West Seattle Blog... » Highland Park http://westseattleblog.com West Seattle news, 24/7 Sat, 25 Oct 2014 17:25:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Highland Park hoedown! School hosting square dance http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/highland-park-hoedown-school-hosting-square-dance/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/highland-park-hoedown-school-hosting-square-dance/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 20:21:22 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=289185 It’s a pre-Halloween hoedown in Highland Park next Friday! From Holly with the HP Elementary PTA:

Highland Park Elementary is hosting a square dance on Friday, October 24th. This is a free event and open to the public. Dinner will be served from 6-7 and the dance will be from 7 – 9. Free pumpkins to take home, while supplies last! Donations will be accepted as a PTA fundraiser.

Highland Park Elementary is at 1012 SW Trenton.

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Design process to start for Highland Park play-area upgrade http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/design-process-to-start-for-highland-park-play-area-upgrade/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/design-process-to-start-for-highland-park-play-area-upgrade/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 02:52:59 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288637 Though the Parks and Green Spaces Levy expires this year – with the newly voter-approved Park District to follow as a source of extra funding – some of the projects it funded are still in the pipeline. And the design process is getting going for one in West Seattle – the Highland Park play-area upgrade. We just received word via a postal-mail postcard that a community meeting is set for 6:30 pm October 29th at Highland Park Elementary (1012 SW Trenton). As first proposed more than two years ago, the plan here is to “improve the usability and safety (of) the play area” at the park (1100 SW Cloverdale), which also is home to West Seattle’s only spraypark, another project largely funded by the 2008-2014 levy. What kind of play equipment and access do you want to see? Everyone interested is invited to get involved with planning, and this meeting is the next step.

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Food Lifeline decides not to build new HQ on West Seattle’s ex-’Nickelsville’ site, chooses Riverton instead http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/food-lifeline-decides-not-to-build-new-hq-on-west-seattles-ex-nickelsville-site-chooses-riverton-instead/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/food-lifeline-decides-not-to-build-new-hq-on-west-seattles-ex-nickelsville-site-chooses-riverton-instead/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 20:56:14 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=286986

(WSB photo: Ex-encampment site being cleared after its closure one year ago)
The West Seattle site known best as the multiple-times-former site of the “Nickelsville” homeless encampment will NOT be the new home of Food Lifeline after all.

It’s been almost two years since the nonprofit confirmed it was looking at the site, which includes both city- and state-owned land. FL described the location as its preferred site as recently as one year ago, when the encampment moved off the site under orders of the city.

But today, a spokesperson for Food Lifeline sent word that FL has instead chosen a site in Riverton, just south of South Park, and is breaking ground there. Asked why FL decided against the ex-encampment site at West Marginal Way SW and Highland Park Way SW, Joleen Zanuzoski told WSB, “When Food Lifeline was going through the second phase of the environmental review at the West Marginal/ Highland Park location, there were a lot of unknowns associated with the land that would lead to additional investment for the build. Food Lifeline made the decision to look elsewhere so they could spend their donors money in the most efficient way possible and to find land that wouldn’t have so many questionable elements attached to it that might be cause for more money being spent for land development.”

FL says it’s instead constructing two buildings on nine acres at 9600 8th Avenue S. (map), with “200,000 square feet of warehouse and cold storage, administrative offices, conference rooms and a demonstration kitchen space. Food Lifeline will occupy one of the warehouses.” It’s raising money to buy the property, for which it’s made a lease-to-own deal for starters.

Meantime, we have a message out to the city, inquiring about the future of the ex-encampment site in West Seattle, now that the Food Lifeline proposal is no longer in play. (Previously, you might recall, the same site was under consideration for a new jail that ultimately the city agreed didn’t need to be built.)

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Highland Park, Westwood councils meet together to focus on fighting, preventing crime http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/highland-park-westwood-councils-meet-together-to-focus-on-fighting-preventing-crime/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/highland-park-westwood-councils-meet-together-to-focus-on-fighting-preventing-crime/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 04:44:51 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=286802 By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

In the city’s stack of neighborhood plans, Highland Park and Westwood share one. Last night, the community councils for the neighborhoods shared a meeting.

