(UPDATED 4:59 PM with district slide deck from meeting)
(WSB video of entire Thursday night meeting at Louisa Boren STEM K-8)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Just a few years after Seattle Public Schools designated the former Louisa May Boren Junior High School as the permanent home of West Seattle’s STEM K-8 school, its parents and supporters found themselves last night demanding that district officials re-state that status.
Which they eventually did – but without an accompanying guarantee the school won’t be moved.
The campus’s past as an interim site is the main reason it’s in the district’s crosshairs right now for a potential return to that status, the STEM K-8 community was told during the boisterous briefing meeting (previewed here and here).
Associate superintendent Dr. Flip Herndon opened the hour-plus meeting by explaining that the district expects to be constructing and renovating schools “for the next 15 years, at least” as its enrollment continues to grow and its buildings continue to age.
Capital Projects and Planning director Richard Best went through the slides, starting with a recap of the schools recently built and renovated in West Seattle, including last fall’s opening of the new Arbor Heights and Genesee Hill elementaries, with the district expecting to grow to 55,000 students soon. He directed people to the Facilities Master Plan on the SPS website for an overview. They’re adding dozens of classrooms each year. Slides showed most elementary schools trending up, though they’re wondering if it’s plateau’ing. (Update – we requested the slide deck and received it this afternoon – PDF here, embedded below:)
Best said that adding special education capacity at every school also leads to campus-capacity challenges, as well as class-size-reduction mandates. They’ll be working with enrollment planners over the summer. And he noted that “in West Seattle we are seeing elementary growth occur more rapidly in the northern section than in the southern section.”
Capacity planning also involves looking at schools’ outdated systems that might not support technology – so those “rise to the top of the list to meet the educational needs of our students and staff.” That will figure into the 2019 BEX V levy. He added that school modernization means that “of the 102 schools that we have, over a third have historical landmark designations, so we can’t tear those buildings down.” (Those include EC Hughes, being modernized right now so that Roxhill Elementary can be moved there in a year, as we’ve been reporting.)
So, that all came down to this: Boren is “one of our largest school sites left to be utilized as an interim location,” Best said, drawing boos.
Why not use another large school building with a permanent program? he was then asked, for the first of several times during the meeting. Reply: “Because of this school’s history as an interim site.”
Asked an attendee, “When will this school cease being new and transitional? … It would be really nice to feel like we could have something to hold onto…. It feels as though the school administration is not treating us like (a permanent school).” It was noted that Arbor Heights shared Boren with STEM K-8 for two years until just this year, while its new building was built.
Best said that they need interim sites to house high schools.
Next: “We were assured years ago that this was our building, not an interim site. Why are we being considered an interim site when Arbor Heights is not? Fairmount Park is not? Or other schools in West Seattle … only because you have a history of using this building as an interim site?”
Herndon reclaimed the mike, saying they’re looking at whether Roxhill or Schmitz Park could be an interim site. “But in order to meet the needs of a school that’s about 1,200 students …” they need something that’s big enough. “We’re assessing what could we physically do on those sites.”
So, attendees asked again, are you looking at any other currently occupied West Seattle schools?
“I don’t think so,” said Herndon.
“We desperately want to work with you,” said one attendee, while insisting on options that work for STEM K-8 families. (This document prepared by the STEM K-8 PTA details concerns about a potential move.)
“We’ll have new data this summer, said Best. “We [district staffers] don’t make decisions, we only make recommendations to the school board about what schools should be in the [BEX V] levy. … I hear your voice. We need to come with options, either permanent location here or …”
“IT IS A PERMANENT LOCATION!” people shouted. One continued: “Can you just acknowledge that SPS (designated this) a permanent location in 2013? … We would like the staff to acknowledge that.”
“We’ll go back and review that,” said Best.
Herndon elaborated, “We don’t refer to this as the interim location for STEM K-8.”
Next question: Since a geographic attendance zone in this area (Boren is in North Delridge) was given to STEM, how could a move to north West Seattle not affect equity?
Best could’t answer that. Herndon tried: “Yes, if there was something to change about the physical location of the STEM program, we would go through an equity analysis.”
A former Schmitz Park parent mentioned how that building – which was proposed and scrapped years earlier as a potential location for then-STEM K-5 – “does not support K-8 … the facility is falling down, it’s not big enough for these people.” Boren itself might not even be big enough eventually, as STEM’s enrollment continues to grow.
