Seattle Public Schools managers listen to West Seattle boundary-change concerns, promising ‘this is not a done deal’

September 26, 2013 at 1:34 pm | In West Seattle news, West Seattle schools | 20 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

‘This is not a done deal – this is a jumping-off point,” said Seattle Public Schoolsnew assistant superintendent Flip Herndon, leading off last night’s “Growth Boundaries” info/comments event last night at West Seattle High School.

An important point stressed at the beginning – “The assignment rules are not changing … this is specifically about boundaries and programming,” as first unveiled last week. What they do expect will change: Some of the recommendations, with changes expected between this version and the one that’ll be presented in late October after this round of community comments, and then likely some final changes before a proposal for the School Board to vote on just before Thanksgiving.

Wondering about the post-decisionmaking timeframe for carrying out all the plans, once they’re finalized? Between now and 2022 or so, “when all BEX IV construction is complete and all changes have been implemented.” (We confirmed with enrollment/planning manager Tracy Libros post-meeting that many schools’ boundary changes can’t take effect next year or even the year after that, because they are contingent on school construction/reopenings that roll out over the next few years.)

The boundaries (see what the district calls “improved maps” here) were the big topic of discussion when the microphone was turned over to attendees – with one point emerging repeatedly: West Seattle’s hilly topography complicates what might look like a walkable distance on a map.

Ahead, how the meeting unfolded:

There was an abbreviated runthrough of the toplines presented last week to board members, starting with the legally required services, to English Language Learners, Advanced Learners, and special-education students. No West Seattle-specific changes are expected for the first and third – but for the Accelerated Progress Program, as noted last week, the district proposes an “optional pathway” for West Seattle students, with elementary at Fairmount Park – which reopens next year as a neighborhood school – and middle at Madison, leading to high school off-peninsula at Garfield or Ingraham (which has the International Baccalaureate program, as does Chief Sealth International High School).

In the “programs” category, again, as revealed last week, district managers are recommending keeping STEM at the Boren building, and making that its permanent home, expanding to K-8 as proposed last month by the STEM PTA. One International School for elementary grades would be added in West Seattle – Highland Park Elementary, feeding to Denny and Sealth. Concord and HP both would remain “attendance-area schools,” though.

Regarding boundaries, Libros noted that attendance areas might be bigger because of students leaving that area to access another program or service, or smaller when the area includes a school that draws students from outside. (This issue came up later when concerns were voiced about the boundaries proposed for Fairmount Park Elementary when it reopens in a year.)

2015-2016 would be the first year they expect to start adding middle-school grades at STEM, the second and final year that Arbor Heights would need interim housing at Boren during the construction of its new school. District officials restated, in response to a question, that Arbor Heights is indeed slated to be built in time to open its new school in fall of 2016.

Meantime, district officials said that 2015 is the year that they expect to reclaim EC Hughes, currently leased by Westside School (WSB sponsor), which they expect would be there through 2014-2015. It was reiterated that there is no current plan for what they will use it for, aside from keeping it in reserve as an “emergency site.” If Westside left sooner, could Arbor Heights use Hughes as an interim site? it was asked. Too small, was the reply.

Half an hour of talk in small groups ensued. Our rough count of the room suggested more than 80 people on hand by that point. Then attendees were invited to stand up and voice concerns, while being warned that they would not get answers – the concerns were to be compiled and taken into account for the next draft.

Schmitz Park Elementary parent Marty Riemer was first. He said that his home has been cut out of the revised SP boundaries (here’s that map), which he observed “don’t line up with the natural landscape,” adding, “I happen to know that the chunk of homes cut out of SP have been subject to a lot of flopping between SP and Alki over the year.” He also referred to “a couple other weird notches in the territory.”

Madison Middle School PTA president Julie Howell said “None of this makes sense without (considering) the topography in West Seattle.”

Schmitz Park parent Emily said she was excited to hear Fairmount Park would be opened as a neighborhood school but disappointed at the size of its proposed attendance area (here’s that map), saying there’s “no relief for Alki, Schmitz Park, and Lafayette … you’re just smearing around the problem and you need to take a closer look at what that Fairmount Park boundary should look like.”

A parent describing herself as from Georgetown said that it appears some boundaries are not aligned with the Safe Routes to School program/intentions; in one case she mentioned a 2.7-mile distance from some homes to their assigned school: “Please consider Safe Routes to School when you review these boundaries … I want my child to walk to school.”

