Followup: School Board briefed on options for crowding relief; next step, community meeting Tuesday

December 6, 2012 at 11:30 am | In West Seattle news, West Seattle schools | 18 Comments

Following up on our Wednesday morning report regarding Seattle Public Schools trying to craft a plan for dealing with school crowding before it builds new BEX IV-funded schools (assuming the levy passes), we went to the Wednesday afternoon School Board briefing/work session. Here are the toplines, including district officials saying they especially want to hear from you regarding the most controversial possibilities:

The process isn’t just about what happens before – if – BEX IV proposals take effect, but how to answer questions raised while it’s before voters, as School Board president Michael DeBell explained for starters. (Note that this meeting was a time for presentation and discussion, not decision – nor public comment; that comes up at the meeting at district HQ next Tuesday.)

If you missed it Wednesday, here’s the slide deck with background information and the complete list of “options” that staff presented to board members. It all stems from this: District demographer Rachel Cassidy recapped that this year’s enrollment came in about 400 students higher than expected – almost 50,000 total.

Dr. Tracy Libros, who is in charge of enrollment, says this is the last year that transitional measures related to the New Student Assignment Plan” – not so new any more – will be needed. They are discussing tiebreakers and other contingencies. Recommended “standard tiebreakers” include, for attendance-area elementary and K-8, sibling/distance/lottery, for attendance-area middle schools, sibling/feeder school/distance/lottery, and for attendance-area high schools, sibling/feeder school (for WSHS and CSIHS only), and lottery.

One major point is that, after this school year, the district plans to end the transitional transportation plans put into place after the boundary change two-plus years ago. This means no transportation for almost 2,000 students who are getting it now. Board member Harium Martin-Morris asked about the cost of extending it another year; about half a million dollars, he was told. Board member Sharon Peaslee then asked, “What’s the cost of NOT doing it?” That cost will include how to handle enrollment increasing at neighborhood schools of students who have been using transportation for option-school attendance.

More than an hour into the meeting, the list of specific schools and possible options came up. Note that – this was revealed in response to a followup question – portables were only suggested as an option where the district knows they can be placed. However, it then was noted in discussion that this may be a problem if portables are taking up playground space – and allowing a larger student body, which means a larger NEED for playground space.

Assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy said West Seattle Elementary is a case of note in our area because it may need up to 4 more home rooms if the end of transportation grandfathering brings more students back to WSE.

West Seattle board member Marty McLaren asked about the suggestion that kindergarteners from one or more local schools might be taught at Boren as an “annex.” McEvoy said, “We want to hear what the community has to say about that.” (WSE for example has four kindergarten classes this year.) She also said she wants to hear from the community regarding the idea of moving Schmitz Park Elementary fifth-graders to Madison Middle School.

Wrapping up with a look at how many portables might be needed around the district if that option is deployed for handling more students, district staff noted that 32 were added citywide last summer and “it just about killed staff.”

Before the meeting – which ran two hours, longer than planned – the board also heard briefly from a rep of the FAC/MAC committee (which includes community members) that has been looking at capacity issues for a long time. Their sentiment was bullet-pointed as: “Use portables as a temporary solution … discuss room repurposing with site leadership … attempt to avoid splitting of age cohorts (grade level)” – in other words, moving kindergartens out of elementaries, or fifth grades out of elementaries, should be avoided if at all possible.

In discussion toward the end, board member Kay Smith-Blum proposed marketing non-crowded K-8 programs to would-be middle-school families, for example, who might otherwise be going to their crowded neighborhood schools.

Next Tuesday is your chance to come down to district HQ to speak out about all this (here’s the announcement of that). The board will have another work session on December 19th, and is scheduled to take action on a proposed plan in January.

If you can’t make it next Tuesday – SPS tells us you can e-mail your thoughts: capacity@seattleschools.org

18 Comments

  1. A couple of thoughts (as I also attended):

    - the staff is clearly worried about ending grandfathered transportation but did not mention that just as some schools might receive MORE students, that also means that some schools will have fewer. It is more likely that those receiving have room than those with students leaving.

    As Director Carr said (with Smith-Blum nodding in agreement) the only way an assignment plan works is to enact it as it was approved. It would seem that ending the grandfathered transportation is part of that plan.

    - Just as adding portables does not help with bathrooms, gym space or lunchroom space, yes, they also take up playground space which is important especially for elementary students. I’m glad to see this called out.

    - as for the issue of annexing (and there are two places in West Seattle where this is being considered), it is likely to be short-term (between 2-3 years) until new buildings come on-line. I actually think that putting multiple kindergarten classes at Boren might open the door for some interesting opportunities.

