West Seattle school-closure fight: Cooper makes a stand

By Charla Mustard-Foote
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The long-awaited meeting between the Cooper Elementary School community and Seattle Public Schools representatives took place Tuesday night. Approximately 140 people filled the school cafeteria (moved from the library to accommodate an overflow crowd).

Six of the seven Seattle School Board members, including West Seattle’s Steve Sundquist, attended the meeting to listen to community questions and concerns. Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris, Cheryl Chow, Michael De Bell, and Mary Bass were also there.

As announced last week (WSB coverage here), Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson‘s “final recommendations” include closing the Genesee Hill school building, moving the Pathfinder K-8 program from there to the Cooper building, and reassigning most Cooper Elementary students to other schools. Cooper’s programs for autistic children will remain in the current location, but the “buddies” paired with autistic children will be moved. Parents were concerned about this disruption in the lives of students who weren’t moving.

This was the first district meeting devoted solely to the concerns of the Cooper community — originally scheduled for mid-December, but postponed because of the snow — and people spoke eloquently and passionately in support of their school. Under Washington open meeting laws, most members of the school board could not respond to questions but Sundquist, as the local school board member, and Carla Santorno, the district’s Chief Academic Officer, took on all questions and comments.

The community has been organizing its own meetings and anti-closure efforts, however, including the Cooper School Works website, and previous meetings we have covered here and here). Parents also developed an extensive telephone tree to share information: One father said he was called at 4:30 am because the callers knew his work schedule.

Translators were introduced at the beginning of the meeting, so everyone could participate fully in the evening’s activities. Translation was an issue at previous meetings, when some non-English-speakers did not know the service was available until it was too late for them to get on the agenda. The community made sure it wasn’t an issue at this meeting. District educational director Patrick Johnson, who facilitated the meeting, reminded the speakers to speak slowly so they could be translated.

There was a definite sense of urgency in the room, since the date for a final decision by the board on school closures is January 29th. The community wanted to make their opposition loud and clear. Teachers, parents, and grandparents, some from three generations of Cooper families, spoke about the effect the school has had in the lives of their children.

Four key points emerged over and over from the small groups, whose “assignment” was to come up with two concerns and one question. Here’s video panning the room as the groups gathered and discussed:

When the groups reported back, they were obviously speaking directly to the school board members in attendance.

* Do you understand that Cooper is more than a school (or a building)?
* What will happen to our kids — will they go to a failing school instead of one we’ve worked so hard to make successful?
* We did what you told us to do (raised WASL scores, set up special programs). Why are we being punished?
* What’s the benefit of this closure for our kids?

Santorno addressed this last issue directly: “I could tell you this will help your kids now, but I would be fibbing.” She did say that teachers could “follow their students,” and wind up in the same school. But speakers clearly weren’t satisfied with that answer. They see the school as central to a vital community, not as a building or a room that can be transported at will. The idea that the Cooper Elementary community could propagate what they’ve done across the school system didn’t seem to offer much comfort.

Following the reports from the small groups, the agenda called for “Open Testimonies.” The line was long and the speakers were passionate. J.J. Ball, mother of a kindergartener and senior analyst at Boeing, presented a detailed analysis of feasible options other than disbanding Cooper. (Read them in full here.) Part of the analysis contends that the Cooper building does not have enough room for Pathfinder students, also the subject of the banner you see in the background of this photo:

The audience enthusiastically cheered Ball, and some shouted, “Hire her.”

The issue of dispersing a diverse school with a high percentage of low-income students came up several times. A stay-at-home mom described what she went through to get the right placement for her daughter and offered to help other parents who didn’t have the luxury of spending a week on the telephone to get what they needed for their kids. Her offer was met with enthusiastic applause and hugs from other parents in line to speak.

Shelly Williams, a parent and former student, addressed the fact that Cooper was on the block again, and noted the achievements of the school in enrollment growth and academic performance (as . She was one of many Cooper advocates who suggested a connection between the school’s demographic (low income, multiracial) and its status as a target for closing.

A final speaker summed up: “Don’t we have enough buildings in this city without taking this one?” Talking with people after the meeting, it was clear that the Cooper Elementary community wants to stay together and that they know it might be too late. But they won’t stop fighting for what they think is best for their community and their kids. They see Cooper as a special place and want that to be recognized and rewarded.


* January 15 – Cooper PTA Meeting
* January 21 – Chat with Steve Sundquist – 9 a.m. – Coffee to a Tea with Sugar
* January 21 – School Board meeting – public discussion – 6 p.m. – John Stanford Center
* January 22 – Final Public Hearing – 6:30 p.m. – John Stanford Center (Speaker Signup Closed)
* January 24 – Chat with Steve Sundquist – 1 p.m. – Delridge Library
* January 29 – School Board – 6 p.m. – Board votes on closure recommendation

WSB coverage of the current school-closure process is all archived here.

