Seattle Public Schools says it’s closing Middle College High School’s West Seattle program

(WSB photo from MCHS High Point’s 2014 graduation ceremony at The Hall @ Fauntleroy)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

With just a few weeks to go in the school year, Seattle Public Schools has abruptly announced that one of its high schools in West Seattle won’t reopen next year.

In a letter dated May 18th, the district told families that it’s closing alternative Middle College High School‘s High Point campus, also known as the School for Social Justice and Community Engagement, after almost 20 years, citing declining enrollment. (If you’re not familiar with the overall MCHS program, it’s explained here.)

A statement on MCHS’s staff-maintained website suggests they’re not going without a fight:

The faculty and staff at Middle College High Point are very disappointed with this decision and are working with our community supporters, parents and students to prepare an organized response to this decision and to challenge the justification for closure.

It’s only been three years since MCHS’s West Seattle program went through a major transition:

It was booted from the South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) campus after 15 years – also a situation that came to light late in the school year (spring 2012). Finding a new home for the program that year turned out to be a bumpy process; at one point, it was to be moved to portables at the Boren Building, but that was an unpopular proposal on many fronts and the district ultimately moved the program to Neighborhood House’s High Point Center, which we visited in fall 2012:

Longtime MCHS teacher Alonzo Ybarra – himself a graduate of the Middle College program – reached out to us then and also shared first word of the closure announcement, which has to date not been the subject of a district news release, nor is it reflected on the district’s website as of this writing. We asked district administration several questions on Friday but were told we wouldn’t be able to get answers until Tuesday. We also have asked West Seattle’s school-board rep Marty McLaren for comment.

The letter from the superintendent offers the current students options including moving to another MCHS campus (all are in North Seattle – Northgate, University of Washington, Seattle University) or to their neighborhood high school:

Ybarra offers this statement in counterpoint:

The letter from the Superintendent asserts that the district is closing Middle College High Point due to low enrollment and future projections. This explanation is problematic for the following reasons.

First, Middle College High Point has existed for 19 years in West Seattle and has historically maintained the highest enrollment of any Middle College site. Our current enrollment, although down from past years, remains on par with Middle College at the Northgate Mall except for the fact that they have 30 additional DCHS students who are online students that do not attend school daily.

Second, the faculty and staff at Middle College High Point were prevented from continuing to develop our school wide interdisciplinary curriculum based on critical thinking, social justice and service learning. Our principal, openly stating that she did not support our efforts, forcefully imposed an arbitrary schedule that severely diminished our abilities to deliver exciting and creative curriculum and instruction. Preventing MCHS HP teachers from building on the momentum of successful curriculum and instruction at our school had a negative impact on student morale, attendance and enrollment numbers.

Third, our principal moved a staff member, without discussion or warning, directly undermining our efforts to recruit underserved African immigrant students who reside within the High Point community. Undermining efforts to work with the community to enroll new students clearly contributed to diminished student numbers. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year we’ve seen an approximate 30% decline in enrollment although it should be noted that we’ve been prohibited from enrolling new students by order of Michael Tolley since April 7th. We’d normally add 10-15 new students during second semester in preparation for the following school year.

Ybarra also shared this video created by a recent graduate:

We expect to have a followup on this once we get answers from the district after the holiday weekend, and we will be following up on the staff’s aforementioned plans for a “challenge.”

30 Replies to "Seattle Public Schools says it's closing Middle College High School's West Seattle program"

  • dsa May 23, 2015 (7:02 pm)

    It sounds like there has been a district agenda to close it since before April 7th.

  • LS May 23, 2015 (10:02 pm)

    Again West Seattle gets kocked to the curb.

  • Michael hureaux May 24, 2015 (5:36 am)

    Anything I ever learned about curricula and relevance I learned teaching alongside Middle College instructors back when the program was first getting off of the ground in this city in the early 1990s. Many people who today sing the praises of innovative small school programs are unaware that Middle College paved the way for rigorous and dynamic teaching and learning long before Bill Gates spoke the phrase “early college”. Unfortunately, we now live in a culture which increasingly cannot note the worth of any idea unless it generates huge returns or digital “outcomes” which are rarely accurate measures of how, why and when young people learn or how learning is applied in real life. The loss of Middle College would be a serious sad defeat of quality public education, and a needlessly cynical move from a school district which has long had a reputation for stifling creativity within its ranks. We cannot let this happen.

