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).