37 Replies to "West Seattle school-closure fight: Cooper makes a stand"

  • JoB January 14, 2009 (11:18 am)

    this isn’t even a classic case of the schoolboard valuing buildings over students if the building won’t hold the school population the district wants to move into it…

    and if students are dispersed to many different schools.. how can the teachers of any group follow them?

  • HSG January 14, 2009 (11:28 am)

    Wow, I just read the full proposal created by J.J. Ball, and it seems well worth exploring. Perhaps the Cooper stakeholders should work with Pathfinder, Roxhill and Spectrum stakeholders to see if the Ball plan is acceptable to them. Unless West Seattle forms a unified front, I can’t imagine the School Board will be swayed.

  • JanS January 14, 2009 (11:49 am)

    HSG, I agree. I thought Ms Ball’s ideas were well thought out, and make a lot more sense than the plan at hand…

  • GenHillOne January 14, 2009 (12:17 pm)

    The only part I’m hung up on is the Roxhill move to Denny/Pathfinder. Are there enough seats to accommodate Roxhill immediately? And how does the Roxhill community feel about this? It’s not exactly what they signed up for (a K-8) and I don’t want to see us going down the list to see who’s easiest to throw under the bus. The unified front HSG proposes could be effective since I think the district is counting on the opposite now.

  • cindyb January 14, 2009 (12:22 pm)

    The proposal by J.J. Ball makes more sense logistically to me than any proposal put forth from the School Board so far. Because she is a WS parent, I think she has a deeper understanding of how to make needed capacity changes without creating more strife and animosity in this community.
    I also appreciated her sensitivity to the Pathfinder curriculum and the way her proposed restructuring provided a benefit to Pathfinder students: “Gives Pathfinder ready access to the Long Fellow Creek headwaters and bog to support their environmental focus.”
    Her suggestion would also open up more room in the Spectrum program (now at Lafayette, which has a waiting list) by moving it to Cooper.
    This sounds like a plan that West Seattle families could get behind. I hope the School Board will consider it.

  • WSparent January 14, 2009 (12:39 pm)

    there comes a point when we need to save our energy for dealing with what the board votes on. they are not going to change their mind on anything now. they know what will work and what won’t. we need to prepare our communities and make sure our children have a positive outlook on what the future will hold. no matter what they ALL will do well. if we, the parents, paint whatever happens in a positive light, the children will take their cues from us. They will move or stay put with pride, they will know (because we told them) that this move involves an opportunity for growth and better things, and although we don’t quite understand it yet, that it will be for the better. (somehow…)

    so parents, take a break and realx for a bit… reorganize and think of how to be a positive role model for your children. think of how to make all of this make sense to them… if you can’t come up with something, then tell them that- but make it so that they have something to look forward to.

  • WSeattlite January 14, 2009 (1:19 pm)

    So now the West Seattle School knife/cage fight is complete…. The Cooper community champions for the closure of Roxhill. Seems this is exactly what the School Board wants. Turn everyone against each other. What’s next? Roxhill turns on West Seattle Elementary or Highland Park? This process is wrong. All wrong.

  • ProudLion January 14, 2009 (1:43 pm)

    WSparent – we will have 7 months to work to spin this situation to ease any transition for our kids. Until the vote is finally cast (not long now) it’s not time to “save our energy”!

  • Pathfinder Parent January 14, 2009 (1:55 pm)

    This sounds like a GREAT plan to me. I do not want any program to be closed regardless of their academics, location, or number of students. Every school community is just as important as the next. The SPS screwed up the budget somehow, but it doesn’t seem fair to now tear students and families apart because of something we had no control over. One of the best aspects of SPS is that each of us has a choice of where we want our kids to go to school. Let’s keep it that way!

  • Sasha January 14, 2009 (2:11 pm)

    Um, didn’t the district have to promise to not use the Denny building as a school in the future to get the state matching fund to build the new Denny?

  • WSparent January 14, 2009 (2:24 pm)

    yes we have 7 months ahead of us.. but think of what they are seeing right now. i am not sugg. that we shield them from all the truth just the nastiness that adults bring

  • brittany January 14, 2009 (2:44 pm)

    WSParent, i don’t know if you were at the meeting last night, but it wasn’t nearly as ugly as it could have been. i think the cooper community was very respectful, given the position they are in. do we have a right to be mad as hell? yup, we do. i would like to teach my kids to fight for what they believe in, rather than teach them to keep quiet and take everything with a smile. some things in life are worth getting upset about.

