By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
With hours to go until the Seattle School Board votes on attendance-area maps as part of its new neighborhood-based Student Assignment Plan, West Seattle’s board rep laid his cards on the table during a meeting this morning at Delridge Library.
Steve Sundquist told the 20 people who turned out to make their cases that he is not inclined to propose major map changes to remedy potential problems — but he does have a few ideas on other ways to fix them. (There was one small map quirk he addressed at the start of the meeting, involving four homes “on a cliff” at the far south end of California SW, saying he thought he’d have an amendment ready to fix that.)
Those in attendance mentioned children at many schools, but Sanislo Elementary – not far from the library branch – had the most representation.
A major challenge for West Seattle, he said, is that district projections suggest that by 2015, Sealth will be underenrolled by about 100, West Seattle HS by about 400 – but that shortfall together is still not enough to close one of the schools, which he considered “good news – that gives us flexibility, and it looks like we’re going to need it.” Right now, he said, the numbers on where local middle and high schools’ students come from “might surprise you”:
1,000 students – 550 from its “drawing area,” 200 from northern West Seattle
WEST SEATTLE HS
More than half its 1100 students come from southern West Seattle (574)
Most from its “drawing area,” 136 from north West Seattle
Even split – 449 from north West Seattle, 423 from south
Sundquist explained, “This is one of the reasons why I have some of the conclusions I do about hte maps.” He also noted that “the strategies (he’s) preferring” will not be brought up tonight because the board has been asked only to deal with maps this time. These would be “rule changes” that he hopes would be worked on in December or January.
For starters, he says, given the potential underenrollment at some West Seattle schools, he sees the potential to propose that the high schools set aside 20 percent of their seats for choice, rather than the 10 percent stipulated citywide in the assignment plan.
Second, Sundquist said, he’s also interested in grandfathering current middle-schoolers who are now at schools outside their new attendance areas, not just to be able to stay at those middle schools till they’re done there, but also to be able to follow the new tracks into high school – in other words, if a current Denny student’s home is going to be in the newly drawn Madison area, for that student not only to get to stay at Denny through 8th grade (which is already part of the plan), but also to be able to continue on to Chief Sealth High School.
Then he voiced a suggestion that had several people all but jump out of their chairs with excitement (and a smattering of applause): “I am also currently exploring – though I need help from staff, with possible legal implications, possible dual feeders for the middle three schools – Gatewood Elementary, West Seattle Elementary, Sanislo – to enable those parents to choose to take their kids either north (on the Madison/West Seattle HS track) or south (Denny/Chief Sealth). This would enable us to deal with the kind of imbalance I don’t think we could deal with on a map – and it’s getting to be a little eleventh-hour for major map changes.”
One rule change he said he’s not leaning toward is some kind of “distance tiebreaker” – he said he’s concerned about Southeast Seattle parents who continue to be worried about the availability of “quality education opportunities” for their children; he noted the attendance numbers for Chief Sealth include about 200 students from the Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley areas. Also to fix that problem, he said, an “additional high-rigor high-school option” for Southeast Seattle is under consideration.
So that’s what he said he’s expecting to do. He also explained why he’s not in favor of one suggestion that’s emerged repeatedly, shifting West Seattle Elementary in High Point to be part of the north feeder pattern (it’s in the “north region” now): He said the students at that school have already been affected by multiple changes in recent years – when Fairmount Park Elementary closed two-plus years ago, its “program” was merged with the then-High Point Elementary to create West Seattle Elementary; WSE also has taken some of the students displaced when the Cooper Elementary “program” was closed last year so that Pathfinder K-8 could move into the Cooper building. Also, he said, a vast majority of the high-school students projected to be in the WSE attendance area by 2015 are in the Chief Sealth and Denny “walk zones.”
The discussion veered into other areas, but those were the main points. One attendee asked, “So the boundary lines won’t change after tonight’s vote, right?”
Sundquist: “That is the hope .. the process of creating a map is a painful one. … But my suspicion is that there will be a circumstance that will lead to some changes in the map at some point down the line.”
After all, it was pointed out at another point in the meeting, the district is now talking about reopening schools (outside West Seattle) – just a year after the similarly painful process of closing schools citywide. (Although, Sundquist noted, given the district’s challenges including money woes, “I still believe the Genesee Hill [building] and Cooper Elementary [program] closure was the right decision to make.”)
WHAT’S NEXT: Tonight’s school board meeting is at 6 pm at district HQ in SODO. It’ll be on cable channel 26, too. After this, a board work session in mid-December will tackle some other transitional issues including potentially the kind of rule changes Sundquist said he would favor to achieve some of his objectives for alleviating the West Seattle concerns. He also urged parents and other community members to get involved in the “curriculum alignment” discussions – as we noted here last night, a public meeting about that process is scheduled for West Seattle next Tuesday.
SIDE NOTE: One parent at the meeting asked about the status of the Spectrum gifted program at Madison Middle School – the district has decided all middle schools will have that program, though this one hasn’t offered it. Sundquist said it hadn’t been decided yet whether Madison would start offering Spectrum next fall or a year later.