School-closure fight: Arbor Heights parents at district “workshop”

December 4, 2008 10:50 pm
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 |   Arbor Heights | West Seattle news | West Seattle school closure | West Seattle schools

It’s a long series of meetings between the first announcement last week of proposed Seattle Public Schools closures and changes and the final vote scheduled for January 29th. But you never know when one of those meetings will yield some news — so we’ll be covering as many as we can. Tonight — a public “workshop” at district headquarters, first of two in this particular format. It began with Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson presenting the closure criteria and the latest on the district budget shortfall (last night, finance boss Don Kennedy presented grim new numbers to the board). She said she was presenting that information to create context for the budget problems the district faces, noting that closing buildings is just one way to make up for the financial shortfall and deal with the district’s excess capacity.

After the presentation, attendees were asked to find tables and start talking and writing down ideas. We sat with Arbor Heights parents Dana Varon and Anna George, AH fourth-grade teacher Mitzi Sato, and Lowell parents Janet Pelz and Alex Dark. The Lowell parents outlined their situation to the AH parents, and vice versa. The AH parents focused on the added proposal the district is now considering, according to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s presentation last night, possibly moving Pathfinder K-8 to the Cooper Elementary building instead of the Arbor Heights building. The Lowell parents (a constituency that includes some West Seattle families, since Lowell is the only elementary school in the city with the district’s top-level gifted program, APP, and that includes dozens of West Seattle kids) talked about their desire not to see the program split between two schools, as the district now proposes (the Lowell building would be closed, with half the APP kids going to Thurgood Marshall Elementary, the other half to Hawthorne Elementary, including all West Seattle APP elementary students).

Ideas generated at the tables were written down on cards or legal pads, and when the discussion time was complete, the whole room listened to two-minute presentations from spokespeople for each group. Out of 20-some tables, Arbor Heights and Pathfinder were only mentioned by two tables; one was the one we were at, while the other included parents who suggested another of AH’s proposed alternatives – moving Pathfinder into the current Denny Middle School buildings when they’re vacated after the new Denny opens on the Chief Sealth campus. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said all the ideas gathered tonight would be considered, and the meeting adjourned.

Varon and George told us they’re planning to go to the Saturday version of this meeting, 9:30 am at the Filipino Community Center. They were concerned, though, that the general guidelines for tonight’s meeting weren’t well-explained, and the table’s consensus was that roaming district reps interrupted too often.

Board members were present, by the way, including West Seattle’s Steve Sundquist, who was elected board vice president at last night’s meeting. He’s offering another informal meeting opportunity for West Seattle parents on Saturday at Delridge Library, 3-5 pm; after that, there are two big meetings on Tuesday – a board workshop starting at 4 pm at district headquarters, with the latest data to be reviewed and the list of recommendations potentially to be culled, while that same day, at 6 pm, a district-facilitated meeting is planned at Arbor Heights.

One more note: The third-graders in AH Elementary tech-whiz teacher Mark Ahlness‘s class are writing about the prospects of losing their school; read some of their blog entries here.

ADDED LATER: Reading the SPS Community blog, we learn that a citywide advocacy group wants to start a larger conversation about what’s going on, and is organizing meetings in several parts of the city, including one next Thursday night in West Seattle (info here).

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