New school boundaries: Concern tonight, meeting tomorrow

Tomorrow afternoon, when West Seattle’s School Board rep Steve Sundquist hosts a community chat at High Point Library (1-2:30 pm), a group plans to bring that graphic to his attention. It’s a mashup of Seattle Public Schools‘ newly revised attendance-area maps for West Seattle with data from the U.S. Census and other sources. The group, Friends of West Seattle Public Schools, says it shows that the new maps would “(divide) West Seattle along economic lines (and) undermine educational progress in West Seattle.”

The thick black line is the group’s approximation of the new line between the attendance areas for West Seattle HS/Madison MS and Chief Sealth HS/Denny MS attendance; the deeper-colored areas of the map are higher-income areas; there is a further gauge of economic demographics in each area – the triangles mark elementary schools, the white-centered triangles for schools where fewer than half the students qualify for free/reduced-price lunches, the soild-colored triangles for schools where a majority of students qualify for that assistance. The group says, “The originally proposed Sealth boundaries, if applied also to Denny, would be a good place for the district to start. It had a greater socio-economic / racial mix, while meeting the objective of fostering family engagement.”

Here’s a link to a longer statement the group has made. They are urging anyone else who’s concerned to be sure to speak out during the comment period that’s under way now – by going to tomorrow’s meeting for starters (here’s a map to High Point Library), by e-mailing board members and district executives – here’s the list they provided:

…and also by going to the official public hearing on the maps, 6 pm Monday at district HQ (2445 3rd Ave. South).

33 Replies to "New school boundaries: Concern tonight, meeting tomorrow"

  • Denny November 7, 2009 (8:35 am)

    These are important conversations, and I’m sorry I cannot attend today. I’m no conspiracy theorist or bleeding liberal, but the district continues to treat economic groups differently. West Seattle High & Madison Middle School both enjoyed total remodels that saved their historical facade (highly expensive) while a new Denny will be built to colocate with a partially remodelled Sealth. A less than ideal (and nowhere duplicated) public 6-12 model. If the district further implicates itself by feeding a pattern of primarily poor families through local elementaries to Denny/Sealth, while the better off families attend Madison & WSHS are we back to the 1950’s in WS? How do these boundaries affect property values? Won’t Denny/Sealth always be a more difficult school to operate (hard enough in co-locate) with high concentration of low income students?
    Regardless of the intent of the district, this hosing of lower income, primarily non-white families appears real to me in the cumulative affect of its decisions.

  • Amanda November 7, 2009 (8:40 am)

    That black line looks like a class/wealth boundary to me – period.

  • pam November 7, 2009 (9:07 am)

    I think the black line is what this group is proposing, correct? Which is a line that goes back to the first round of boundary map drawings. This black line splits Gatewood Elementary School (and possibly Sanislo?) with half the students attending Madison, half going to Denny. The parents at the meetings I’ve attended were against this plan. They did not want their elementary students belonging to a community that would be split upon entering middle school. I’ve been to most of the meetings up to this point, and really, the district listened to the input and accomodated some of the complaints that West Seattle parents were having.
    Something I learned from attending the meetings: There are A LOT of families from North West Seattle who PREFER Denny/Sealth because it offers a more rigorous academic program than West Seattle High. WSH and Madison may be newer schools, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better.

    West Seattle is a smaller version of the rest of the city, and the layout of our demographics is no different. It’s important to remember that this is a problem the entire city faces on almost every level… not just equitable public education.

    I also very strongly feel (and research proves) that the ultimate successful ingredient to excellent schools is community and family involvement. I think it’s fantastic that so many people in the community are taking interest SAP plan. We need to focus our efforts on keeping communities and families together.

  • Suzanne November 7, 2009 (9:23 am)

    The way I see it, the south is finally getting some great schools with a rigorous curriculum and we should be elated. Unfortunately, it appears there are still a lot of people who don’t know about the great things going on at Denny and Sealth. These schools are still deemed by many to be less desirable than Madison and WSHS for some reason. I couldn’t be happier with the diversity of both Denny and Sealth – by far the most diverse schools in the entire district and this diversity is celebrated every day. That is a GOOD thing.

  • Amanda November 7, 2009 (9:33 am)

    Thanks for clearing that up Pam and Suzanne. That map is really horrible too – as far as clear boundaries. I’m glad to hear that Sealth has a more rigorous program than WSHS. I didn’t like to think that the boundary would split West Seattle in such an obvious way. As a new parent, I am glad to know that sending my son to middle school/high school won’t be based on where he is on an socio-economic basis as much as a geographical one.