More than 40 people in attendance as Highland Park Action Committee‘s regular monthly meeting was joined by Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council, with the focus on crime fighting and prevention.

Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Steve Wilske, who’s working on neighborhood policing plans as part of a citywide initiative, came with information specific to both areas, as well as updates.

He said that police handle 220 calls a week in Highland Park – but they are NOT all crimes, that also includes other ways in which police are asked to help people. The most common type of incident for which police are called in Highland Park: ‘Suspicious people.” Disturbances, traffic violations, crashes follow. The one area to which police are called most often: Walgreens at 15th/Roxbury.

For Westwood’s hot spot, Roxhill Park, incidents for which police have been called have “skyrocketed” since RapidRide launched in 2012, said Capt. Wilske – “in the area of doubling.” But there’s some recent progress – they’ve helped businesses at Westwood Village implement a “criminal trespass” program at Westwood Village, which will soon expand, and there’s been a 25 percent drop in incidents at the park since sending officers in on bicycles to patrol frequently. Getting bicycles for officers to use when possible has been a focus for Capt. Wilske, and he says a quarter of the precinct staff has volunteered to be involved. This allows officers to get into spots they can’t reach with a car, like paths at Roxhill Park. You’ll see even more officers on bikes and on foot starting within a week or so.

He also said that SPD will help with the effort to get grant money to improve Roxhill Park lighting and will evaluate the transit-hub area there with a CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) eye. At that point, Community Police Team Officer Jon Kiehn explained CPTED (as he’s done at many other community meetings, including multiple presentations for the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network).

Neighborhood policing: Capt. Wilske’s been talking about this at community meetings around West Seattle and South Park (which together comprise the Southwest Precinct’s coverage area). The plans being drawn up for local neighborhoods, in consultation with community councils for starters, focus on each neighborhood’s most vexing problems, and how those can be tackled for starters. He’s expecting the program to “top out” at about a dozen plans.

Since property crimes are the biggest concern for West Seattle, with a relatively low number of violent crimes, the precinct is using tools including what Wilske mentioned at Tuesday night’s West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting – new fingerprinting kits, a database of repeat offenders, tools you can borrow to engrave your driver’s-license number on valuables, etc.

A key point: Precinct leadership is working with community-council leadership on these plans. So if you have concerns to get addressed, funnel it through your nearest council. The areas with plans so far are determined by places that have an organization with which he can check in. “The idea isn’t to exclude anybody, but there has to be enough organization there to know I’m not marching off in the wrong direction,” said Wilske.

He shared more information about the fingerprinting kits: The only ones available to officers now date as far back as the turn of the millennium, so every Southwest Precinct officer will be getting new kits – “if we can get a fingerprint out of a stolen vehicle, out of a burglary, we can get that person charged if we can match it up to them.” One officer has been working with a sort of pilot version of the kit, and she’ll be involved in putting the right components together for her colleagues.

Officer Kiehn and Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon (who is accountable for the Southwest and South Precincts) also presented information. Kiehn talked about some of the online tools that we know WSB’ers are already familiar with –

CPT Officer Kiehn told the group about the online crime maps and how you can sometimes get the narrative on reports via that system (with a significant lag – usually at least a few days – he acknowledged). Tweets by Beat also came up, with the caveat that they show the types of incidents that are suspected, without any way for the automated system to correct it later, even if what was thought to be a certain type of incident didn’t turn out to be anything resembling that. (Side note: The West Seattle Tweets by Beat are aggregated in an automatically updated box you can check any time on the WSB Crime Watch page.)

Crime Prevention Coordinator Solomon mentioned some of what he can help with – including helping neighbors set up Block Watches.

Will the city’s Find It Fix It walks come to West Seattle? The most recent one was on Capitol Hill. No new ones on the drawing board yet, the group was told. But the concept of bringing together city agencies/departments to solve problems together, rather than in their respective silos, is being deployed more and more, said Solomon. You do have to have an initial point of contact – with a chronic problem, for example, that would be your Community Police Team officer. (Here’s the contact info.)