Next, another concern about moving to a small building like Schmitz Park: They know STEM education works, and project-based education works. If you take STEM students and move them into (too small a space) … they have to sit at desks and face forward, no space to move around the building … you can’t do that by packing kids into too small a building. He recognized that “you guys are in an insanely difficult position … but it is not the right to choice to sacrifice one community for another. … We will not move to Schmitz Park quietly. It is not right for this community. … Let’s not turn Seattle Public Schools’ south end into a community that it wasn’t before.”
That brought applause.
Best said challenges abound throughout the district.
So, asked the next person, “Would it be accurate to say you’re going to need a transitional space for the next 20 years?”
If so, people shouted, build one!
The questioner suggested that turning Roxhill into a transitional site, with added capacity, would be a good idea.
Next person said it didn’t make sense to move this school north, and it doesn’t make sense to possibly build Alki and Lafayette (mentioned as potential BEX V rebuilding/modernization projects) at the same time. Build them one at a time, and use Schmitz Park for a transitional site.
“Our planning efforts are just beginning,” said Best, “so these conversations are helpful.”
Next person, describing herself as a grandmother of STEM K-8 students, called attention to a mission-statement slide early in the deck. “How is this (possible move) putting students first?”
“I acknowledge your point,” said Best.
District communicator Tom Redman, who was helping moderate, took a moment to promise that the comments were all being recorded and would be posted.
Back to the school community’s concerns and questions: “I don’t want to fight you … but I will fight you tooth and nail until you prove to me that you have thought through all the options and come up with the best option.”
At that point, Redman pointed out the presence of West Seattle/South Park school board director Leslie Harris.
Next person with a question said she’s an Alki parent and lauded STEM K-8 for an “amazing program that needs to be in this building. .. We’ve established that this is not an interim site, so they are staying here … We’ve established that this is not an interim site, but you guys (need one), so how do we do that? How do other districts do it?”
Best said that most districts “don’t put 500, 600 students on a three-acre site” … most districts have larger sites than the ones that hold most SPS campuses. “I’ve built lots of schools on larger sites.” But when you have to build a large-ish school on a small site, “it doesn’t give you that flexibility. So that’s the dilemma that Seattle Public Schools faces that’s relatively unique, compared to most districts in the state of Washington.”
What about other big cities? Like Boston? Best said he had just been at a conference there, and it does have interim sites. “But they’re not displacing permanent schools to make an interim site?” asked an attendee. “No,” said Best.
The next questioner asked Best to say again that “this is the permanent home of K-8 Boren.” He did. The questioner said, but, despite that, you started your planning process with the possibility of booting the school from its building? “I’m hoping somebody just woke up with ‘this is a dumb idea,’ but let’s try it. … I hope we have helped and proven the point and can now move on all together so all of SPS can move forward and come up with a better interim plan … and help all of our students.”
Next person asked a question about the former Denny International Middle School site (8402 30th SW, demolished in xxx) that’s “flat and just grass .. who owns that now?” The district still does, was the reply. Herndon said he doesn’t know what the acreage is – “it looks superbig, (but is) maybe 2 or 3 acres.”
The questioner contiued by wondering if Madison could be moved onto West Seattle High School’s site – five or six acres, said Herndon – and use Madison as an interim site.
“We want a list” of schools and options, said someone else.
Next person said it would be helpful for the district to outline the current state of BEX planning.
Best said that BTA IV had $15 million for land acquisition, “and that can take many different forms,” such as buying sites adjacent to district-owned sites.
You have it on paper somewhere, the questioner persisted.
“We’re looking to increase the capacity of our existing school sites,” Best continued, noting that Genesee Hill (formerly at Schmitz Park) and Arbor Heights have each added hundreds.
“So there’s no plan to purchase additional land for schools?”
School board director Harris took the mike, saying “$15 million doesn’t go but a foot in this economy … I believe that’s a good question for our mayoral candidates … if we’re going to do HALA to increase density in the city, why oh why doesn’t Seattle Public Schools not have a representative or 12 on that committee?”
Herndon noted that a lot of land came from donations in the past and “we really don’t get that any more …” but they’re “always on the lookout for land.”
A 7th grader said it’s not fair that some kids might not get to attend here in the future and use what she’s been using. She drew applause.