    As someone who had to consider school closure and consolidation for the district, I would gently remind parents that you model the attitude your children will have. The district is in a very troubled facilities time and yes, some of it is their own doing. But they are trying to find options – both short and long-term to try to get students through it.

    - one thing that got missed (and I kept hoping Director Carr, who brought it up would get to) was that there are COSTS – real costs – to reopening schools. Staff tried to say it was just the staffing costs. Not true. There are opening costs to moving furniture and materials, technology needs, etc. I’m not sure where the money will come for this.

    Comment by Melissa Westbrook — 12:41 pm December 6, 2012 #

  2. I agree with not putting 5th graders at Madison.

    Comment by Cclarue — 1:29 pm December 6, 2012 #

  3. I would much rather see Kindergarteners temporarily housed together at Boren than 5th graders having to unexpectantly jump up to a middle school. As long as the annexing has a set end in sight. Meaning, I could personally be open to 1-2 years, but 3 years feels, in my opinion, too much. If my youngest has to do K and 1 in a interim site we could handle that until new schools are rebuilt and re-opened. In my experience, it’s much easier to manage expectations of a Kindergartener than a 5th grader. 5th grade can be a tough year for many as it is without additional pressures to grow up and keep up with middle
    schoolers.

    Comment by K and PreK Mom — 2:00 pm December 6, 2012 #

  4. If I put the pieces together, Madison must be well below capacity (otherwise they would not have room for any 5th graders) and yet Denny is overflowing.

    I wonder whose planning is responsible for that problem? Oh right, the same people who say they are going to solve this problem, and the same people who want millions more dollars to build schools that will not be properly enrolled.

    Hmm….

    Comment by Euripides — 3:12 pm December 6, 2012 #

  5. I (again, as the parent of a K student next year) absolutely disagree with putting the kindergartners in a separate school.

    Comment by RS — 3:14 pm December 6, 2012 #

  6. When I was growing up in my town all kindergarteners went to class in their own school (9 kindergarten classes I beleive at our site)rather than the elementary schools.
    I certainly didn’t mind nor did 7 of my brothers and sisters. I think it’s a great idea!

    Comment by SusanD — 3:34 pm December 6, 2012 #

  7. Moving kidergateners to their own school would be ridiculous. And the assumption that the levy will pass makes me not want to vote for it. Especially if they want me to drive all over West Seattle to get my kids to school. We are quite happy walking thank you.

    Comment by WSTroll — 4:48 pm December 6, 2012 #

  8. @SusanD, yes true! I hadn’t thought of it that way. Growing up we did have a separate K building. I’m sure many of us did. Interesting to think back to that. I would guess these days the issue would be transportation costs and logistics? And of course, like many parents I really wish for the day of having both kids at the same public school in the neighborhood where we live. I do see how an interim K would open up some possibilities though. Another day, another unfortunate disappointment from the district. Wish they would have rebuilt and not closed schools years ago so we all didn’t have to go through this mess.

    Comment by K and PreK Mom — 4:49 pm December 6, 2012 #

  9. I don’t understand why Madison is so below capacity (I’m assuming here because they have room for extra 5th graders) when all the elementary schools in the north side of WS are bursting at the seams.

    Comment by Bonnie — 5:34 pm December 6, 2012 #

  10. These “solutions” being proposed in Seattle are not unique. Several districts/cities across the US have considered or implemented such plans. None of these are “best” options – all of them have potential problems, yet we need to come together as a community and decide what we CAN live with.
    .
    5th Graders to Madison – this would be better than creating a “5th Grade Annex” in a separate building which would increase the number of transitions made in a short period of time; instead these students would transition 1 year earlier and be in the same setting for 4 years. There are middle schools that are 5-8.
    .
    Kindergarteners at Boren –housing an early learning center is an intriguing idea; it’s not something we have experience with here in Seattle yet if done well could be a really neat program
    .
    Other options:
    Having students attend school in shifts
    Reduce kindergarten to a half day – AM and PM classes (like many of us had as kids)
    Reconfigure the grades
    Year-Round School

    Comment by Public School Advocate — 5:38 pm December 6, 2012 #

  11. I am now the mom of a second grader, and looking back at K, I think housing lots of K’s in one building would be just fine. It would not disadvantage the kids in any way, and may in fact be a more nurturing experience for the kids. There is a huge difference b/twn K’s and the other grades, and this could provide a better emotional transition for the kids.