The meeting touched on a few non-crime/police topics:

OTHER NOTES: Programs currently active in West Seattle (and elsewhere) got mentions at the meeting – RainWise (a way to install green-stormwater-infrastructure at your home and get a rebate covering much or all of the cost – HPIC got grants for its raingardens and cisterns), Solarize Southwest (the latest group solar buying), the SDOT Play Streets program (you can apply to close your street for events), and the question of whether the West Seattle Transportation Coalition should take a position on Transportation Benefit District Prop 1 – the Seattle-only license-tab-fee/sales-tax-increase measure on the upcoming fall ballot. … Should that aforementioned Westwood/Highland Park neighborhood plan be updated? WWRHAH chair Amanda Kay Helmick suggested it’s time to “start the conversation.”

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Happening now: Open house at Seattle Police Mounted Patrol HQ in West Seattle http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/happening-now-open-house-at-seattle-police-mounted-patrol-hq-in-west-seattle/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/happening-now-open-house-at-seattle-police-mounted-patrol-hq-in-west-seattle/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 20:22:53 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=286369

The first arrivals at the Seattle Police Mounted Patrol Unit‘s second annual Open House found it pretty exciting to meet the horses face to face. Above, Officer Laura Wollberg and Chance impressed a young visitor. You’ll find the horses and officers in and around their barn on the west side of Westcrest Park in Highland Park – Charlie got a last-minute touchup:

Along with meeting the horses and seeing demonstrations (one riding demo should be under way now, and another’s at 4, plus you’ll see how they go through “desensitization training”), you can get a behind-the-scenes look at barn operations. You might call this the pantry:

Some of the inventory, being put to good use:

For today’s open house, human treats are on hand too – free hot dogs and chips:

We asked the unit leader Sgt. Jim Scott (below, with Dozer) if visitors need to know anything else. He reminded us there’s parking inside the gate, too (that’s on the right when you drive in from 8th, where an SPD vehicle is marking the entrance).

The open house continues until 5 pm today.

P.S. It’s been three years since the Seattle Police Foundation, a nonprofit that supports events like this, stepped up to coordinate a community campaign to support the Mounted Unit.

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Meet your neighhhhh-bors @ SPD Mounted Patrol open house http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/meet-your-neighhhhh-bors-spd-mounted-patrol-open-house/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/meet-your-neighhhhh-bors-spd-mounted-patrol-open-house/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:16:14 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=286114

(WSB photo from Delridge Day, 8/6/14)
On the heels – or hooves – of the Seattle Police Mounted Patrol Unit appearance at last month’s Delridge Day, here’s your next chance to see the unit’s horses and humans: This Saturday, it’s the second annual open house at their West Seattle home base. We’re giving you an extra nudge because Sgt. Jim Scott says they really want to make sure you know about the chance to come visit them. The Mounted Patrol is based alongside Westcrest Park in Highland Park (9000 8th SW – directions here); the open house runs noon-5 pm and is hosted by the nonprofit Seattle Police Foundation, whose announcement mentions riding demonstrations at 1 and 4 pm, plus free hot dogs.

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Update: Car hits building’s gas meter in Highland Park; no one hurt http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/car-hits-building-in-highland-park/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/car-hits-building-in-highland-park/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:01:41 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=285861

9:01 AM: Moving this over from our morning traffic watch: Seattle Fire is on the scene of a crash described as a car hitting a building in the 7900 block of 9th SW (map). Everyone got out of the car OK, SFD reports, but it hit the gas meter, so they’re calling in Puget Sound Energy.

9:04 AM: Our crew at the scene reports the aforementioned gas leak is very noticeable in the immediate area – so stay clear of there for now. No major traffic effects, though. This happened at an auto-repair shop at 9th/Kenyon.

9:22 AM: Replaced our original photo with a wider view showing the scene – the black car with the open doors is the one that hit the building, and it’s since been pulled out:

Also, PSE has shut off the gas, and the SFD crews will be pulling back too.

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West Seattle Crime Watch: Bridesmaid dress stolen – with car http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/west-seattle-crime-watch-bridesmaid-dress-stolen-with-car/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/west-seattle-crime-watch-bridesmaid-dress-stolen-with-car/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 17:28:36 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=285537 Just out of the WSB inbox, from TW:

My girlfriend’s car, a red 1995 Subaru station wagon license plate 782 ZDF, was stolen sometime Fri night/Sat morning outside my apartment a block off of Westcrest Park in the Highland Park neighborhood. If anyone sees it, please call the Seattle Police. It’s bad timing; she’s part of a friend’s wedding this evening and her bridesmaid’s dress was in the car. If any of the readers of the West Seattle Blog can spot it, that would be a lifesaver. Thanks!