  • Z November 7, 2009 (9:44 am)

    When the map was first published our MS/HS was Madison and WSH. But then they said they made a mistake and we would go to Denny/Sealth. I was not happy about it. BUT my SIL that has MS aged children said that Denny/Sealth are the much better schools in WS. I was surprised to hear that. I think the other 2 schools LOOK wonderful and just thought they are great (lame I know – it’s more than a nice looking building to make a good school!). Not the case she said. But then a few days ago it looked like the lines changed again. (after we were ok with Denny/Sealth) and now we’re back to Madison/WSH. This is crazy. And really, our son is 3 right now. We have many years and who knows if it will change again before he hits MS but time really does fly and he’ll be there before we know it.

  • VBD November 7, 2009 (9:50 am)

    This split is ridiculous. It is obviously class biased. What were they thinking?

  • WSB November 7, 2009 (9:52 am)

    To clarify, the black line in the first map is not what “this group is proposing” – it approximates what is in the NEW round of maps that the district issued earlier this week. We published the district’s maps in our report on Tuesday – with links to where you can look at them full-size:
    For those evaluating area schools, we have also reported more than a few stories about Denny and Sealth’s unique programs, including International Baccalaureate at Sealth (we were at IB night the other night) and Denny’s new International School status. Graze the “West Seattle schools” coverage category from the WSB Categories list down in the lower sidebar sometime, or pull a site search for either school name.
    Denny also has long been the only middle school in West Seattle with Spectrum, the district’s second-tier “gifted” program – Madison chose not to offer it – though that will be changing as of next year, the district has said.

  • curious November 7, 2009 (9:54 am)

    I’m curious about the comments that Sealth has a “more rigorous” program than WSHS. Are people assuming that because Sealth has the IB program, that automatically makes it a better school than WSHS? I don’t know a lot first hand about what’s happening at Sealth, but I am always wary of people judging the quality of a school based solely on on the names of courses offered (whether it’s a program like IB or the number of AP courses offered – whatever). Anyone in education knows that the label a course has is not a guarantee of its rigor – it’s what happens in the classroom every day, no matter what the course is called. So, I’m curious about where the comments about one school being better than the other are coming from. Can anyone give me insight into that?

    This is really a question – I truly hope Sealth is improving, because I know it has struggled in the past. I also know that Sealth is doing a much better job of marketing itself to the community right now than is West Seattle, but I feel strongly that some good things are happening at WSHS, too. I just worry about broad comments about one being better or worse than the other being made if people don’t have first hand experience in both schools to back up those comments. If you do, please share! As far as I’m concerned, the more excellent schools we have in WS, the better!

  • Lisa K November 7, 2009 (10:00 am)

    As a parent with a child not far from middle school, the vast majority of my Sanislo peers were VERY concerned about the original maps, because it would rather arbitrarily split up our kids: after having gone to school together for 6 years, and looking forward to heading off to middle school (not the easiest years in one’s life), Sanislo kids would be split between 2 different middle schools. We were some of the folks clamoring for students not to be split up at 6th gr. The parents I’ve talked to were thrilled when the new maps tracked Sanislo back to Denny. Many Sanislo parents residing outside the Denny reference area are still hoping to get their children to Denny.

    I’m curious. Who makes up Friends of WS PS? Where do they reside? Do they have kids attending any of the higher-poverty schools? Are they teachers?

    I agree that the ideal is a mix of students at school (that’s why we chose Sanislo, even though we technically reside in the north cluster and could have chosen a school with higher test scores, more “extras,” etc.). I certainly don’t dispute that the district appears to treat students differently based on economic background (you only have to look at the closing of the Cooper program to see that here in WS). I am all for a balance—I think that is what makes a difference at Sanislo. We run just about 50-50 in terms of economic backgrounds of our kids.

