School-closure plan: Why Cooper; what’s next; other effects

Tonight (Wednesday), the Seattle School Board will formally receive Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s “final recommendations” for the next round of school closures.

As we first reported when she unveiled the plan Tuesday afternoon, the West Seattle components of the proposal haven’t changed from her previous update a month ago – the Cooper Elementary School “program” is slated for closure, so that Pathfinder K-8 can be moved into the Cooper building (left) once the Genesee Hill campus – which had been closed for years before Pathfinder was placed there 15 years ago — is shut down.

You’ll probably recall that Cooper wasn’t on the “preliminary” list, first announced back in November – Arbor Heights Elementary was instead recommended for program closure and Pathfinder relocation. The superintendent was asked at the Tuesday afternoon media briefing to elaborate on why Arbor Heights is now “off the list”:

That’s not the only recommendation that has changed along the way.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson attributed the changes to a “collaborative” process:

In response to another question, she insisted that parental advocacy – which Arbor Heights in particular applied intensively from the moment they learned program closure was a possibility — did not sway any of the decisions along the way. Her report explains the change between Preliminary and Final Recommendation this way, after reiterating that “as … the only alternative and the only K-8 in West Seattle, (Pathfinder was) a likely candidate for moving”:

The Preliminary Recommendation identified Arbor Heights as the appropriate new location for the Pathfinder program because moving to Cooper would mean either becoming a K-5 (in order to accommodate all current Cooper students) or (1) that either West Seattle Elementary would need to absorb 140 students or (2) that Cooper students be assigned to West Seattle South cluster schools, contrary to the tenets of the current student assignment plan.

At the School Board workshop on November 25, 2008, when this Preliminary Recommendation was presented, School Board Directors indicated that staff should analyze the possibility of moving Pathfinder to Cooper despite the restrictions of the current student assignment plan. With this direction, staff began analyzing moving the Pathfinder program to Cooper.

In general, the Cooper building is a more logical choice for the relocation of the Pathfinder program. The building is nearly 30,000 square feet larger than Arbor Heights, and the building layout is more suitable for a K-8. Typically, K-8 programs prefer to physically separate the elementary and middle school students and the Cooper building allows for this. Cooper also has a full size field suitable for middle school PE. Cooper also is located on a large site that has a natural area that can be used by the Pathfinder program in support of their environmental education focus.

In addition, the location of the Cooper building — not in the heart of a neighborhood — is more appropriate for a regional draw. There are 309 students who live in the Cooper reference area, 92 of whom attend Cooper. Of the 309 who live in the reference area, only 36 live in the walk boundary. There are 8 students who can walk to Cooper who attend Cooper. Conversely, there are 225 students who live in the Arbor Heights reference area. Of these, 150 attend Arbor Heights. There are 215 students in the reference area who can walk to Arbor Heights, and there are 149 in the reference area who can walk to Arbor Heights and who go to Arbor Heights.

This is an important data point. As we move to a student assignment plan where students are assigned to a school near home, it is important to maximize the number of students who can walk to school. A building where most students will require transportation is therefore less appropriate for a reference area school and is more appropriate for a regional draw, because in a regional draw most students are transported anyway.

If this recommendation wins final approval, it won’t just affect Cooper and Pathfinder students — some other West Seattle schools will see student-population changes as Cooper’s current students are reassigned. According to Appendix G in the report (click ahead to page G-9):

Students who attend Cooper and live in the Cooper reference area are assigned to Pathfinder, Gatewood, Sanislo, or West Seattle Elementary depending on where in the reference area they live. … The other reassignments … contemplate that the Cooper reference area would be merged into the Sanislo reference area, putting it into the West Seattle South Cluster. Transportation would therefore be provided to students in the Cooper reference area who attend a school in the West Seattle South Cluster (Arbor Heights, Concord, Gatewood, Highland Park, Roxhill, Sanislo). Transportation is also provided to West Seattle Elementary from both the West Seattle North and West Seattle South Clusters. Cooper students whose reference area is in the West Seattle North Cluster (Alki, Lafayette, Schmitz Park) and who live close enough to walk would be reassigned to their reference area school. If not, they would be reassigned to West Seattle Elementary.

The autism programs that are currently at Cooper will stay and become part of Pathfinder, under terms of this proposal.

For a clearer picture of how other schools might be affected, tables toward the end of the report show how school populations would change if all students to be reassigned were moved “instantly” to their new schools (the district qualifies this by warning, “these are NOT enrollment projections for 2009-2010”) – to see all these projections, citywide, in full, go through the report at this link and find Appendix H, which starts with page H-1 (we are only listing the ones here with double-digit changes in student population):

*Pathfinder K-8, currently 388 students, would increase to 430; its two biggest ethnic groups, white and Hispanic, would change from 64%/15% to 61%/15%

*Gatewood Elementary, currently 291 students, would increase to 394; its two biggest ethnic groups, white and black, would change from 69%/13% to 54%/24%

*Highland Park Elementary, currently 378 students, would increase to 410; its two biggest ethnic groups, Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic, would change from 33%/31% to 32%/29%

*Sanislo Elementary, currently 290 students, would increase to 321; its two biggest ethnic groups, white and Asian/PI, would change from 39%/28% to 38%/27%.

