Tomorrow night is a particularly important night for Chief Sealth High School principal John Boyd (left). Not just because the Seattle School Board is scheduled to make its final decision on the controversial proposal to build a new Denny Middle School on the CSHS campus — two other events will keep him from being at district headquarters for the vote: A mariachi concert with the CSHS musicians and visitors from California, and a basketball game with the 8th graders he’s coaching (including his son) across the street at Southwest Community Center. This morning, though, not quite as hectic, so he made time to talk with WSB — not just about the much-discussed impending vote, but also about what else is happening at his school:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Regardless of what school board members decide tomorrow night, Sealth principal John Boyd is already leading his staff through a sort of transition plan — strategizing their temporary move to the old Boren Junior High building — which the district says will be required for the Sealth renovation process, no matter what.
“Department heads have done walkthroughs at Boren, and we’ve begun to place people in classrooms,” he says. “We’ve even started to talk about who packs what.”
He is somewhat surprised and relieved that the impending move does not appear to have played a major factor in the decisionmaking process for families deciding right now where their child(ren) will go to high school next year. With the Friday deadline around the corner, Boyd says, they’re projecting 944 students at Sealth next year, up from about 900 this year. “That’s good news for us,” he says, noting proudly that his son’s basketball teammates at SWCC all say they’re planning to attend CSHS too.
But the question that remains unsettled — at least until tomorrow, if not beyond — is the scope of what will be happening on the Sealth campus starting this fall, while Boyd’s students are settling into their temporary digs on Delridge. School-board members are considering three options — ranging from Option 1, building a new Denny on the Sealth campus while renovating CSHS only to the degree required for safety (including better heating), to Option 2, building a new Denny on the Sealth campus while adding $10 million additional Sealth renovations, to Option 3, rebuilding Denny on its existing campus while Sealth gets only the bare-bones renovations of Option 1.
As announced two weeks ago, district superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson has recommended that board members go with Option 2. West Seattle’s school-board rep Steve Sundquist has said he is leaning toward Option 2. And in an open letter to the community made public four weeks ago, principal Boyd described himself as “open to Option 2.” So where does he stand now? “Still open to Option 2 and anxious to see the language around it, to see how the money will be spent,” Boyd told WSB this morning.
Will his staff, many of whom have expressed opposition to Denny sharing the Sealth campus, have a role in helping make those spending decisions, if Option 2 is passed? Boyd says district administration has assured him they would. And he is quick to add that their input in many cases would outweigh his — “I don’t know what’s best for (individual) programs — the teachers know.”
As for what spending priorities he would see for the entire school, he mentions “modern” flooring and lighting, as well as gym and auditorium improvements. (All are listed as possibilities in the district presentation that, among other things, laid out options for the $10 million — possibilities totaling an estimated $18 million, so there definitely are decisions to be made and priorities to be set.) He’s also looking forward to some of the basic renovations that are in the plan no matter what, such as a new boiler — “It’s tough to keep the classes at the right temperature — sometimes one classroom will be 90 (degrees), while another one’s at 55 and the kids can see their breath.”
More important than spending decisions, you could surmise, would be the process of healing that would have to commence if the school board goes with Option 2 despite the vocal opposition from many Sealth staffers and nearby residents. “We do need to heal, and talk as a staff, and be able to move beyond this and refocus our energy on teaching the kids,” Boyd acknowledges, adding, “At the same time, I have to be able to give people space to express themselves, appropriately. I don’t plan a big meeting the next day (after the vote) or anything — it will happen over time.”
A planning process would have to happen too — planning how Denny and Sealth would not only co-exist, but thrive, on a shared campus. District leaders including Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno have made it clear at recent meetings that the schools’ staff will be accountable for that plan, rather than having it come from the top down. Boyd says that’s both daunting and exciting: “If the district figured out everything for us, we would have a mandate, something we were forced into — but on the other hand, some people say ‘the district should make a plan’ — It will need to be a balance of district and school stakeholders figuring out how it would work.”
We asked what he sees as the one concern that opponents have brought up that doesn’t worry him as much as it worries them. After a moment of thought, he says: “Safety. Of course, when people bring something up often, you have to pay attention to it. But I think we have a safe school here. (With a shared campus) there will be some tradeoffs — a higher concentration of kids, but cameras and other things to better monitor them. I really feel comfortable – the safety concerns do not ring true.”
And Boyd supports the suggestion some have made that a Seattle police officer be assigned to a shared campus full time — “I think every school would benefit from having an officer full time. I would support it.”
His comfort level, he notes, may come from the fact he previously led a school where 6th through 12th graders shared classrooms, a concept that is not currently on the table for the proposed Denny-Sealth shared campus — the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center. He worked there for four years before becoming principal at Sealth, his alma mater (Class of ’82), where he is in his 4th year. And perhaps some of it also stems from his familiarity with operations at Denny, where he taught for five years before going into administration.
While we talked in his office, with a much-written-on whiteboard on the wall and a walkie-talkie squawking about campus happenings from atop a table, I wanted to take a few moments to sidetrack from the subject of the combined campus, and find out what else is happening at Sealth.
As you’d imagine, the principal is more than thrilled to talk about what CSHS has to offer, in addition to the much-publicized International Baccalaureate program of academic rigor, in its first full year. “Our music program is really thriving; we have Projecto Saber, the honors program, the Academy of Travel and Tourism, the Academy of Finance, sports medicine, sports marketing …” The list was so long, we probably missed something he rattled off.
And he makes no apologies for being a “shameless promoter” of his school, which has battled image problems. He says he even exhorts his staff to talk up Sealth — “I tell them, so you’re in line at the grocery store, highlight the positive things, bring to light what’s happening here.” That includes a redesigned website and course-registration book.
If you check out the website right now, in fact, you will see a countdown clock ticking off how many days and hours remain till WASL testing begins. “Everything stops” for the WASL, Boyd says, and right now, there’s an “all-out push to make sure the kids are THERE for it” — he says attendance lagged last year because of what he contends was media misinformation suggesting the test wasn’t as important as it turned out to be.
This afternoon, he mentions, he’s got another staff meeting regarding outreach to stress to families that kids need to be there for the testing; postcards will be going into the mail, notes will be sent home, and all over the school, banners are up like this one:
But before the WASL, comes that vote tomorrow night at the John Stanford Center. This will be the culmination of something he says he first heard about in a meeting in summer 2006, in a meeting with district facilities personnel and two school-board members, including West Seattle’s then-rep Irene Stewart.
What did he think at first? we ask. “I thought, hmm — I was listening, trying to understand it, neutral at the time.”
But now, more than a year and a half later, he insists “his arm hasn’t been twisted” into expressing “openness” toward district administrators’ favored option: “I’ve spoken what I feel, and tried hard to be transparent (about his feelings). It’s a concept I can get excited about, if we get that major renovation — 2 new schools, side by side, with opportunities to work more closely together. It could be very positive.”
Tomorrow night’s board meeting begins at 6 pm; you can watch live on cable channel 26, or check in here; we’ll be at District HQ and are planning to liveblog it as it happens, for progress reports as well as immediate word of the vote results. Our previous Denny-Sealth coverage, in order of newest to oldest, is all archived here.