting with district officials had gone unanswered, and renewed that request.
West Seattleite Leslie Harris said that three students she knew closely had been Middle College students and that for some, it was a life-saving decision. She said that in spring 2011, a request was made for rent from SPS, and SSCC was simply told by the district, “We don’t have the money.” (This is consistent with what SSCC president Gary Oertli told us in a conversation on Monday.) She wondered if the school board had known about that, and called the move an eviction. “Our children are not throwaway kids – we ought not to disrespect them and their hard-working teachers that way.” She said she hopes that new Superintendent José Banda, who starts work in July, will do a “stand-down” on the issue as one of his first acts.
Robin Graham, an incoming K-5 STEM parent on the Design Team, expressed disappointment that there was no advance notice. Another parent, Christine Southam, then noted that the district’s decision to move Middle College High School to Boren has “rocked” the new K-5 STEM community, and included a “lack of transparency” and a “lack of accountability.” She said they have no information on possible alternatives as a result, and have had no chance to suggest options, such as placing the high school at the Southwest Teen Life Center, which is “closed during the school day.” She said, “Use us to give you ideas to make this work,” and echoed the request for a meeting. (Each speaker on this topic was followed by applause.)
Misa Moore came to the podium with her son, an incoming 2nd-grader at K-5 STEM, saying the school needs its own space, while the high-schoolers also need their own space, especially so they can feel comfortable engaging in typical behaviors for that age. She also said the board members should be advocating for the high-schoolers to stay in the college atmosphere they were promised.
The last of the speakers for which time was allotted was Fawn Rose, who said her five-year-olds are scheduled to enter kindergarten at K-5 STEM this fall but “this swift, blindsiding move … has reinforced that our public school system is not about what’s best for our children, but does what is best for them.” She believes her children will be at risk of harm if the co-location plan goes forward. She also said she’s requesting a formal meeting – “or, just change your mind.”
When board members got their turn for informal comments, Betty Patu said the MCHS moving decision “appalled” her – “we’re talking about elementary kids and Middle College kids, and the two do not mix.”
Peaslee mentioned it too and said that no one has “figured out yet” how it happened. She said, “hang in there – we will do the best we can to turn a situation that nobody’s very happy about to something that we all can live with at least temporarily.”
Then McLaren said she had spoken with interim deputy superintendent Bob Boesche – who was in the superintendent’s seat at the board meeting, since Dr. Susan Enfield has departed – adding that executive director Aurora Lora is just back from out of town and that they will figure out time for a public discussion of all this: “We are very sorry to acknowledge that there has been a very unfortunate breakdown in communication about this.” She thanked everyone who came out to speak and said she hoped they would continue “speaking truth.”
P.S. The K-5 STEM Design Team’s next scheduled meeting is tonight, 6:15 pm at Madison Middle School.
BUDGET: The full 2012-2013 budget was introduced last night, with a public hearing scheduled next week and a vote at the July 3rd board meeting. One item of note: Money to get Fairmount Park Elementary, closed in 2007, ready for reopening. FP has been discussed previously in the context of next year’s BEX IV levy – as a possible permanent home for the K-5 STEM program or a new neighborhood school – but the budget line item on page 359 of the “budget book” mentions $8.7 million from the BEX III bond measure. We had asked the district about this prior to last night’s meeting; the reply, through district spokesperson Teresa Wippel, was that “funding would come from BEX III and BTA III savings,” who also said, when we asked about reports of a work crew there this week, that “Preliminary design work is being done at Fairmount Park, which is necessary to meet the construction timeline to open Fairmount Park – if and when Fairmount Park does open. We won’t know the final BEX IV capital projects list until the Board decides on the Capital Levy package in November. We are still studying student enrollment and enrollment projections, which will be factors in the final project list.”
2 more notes of West Seattle interest:
WARM WORDS FOR ROXHILL P.E.: Board member Harium Martin-Morris said he spent some time at Roxhill Elementary recently with PE teacher Chellie LaFayette – featured here in a report on Roxhill’s “Family Fitness Night” last fall – and was impressed with her program integrating Wii Fit – “the kids love it, the teachers love it, even the principal comes out and does it sometimes.”
ADVERTISING AT ATHLETIC FIELDS: The board approved it, though the public comments on the topic were almost all in opposition, and the vote drew hisses from those in attendance. They said the ban almost a decade ago had had the unintentional effect of reducing funds available for student activities. Here’s coverage from our partners at The Seattle Times.