  • Indaknow January 14, 2009 (3:14 pm)

    I think JJ Ball’s idea is intriguing. That said, I don’t think SPS will go for it. The whole argument (not that I agree with it) for Denny being rebuilt behind Sealth was the poor condition of the building. Over and over the community was told it HAD to be replaced. It would be hard for them to suddenly now about-face and say it is good enough for these other kids. The other thing to keep in mind…the district is already planning to build a new elementary school on that site after Denny is torn down. They aren’t divulging the year that would happen, but I believe it will happen.

  • WSparent January 14, 2009 (3:25 pm)

    yes- but you have to think about fighting the right way… not with nastiness. i was not at the meeting last night, but i have been at all the school board meetings and open meetings. i have seen all kinds of slurs and assumptions flying. not saying that they came from nowhere , but unless we know them to be the truth, we shouldn’t introduce our children to that type of thing. as a minority woman, a woman of color- i teach my children to fight for what they believe in, i don’t shield them and tell them to be quiet. but there are ways to fight for what you believe in… there are ways to get things done. i am not saying to sit pretty and speak when spoken to- but i am saying to use the right routes, information and venues and by right i mean effective and meaningful.

  • brittany January 14, 2009 (3:40 pm)

    last night’s meeting was quite inspirational. it’s a shame you couldn’t make it, and i really wish you wouldn’t make assumptions about it. the focus was on the community that has been built at cooper, and about the harsh options we would be facing in educating our children elsewhere. closing cooper doesn’t make sense, period.

  • Forest January 14, 2009 (4:37 pm)

    At least for negotiation purposes, I hope Cooper has a backup proposal that wouldn’t be contingent, as this one appears to be, on the hazardous Genesee Hill building staying open and occupied by school kids until 2010.

  • west seattle steve January 14, 2009 (6:47 pm)


    I wanted to respond to a couple of the comments here. Full disclosure first of all, J.J. is my wife.

    WSeattlite said we were throwing Roxhill under the bus.
    Roxhill Elementary would be moved as a unit to a new campus 5 blocks away. The community would stay together. The current plan calls for Cooper Students to be assigned to 4 different schools, which have about 200 seats available for the 300 students at Cooper now. The other 100 students would have to go to other schools. Arbor Heights and Roxhill both have space available. Arbor Heights is 5 miles away from Cooper.

    Indaknow asked about the Denny buildings condition.
    Denny Middle School’s building condition score is 100 in the data handed out by Seattle Public Sclools gave at the closure meeting in early December. That may be wrong, but that’s the information we were given.

    Forest asked about the hazardous Genesee Hill building.
    Genesee Hill has a rating of 46.81. It’s not very good, but it’s better than Alki Elementary with a rating of 42.02. Has anyone heard about Alki’s new building?

  • Eric B January 14, 2009 (6:52 pm)

    One difficulty with the Roxhill and PF to Denny proposal is that it would cause a net INCREASE in empty seats in the South West Seattle cluster. That would be making the problem worse, not better. Denny has a capacity of just under 900 (excluding portables). With Pathfinder and Roxhill both there, there would be ~250 empty seats (ballpark). While closing Roxhill will eliminate ~130 empty seats, that results in a net increase of ~120 empty seats in the South Cluster of West Seattle. Can anyone see a solution to this?
    There are several other problems for this proposal that people need to think about before supporting it. One is that keeping Denny open will maintain a building with a $13,000,000 maintenance backlog. The second is that the utility and custodial costs at Denny are very high – there was a reason why they built a new building for them!

  • Eric B January 14, 2009 (6:55 pm)

    West Seattle Steve-
    The 100 score is for the NEW building, not the current one! The current has a pretty poor MENG score, but not as bad a GH.

  • GenHillOne January 14, 2009 (7:15 pm)

    I think “throwing Roxhill under the bus” may (JMO) refer to moving them to an unexpected K-8 program. As far as utility and custodial costs for a larger school, that came up in round one when it was proposed that Pathfinder move to Boren and share some of the space (and presumably some costs) with a community group. Wasn’t it a Native American organization? I admit my memory is fuzzy on the details, but what happened to that idea? I remember being puzzled because it seemed to fit into PF’s Native model as well.

  • ProudLion January 14, 2009 (7:29 pm)

    WSParent – the Cooper community left their cages and knives well out of this. There was no statement at all to close Roxhill School. The plan very specifically said keep this school together – students and teachers, just move them 5 blocks North into another building. Even though the Roxhill program is struggling academically, they are a community and deserve as much respect and consideration at all others. The reason stated for the choice of Roxhill was they have the highest administrative costs in WS. If your budget at home suddenly drops, don’t you look at the expenses that are out of line so see where it’s possible to trim?