    I just wonder if the newest maps will really change it that much. There are a number of parents in Sanislo’s reference area, who have the means and time to research public school education in Seattle, who have chosen other schools. If those folks now end up at their neighborhood school, I think the balance will remain largely the same. Yes, south West Seattle has a higher poverty rate, but it has changed a lot over the past 10 years and census data doesn’t yet reflect that. It is one of the few places in Seattle that middle class families can buy homes. In just the 6 years my family has lived in the Delridge corridor, gentrification has become a larger and larger issue as renters and low-income families are forced out by development and loss of rental housing. The poverty rate in the area (at least before the recession) has been dropping. Sanislo was in danger of losing thousands of dollars in federal $$ because the number of families qualifying for free/reduced lunches had fallen off. The families who’ve moved here tend to be engaged in the community, they value the diversity, and they have young kids. It would be sad to see folks who are so committed to being involved in an area of WS that still needs a little love and respect shipped off to schools north.

  • Smitty November 7, 2009 (10:36 am)

    This is awful!

    How DARE they draw a line that would put Sealth smack dab in the middle of the map!


  • Lupe.G November 7, 2009 (10:38 am)

    I too am curious to see who this group “the friends of WS public schools” is made up of and where they reside. It appears to me that Denny/Sealth is becoming the more sought after program and those in the North are wanting more access to it. This is a good thing but you can not ship those kids in the Sanislo area off to schools in the North ( as the first maps did) just so more middle and upper class kids that will have access to Sealth. To me this is a “disservice” to our community. The new maps should be adopted.

  • Julie November 7, 2009 (1:27 pm)

    I agree that I would like to know who are “Friends of West Seattle Public Schools” and why are they speaking for all WS families? How does one join? I looked online and didn’t find anything about them.

  • WSB November 7, 2009 (1:41 pm)

    New group, self-identified. I am at the meeting now and no one has publicly identified themselves as such but the concerns voiced in their communique have been brought up – TR

  • Julie November 7, 2009 (1:50 pm)

    Thanks WSB for being at the meeting. I am not due to sick child. UGH…so sick of the flu! Hopefully the viewpoints made by families to SPS will not be negated by a few vocal folks at Steve’s meeting. I love the idea of more diverse schools. The original plan was terrible for students and didn’t keep the Denny/Sealth

  • VBD November 7, 2009 (2:29 pm)

    For those of you who favor the new map, why is it OK that kids just 4 blocks away from Sealth and west to Lincoln Park must go north to WSH? Wouldn’t it be better if they just kept the line more horizontal to favor kids going to the school closest to home?

    It looks economic/race segregated to me.

  • VBD November 7, 2009 (2:36 pm)

    Here’s a link to a much better map than those above:

  • Smitty November 7, 2009 (4:03 pm)

    VBD, I’m assuming it’s a population thing, but not 100% sure.

    Where would you draw the line(s)?

  • WSB November 7, 2009 (4:10 pm)

    While I write the story over the next couple hours, the point stressed by both attendees and Steve Sundquist is – whatever your opinion, be sure to get your sentiments out there any way you can ASAP – including all school board members and

  • delridge November 7, 2009 (5:05 pm)

    This debate illustrates the tough choices the school district faces. I think the main concern about the line is that it doesn’t follow an east-west orientation. Property values and economic wealth are concentrated along the coastlines of the city. By drawing a line that runs far north east of 35th, and far south west of 35th, the district creates a situation in which more wealth is concentrated in the northern schools of West Seattle. It also reinforces the old idea that 35th is the dividing line in West Seattle for desirability.

    What is best for education and community are schools that have a balanced, diverse population. The line should have a more east-west orientation. I understand the concerns of parents wanting to keep their schools together, but as a parent of a middle-schooler and one going to Denny next year, I think you have to trust in your kid’s resilience. They will still have many friends from their school. They will also have friends from soccer, ballet, baseball, church, and many other places. The cohort idea shouldn’t trump boundaries that provide a balanced student body. PTSA’s that support programs in the schools are very well funded in wealthier neighborhoods. But in working class neighborhoods they struggle to raise funds. These are very real issues and I thank WSB for covering this issue.

  • Artnewby November 7, 2009 (5:08 pm)

    I attended the meeting today. The new boundary is based on keeping the Sanislo students together as they enter middle school. I know now that Sanislo families organized a big opposition to the original proposal.
    Sorry Sanislo, I live in Gatewood. I’m closer than you to Sealth, and my kids may not be able to attend. Further, I think the new line is blatent classism and racism. It’s a set-up for failure for Sealth—a school that was just starting to succeed for kids of all stripes.

    What’s more important? Keeping Sanislo kids together or creating two great schools that have a fighting chance to succeed well into the future? We’ll see if our school board member has the courage to do the right thing….