Call 911 if you see this or any other stolen vehicle, police say.

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Update: Car-motorcycle collision at 16th/Holden, 2 hurt http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/car-motorcycle-collision-at-16thholden/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/car-motorcycle-collision-at-16thholden/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 02:13:02 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=285321

7:13 PM: … That’s what the big response is for. Two people hurt, but neither lost consciousness, per scanner.

7:22 PM: We are at the scene. Two people were on the motorcycle, both taken to the hospital by private ambulance. The crash scene is on Holden west of 16th, at the 7-11 driveway. No life-threatening injuries. It’s suspected the collision happened because the sun got in everybody’s eyes, police told us.

7:39 PM: Added a photo. At top, police officers and firefighters were cleaning up the scene, including lifting up the motorcycle, awaiting a tow truck. SFD says the people taken to the hospital were the 50-year-old man driving the motorcycle and 50-year-old woman who was his passenger.

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Earthquake-resistance retrofit work about to start at West Seattle Reservoir in Highland Park http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/earthquake-resistance-retrofit-about-to-start-at-west-seattle-reservoir/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/earthquake-resistance-retrofit-about-to-start-at-west-seattle-reservoir/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 16:40:40 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=285256 Three months after we first reported on seismic-safety retrofit work needed inside some city reservoirs, it’s about to start at West Seattle Reservoir in Highland Park. Neighbors will receive, if they haven’t already, notices from Seattle Public Utilities, which tells WSB that work will start by the end of September and run through March. Here’s the notice:

(If you can’t see the embedded version, here’s the PDF version.) SPU says project signs will go up in the park before work begins. Our June story, linked in the first sentence of this one, details the full backstory, including the expectation that work will be needed at West Seattle’s other underground reservoir, Myrtle, and will probably start there before the end of next year.

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West Seattle back-to-school: Highland Park Elementary barbecue http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/west-seattle-back-to-school-highland-park-elementary-barbecue/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/west-seattle-back-to-school-highland-park-elementary-barbecue/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 22:36:55 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=284498 Another special back-to-school event to announce! From the Highland Park Elementary PTA, via Holly:

HPE will be hosting its annual back to school BBQ on Friday, September 5th. The BBQ is scheduled from 5:30 – 7:00 on the school grounds.

This is an annual tradition at HPE, and provides the students and their families an opportunity to gather as a community, share their visions for the school year, and celebrate the beginning of another school year. Hot dogs and refreshments will be provided. The PTA will be on hand, as well as teachers and administrators.

Special event, accomplishment, request, etc. from/at YOUR school? Let us know!

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Update: 5 hurt, including SPD officer, in Highland Park crash http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/automobile-rescue-call-in-highland-park/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/automobile-rescue-call-in-highland-park/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 04:18:21 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=284333 ORIGINAL REPORT, 9:18 PM: Another big police/fire response – this time an “automobile rescue” call at Highland Park Way/West Marginal Way SW. This also involved an SPD officer, per Twitter.

9:35 PM: SFD has extricated the officer. Three other people are reported hurt.

10:09 PM: We have just talked at the scene with SPD night commander Capt. David Proudfoot. He says the car was coming down the hill to a ‘fast backup’ call in South Park when the officer apparently lost control, hit the pole, ricocheted into a passing car.

4 people taken to the hospital, no major injuries.

11:04 PM: Another update – Seattle Fire now says there were five people in the car with which the SPD officer collided.

The driver, in her 30s, went to the hospital along with three girls, two 8 year olds and a 9 year old. A 1-year-old boy in the car was taken home by his dad, SFD says. Investigators are likely to be on Highland Park Way a while longer; when we left, Seattle City Light was also there checking on the pole and wires.

12:47 AM: A summary is on SPD Blotter; the only update from the briefing at the scene is further clarification of how the two vehicles collided – that the SPD car had gone backward into the pole and was then hit by the other car.