*Schmitz Park Elementary, currently 321 students, would increase to 332; the percentages of its two biggest ethnic groups, white and Asian/PI, would NOT change (80%/9%)

*West Seattle Elementary, currently 282 students, would increase to 355; its two biggest ethnic groups, black and Hispanic, would change from 38%/26% to 38%/25%.


It’s not just about the decisionmaking timeline, which we will recap in a moment. There’s also the issue of the transitions that will need to begin after the final vote. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson confirmed Tuesday that there will be “design teams” even for programs whose students will be dispersing to various schools, such as Cooper. According to her final report, such teams will be tasked with addressing issues including: “How can staff and students be supported for the remainder of (this school) year?” and “What is the best way to transition students and staff who are moving?” But they won’t be formed until after the School Board’s final vote on January 29th. The full report does say that the “programmatic design team” for the Cooper transition would “include representatives from both Pathfinder and Cooper, especially representatives from the Cooper autism program” (which as mentioned earlier would be staying at the Cooper building, to become part of Pathfinder).

Now, the timeline:

Tonight — School Board meeting, district HQ in Sodo, 6 pm (starts with a public comment period, but that required advance signup starting this past Monday at 8 am, and there’s already a full list — see it on the agenda)

January 21 — Another School Board meeting, district HQ in Sodo, 6 pm (that too will start with a public comment period, and signups will open the preceding Monday, 1/19, at 8 am; district website explains how to sign up)

January 22 — Final public hearing on the closure recommendations, district HQ in Sodo, 6:30 pm (signups are open now – call 206-252-0042 or e-mail )

January 29 — Special School Board meeting for a vote on the recommendations, district HQ, 6 pm

End of February — The district says “new assignments will be mailed (by then) to students affected by (the closure) plan”

March 2-31 — The rescheduled district Open Enrollment period (pushed back because of the closure process)

As the superintendent cautioned today, nothing’s final till the board vote in three weeks: “It still could change.” But in the meantime, affected families are digesting the news — we expect to hear from some of them at tonight’s board meeting (at least one of those who made the public-comment list is from Cooper) — and not pleasantly; Raymond Williams, who spoke at the Genesee Hill public hearing last month, forwarded us three links to recent district newsletters (here, here, and here), with a note “Can you say Ironic? These are webpages in the Seattle Schools site “School Beat” on the exact pages that address school closures. Apparently Cooper students and staff is appropriate to display as a model of excellence and diversity on three (of the last four) “School Beat” issues. I am speechless on this one!”

The district’s official site for the closure process, aka Capacity Management, is here; WSB coverage is all archived here, newest to oldest.

11 Replies to "School-closure plan: Why Cooper; what's next; other effects"

  • Michael January 7, 2009 (12:09 pm)

    Well, congrats to the Arbor Heights parents – you got what you wanted – somebody else’s school closed. How does that feel? As good as you expected?

  • Holly January 7, 2009 (2:29 pm)

    All, I live in West Settle and really value the park on Genessee between 49th and 50th Avenues. It is large enough for team sports and is a great meeting place for neighbors.

    What happens to the park? Will it be transfered to the Parks Department? Will the School District continue to maintain it as a public park? Who should we talk to if we want to petition for it to remain open for public use?

  • GenHillOne January 7, 2009 (2:50 pm)

    Okay, I’ll throw out the elephant in the room and I expect to get railed, but we’ve danced around it in the past. Why is Pathfinder not up for consideration as a program closure? Is it because of a past promise to “support” an alternative program in each area? It seems that the only support being offered is moving it to someone else’s building. I have no vested/emotional interest in any of these schools (though I’d love to see none of them close), but looking at it from the outside, all of them seem to have made good arguments for keeping their programs. None better than the other, just different. Outward appearances seem to favor those who can best organize and vocalize and leaves me with a real sense of injustice. What a horrid process.

  • WSB January 7, 2009 (3:16 pm)

    GHO – The district has re-voiced a commitment to alternative programs, available for each part of the city. So as West Seattle’s only alternative program, at least if that commitment continues, it’s off the table, at least for now.
    One thing that could have spared the district criticism for the contention that Arbor Heights saved itself through a lot of advocacy would have been: If the rationale I blockquoted above, direct quote from the report issued yesterday — that the district staff believes Cooper’s building is the best place for PF — is true, and if the only thing standing in the way was the assignment policy (again, as stated in this final report), then why wouldn’t they have proposed PF=Cooper in the first place and said at that time “however, this would require an assignment policy change, and if you are not willing to do that, THEN our backup would be (Arbor Heights or whatever)”? (Wish I’d have thought of that question yesterday.)
    Holly, just saw your question. I will ask district staff. If you look at the sites of other previous West Seattle school closures, no two are the same — Fauntleroy is leased by nonprofit groups that use the former playground area too, Jefferson became a shopping center, Hughes and Fairmount Park have neighboring parkland — so I wouldn’t want to assume.