  • Artnewby November 7, 2009 (5:14 pm)

    Yes, thank you WSB for your coverage. I would not have known about this issue without your coverage. This is a critical issue for south end communities and for all of West Seattle.

  • TK November 7, 2009 (5:32 pm)

    Looks like “train tracks” to me too.

  • redfred November 7, 2009 (7:23 pm)

    Maybe they could draw the line east west through the Gatewood area? I know they have traditionally been split on their choice between Madison and Denny. It appears they will have to split one of these elementary school areas to make this work.

  • Lisa K November 7, 2009 (8:25 pm)

    Artnewby: I have a hard time believing the new line is just about Sanislo. There are plenty of Sanislo families who live close to Sealth (maybe not 4 blocks, but certainly closer to Sealth/Denny than Madison/WS), that share your same concern and desire regarding attending their “neighborhood” school. I’m one of them: I live next to the Delridge library and I’m now in the Lafayette/Madison/WSHS track (?!). Good schools, but pretty far out of my neighborhood. No Sanislo families thought it was a good idea for Gatewood families to be divided, either. I’m not sure where you got your information about a big opposition “organized” by Sanislo parents. There were about 8 of us that attended part of a larger conversation with with Steve Sundquist at one of his “chats” at the Delridge library. I know there were parents who sent messages to Sundquist and responded to the online “survey,” but there was nothing organized beyond, “are you going to that meeting? Yeah, me, too.”
    What makes me crazy about this process is how it seems to pit schools against one another. I also think that the original lines tended to put the “burden” of economic integration on disadvantaged families: it appears that they are the ones being disproportionately asked to move beyond their neighborhood schools to achieve greater “balance” in student bodies. When I asked at a SPS informational meeting about why a school in the heart of the Admiral neighborhood suddenly became my “predictable, understandable” assignment, I was basically told by one district official, “Since you’re kid is on a bus anyway, what’s a little more time on the bus?” Argh!! It’s enough that many families in my area already face challenges in being involved in their student’s school, let alone being shipped out of their neighborhood.
    Then again, maybe it’s time to take a breath and remember that I’m lucky to have such agonizing “problems” as where our children are going to receive their free education.

  • Oliver November 7, 2009 (10:24 pm)

    My Comments sent to the District:


    I wanted to comment by expressing my support for the recently revised West Seattle boundary maps. Our son will start kindergarten next year. Under the most recent revision he would be assigned to Gatewood and then to Madison and West Seattle High along with many of his preschool friends. Prior to the revision, many of his friends would have been assigned to Gatewood but not the same middle schools and high schools. While we may have preferred Denny and Chief Sealth, the predictability, continuity, and walking safety (i.e. not having to cross 35th) should be the determining factors.

    I understand that a new group “Friends of West Seattle Schools” is claiming that the new boundary proposals should be revised because of the socio-economic and racial make-up of the collective neighborhoods. While I don’t know the motives of this group, as a West Seattle parent I have at least two problems with their claim. First, the allegation assumes that the schools within Denny/Sealth are “worse” schools. In reality, many in the high income/less diverse neighborhoods are disappointed to not have Denny and Sealth as a more viable option. Last year, I toured most of the West Seattle elementary schools. While a surface level comparison shows that higher income schools are “better,” I encourage everyone to take a deeper look. For example, Lafayette and Schmitz Park have impressive test scores and strong PTAs. West Seattle Elementary and Roxhill, on the other hand, can not make the same claims. Nevertheless, I felt that some of these south cluster schools were “better” schools because of qualities that are harder to measure. Most memorable is that the teachers and staff at many of the less desired schools are full of enthusiasm and commitment to their students. I was particularly impressed by the teachers at both West Seattle Elementary and Roxhill. In contrast, some of the “better” north cluster schools seemed to rely on reputation more than substance. I question whether people who assume that south cluster school are worse (and that it would therefore be terrible to make anyone attend them) are themselves making assumptions and whether they have actually spent time in West Seattle classrooms. What also struck me about many of the less desirable schools is that many of the negative factors for south cluster schools were created by a system designed to address segregation which had the unfortunate effect of causing greater segregation. The south cluster schools do not reflect their neighborhoods because many engaged families who contribute to the success of their children’s schools choose another school.

