Denny-Sealth meeting: Countdown to the final vote

Tonight, Seattle School Board members will officially be presented with Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s recommendation that they approve Option 2 for the Denny Middle School rebuilding/Chief Sealth High School renovation process, with the final vote in 2 weeks. Last night, at a public panel-discussion meeting organized by the Westwood Neighborhood Council, West Seattle’s school board rep Steve Sundquist announced which way he’s leaning, while also revealing what it’s been like to walk right into this turbulent controversy as a newly elected board member:

“I wouldn’t wish this process on anyone,” Sundquist — a CSHS parent — said about two-thirds of the way into last night’s meeting, in what may have been his most candid, heartfelt remarks at a public meeting since his election in November. “The hurt and pain, I can’t fix. I can only focus on the future.”

And, he said, what he’s leaning toward for the Denny-Sealth project’s future is the same option that district staffers are recommending, Option 2, building a new Denny on the Sealth campus, but adding $10 million to the Sealth improvement budget on top of the basics that were in the current version of Option 1.

Another candid moment from Sundquist last night came as he talked about concerns that Denny wasn’t represented on the meeting panel (its principal reportedly could not attend because the meeting conflicted with Family Math Night and Science Fair at Denny):

Many of the concerns and questions heard last night have surfaced at previous meetings. But now with the district staff’s recommendation made public, increasing the likelihood that a shared campus will be the end result, the questions about implementation took on a new urgency. The district’s chief academic officer, Carla Santorno, was on the panel, and handled many of those questions, while admitting the potential academic benefits of co-locating Denny and Sealth wouldn’t immediately appear without a lot of effort from the staff and community:

Santorno also contended she was misquoted in an account saying she told the board at the January 9 work session that the shared campus would not bring academic benefits (WSB coverage here, in which we noted she did talk about potential benefits); she said she wasn’t paying close attention during that discussion.

Other panelists were Sealth faculty member Delfino Munoz, who recapped the three CSHS staff votes on colocation, saying the most recent vote was 93% against, compared to 60% against when the project first surfaced almost a year ago; police veteran Stuart Colman and children’s advocate Dr. Donald Felder to offer outside perspectives on some of the recurring questions; and architect Lorne McConachie. Of the questions those two tackled, one notable reply came from Colman, who said he couldn’t support the concept of a co-located campus, believing that middle and high schools are generally separate for good reasons.

Meantime, another lingering question last night: Sundquist replied to concerns about what might happen to the land that Denny’s on now, if the school moves to the Sealth site. He didn’t directly answer whether residents could be assured that the land wouldn’t ever be sold to development; here’s what he did say:

Sundquist was the only school-board member on the panel, but not the only one at the meeting; watching from the audience were two of his fellow newly elected board members, Harium Martin-Morris and Peter Maier, as well as a more veteran member, Michael DeBell. As we mentioned briefly last night, Sundquist told the audience he is leaning toward Option 2, but noted, “There are still 2 weeks before we vote; I want the community to challenge my thought process to inform me and my fellow board members” about their opinions. (Board contact info is here.)

If he hears from those in the audience, he will probably hear a good deal of Option 3 support; the Westwood Neighborhood Council offered those in attendance the chance to vote in a secret-ballot “straw poll” after the meeting, and president Steve Fischer sent word to WSB late last night that the results were 0 for Option 1, 16 supporting Option 2, and 52 backing Option 3 (with a crowd estimated at more than 100, there were a few dozen nonvoters).

Fischer also collected the cards on which audience members had written questions for the panel and promised to ask the school district to provide answers, much as it did for questions recorded at last week’s district-sponsored public meeting (as we noted yesterday, the questions and answers from that session are now linked from this page on the district website).

And he reminded the audience that the Westwood Neighborhood Council wants to do more than focus on this issue – but needs concerned residents to join in – the WNC is planning a meeting March 11 (find out more at the group’s website).

Meantime, we’ll let you know tonight what happens at the board meeting; an updated agenda is now posted and five people are listed as having signed up for the public-comment period with the intent of talking about Denny-Sealth: Carol Strom, Delfino Munoz, Melissa Westbrook, Allison Enochs, Yesenia Barajas. The meeting starts at 6 pm at school-district headquarters in Sodo (or you can watch on live cable TV, channel 26).