A kindergartener’s dad addressed Herndon, saying his letter to the STEM community began by referring to BEX V, and so he did some reference to research BEX’s past, going back to 1995. “It all adds up to $1.192 billion” over the years, he said, not even counting the BTA levies, with another billion-plus. He wondered what the BEX V number will be – maybe a billion dollars? “Fold that in … $3.8 billion” over the past few decades. “Over that time, how much capital has been allocated to this location?”
Herndon said he didn’t know.
The kindergarten dad did. Three small projects, he said. Maybe a couple million. “There are 539 students here. One percent of the district. One percent of $3.8 billion is $38 million. Take away two (million spent), $36 million should be allocated proportionately to this facility that our children occupy.”
Next person said she appreciated that accounting work and said that also, the “harm and the hardship that our school community has experienced” should be taken into account. “I wonder if in your offices you keep this kind of accounting.”
Best tried to answer; she continued – “I feel our tab of hardship is high. … We graciously opened our doors to accept (Arbor Heights) … we had our share of hardship.”
Best said he thinks the district does “a great job” tracking facilities’ needs, and right now there’s a half-billion-dollar backlog districtwide. He said he would classify her concern as “emotional,” and that drew objections. “My daughter was here the first day and there were no pencils – that’s not emotional!” one woman shouted.
Next person with the microphone: “You put this plan on the table and it doesn’t make sense … what’s the Plan B?”
Harris said there’s no plan at all yet, A, B, or otherwise. She said that BEX V will be the next version of the plan. She said she’s hoping for a communitywide meeting in August so that West Seattle schools don’t wind up pitted against each other as they have been in past district processes – “because that stinks.”
She also said that the district reps were not here when promises were made that “wallets could not keep.”
Another woman interjected that they were promised that once Arbor Heights left, this was STEM’s permanent home.
Harris said, “You’re not the only school community that’s been shafted by promises that (the district) may not be able to keep. … I love the idea of the first BEX V project being an interim site .. I love the idea of putting it on the old Denny site … I like the creative thinking in this room … But this is citywide, 53,000 kids, 102 schools, (last year) it was northeast Seattle dealing with issues … this is happening all over the city.”
Then, Harris was asked, why with two schools empty – the district is looking at displacing a third school?
“They haven’t made those decisions,” she replied. “We’re looking for a big enough space to move Asa Mercer Middle School when they rebuild it … it’s a dump … space for 1,200 students.” Alki or Lafayette could go to Schmitz Park, she acknowledged, but they need a large site.
“This site has a capcity of 750, not 1200,” someone said.
Next person with the mike wanted the district to stop using the term “interim” completely, so that if they are talking about displacing K-8 STEM, they know they are displacing a permanent site.
“Words matter!” people shouted.
Herndon said he has never called this “interim site Boren K-8 STEM.”
“Permanent!” someone shouted again.
“I don’t say ‘permanent’ any more than I would say ‘permanent Genesee Hill,” Herndon countered.
Next person brought up the recent project-based learning showcase here. “Part of the (excitement) was going into a science lab run by Mr. (Craig) Parsley and seeing the $20,000 wind tunnel we have here and there was no way to get through Parsley’s classroom …” He also mentioned the robotics program, and called the school a “gem” of the district. “Oh, maybe we should move them for a few years, put them in a building without labs, with portables … Why would you kill a DIAMOND of your school district?”
The group also cheered for winning six awards out of seven entries in the recent Museum of Flight science fair.
A woman who lives in High Point noted it’s a diverse neighborhood in many ways “we really benefit from having an option school here and it would be a loss to us” if STEM was moved. She wanted to know more about the mentioned-earlier equity analysis. Herndon again mentioned the Race and Equity Toolkit, saying it doesn’t “necessarily give you the solution” but tells you the potential impact of a decision or plan.
Last question: “If part of the issue is capacity why do we have 185 kids on a waitlist – let us grow! Why are we capped, why can’t we let more kids in? Let us expand!”
Herndon said they’re dealing with the waitlist issue “all across the city” – noting that students are moving between schools, and so their departure from another school might cost someone a teacher.
The meeting then moved into one-on-one conversation time with staff members. Redman promised that they’ll answer additional comments and post replies. And with that, Louisa Boren STEM K-8 principal Ben Ostrom delivered a rousing close (see it in our video, above).
WHAT’S NEXT: Stay tuned.