By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
‘This is not a done deal – this is a jumping-off point,” said Seattle Public Schools‘ new 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.
*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.