  • westello January 14, 2009 (9:01 pm)

    I can see that Ms. Ball put some effort into her proposal and it is heartfelt in trying to cause the least damage. However, it is not workable if you understand what is happening in that area (and if I don’t say it, the district will).

    First, the building number is based on them getting a new building. Their current building is not 100. They are getting a rebuild because their number is one of the lowest for any middle school (although not one of the lowest in the district see Mann and Pathfinder). Second, the Denny building is to be torn down and that probably cannot be changed now. Third, you do realize that the district is building Denny and Chief Sealth right next to each other so you’re proposing moving a K-8 next a middle and high school? A high school that has had some security issues?

    It’s not feasible.

  • GenHillOne January 14, 2009 (9:49 pm)

    “westello” – do you live in WS? I’m happy to see WS parents participate, brainstorm, cooperate, and offer ideas for their neighborhood schools. Maybe the idea as presented won’t work, but I don’t know what, from North Seattle, you hope to accomplish by dredging up the Denny/Sealth hysteria. I think people know where the campus is. It’s also adjacent to a large athletic complex, swimming pool, and Longfellow Creek.

  • west seattle steve January 15, 2009 (5:12 am)

    Eric B,

    With respect to capacity, the final recommendation now on the table reduces capacity in the WS North cluster, not the WS South cluster. You ignored that closing Genesee Hill would eliminate 493 seats which draw from both clusters. So there would be a decrease of about 250 seats in West Seattle overall. In addition it would allow Pathfinder to increase it’s middle school enrollment, which is needed in West Seattle.

    I only have what the district published. The spreadsheet says the Denny building built in 1952 has a score of 100. It does not refer to the new building, but is probably an error. We need the real MENG score for the building. If there is a $13M maintenance backlog, what is it for? My understanding is there are several outbuildings at Denny. Are they needed and would removing them decrease costs at the site? Denny may be more expensive to maintain than a new building, but this plan would allow for savings by co-hosting 2 programs at that site, just as they expect to reduce costs by co-hosting Denny and Chief Sealth.

  • west seattle steve January 15, 2009 (5:16 am)

    The real issue is to look at the process and the capacity needs as a whole. It looks like the District decided to close Genesee Hill School, and then went looking for a location for the Pathfinder program. First at Arbor Heights, then at Cooper. Steve Sundquist told us Tuesday that the School Board hasn’t received the functional capacity analysis yet. They are rushing to close Genesee Hill without looking at the big picture.

    The current plan has serious problems and the only rational that has been given to the Cooper School Community are 1. decreasing busing costs and 2. it works with the new student assignment plan. The new student assignment plan is just at the discovery and assessment stage, there is no plan.

    J.J.’s plan decreases bussing costs and frees up elementary space in the Admiral District where it is needed.


  • Charita January 15, 2009 (8:33 am)

    I sit back and read the comments on the blog and appreciate where everyone is coming from. As a Cooper parent I will say and continue to say, Cooper’s closure is wrong as it does not meet the criteria for school closures. Bottom line. Whether the district set this up to be a cat fight between schools or not is really not relevant to me. I don’t believe the children or the communities should be affected or any school closed, but if they have to go through this process which we all know is bogus, then follow the plan. We don’t meet the requirements and the District’s recommendation to closure says that. We are simply being targeted and told we must accept a lower standard of education for our kids because Pathfinder needs a building. Sorry… I seemed to have missed locating that information in the “Guidelines to School Closures” as one of the criteria. People talk about throwing other schools under the bus. If that is how people want to see if, we can’t change the opinion. But bottom line, Roxhill and West Seattle Elementary meet the criteria for school closures, yet Cooper was chosen for closure. West Seattle was not chosen because Pathfinder did not want the building and Roxhill is too small. That’s why we are here. It is wrong and I will continue to say that it is wrong until the day of the vote. I may not be able to change their opinion about closing a school in West Seattle, but I surely will continue to fight and press the board to choose the right school to close in West Seattle if it must be done.

  • WSparent January 15, 2009 (10:10 am)

    LOL———–if you’re telling me that pathfinder gets to choose the building they are in- you should take pause and check your facts

  • Forest January 15, 2009 (12:16 pm)

    Charita @ 8:33 am –

    When did Pathfinder receive and turn down the option of getting its program moved to the West Seattle Elementary building? Except for the passing mention in your comment, I’ve never heard of Pathfinder getting offered the W.S. Elementary building.