  • Joe Szilagyi May 24, 2015 (8:26 am)

    Apparently SPS is lying – can you follow up? Reports in response to this that someone named Tolley in central office banned new enrollment which is why it’s down. What is that about?

  • Joe Szilagyi May 24, 2015 (8:28 am)

    why did he ban enrollments? Under what authority?

  • High Point Dad May 24, 2015 (10:03 am)

    Did the school board authorize this? If not, then they need to step in and stop this from happening. And if the school board didn’t approve this, yet district staff are moving ahead anyway with a closure, then that is a sign that West Seattle’s board member, Marty McLaren, wasn’t doing her job protecting and looking out for the kids of our neighborhood.

  • Karen Kielbon May 24, 2015 (10:22 am)

    Middle College High School teacher Alonzo Ybarra has been dedicated to the education and lives of his students for years. I have been impressed with the integrated curriculum and student engagement with their own learning, their community, and the world in which they live!
    I also am a high school teacher and have loved teaching for 36 years. Middle College has been on the cutting edge of education before Common Core. What this team of teachers have been able to accomplish with students should be held up as a “light house” for all of Washington State!
    I am baffled by the decision to close…especially at this time as a whole Nation strives to engage EVERY student!
    I do not teach in Seattle, but from afar I have many “wonderings”. Is Seattle School Board sitting back and wanting others ( Charters) to meet public schools obligation to reach all students? Does Seattle School Board want to narrow what is taught so students simply score well on the multiple mandated state tests? Is Seattle School Board really knowledgeable of what is needed to reach all students? What political pressures are being applied to silence alternative, yet rigorous approaches to educating our youth? Don’t we hope to have young people question the status quo and look for issues of social justice?
    Middle College must stay open and be fully supported by the district. Promote, don’t close!

  • F16CrewChief May 24, 2015 (11:38 am)

    I graduated from Middle College at SSCC in 1998 and now have a child graduating from it’s High Point location this year. This program and staff are remarkable. I can’t put in words how in touch the staff is with the youth of our community. I have already written a letter to the superintendent and school board with my feelings on this news. I encourage many others to do so too. The children that attend this school are not troubled youth that have been expelled from their assigned school. These are children who simply struggle to succeed in a traditional environment. They are bright kids who just need a smaller environment to thrive. Middle College is an opportunity for our youth and should not be taken away. Please help and voice your support. Don’t let them take away a positive outlet from the youth of our community.

  • Marcus Joe May 24, 2015 (12:31 pm)

    The Middle College Formula Works. I’m living proof. So is Alonzo. Some of us got disenfranchised by the school system at a young age. I have had no way of connecting to educational process starting out. Middle College provided that connection for someone like me. I am a Native American Man that spent his summers in his youth traveling from Reservation to Reservation on what we call THE POW WOW TRAIL

  • ShakingMyHead May 24, 2015 (12:45 pm)

    “Alonzo Ybarra: “Throughout the 2014-2015 school year we’ve seen an approximate 30% decline in enrollment although it should be noted that we’ve been prohibited from enrolling new students by order of Michael Tolley since April 7th. We’d normally add 10-15 new students during second semester in preparation for the following school year.”

    I want to know whether or not Larry Nyland knew of Tolley’s actions. Were families notified about a charter school which is slated to open in W. Seattle? Does the city want to insert pre-k classrooms into this space?

    The lack of transparency, and the games that are played within the John Stanford Center is enough to make anyone shake their head.

  • ShakingMyHead May 24, 2015 (12:50 pm)

    Karen,

    The present school board support alternative pathways to learning. It is quite possible that this is the first the board is hearing about this.

  • Marcus Joe May 24, 2015 (12:51 pm)

    The Middle College Formula Works. I’m living proof. So is Alonzo. Some of us got disenfranchised by the school system at a young age. I have had no way of connecting to educational process starting out.

