As we’ll see at a meeting less than one hour away, the proposal to basically vaporize what is now known as Arbor Heights Elementary – except for its building – is wrenching for that close-knit school community. But the school community that district management wants to move into that building, Pathfinder K-8, isn’t exactly throwing a party. The years-old Pathfinder building dilemma (shown above, the portables they repainted this summer) has thrust them into myriad difficult situations. Knowing that, and knowing how hard they too have worked on their school community, we asked: “What’s your position about the new proposal?” starting even as unofficial word leaked out before Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s formal presentation a week ago tonight. They thought a while before crafting this statement, and we wanted to bring it to you in its entirety, sent to us by Pathfinder PTSA leadership:
The question has been repeatedly asked: “What does Pathfinder K-8 think of the preliminary recommendation to move its program into the Arbor Heights Elementary building?”
This is a tough question to answer. The Pathfinder K-8 community is extremely grateful that in these challenging times the District supports keeping our program open and intact. This is clearly the most important thing to us. That stated, the community is more than disheartened, once again, to be put in the position where advocating for our program directly puts other schools and programs at risk.
Pathfinder K-8 is a vital part of public education in West Seattle. It is the only Alternative School and only K-8 in the region. It provides an important and necessary option for the many non-traditional learners in our community as well as a unique, quality education for families and kids seeking a more exploratory and holistic public education experience.
For the last 4 years we have surveyed prospective parents during enrollment tours to discover their thoughts about what we offer. Overwhelmingly, the majority of survey respondents rate our programs, curriculum, and teachers highly and rate our building very low. Our facility poses a large obstacle for families to overcome when choosing Pathfinder K-8 for their children. In a building with a sound structure that is appropriate for our program, our ability to better serve all of West Seattle increases dramatically.
As a bit of history, Pathfinder K-8 has now been on the receiving end of 5 preliminary recommendations, in the last four years, to move our program to a different building. This comes after a district-mandated change from a K-5 to a K-8 school in 1999, with little additional funding to provide for an upgrade in facilities. Our upper grades, 6th through 8th, have been in portables ever since. Despite this challenging situation, the staff and community persevered and today we have strong and cherished upper grades.
There is a detailed timeline and background information on Pathfinder’s facilities issues available on our website (here’s that link). Please take a look at it so you can understand the situation in detail. Suffice it to say that Pathfinder K-8 has a history of receiving preliminary recommendations that are reasonable for its program and address its facility issue, but come with the heavy burden of causing pain to other parts of our shared community. It has always been an extremely difficult, painful and energy-draining situation to be placed in. It is also true in the last 4 years that reasonable preliminary recommendations have turned into less desirable final recommendations that our community could not support.
Last spring and summer, questioning that a suitable building for our program would be found, built or otherwise manifested and, not willing to wait for another BEX levy, the Pathfinder K-8 community rolled up its sleeves to do what it could for its kids and community. Volunteers spent over 1,000 hours in 5 months, weekends and summer break with brushes and ladders, painting its 6 double portables. Thousands of dollars of paint and supplies were donated by the community. The staff hand-painted a new sign for the portables and the eighth grade students began the work of reclaiming planting beds.
So, what is Pathfinder K-8’s response to the recommendation that our program move into the Arbor Heights building? We struggle with what it should be. We ask the community to understand how difficult it is to answer this. In light of our past experience, how can we ensure the safety and integrity of our program, defend the need for high quality schools for all children in West Seattle, and still meet the goals and constraints set forth by the Seattle School District?
While there are certainly many possibilities, the ones that meet everyone’s needs are not as easy to find. The School Board has indicated that they are interested in hearing ideas and creative approaches, as are we. It is unfortunate that, due to the current state of our School District, none of the likely scenarios are easy or painless for any of the schools involved. Still, we are committed to enduring this process and working through the appropriate channels to find resolution.
The link detailing Pathfinder’s history also is new (here it is again); we had inquired about that as well, wondering how long they had been in this “temporary” building. A week from tonight, 6:45 pm December 9th, the Pathfinder community plans to meet and talk about the relocation proposal; a week after that, 6:30 pm December 16th, the district will have its legally mandated public hearing at the Pathfinder building (Genesee Hill). But before all that, the School Board meets downtown tomorrow night for the first time since the special meeting last week, 6 pm, district HQ in Sodo.