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Followup: Bail set at $500,000 for SUV theft/kidnap suspect http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/followup-bail-set-at-500000-for-suv-theftkidnap-suspect/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/followup-bail-set-at-500000-for-suv-theftkidnap-suspect/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 22:34:00 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=283926 Just in from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: Bail is set at $500,000 for the 25-year-old man accused of stealing an SUV from outside Seamart in Highland Park, with a 10-month-old baby girl in the back seat, abandoning it (and her) in White Center. As added to our coverage last night after he was booked into jail, he also has warrants in connection with three domestic-violence-related cases, one of which also involved taking a vehicle; court documents list his address as less than a block away from the scene of yesterday’s crime. The documents include a short police narrative of how it unfolded; adding that in a moment.

ADDED: Transcribed from the “probable cause” section of the document:

(The victim) stopped at 1513 SW Holden Street. He took his keys out of the ignition and entered the store. He left his 10-month old daughter in the back of the vehicle, but was only about 20 feet from the car. Within seconds of (the victim) entering the store, (the suspect) opened (the victim’s) car and started getting into his vehicle. (Video exists of this part of the incident.) (The victim) saw him entering his vehicle and ran toward the vehicle. He yelled that his baby was in the car and to not take the car. (The victim) was positive that (the suspect) heard what he said but took the car anyhow … The victim stated that the suspect left eastbound on SW Holden from that location.

A short time later, a call came in reporting that a vehicle (later identified as the victim vehicle) had been abandoned on the 700 block of SW 99th St. Officers responded to that location and found that the baby was unharmed. A description of the suspect was sent to officers over the air, and (the suspect) was located between the location of the abandoned vehicle and (his) house. He was detained and (the baby’s father) positively identified (the suspect) as the person who knowingly and intentionally abducted (the baby) while in the commission of an auto theft. Officers ran (the suspect’s background) and found that he had two warrants. One felony warrant out of Seattle for a no-contact order violation, and for taking a motor vehicle without permission … The second warrant is a King County misdemeanor warrant for domestic-violence assault 4th degree … (The suspect) was booked into KCJ for investigation of kidnapping, investigation of auto theft, and the two listed warrants.

The next hearing in the case is set for next Tuesday.

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Explore astronomy on the ground – at Highland Park Spraypark! http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/explore-astronomy-on-the-ground-at-highland-park-spraypark/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/explore-astronomy-on-the-ground-at-highland-park-spraypark/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 23:45:13 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=283299

Story and photos by Alice Enevoldsen for West Seattle Blog

West Seattle’s own Highland Park Spraypark boasts an opportunity to bring science and math into the end of your summer vacation, painlessly and, in fact, pain-relievingly: while enjoying the cooling sprinklers. The entrance is on SW Cloverdale St and 11th Ave SW, just north of Highland Park Elementary School, and it’s open through Labor Day, 11 am-8 pm.

Depending on your kids’ interests and ages, pick one of the challenges below, don some clothes you don’t mind getting wet, and do the activity with them. If they’re a bit older (especially in the teenage range) and are embarrassed by your presence, you can give them one of the advanced challenges and maybe they’ll be tempted by a snack through Seattle’s Summer Food program, Kids and Teens Eat Free, located in the same park.

Challenge 1: Scavenger Hunt

Find all the planets!

Each planet is a circle of a different color, and has a bronze inlaid symbol identifying it nearby.

That’s an example – the Mars circle and its bronze symbol.

Teacher/Parent/Caregiver hint: The planets are not presented in order, and many of the circles are concentric, as if the planets are stacked on top of each other.

The designers of this spray park chose that this representation of our solar system would not label Pluto, the Sun, or moons and asteroids, so your scavenger hunt is for only eight objects. Here’s your cheat sheet for which symbol identifies which planet:

(NASA.gov image)
Note that the spray park uses a different symbol for Uranus:

Challenge 2: Measure the Planets

Optional Supplies:

Measuring tape, ruler, or string (you can also measure with footsteps, arm lengths, or the height of a certain child if you want).

A paper to chart measurements (print this)

Pencil or pen

Even the littlest kids can help measure the planets, but their measurements will not be accurate. Playing at measuring is a great skill for preschoolers and toddlers anyway. Older kids can be prompted to measure more and more precisely. If you have a mix of ages, bring enough rulers or tape measures for each age-group.