    Middle College provided that connection for someone like me. I am a Native American Man that spent his summers in his youth traveling from Reservation to Reservation on what we call THE POW WOW TRAIL in Indian Country.

    On my many travels I saw how many Native people live. Some of those reservations on the Plains are very impoverished. Witnessing that, I just couldn’t listen when all of my history teachers taught American Indian History, from the perspective of the ancestors of our present day Monopoly Men.

    Idea’s like Columbus being a hero and America being founded on Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness used to make me Mad. I felt lied to every time I did the pledge of allegiance. School seemed like a training camp for a murderous system to implement total control and I wanted no part in it. So I didn’t go my first two years of high school. It seemed pointless. It seemed like I’d be betraying my ancestors.

    Then I went to Middle College because I had no credits from those first two years of absences. What I found was that the curriculum didn’t disagree with the truths I acquired just by being born as a Native. Alonzo and the rest of the teaching staff didn’t make me feel like my ideas were just dangerous. I wasn’t treated like a scary freak because of my grim outlook.

  • Marcus Joe May 24, 2015 (12:58 pm)

    They confirmed that my grasp of the facts of genocide and mistreatment were not a case of a cry baby looking for vain attention. They showed me they were real. That I am a real person. That my feelings were valid and my humanity is important.

    Not only did they back the my facts. They taught me new facts. They helped broaden my perspective. They nurtured my thirst for knowledge. They encouraged it. I could’ve turned into a dangerous character to myself and others. With all that hate and anger and no direction. I could’ve been terrible. But Middle college in West Seattle made it possible for me to achieve the success in education I have achieved. I am currently working on my BA in Tribal Governance and Business Management. It works

  • Leslie Harris May 24, 2015 (4:45 pm)

    Karen,

    I brought this issue up to Director Blanford a month ago at his community meeting, as well as the sordid history of SPS not responding to South Seattle College’s requests for nominal rent for a year….. As well, Mr. Ybarra had reached out to Director McLaren recently (and who assisted in the move to High Point previously) and apparently numerous meetings with Ex. Director Israel Vela were cancelled. Exec. Dir. Vela oversees the WSeatle / South Park area and the Middle College program.

    Devestated by this news. This program saves lives.

    Leslie Harris
    Candidate School Board Pos. No. 6
    http://www.harrisforschoolboard.com
    Harrislsh@comcast.net

  • Ask the Mayor May 24, 2015 (6:44 pm)

    If this school were in Cap Hill the Mayor would prevent its shut down. It seems the Mayor is diverting all resources to Cap Hill at the expense of everywhere else (transportation levy, police (not) present sufficiently on Alki), etc.

  • Charlie Mas May 26, 2015 (5:05 am)

    The School Board is not a party to this decision. The Board has completely delegated program placement decisions to the Superintendent (see policy 2200). It would be inappropriate for the Board to interject itself in a program placement decision – that would be exactly the type of micro-management that people complain about. The Board can only consider the quality of this decision in the context of the Superintendent’s performance review. The Board is supposed to focus on policy, not management or administration.

    They could, however, ask questions about this decision. The only valid questions for them to ask would be policy-based decisions, such as:

    1. How is this decision consistent with the criteria for program placement decisions listed in policy 2200?

    2. Why wasn’t this decision included among the pending program placement decisions listed in the quarterly program placement report made in April?

    The Superintendent, and the Superintendent alone, is 100% responsible for this decision. Anyone with concerns about the quality of the decision should direct those questions to Dr. Nyland directly. Under the new customer service standards set by Dr. Nyland, he should make a prompt and complete response.

    I encourage interested parties to review policy 2200 and to review the new customer service standards and then contact Dr. Nyland. In particular, you should ask him how having Middle College campuses exclusively in North Seattle is consistent with the idea of Equitable Access to Programs and Services.

  • Charlie Mas May 26, 2015 (9:07 am)

    The District could not have done this without public input if the Middle College had its own building. Closing a school building requires a hearing. Closing a school does not.

    Messed up, right?