    This brings me to my next point. We have a long history of saddling Seattle Public Schools with the task of fixing the reality that Seattle neighborhoods (like neighborhoods in most major cities) are divided along socio-economic lines. Attempting to address this through school assignment has not worked and has actually resulted in a large disparity within our neighborhood schools. I think the current proposal, which focuses on attendance by neighborhood and predictability, is a huge step in the right direction towards making ALL schools something to be proud of while working within the confines of a very difficult budget.

  • Suzanne November 7, 2009 (10:49 pm)

    Oliver, nicely said! You expressed many of my sentiments more eloquently than I could have.

  • pam November 7, 2009 (11:08 pm)

    Oliver, excellent work! Very valid points. Thanks for taking the time to put together your letter, it says what many of us have been thinking today.

  • WSB November 7, 2009 (11:12 pm)

    The story on today’s meeting will be up in the morning – the system just ate half of it and I have to re-create it.. Apologies.

  • ws parent November 7, 2009 (11:40 pm)

    WSB- Is contact information available for the “Friends of West Seattle Public Schools”? Who are they representing, where do they live? I’m very confused about their report.

    It appears that they are concerned about the possible demographic changes for Denny/Sealth, but their arguments don’t at all follow the data given by the district (see the projected demographics under the “maps” section of the SAP page).

    According to the district, with the new map boundaries, Denny’s free & reduced lunch population will actually drop slightly from 66% to 64% or 65%, and Sealth’s will drop from 64% to 56%. The “Friends of WS” group’s report argue that, “there is also a strong relationship between affluence and school achievement” and that these contribute to “the strongest possible schools” in WS, but the F&RL rate would be lower, not higher at these schools.

    Diversity will not change significantly at Denny or Sealth either. Denny’s Asian population would change the most, up by 8%, White down 5%, but both Black & Hispanic would stay the same. Sealth’s Asian population would also go up 6%, Blacks down 5%, others roughly the same. Clearly not dramatic changes for these 2 schools, with Sealth remaining close to it’s “1/4 each” diversity claim of fame.

    Also, there are some parts of their report I have questions about, starting with the “Facts” page. The district publishes exact demographic data from the Oct. 1st enrollment counts each year, and the current data from 10/01/09 is available on the SAP page (look for School Snapshots). Madison’s white population is 46% and WSHS is 40%, whereas the “Facts” page uses “self-identified” white for the WS north end at 70%! Where does this come from? Definitely not from SPS. Certainly, if you visit those two schools you will not see 70% “white”. The 70% “self-reported” is very misleading at best.

    There are two major missed points here. If you look at the projected demographic charts from SPS, Denny’s & Sealth’s will not change dramatically, wheras both Madison & WSHS will become considerably less diverse, and with much lower F&RL rates. This, coupled with the projected decline in enrollment for the north end by 2015(Madison down to only 661 kids and WSHS down to 756!) would spell financial havock for these two schools (Denny is projected to stay at capacity at 930 and Sealth slightly under capacity at 1063).

    This is what should be getting the attention of all WS families. The equity would be lacking, ironically, for Madison & WSHS both for economic reasons, as well as lacking in perceived rigorous academic offerings.

  • Que November 7, 2009 (11:47 pm)

    My solution, for a multitude of reasons, is to draw the line to send Gatewood to Denny/Sealth and to send West Seattle Elementary, which is historically a “cross cluster school” to Madison/WSH. Denny would benefit from the active parent community at Gatewood aging up into their system, and Madison will gain some much needed ethnic/cultural/economic diversity. Demographics and school capacity dictate that the line must dip south somewhere and to me, that makes the most sense. This would also relieve Denny/Sealth of the responsibility of educating all of the poorer and more transitory student populations of West Seattle. This change in map lines would allow that responsibility to be shared by both Madison/WSH and Denny/Sealth.

  • sanislo next year November 8, 2009 (1:26 am)

    I just want to say that although my kids will be going to Sealth/Denny and I grew up in Admiral district, I expect the diversity of their school to be just the same as it was when I was in West Seattle and Madison… See, they were still “bussing” back then. I’m glad I was able to grow up and learn tolerance for people from different backgrounds. My two boys (4 and 3 now). Will have a similar experience and prefer it over West Seattle High that may be well over 85% due to this change! I suspect those kids may have problems later in life due to their isolation.

  • pam November 8, 2009 (8:06 am)

    What if there is an exception to the “choice” rule for Gatewood (and Sanislo?) parents? Sundquist acknowledges that West Seattle is a unique area that may require unique solutions…

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