Measure the diameter of each planet, and record that measurement on a chart – get it here as a PDF.

How close is this model to being to scale?

How big would the Sun be, if it was to scale with these planets?

I have not finished my own measurement of the planets, so I’d love it if you’d post your findings below.

Teacher/Parent/Caregiver hint: This is the part where kids will get wet, so come prepared and revel in the coolness. If you measure in footsteps or anything other than a standard unit and you want to compare to a scale model of the solar system you’ll have to measure your child’s foot in inches at some point and multiply.

For instance, if Mercury is 5 footsteps across, and your kid’s foot is 7 inches long, then Mercury is 5 footsteps x 7 inches per footstep = 35 inches across.

When you get home, use this Solar System model calculator to see if this model is actually to scale, or not.

On the screenshot below, I’ve outlined in red the parts you need to complete the activity, comparing numbers to a scale model:


First, set the solar system calculator up by putting in the diameter you measured of one of the planets.

Second, click “Calculate.”

Third, read the values in the second-to-last column and compare them to the rest of your measurements.

Challenge 3: Be Creative

There are lots more circles on the spray park than just the eight marked as planets. If you wanted them to represent objects in our solar system, what would they be?

What do the spraying features represent? Are they related to imaginary or real features on the planets?

(Some of the extra circles in the spray park)

Teacher/Parent/Caregiver hint: This is an exercise in creativity, as well as some free-form learning about the planets. You can find plenty of space books at the library to fuel the imagination and learn some of the known features on each planet.


Use Thinkzone’s Solar System Calculator to calculate a scale model of the solar system (full disclosure: This is my dad’s website; clearly, I come by my geekery honestly!)

Who is Alice?

Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no-one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at www.alicesastroinfo.com.

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Highland Park Elementary’s neighbors learn of its challenges, offer help with solutions: ‘Tell us what we can do’ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/highland-park-elementarys-neighbors-learn-of-its-challenges-offer-help-with-solutions-tell-us-what-we-can-do/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/highland-park-elementarys-neighbors-learn-of-its-challenges-offer-help-with-solutions-tell-us-what-we-can-do/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 04:10:09 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=282348

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Just before the end of last school year, a member of the Highland Park Elementary School PTA made a pitch to the nearest community council, the Highland Park Action Committee.

Peter Weiss told HPAC’s May meeting that he wanted to organize a 5K to bring the PTA and the school not just money but awareness. HPES, he explained, is the lowest-performing elementary school in the entire district.

That was jaw-dropping news to many, if not most, in the room. Just supporting an event would not be enough. A community conversation was called for.

The conversation began in earnest this past Tuesday night.

Though most community groups skip midsummer meetings, HPAC and the HPE PTA set a date, issued an invite – and the room was full.

We counted more than 50 people.

At the front of the room, along with Sol Mendez from the HPE PTA and HPAC co-chairs Carolyn and Billy Stauffer, were school and city leaders – among the former, new HPE principal Chris Cronas and the district’s regional executive director of schools Israel Vela; among the latter, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim and City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.

More questions than answers emerged. But it was one of those events where the event itself was the triumph, for starters, rather than any single declaration or promise made.

“One of the bigger ideas we’re trying to push here is community involvement in the schools,” in addition to and beyond the PTA and others with direct links, Billy Stauffer explained toward the start. “We’re curious to see the ways the broader community can come together … to help a failing school.”

“We want a lot of people who care from different corners of our neighborhood to come together and have a voice,” added Carolyn Stauffer. The school and its students and staff have multiple challenges to conquer. Academically, for example, only 33 percent of third graders are proficient test-wise, compared to 79 percent district-wide, and there is high teacher turnover because of a contract they were required to sign. She also mentioned high bullying rates. “They need more help.”

New HPES PTA president Mendez asked participants to avoid using polarizing language – not us vs. them, “what happens to one kid happens to all kids … we should all be cohesive and collaborative in taking care of all our children.”