  • High Point Dad May 26, 2015 (9:41 am)

    I completely disagree with Charlie – the siting of a program is exactly the type of decision that a school board should be signing off on, as is routinely the case around the country. It is not “micromanaging” to do so, it is proper management and oversight. Parents and community members expect that their elected officials can represent their views and concerns and not simply stand there helplessly while bad things happen. The school board ought to step in here, and if there is a policy preventing them from doing so, then that policy must be revised.

  • KatHP May 26, 2015 (4:14 pm)

    I think ShakingMyHead might have something with the question: “Does the City want to insert Pre-K classrooms in this space?”
    .
    I support PK so far as it does not disrupt our already overcrowded, underfunded K-12 system. How many articles have we read about students going through their entire elementary years in portables? The overcrowding is everywhere. Yet, the city is eager to take over space within our current schools for their PK initiative. They are already siphoning professional hours from SPS employees and how much did SPS spend to send people on the PK fact-finding mission to the East Coast? A tirade for another forum, perhaps…
    .
    As for MCHS, I am very leery of the intentions in closing it down. The School Board and the community need to demand transparency on this. Honestly, I’m surprised they didn’t try to send this message out on the last Friday evening before summer break to avoid discussions altogether.

  • KatHP May 26, 2015 (4:38 pm)

    What is Neighborhood House saying about this? Is there another program that they are planning to put in the space currently rented by MCHS? Theirs is the one voice I have found absent from the conversation so far (unless I’ve missed it, in which case I am sorry).

    • WSB May 26, 2015 (4:41 pm)

      That’s my next stop. I have some of the district answers I sought last week, but every answer (and comment) brings up a new question ..

  • Katie May 27, 2015 (9:11 am)

    It is Cooper all over again. Enrollment all over West Seattle is growing so the perfect thing is to close schools or programs or whatever they call it.

    They are adding portables at Sealth and WSHS is close to full.

  • Rajnii May 27, 2015 (9:22 am)

    This program is too important to the lives of youth in setting them on a path for life long learning and self actualization. I have been touched inspired and seen countless youth lives transformed by the dedication of teachers committed to students success and enhanced critical thinking. There has got to be a way to preserve this. Otherwise the community will suffer from the lack of supporting its most vital resource
    – our children.

    • WSB May 27, 2015 (9:25 am)

      I am writing a followup today and invite anyone with additional information to contact me – editor@westseattleblog.com – hope to publish it by mid-afternoon. – Tracy (WSB editor)

  • Lynn May 27, 2015 (11:38 am)

    Of course these students should not be learning at the end of May that their school is closing. At the very least they should be given an explanation and an apology. I suspect Neighborhood House has other plans for the space.

    I do not understand Mr. Ybarra’s assumption that the staff should be able to create a new curricular focus for their school without their principal’s support. Teachers do not have that much autonomy – and rightfully so.

  • Highland Park Mom May 27, 2015 (7:36 pm)

    Thank you very much, Tracy, for continuing to pursue information about this. I look forward to reading your followup article–and am hopeful it will include information about how the community can best support the school.

  • Michael Hureaux May 30, 2015 (2:58 am)

    To clarify for Lynn, who posted above:
    There is no great mystery to Alonzo Ybarra”s assumption that a staff should be able to create new curricula focus without a principal’s support”, What makes Middle College work is the ability of instructors to rapidly tailor curricula to fit the needs of the students it receives. Classroom instructors see this shifting variable more rapidly than many SPS administrators, who are all too often beset by either (a) the district’s numbers mania or (b) the district’s obsession with curricula vendors and their attendant “magic bullet in a box” solutions to real learning challenges. The damage done to legions of students by SPS ongoing experimentation with mass “flavor of the month” solutions is a tragedy beyond measure.

    Wherever it is allowed to thrive, the Middle College model is public education as it is supposed to work, the school upholds a set of adjustable methodology which all students must have access to. The irony of the present moment is that for all the talk of the importance of algebra in this country, we certainly seem to have lost track of variables in the human personality, and nowhere is this clearer than in the imposed mandates of the so called education reform movement.