A woman identifying herself as the parent of English Language Learners and as representing a community whose members couldn’t be at the meeting advocated for West Seattle Elementary to keep its boundaries and feed into Denny International Middle and Chief Sealth International High Schools because of their diversity and their programs for English Language Learner kids – some of the High Point area would be taken out of that area under the new proposed boundaries (here’s the map).

She said that she works two jobs and six kids “I’m a mother who works so hard …” She suggested that the SW and SE parts of the district continue to get short shrift because that’s where the “poor immigrant people live. … I don’t want my kids to work three jobs (too).” (Another speaker later said she hopes the district will have a specific meeting on the boundaries, held at High Point Neighborhood House, for area members of the refugee community.)

A Denny parent said that the boundaries don’t “topographically make sense.” She says she was told when she asked “why it’s OK for her to go to school 4 miles away instead of 1/10th of a mile away, is that it’s a straight line down California Avenue … I told them, “Have you ever driven it behind a C Line bus?” She said she remembered when Denny and Sealth were not the “destination” schools they are now. She also voiced concern that Spectrum at Arbor Heights Elementary (its proposed map is here) was capped at 22 students and wanted that cap lifted so it could be “viable.”

A parent said she is not zoned to the future Genesee Hill site but is just a few blocks away; she also brought up the topography concern, saying she’s zoned to Alki (here’s that proposed map) but pointing out the steep Charlestown Hill that did not seem to have been taken into account when determining walk zones.

Another parent said he’s been zoned to Alki though he’s a few blocks from either old Schmitz or new Schmitz.

Lafayette Elementary parent Sean Reynolds said he lives a couple blocks from the school and that his family was split up in last boundary change but now they’ve been zoned to the new Schmitz Park which is even further and topographically infeasible. He said the district should take into account “the ridge lines on 45th,” among other things. “We need to emphasize over and over again that topographic lines need to be understood.”

Yet another topography concern: “This has to make sense, but a lot of it doesn’t make sense.”

Next: “The first point you stressed is equity – but 30 to 40 percent of these kids can’t get to school. I love that our school is diverse but I don’t love that those parents don’t have access to the school like I do – they can’t get there for afterschool activities or PTA meetings…I love having those kids there. I want their parents to have access to their school.”

Julie from Schmitz Park wanted to know about grandfathering and sibling for grandfathering when the boundaries change.

The next parent asked for clarity on when some of the changes, like boundaries, will kick in. He said he lives near Fairmount Park, whose boundary he says “doesn’t seem to make any sense,” but is zoned for Gatewood. Since Fauntleroy was rechannelized, it’s much easier to cross, he said, but it appears many kids will get bused from the west side to Gatewood.

Another Schmitz Park parent who said he “bought the house for SP” wanted to know how long this next round of boundary changes will “stick.”

Robin Graham, STEM PTA president, said she is also concerned about the High Point “split,” and about “a community that doesn’t have a voice.” She asked the school officials to explain the Fairmount boundary and “why it’s so small” – wondering if it’s because of the APP plan, for example – hoping that would help people understand why. She also said thanks for the K-8 STEM recommendation: “Know that our community’s very very happy … not to complain but we’d like to go to K-6 NEXT year.”

Another parent wondered if Fairmount Park will open as a K-5 or will roll up. Then STEM PTA founder Heidi Alessi warned that “starting up a school is really hard … give them a lot of support …it’s going to need a lot of help to start up.”

The Fairmount Park boundaries were the subject of the next speaker. “We’d like to see how many seats are being allocated to the neighborhood vs. the APP startup.” He wondered why APP wasn’t being put in at for example Boren, which will have more room, instead of splitting other communities.

Timeline:
*Community meetings and ‘Walk the Boundaries’ through October 1st
*Recommendations to school board – October 16th
*Board’s final vote – November 20th

Again, all the district information on these proposals – maps, slide decks, more – is linked here. If you have comments but weren’t there last night, you can e-mail them to GrowthBoundaries@seattleschools.org – the sooner the better.

20 Comments

  1. Thank you for the great summary. I was there, and this is spot-on! My biggest concern is with grandfathering (or lack thereof). I don’t understand how any child who is already established at a school should can be forced to switch to a new school!!!

    My son is at Schmitz Park, and I can’t believe they’re adding so much territory to the SP boundaries. Our new school will be over capacity before it even opens. ENOUGH with the overcrowding.

    Could the old Schmitz Park building remain open as a new neighborhood school? I’d better keep quiet with that idea, because it might take my son away from the new Genessee Hill School — due to the ridiculous GRANDFATHERING issue. So frustrating!