“It’s going to take a community to be able to partner together to go where we want to go,” echoed Israel Vela, who is executive director of schools in this area for the district, which means, among other things, that West Seattle/South Park schools’ principals report to him. Vela recapped how Highland Park (see its official “report” here) got to be “an intervention school” and what kind of plan exists for elevating it out of that designation. Explaining what “intervention school” means, Vela mentioned that the state applied for a No Child Left Behind waiver to get to implement its own way of evaluating schools’ status – replacing the “AYP (Step 1-5)” status, there is a Segmentation 1-5 designation, with 1 meaning lowest performing. In 2009, 18 schools were in that category; by 2013, only four qualified, “which tells us that as a district … we are moving in the right direction in terms of improvement,” Vela said. HPE is not alone in Segment 1, he added. For the coming school year, it’s one of two district-wide (along with Emerson) designated as an “intervention school.”

Vela described the “re-commitment letter” that was circulated among staffers, and said that it wasn’t meant to come off as a “commitment letter.” It allowed teachers to be “displaced,” and 12 teachers at HPES “decided to displace,” he said, so hiring has been under way since June to fill the positions they vacated. A few teachers were in the room, Vela noted at that point. He added that substitutes are a role that they have trouble filling, for the southwest and southeast regions, not just this school.

Then new principal Chris Cronas introduced himself, coming from Wedgwood Elementary, “an incredibly successful school” but not always that way, he said, because of an “unhealthy climate” that he worked on, with changes that “weren’t popular with all families,” he said. 98 percent of its fourth-graders according to preliminary data he said, have met standards in writing, which he called “unprecedented.” Cronas also mentioned that he has been dealing with family challenges – not just the challenges of raising two kids under 3, but also his wife being seriously ill.

Back to his new school: He said Highland Park has a few positions left to hire. Safety/security changes, he said, will be made right away, as a result of what he described as “what’s working/not working” conversations he’s had with key people. “We have a plan for that, and it starts day one,” he said. Those changes will include how kids line up, how they move throughout the building, avoiding shoving 400 kids through two doors, language regarding behavior, teaching kids about boundaries. “This is not going to happen overnight – this is going to take time,” Cronas stressed. “The first month is going to be a little bumpy,” but once routines and procedures are set, that “bumpiness” will ease,” he said.

He went through some of the assignments, who will handle “support outside the classroom.” That includes the return of CityYear, he said, whose members will be “painting the numbers” on the classroom to help movement, among other tasks.

At that point, Carmela Dellino stood up toward the back of the room – you might recall, she preceded Vela as this area’s executive director of schools, after serving as Roxhill Elementary principal, and now works with the city’s Families and Education Levy, as “think partners” with schools like HPES that receive levy money. Last year was the first year of that funding, Vela pointed out.

One attendee, identifying herself as a teacher who has taught at HPES, wanted to know what specifics are planned to meet the social/emotional needs of students.

Cronas said some staffers underwent training known as RULER this summer. A teacher explained, at another attendee’s request, that it’s a “social/emotional curriculum to create a conversation … about feelings, and being able to express themselves openly, and de-escalate.” It creates a space “in a council environment” to discuss those feelings, the teacher said. It includes languaging that will be universal throughout the school, and ways for families to understand the language so they know what their kid(s) are talking about.

Vela said 10 schools in the district are “embarking on RULER.” It takes trust, communication, and time, said the teacher, “and you guys should be aware of that.” An attendee said they were concerned that it would just be “we sent the teachers to this training” and not an integrated part of the full school day.

The HPE PTA leader Mendez said she wanted to be sure there weren’t just “popcorn” conversations. After that, a question bounced back to history rather than future. An attendee said, “My concern with our neighborhood school … though my child doesn’t go there …” she pointed out that only 56 percent of the population in the boundaries go to that school. I want to know, why are our families not choosing to go to the neighborhood school?”

Shortly thereafter, someone else pointed out that while HPES has an ethnically diverse population – as shown on the school report – she looked around the room at the meeting and saw mostly white faces, so, how would the school engage families of color too?

Vela suggested ELL (English-language learner) parents weren’t there because of lack of district outreach: “We need to bring them to the table.” Cronas vowed that, “My intent is to reach out to specific families and subgroups.”

That outreach also needs to include referrals for services at the school when needed, said another person identifying herself as a therapist at HPE and a community resident who has seen primarily English- or Spanish-speaking families, though that’s just part of the school’s population.