  • Forest January 7, 2009 (3:38 pm)

    For what it’s worth, my theory is that the district’s preliminary proposal to close and disperse Arbor Heights was a red herring. There was no real reason for the proposal, except to set up the situation where Arbor Heights was forced to defend itself against closure, which served to divert attention from the district’s PRE-decision to close the Cooper program. In other words, a small portion of the Cooper community has been totally conned into blaming Arbor Heights for the district’s decision to close Cooper.

  • Cryptical January 7, 2009 (4:34 pm)

    I’m in agreement with Forest. In my opinion, Arbor Heights on the prelim list was a ploy. A gross sham meant to make the AH community take the heat instead of the board or SPS. AHPTSA was duped into the role of the foil in the whole shameful charade. None of these schools should be closing. There is no joy or satisfaction in seeing another school close. Its sad and the whole process is bad for neighborhoods and relationships between neighborhoods.

  • Eric B January 7, 2009 (9:07 pm)

    Holly –
    There are many things that could happen to the GH property, as WSB notes. Neither of your ideas are likely, however. Seattle Schools would never just hand-over such a great property to the Parks Department – remember the Seattle School District is not part of City Government. Also, I believe that if they SPS would sell the property, they would be required to receive market rates. Could the Parks department afford that?
    In the same vein, there is no way they will maintain the property as a park – that isn’t their job. Indeed, they basically don’t maintain the grounds right now – the parents at Pathfinder put in hundreds of volunteer hours maintaining the grounds.

  • Raymond January 8, 2009 (8:30 am)

    I want to express my frustration for this school closure process and its lack of racial and demographic equality. Furthermore, I want to stress my distain for the actions and/or lack of actions from the Arbor Heights PTA/leadership, Pathfinders PTA/leadership and our school board representative Steve Sundquest for not living up to their moral and civic obligations.

    In 2007, our school cluster (West Seattle – North) was significantly impacted by the merging of two primarily minority/low income schools, now known as West Seattle Elementary. Now with the 2009 school year, the “preferred” proposal is discontinuing the only other primarily minority/low income school “Cooper Elementary” and forcing their children into West Seattle Elementary. This cattling of minorities is due to the fact that all the other schools in West Seattle-North are at or exceeding capacity. Or just of bad as this cattling, would be to bus the Cooper kids to 3-4 separate schools outside of their home cluster.

    The superintendent’s original proposal issued on November 25th of moving Pathfinder to Arbor Heights was a difficult, but viable solution. This solution provided relative equity within West Seattle. I take great issue, in the events that lead to the revised proposal that was announced just two weeks later. This revision “reinstated Arbor Habor Heights” and named Cooper as its replacement. Was there a site meeting during this time? Were the AH signs at the last school board meeting so compelling? Was it the $10 web domain? Was it the news coverage? Or was there some back office deals being ‘hatched’ with Cooper kids in the crosshairs. Well, until we have honesty and disclosure with from all involved, we will never know. But I will say, that a hell of a lot changed in just two weeks.

    Also why was Patherfinder’s PTA and building leadership not objecting to these turn of events? It seems that Pathfinder is taking the Native America history teaching to a completely new level of hands on learning. How better to teach their students of how the ‘white man’ stole, I mean repurpose, land from the native people, than to do it themselves. Take a bow, Pathfinder, for your part in the possible creation of the West Seattle Elementary reservation.

    In closing, this ‘accelerated’ closure process is just as flawed and inequitable as the 2006 process. Today, we are just driving faster down the same dangerous and treacherous road.

  • Cryptical January 8, 2009 (10:13 am)

    I completely agree with you that this process is flawed but object wholeheartedly to your statement that the original proposal of moving Pathfinder to Arbor Heights was a viable solution Raymond. One of the most compelling of arguments the Cooper community has made is that it is unfair to disperse students to schools with less successful programs. That would clearly be the case too if Arbor Heights was discontinued. Secondly, the transportation issues presented by the proposal were mammoth. All 150+ of the Arbor Heights students would have to be bussed out of the neighborhood and then all of Pathfinders students would have to be busssed down. Look at the enrollment for Pathfinder, only two students attend from the Arbor Heights reference area. The vast majority are from the West Seattle Elem area.
    I do not believe the AHPTSA protest played a role in the changing of the proposals. Remember it is the district not the board that makes the recommendations.

  • Alvis January 8, 2009 (12:12 pm)

    Call me a traitor to humanity, but I don’t buy the misguided logic that wallows in fury at Arbor Heights and Pathfinder because they didn’t drop every other concern and spearhead a campaign to defend Cooper at the potential cost of their own programs and their own generation of children.

  • WSB January 8, 2009 (12:36 pm)

    Answer to Holly’s question, from Patti Spencer at Seattle Public Schools:
    “A decision has not been made. Status of the playfield next to Genesee Hill will be discussed during the implementation phase, providing the board does vote to close the building. If the district does continue to provide public access, then we need to maintain the field in good condition.”

Sorry, comment time is over.