    Comment by NeighborMom — 2:38 pm September 26, 2013 #

  2. To Parent Emily from Schmitz Park, I say “DITTO”, Lafayette gets no relief from these “improved boundaries”. They are not improved for Lafayette, they are worse than they already are.

    Comment by N.A. Neighbor — 2:41 pm September 26, 2013 #

  3. We got notice yesterday, 3 weeks into school, that a waitlist spot was open. If that gives anyone and idea of what a complete mess they’ve made of WSea school enrollment and their general lack ability to get anything useful done in a timely manner. Our kids will all be assigned to a school in Bremerton at the rate they’re going.

    Comment by zark — 3:05 pm September 26, 2013 #

  4. Just checked out the Fairmount Park boundaries – that’s just crazy. They have kids two blocks from Fairmount crossing Morgan to walk 6+ blocks through heavy traffic rather than cross Raymond?? A neighborhood street with comparatively little traffic. It’s like they’ve never been to West Seattle. They have kids crossing 35th, but at least there’s a sidewalk and a crosswalk to use – walking from Fairmount area down to Gatewood safely? I wouldn’t let my kid do it with the way people in West Seattle drive.

    Comment by zark — 3:22 pm September 26, 2013 #

  5. The proposed NW boundary for the new Schmitz Park attendance area is ridiculous. Not only does the jigsaw-like carve out in the NW boundary have no reference to clear geographic features and landmarks, it is actually a directly affront to them.

    For example, on the western-most portion of the NW boundary, rather than following the ridge of the hill along 55th Avenue SW all the way to SW Manning Street, the proposed boundary randomly juts east for two blocks at SW Dakota Street, then goes north for a block on 54th Avenue SW, then goes east on SW Andover Street for another 2 blocks, then goes north for one block on 52nd Avenue SW to SW Charles town Street. Simply put, it makes no sense and has absolutely no connection to the geography. Moreover, it needlessly displaces numerous households from the former Schmitz Park Elementary school attendance area.

    The above proposal likewise displaces a very clear and obvious geographic feature for the northern-most portion of the NW boundary for the new Schmitz Park attendance area; namely, Schmitz Park – the very namesake of the school.

    In a similar vein, the most obvious landmark for the eastern-most portion of the NW boundary for the new Schmitz Park attendance area would seem to be the current Schmitz Park Elementary campus, with the boundary being placed on SW Spokane Street between 51st Avenue SW and 48th Avenue Southwest.

    Honestly, who came up with the carve out for the NW boundary? Have they ever walked the area?

    Comment by 33Pete — 3:39 pm September 26, 2013 #

  6. I agree with everyone else about the NW boundary of Schmitz. Our house is part of that group of houses cut out of the SP area and put into Alki. We could easily walk to either SP campus (present and future), but Alki?–that’s not nearly as walkable! And why cut it like that? It’s like a gerrymandered congressional district! And, I’m really concerned that they are so vague about when this goes into effect. Our 5-year-old just started kindy, and I would love to know where he’s going to be going to school for the next 5 years!! School districts aren’t the only ones who like to make plans.

    Comment by lg — 4:32 pm September 26, 2013 #

  7. I hear the above concerns – want SPS to hear them? Do the walk the boundary project and actually chime in with the people making the final calls.

    http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/cms/pages.phtml?sessionid=c95e97120e409b65aee6b31b7f5af501&pageid=302002&sessionid=c95e97120e409b65aee6b31b7f5af501

    Comment by mama3boys — 4:53 pm September 26, 2013 #

  8. And no – SPS can’t walk EVERY boundary. They look at topography, census data, current school data, projections – and now they are asking the community to tell them what is working. This is your chance to say something about it!

    Comment by mama3boys — 4:54 pm September 26, 2013 #

  9. Mama3boys, those of us at the meeting last night have done just that, have you?

    Obviously the district has not walked the boundary, they put Harbor Island going to Lafayette. …….., never know, might have a Hanjin container that needs schooling

    Comment by Mike — 5:53 pm September 26, 2013 #

  10. SO glad I am not sending my kid to a Seattle Public School. It’s an embarrassment to the city!

    Comment by sara — 6:10 pm September 26, 2013 #

  11. Mike – don’t know what about my statement would make you ask if I had – but yup sure did. Even though my kids go to an option school I walked the boundary for my neighborhood school with a friend.

    And – I was at the meeting.

    Like I said – I’ve heard from friends at most schools (and at the meeting) about all the crazy – just saying that stating the issue on the WSB is great but if you want SPS to “hear” you there is this option.