  • west seattle steve January 15, 2009 (12:24 pm)

    One of the big problems with this process is transparancy. No one outside of Seattle Public Schools knows how they are making the decision. The process calls for reducing capacity in West Seattle South and increasing academic performance. Cooper is in West Seattle North with academic standards far above it’s peer group.
    What I’ve heard, but haven’t seen anywhere official, is that West Seattle is off the table because they expect growth in the High Point development to fill-up the school. The reality is, many High Point families choose Cooper for it’s higher educational standards and the supportive community at the school. If Cooper is closed, West Seattle will be filled anyway, and the influx of students will spill over into Roxhill and Arbor Heights. So why are they terminating a program that through hard work over the past 10 years has successfully raised it’s accademic standards above its peers.

    Carla Santorno told us Tuesday night that SPS will study how Cooper has created a successful community of trust and high academic standards in a low income population and create successful programs in the schools our children are sent to. She also said it was the parents responsibility to ensure the success of their children after the move.

    If Cooper’s success can be studied and replicated why hasn’t it been done already?

  • Eric B January 15, 2009 (12:59 pm)

    I don’t believe that the contributions of incredibly knowledgeable folks should be excluded from this conversation because of where they live. I also don’t see how pointing out that one is in effect making a K-12 campus is “dredging up hysteria.” It is one thing to disagree, it is another to try to exclude someone from the conversation. I personally have found this conversation very helpful in clarifying my ideas, and I really appreciate JJ’s and West Seattle Steve’s critical analysis, even when I disagree with it, because it helps me critically analyze (and sometimes change) my position.
    BTW, the MENG analyses are available – http://www.seattleschools.org/area/cac/facilityconditiondata.xml

  • zero-to-life in West Seattle January 15, 2009 (1:12 pm)

    Thanks for the link Eric B.

  • GenHillOne January 15, 2009 (3:08 pm)

    Eric B., incredibly knowledgeable? Then we agree to disagree.

  • west seattle steve January 15, 2009 (3:13 pm)

    Thanks Eric for the link and the open dialog. There is a wealth of information on the SPS site, but finding it can be challenging. In addition I have found a couple of errors in the data.

    Let me disagree with you about the K-12 campus. Denny’s current location is 3 blocks from the Sealth-Denny campus, not right next to it.

    I also don’t think a K-12 campus is inherently bad due to the difference in opening and closing times between schools and the greater supervision of elementary students. I went to an elementary school that shared it’s campus with the high school and a jr high.

    Though Denny does need massive work according to the MENG study, so do Arbor Heights, Roxhill and many other schools. The report ends on a high note about the Denny buildings.

    The school is adjacent to the Southwest Community Center, athletic fields and stadium providing a great asset not typically available to most middle schools.
    The character of the buildings will allow for an attractive modernization although the buildings will need considerable work.

  • add January 15, 2009 (3:28 pm)

    Fact: In 2006, a Citizens Advisory Committee formed to assist with the school closure effort recommended that the (then) High Point and Fairmount Park programs close and Pathfinder move to the HP building. The district took the CAC’s city-wide recommendations and then underwent a process to develop their own preliminary recommendations. Pathfinder did not oppose the recommendation – in fact it found itself in the same position it is in now, between a rock & a hard place.

    Fact: When the district’s recommendations came out two months later, the proposal changed to a merger of FP and HP at HP and a move to Boren for Pathfinder. I don’t know if this is a fact because it has never been clear how that recommendation came to be, but apparently the principals of HP and FP developed the plan and brought it to the district who accepted it.

  • Eric B January 15, 2009 (4:40 pm)

    WS Steve – I am confused by your assertion. The way I see it, you can either look ate eliminating capacity (i.e. number of seats, occupied or not) or look at eliminating excess capacity – empty spaces in buildings that could be used for students. If we count seats, closing GH gets eliminates 493 seats (although half of them are in portables), closing RH eliminates 267, a total of 760 seats. Keeping Denny open keeps 867 seats open that would be closed otherwise, a gain of ~100 seats in W. Seattle. If we look a empty seats, I think my analysis is correct. (GH has no empty seats in its building). Even if you include the ~100 empty seats in the portables at PF, that still doesn’t reduce the empty seats in West Seattle – it just moves them to the Denny building.

  • ProudLion January 15, 2009 (11:30 pm)

    Eric B The paper I got said RH has 390 seats so that would make a total of 883 eliminated. Not much of a gain, but still more than Denny’s 867. And the plan should also save transportation dollars while even the district recognizes their plan actually increases transportation costs.

  • Eric B January 16, 2009 (9:13 pm)

    That is with portables, I believe, and I am not sure if they are still there, but I cant believe that they are being used.

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