    Well, come what may, Alonzo Ybarra and Elizabeth Balkan and many others at Middle College over the years have held the line for a generation of learners who might have easily given up on their educations if teachers who use the Middle College technique had not been there. The better administrators of Middle College programs have understood and defended this mission. And this is why Mr Ybarra has his “assumption”. Good teachers lead as well as often as they follow administrators, and Middle College upholds the academic rigor found within that equation.

    We cannot allow the Seattle Public Schools to close this program. Even if one assumes that the hosting agency may want the program out of the building, the solution to the problem would not be closing Middle College. But given that a certain secondary ed administrator at SPS has long been sharpening a knife for Middle College, it is unsurprising that this is the “fix” proposed.

  • Michael Hureaux May 30, 2015 (9:26 pm)

    Apologies to Boo Balkan-Foster for getting her name wrong in my above comments.

  • audleatualii June 5, 2015 (11:35 pm)

    I am a Senior at Middle College and I can honestly say that I would not have graduated without them. Their formula works. Our teachers know us personally and we’ve created a bond with them. It’s a cliché, but we’re a family.

    I would also like to point out that we have had multiple (and by multiple I mean at least 30+) people try to enroll into our program but Seattle Public Schools said that we were not allowed to accept any more students. Which has created a decline in enrollment. Go figure.

    Our school is so important to our community in High point. The Neighborhood House said that they love seeing us in their building. The rooms that we use are dedicated to the youth programs. We are taught a creative curriculum. We have open discussions on current events such as police brutality and the oil rig. We might not always agree, but we see each other’s points and remain civil. My teachers are the best teachers I have ever had. I’ve attended multiple schools in multiple states. For high school alone i’ve been through 3 different schools, and I can honestly say that my heart aches for this school. They have taught me so much in and out of the classroom. They teach you about the required curriculum, but also about respect, integrity, other cultures, and sustainability within the community.

    Our school gardens in the pea patch near the bee house. All of the food that we harvest gets donated to a food bank. We learn about the bees and how they’re dying out. We learn about corn and how it’s used as a filler in almost everything that we eat. We learned about animal rights, human rights, the civil war from both sides of the line. We’ve learned about hip hop history, early American culture from the perspective from Native Americans. Native American boarding schools, Native American sterilization, the Iroquois Constitution, the Trail of Tears and much more that i would never have learned about in a traditional school environment.

    My school is a different school, it’s out there, it’s progressive. But it works. All of us alumni are proof that this works. You don’t have to fit into a box. They encourage us to be free thinkers and innovators. They encourage us to be… us. Which is more than I can say for any other school I have ever attended.

  • Kelly O. June 9, 2015 (12:09 pm)

    I am a Graduate as of 2014 from Middle College, and I can honestly say that this is shocking and quite disappointing news.

    I attended West Seattle High School for my freshman year and absolutely dreaded it. I felt I couldn’t get any help from teachers, that they did not care for my struggle or success and that I could have been bullied by the majority of the student body for openly asking questions. I almost failed. During my Sophomore and Junior year I attended The Nova Project, which was just fine but I needed more personal support and structure. Again, almost failed.

    In September 2013, the decision was made to attend High Point Middle College. It was small, but that’s what made it great. You had peace and quiet to work, teachers that could give you the time of day and actually cared about how you do. They were not just your teachers, but also your friends. Boo Balkan Foster, Alonzo Ybarra, Camille Paul and Andrea Chorney were people who I relied on for an entire year to graduate. It was definitely a feat.

    I had to obtain quite a lot of credits in order to graduate, it was no where near easy. I could have never graduated without the help and guidance of my teachers.

    I was no ordinary student, I had ADD and Dyslexia to add to everything else. This was a secret that I was always embarrassed to even mention, I didn’t want to be treated differently or given special treatment. All the schools that I had attended previously had not understood that its harder for me to understand things sometimes. Once I had started at HPMC, no one made fun of me, people understood that I might need more time, and everyone, even the students were very supportive.

    I know this is long, but there’s just so much to say. So I’ll put this simply. I had a wonderful experience there that had changed my life for the better in many ways. Its just a shame that many, many, many students are losing the opportunity to grow, make bonds, and still learn and graduate.

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