    Comment by mama3boys — 7:17 pm September 26, 2013 #

  12. I think Tracy Libros has an incredibly difficult job. She actually takes the time to communicate with the parent community, but she is spread thin. Education is underfunded, we parents constantly complain, and it is impossible to make everyone happy. I want to say “thank you” to the folks at SPS who have made an effort to reach out to parents for input.

    Comment by evergreen — 8:06 pm September 26, 2013 #

  13. WA State spends roughly $9400/student a year on average. We spend about this same amount to send our son to private school in W. Seattle. It amazes me how dysfunctional our public schools are. After trying out both private and public, we sure can see how private schools are much better at managing their money for one. Our private experience has certainly been way better in every sense.
    .
    I think this idea of overcrowding public schools and playing whack a mole every couple of years is ridiculous. I also think we need fewer “administrators” and more teachers in the classrooms (smaller class sizes). It stinks because our children are the losers in the end.

    Comment by W. Seattle Parent — 12:05 am September 27, 2013 #

  14. I saw a Board Meeting on Monday, Sept.30th on the District Calendar described as: Growth Boundaries Community Meeting. The Location is: Meany Building, Lunchroom
    300 20th Ave. E. Any idea if this will be a forum for expressing our concerns? I went to the meeting last night only to discover that over the the “plan” to ease crowding, will actually make the schools more crowded!’

    Comment by westseattlemom — 7:00 am September 27, 2013 #

  15. Hi – that’s just another version of the meeting held here – Meany on Monday, Ballard on Tuesday, see the list at the bottom of the Growth Boundaries page on the district website:
    .
    http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=294923
    .
    Certainly they have said the meetings aren’t restricted to the geographic areas in which they are being held. But the format would be the same. If you didn’t speak up while attending the one the other night, you could certainly go to either one of those and do so. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 7:07 am September 27, 2013 #

  16. Re: the district referring to Hughes being “too small” as an interim site for Arbor Heights. Interesting. A few years ago during the mold situation, the district was within a hair of relocating Arbor Heights to Hughes for a year. They confirmed it was an option. Enrollment at AH then was higher than it is now…

    Comment by Mark Ahlness — 9:35 am September 27, 2013 #

  17. Mark, if the AH community is truly interested in utilizing Hughes, I highly recommend getting a PTA committee started on a proposal. I think there is a lot of sense in the idea as an alternative to Boren (distance, no co-housing hassles). If the AH families can present a united front on this, there is a good chance the district will listen. Otherwise, Boren is a great building and there are worse things than being temporarily housed there.

    Comment by Kat in HighPoint — 10:20 am September 27, 2013 #

  18. Arbor Heights Elementary School’s enrollment is somewhere in the 360′s. Up from the low 330′s last year. At this time the school could probably fit at EC Hughes, but enrollment will most likely jump again by next fall, so maybe that is why EC Hughes may not be an option.

    W. Seattle Parent – private schools are not an option for everyone. The choices are fairly limited if you do not want the religious curriculum.
    Also, I wouldn’t be so smug about the fiscal health of the private schools, many also suffer at the hands of bad accounting practices and admin. mismanagement.

    Comment by AHParent — 10:33 am September 27, 2013 #

  19. @Kat, in no way was I advocating an AH to Hughes relocation. Just pointing out it’s important to fact check answers, and not just always say well, ok. I am encouraged by the engagement of WS communities in discussing the future of their schools. Thanks for the great reporting, WSB!

    Comment by Mark Ahlness — 12:50 pm September 27, 2013 #

  20. The seattle public SCHOOLS are not the ones that are messed up as W.Seattle Parent puts it, it is the admin of the district. Banda seems to be trying to organized the disorganized, and it is a big task!

    We live 3 blocks directly south of the Genesee Hill/SP school site and now go to Alki. All of you complaining about the NW Gen Hill/Schmitz Park boundary are a lot closer to Alki than we are, I think they traded our area for yours in the new boundary map, which makes more sense.

    There will be no alleviating the growth in the schools in WS by opening/remodeling the schools on the current reopen/remodel list in the time frame stated. We will just have to wait it out until the 2 year olds of the neighborhoods come to school (which is when the population of school aged kids reduces from the current kindergarten boom we are in now). The kindergarten boom is not just a Seattle problem…

    I wish we could afford to send our kids to a private school just for lower class sizes, but that is not feasible for us. The teachers of our WS public schools are amazing for what they can do with such big class sizes.

    Comment by ttt — 9:05 pm September 28, 2013 #

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