7 Replies to "Denny-Sealth meeting: Countdown to the final vote"

  • westello February 13, 2008 (8:43 am)

    It was an interesting meeting with some odd highlights:
    -I’ve rarely seen a Board member, so long before a final vote, show his hand. (Probably just a rookie mistake on Steve’s part.) He also said there was nothing he could do about the hurt and pain. Actually there is and he, and the other new Board members ran on it. It’s called accountability. Tell us what steps will be taken to assure taxpayers will get the complete information necessary, in the voter’s guide, to make an informed choice. It’s called community engagement. He and the Board should be holding someone accountable for the lack thereof in this case. Carla Santorno talked about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson drawing up “protocols” for community engagement (sounds like a science experiment). Well, if last week’s meeting – all questions and no answers – is her idea of community engagement then good luck in the next month when we start discussions on changing the student assignment plan. That’s going to make everything that came before look like a kindergarten tea party.
    -Interesting that as they got more information about the plan, Sealth teachers voted in ever-greater numbers AGAINST it. As Director de Bell said at the work session, all the schools that staff visited in NY and California were created purposefully to be 6-12 and their staffs all signed on to work at a 6-12 school. This is not the case here.
    -The police officer who was on the panel made several thoughtful points and was soft-spoken but clear in his belief that there was a good reason middle and high schools are traditionally separated.
    -Carla said something that took me aback. She said that the schools – not the district – would be responsible for organizing their school(s) and that the District would be providing resources and facilitation. That’s all good and well but this is first time this has been attempted in SPS (Summit doesn’t count as it was intentionally created); you’d think the district would be promising more given the difficult circumstances. She also said that “the district doesn’t have resources to guarantee collaboration”. Oh.
    -Delfino Munoz, a teacher at Sealth, was asked why the staff vote against co-joining was so high. He said there were 3 main themes – safety, loss of Sealth space and time constraints. He explained that Sealth felt left out of the planning (which the architect on the panel said wasn’t true – it’s a point that is muddy). He also said that 5 years ago they were told that because of the Gates grant they had to create small communities within Sealth. I know Sealth, like many other school, struggled mightily on this only to have not enough resources to keep it up. He said now the district tells them they are going to be a 2100 seat “community”. I can see his confusion.
    -there seems to be agreement that there should be a full-time police officer at Denny/Sealth but the devil is really in this detail. Who will pay? The City ended its police officer program at some schools (and many of us miss our officer particularly at the high school level).
    -there was a question about what happens to the Denny property. Well, allegedly, the tennis courts and softball field (built at Sealth in the last 5 years and will now be ripped out) are supposed to be replaced but there’s confusion about that issue. It appears on the slide presentation but not in the drawings.

    I congratulation the Westwood Neighborhood Council for a real and sincere effort for balanced views on this issue.

    Last thing – I’ve been a district activist for over 10 years and I have never seen an outside person (who wasn’t a consultant) speak for the district. But at these last two meetings, the architect from Bassetti, has spoken for the district and not just on the plans for the building. I asked him and he is being paid for this work. What is the going rate for an architect to work in the evening? And how come we need him given that Don Gilmore, who oversees BEX for the district, was standing in the audience the whole time? For a district that cries poor, they sure know how to spend money.

  • credmond February 13, 2008 (8:59 am)

    The school district and the newly elected board members seem to be moving in a direction which will guarantee two things: No more levies passed by city residents for schools; and one term wonders for school board members. A shame, really, that what has been an abysmal process appears to only be digging a deeper hole. I wonder out loud what Maria Ramirez might have been doing. I must say I’m rather disappointed in Sundquist’s approach and comments to date and wonder if this is what his supporters expected. It’s certainly not what I expected after talking with him several times over this issue.