Yet another attendee said RULER isn’t known for excellence in the race/equity area, so, she suggested, complicated race and cultural-compentency training would be needed.

One person said RULER is not great with race and equity, so there’s going to have to be race and cultural competency training. It’s complicated work, she pointed out.

Another touchy topic erupted at that point – the school’s EBD (emotional/behavior disorder) population. One former HPE teacher now at another school suggested that it doesn’t belong at the school, “because a lot of the kids already come from very fragile homes.” She also recalled that the school had tried a variety of outreach and programs, from home visits to positive discipline to Love and Logic, cultural competency and “courageous conversations,” but leadership challenges, she suggested, kept them from succeeding.

Another attendee shortly thereafter suggested that chlidren be taught that diversity – not just ethnic diversity – is a blessing, in all its forms.

David, saying he had a kindergartener there last year spoke next. “I’m clearly a middle-aged white guy… but we live 2 blocks from the school … friends, community ..so we’re there. … Maybe it’s leadership, maybe it’s test scores, maybe it’s state not funding schools … there’s something going on … continuity matters.” While he expressed optimism for the new HPE leadership, he stressed, “to really move forward, we need to know WHAT HAPPENED? and who could have done something about it?”

Principal Cronas then said that it won’t be just a matter, for example, of his leadership, or any small group of people in charge. At his former school, for example, things went well even while he was out last year on leave because of his wife’s illness. “Heroes don’t exist … it takes a community, it takes strong leadership, and I hope I am the right guy for this, because I choose to do this, I was asked to do it, and I said yes … can I [alone] sustain it? Nope, but I can do everything I can to make sure the pieces are in place so that it becomes sustainable.”

Conversation turned back to the EBD program, with a question about how HPE became a regional program host for it – why doesn’t the school have other major programs too, such as STEM or Spectrum?

Vela said he was too new to the district to have been present for such decisions “but I can find out.”

The program is just somewhat draining for school leadership to deal with and still meet other students’ needs, suggested Jim, a 20-year resident with four kids who says his family “chose Highland Park when it wasn’t popular to,” since they live a block away and saw value in attending the nearest school. Over the span of 2002-2012, he said, someone in his family was an HPE student. He also offered advice for school and community leaders: “What brings families together is events, not meetings.”

Standing up from the audience next was Jonathan Knapp, president of the citywide teachers’ union, the Seattle Education Association, saying he was there because he lives in Highland Park too. He spoke of the value of collaborating with staff and community, and the importance of funding. HPE got funding, “but the collaboration around that wasn’t there … money alone doesn’t make that happen,” he warned, even though, he added, our state’s School Improvement Grant recipients make more gains than recipients elsewhere in the country. And Knapp added a pitch for state Initiative 1351 (still in signature-gathering mode), aiming at lowering class sizes.

“What as a community can we do to be more involved?” asked an HPAC leader, Nicole Mazza. The group has visited the school for volunteer reading, but, she said, she could envision more, since, for example, she does STEM-education volunteering through Boeing but has never seen an opportunity to do that in her own neighborhood.

“That’s because there’s no system to make it happen,” Cronas said. He’s been talking to other principals, to figure out how to set one up, he said. Before the meeting ended, he also warned that test scores will look worse before they look better, because of the nationwide shift to new types of tests related to the Common Core. He said the first states to roll it out, including Kentucky and New York, “saw 30- to 40-point drops in test scores the first year, across demographics … (So) when we see improvement, it’s going to look different, the numbers are going to look different …”

Throughout the meeting, the city leaders on hand had been mostly quiet, listening. Deputy mayor Kim spoke, finally, saying, “We’re not silent because we’re shy, but because this is a conversation your community needs to have with your school leadership.” She said Mayor Murray has recognized income inequality as an issue, “the gap between the haves and have-nots,” and that he “fundamentally believes in a holistic approach.”

Though time constraints were bringing the meeting to a close, one attendee declared, “I don’t want to be here in another year, fighting again … I don’t want to leave without something tangible, I want to make a different in this community. Tell us what we can do.”

The meeting ended, before attendees broke into informal small conversations, with a vow of collaboration, a request for community members to get into the schools, a recognition of its dedication to help find solutions, and a promise that school-community leaders will come back for more conversation.

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