    But as a mom of a kid at Boren, I am wondering what this would mean for K5 STEM? Did anyone mention us? Where will we be moved?

    Comment by Evergreen — 8:39 pm December 6, 2012 #

  12. Evergreen – the consideration is that Boren has extra capacity – the matter of a permanent home still hasn’t come up, but my reading of discussions involves using the rest of the space.

    Comment by WSB — 8:47 pm December 6, 2012 #

  13. We attended seperate K’s too, not really a big deal. Why worry mixing 5th graders with 8th graders, but not K’s with 5th graders in the same building? We have K-8 schools and can’t say I have heard of any big transgressions, no?
    Shouldn’t all WS 5th graders move to Madison, why just SP? I say that knowing that SP is overcrowded, but why single those 5th graders out @ Madison? They should all come together, or none at all.

    Comment by I Wonder — 11:20 pm December 6, 2012 #

  14. As a K-5 STEM parent, I don’t have faith in the district’s ability to create AND SUPPORT a program that consists of several K classes.

    We are in our fourth month at the Boren building and still have a small concrete slab bordered by a chain link fence and empty portables for a “playground”. A small playstructurefor the preschool program was just installed and the portables might be moved by end of year, which will then allow the play structure to be installed – maybe we will have something by the end of the school year. Will the district be similarly ambivalent about the needs of a large group of kindergarteners? There’s certainly not room on the “playground” for more kids and how would recess be scheduled to accomodate so many kindergarterners plus the K-5 STEM kids?

    We are still without many basic materials. How will the district supply kindergarten classes? Will someone take primary responsibility for ensuring these things are taken care of? I doubt it, the responses we have received is that everyone thinks someone else is taking care of it.

    One of the challenges of being a new school is that there are no institutional/cultural expectations. Upper grades don’t have set expectations and the little kids don’t have a group to observe/learn from. it’s everything from the simple rule like where we line up for lunch to what are consequences for bad behavior.

    The district should provide new schools with support for this, but they don’t. How will the district support the staff of K-only program in addressing start-up issues? My educated guess is they will hire some teachers, wash their hands of responsibility and turn a blind eye.

    Comment by Heidi A — 1:33 pm December 7, 2012 #

  15. I would assume (although I should know better than that already with SPS) that K classes from other schools that were being “annexed” at Boren would still be a part of their neighborhood school and their teachers, resources, and budget would come with them? So it wouldn’t face exactly the same challenges as STEM has had as a ground up start-up in a building that was closed for years. At least things like the play equipment would be in place by that time too (I would hope much sooner too!) Since Boren is such a huge space, I imagine that whether or not they go with this plan, that housing more than one elementary there has been on their radar all along. There had been talks of Arbor Heights co-housing at some point with STEM so it sounds like they’re figuring out how to best use this interim space to the max. I’m really curious to hear a decision on STEM permanent placement, Fairmount, and Hughes.

    Comment by K and PreK Mom — 2:35 pm December 7, 2012 #

  16. Heidi makes a good point. K and PreK Mom, don’t assume anything with SPS. The district has completely let us down thus far, and if they were able to squirrel K’s into one “temporary” building, your kids may end up becoming as neglected as ours. So nothing wrong w/ an all K school, but perhaps not in this district.

    (just want to add that my child has a stellar teacher…it’s the district that sucks)

    Comment by evergreen — 5:55 pm December 7, 2012 #

  17. With enrollment at around 900+kids at Madison I would think that it would be overwhelming for a 5th grader used to more intimate communities. I would be overwhelmed!I understand that Madison was built for 1300 but I would much rather send my 5th grader to Pathfinder!!

    Comment by diane — 9:39 pm December 7, 2012 #

  18. Whatever happened to FACMAC? I still can’t believe there isn’t a clear medium and long range plan out yet after how long? Is it because everything hinges on the levy? I guess so. We moved our child out of a neighborhood school and into an option school (pathfinder, thank goodness we got in) largely because of concern about boundary changes affecting our younger child. This continued uncertainty makes me all the more relieved that we chose that route. It is such a mess and the solution is going to be painful for many families. I also think it is crazy that the district would go to the trouble of setting up the STEM school and not support it. I think many families at some of the overcrowded north end schools would jump at the chance to send their kids to this school if there were a clear path forward with regard to location and real support coming from the district. There is real potential to grow stem and help relieve overcrowding elsewhere. Give STEM a permanent location or at least proper support and it will grow. I have no doubt. Just look at the popularity of Pathfinder.

    Comment by kayo — 9:19 am December 8, 2012 #

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