  • Indaknow February 13, 2008 (2:48 pm)

    This whole experience has changed the way I feel about Seattle Public Schools administration. The last time that the district told my family and community about a new plan was for our own good and that we had no say or choice in it was in the late 1970s with mandatory busing and I was one of the thousands of children effected by it (not for the better). Now it feels like a weird deja-vu but this time it is with my children and I seemingly can’t do anything about it except for show up at meetings, write letters to the board, and complain on blogs; all things that I believe in my heart will make no difference at all. Is it too much to ask for neighborhood kids to be able to attend a traditional public school in their own neighborhood?? I will continue to support my children’s schools by volunteering and participating but I will never again look at another levy, bond measure or plea for money from the district in the same light again. It would take a huge turn-around by the board and superintendent, with a sincere apology for this debaucle for me to trust them again. All this trickery about educational opportunities, community involvement and public engagement is a joke. If the district had just come out in the beginning and said honestly that this is all about money I would have listened with earnest. By hoping that all of this would just go away, or never be discussed in the first place Seattle Public Schools treated me like the eleven year-old girl I was when they put me on that bus back in the fall of 1978. My husband and I intend to be a voters in this city for a very long, long, long time and if people ask us why we feel this way I’ll tell them the story of the February 6, 2007 special election…

  • Charlie Mas February 13, 2008 (4:48 pm)

    For all the talk about accoutability from the Board members as candidates and from the Superintendent, I sure don’t see much of it. It’s just a buzz word without meaning to them – something you promise, not something you do.

    For all of the talk about community engagement from the Board members as candidates, I don’t see them standing up for it. Not if it is going to cost more than a few bucks here or there or embarass a member of the staff.

  • Indaknow February 13, 2008 (5:16 pm)

    I did call Robert Evans, the Denny/Sealth project manager listed at the bottom of the Q/A page. He answered his own phone after about 3 rings, which was a pleasant surprise. I expressed to him my concerns about some of the answers on the website; specifically the pie charts. He told me that there had been a request of Sealth to send in their own student and teacher polls but that they had not received any. When I pressed about who, specifically, had been requested to send them he said “Sealth administration”. He then quickly said not to assume that it meant anything that they had not been sent, that they were probably very busy. I asked him to please either remove or relabel the charts to clearly indicate what they represented, as they are deceiving. He told me that he thought they would be changed by tomorrow at noon. The next answer I asked him to clear up is this one…
    Question #15

    Why didn’t the ballot or voter pamphlet include the term co-location? What was the history? Why?

    District Answer:

    The Seattle Public Schools Bond and Levy information flyer (Winter 2007) states:

    “Denny Middle School/Chief Sealth High School Replacement of Denny, major renovations for Sealth, and construction of joint facilities, with safety upgrades through out (125 m).”

    “This proposed project will include: Shared facilities, such as a new library, foreign language classrooms, 1,000 seat auditorium, commons, cafeteria and a gymnasium designed to higher safety standards.”

    Before the 2007 levy, Director Stewart attended a Great Cities School Conference where the advantages of co-located schools were discussed. She felt this concept would benefit the West Seattle community. She asked district facilities staff to pursue the idea given their knowledge of out of state co-location models. It was a way to provide Sealth with more than a boiler, HVAC and seismic upgrades. It also was a way to create shared spaces and exterior improvements that essentially came from the Denny budget


    I explained that first part of the answer didn’t answer the question asked…about the wording of the ballot or voter’s pamphlet, not the wording of the campaign flyer. He then shared that there have been multiple complaints about neighbors around Sealth/Denny claiming they did not get this flyer and that they could not figure out what the problem with that was.

    Robert was nothing but helpful and polite and I thanked him for his time. I hope that the answers do get corrected because our decisions and opinions are only as good as the information we get to form them and I want the board members and anyone else who went to that meeting to get the accurate information they requested.

  • lori February 13, 2008 (10:47 pm)

    MCLB in West Seattle

    More Children Left Behind

  • Steve Taylor February 21, 2008 (8:41 am)

    Indaknow, I have also conversed with Robert Evans, however have not received the same “helpful and polite” correspondences as you. I understand Robert Evans in many ways is in a difficult position representing the District (Cheryl Chow), to be specific as Robert Evans has stated to me. Each time I have asked Robert Evans regarding access to “information” Robert Evans has been less than helpful, effectively offering every opposition to “information”. My experience/s to date with Robert Evans. Thank you.

    Steve Taylor

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