High Point parents face district leaders with school concerns

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Friday night’s not usually prime time for public meetings.

Last night, however, an extraordinary gathering filled a meeting room at the new High Point Neighborhood Center: Two Seattle School Board members, a contingent of top Seattle Public Schools officials including the Chief Academic Officer and two local principals, and dozens of parents with translators serving them in languages including Somali, Vietnamese and signing.

Neighborhood House had sent us word of the meeting earlier in the day, saying it was a followup to a December 21st forum in which High Point families shared concerns about effects of the new Student Assignment Plan, including the fact that West Seattle Elementary is now the default school for the area. (Before the new Student Assignment Plan moved the district back to neighborhood-based schools, parents citywide were allowed to choose what schools they wanted their children to attend, near or far.)

Here’s why some are concerned about WS Elementary:

According to the 2009 annual report for WS Elementary, 54 percent of its third graders did not meet state standards in reading last year; 68 percent of third graders didn’t meet state standards in math. In the scores listed online for third, fourth and fifth graders, 5th grade reading is the only section of the test in which a majority of WS Elementary students did meet state standards – 52% last year. The same year, though, 93 percent of fourth graders failed to meet state standards on the math test.

The first hour or so of last night’s meeting proceeded slowly, as district officials offered simple explanations of services they offer for bilingual families, pausing after each few sentences for the translation to make it around the room, where attendees wore electronic devices to pick up the translation broadcast by whichever interpreter they were connected with:

One of the district officials on hand was Bilingual Education Program Manager Veronica Maria Gallardo (photo right), who didn’t discuss High Point specifics so much as list districtwide stats:

*More than 5,400 English-language learners in Seattle Public Schools

*Top three languages (after English) are Spanish, Somali (that’s new, she said) and Vietnamese

*Support is offered in 9 languages, with 97 teachers and 191 instructional assistants focused on English-language learners; districtwide, students speak more than 100 languages

The support systems repeatedly stressed during the meeting include Bilingual Orientation Centers (4 elementary and 1 secondary) “for students who have been in the U.S. less than a year,” said Gallardo.

The district’s new Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Susan Enfield, noted that she had taught bilingual students during her career. She was the first of several to stress “family engagement” as a key component of students’ success. The district official in charge of that, Family/Community Engagement Coordinator Bernardo Ruiz (top photo), spoke briefly too, mentioning the “family engagement team,” which he said includes the principal and teachers at each school.

West Seattle’s school board rep Steve Sundquist also offered a few general words of welcome; board colleague Harium Martin-Morris was also there but did not speak to the group. The meat of the meeting came when the three-dozen-plus parents who were there were offered the chance to speak, all but one through translators.

How do you know how the students are doing? was the first question. Dr. Enfield mentioned testing – the WASL “for now”; also the MAP test (explained here), given three times a year. She urged the parent to “go to the school, talk with the principal and teacher, ask for information” and noted that starting next year there will be a new type of “school report” on how individual schools are doing.

Next question: Students in other districts seem “very successful compared to here” (Bellevue and Mercer Island were mentioned by the parent) – so does that mean their program is better?

Sundquist took that one: “I would say in Seattle Public Schools, opportunity for our kids has not always been equal.” To illustrate, he mentioned the sought-after Spectrum (lower of 2 “gifted” levels) program at Lafayette Elementary, and the fact that “up until recently there had not been many (such) programs at schools in the southern half of the city,” but new district management is trying to expand Spectrum. In West Seattle, Arbor Heights Elementary is expected to offer it soon, as is Madison Middle School (until now, Denny has been the only West Seattle middle school with the program), though Sundquist reiterated that the decision has not yet been made on when those new Spectrum programs will be added – this fall? or later. Bottom line, though, he said, “We expect all our schools to be good schools for your children.”

The next two parents voiced similar questions/concerns: If a school is underperforming, and a student is doing well until he/she starts attending that school, what is the problem (causing that)? And what if everything they’re advised to try, including “family engagement,” doesn’t make a difference?

“I’m sorry you’re not happy, because that’s not good,” Dr. Enfield replied. “Because our system is so big … we are working hard to minimize the differences between schools. If your student is not learning .. we have resources that can help you sit down and talk with the people at your school about your student’s progress.”

Time and time again, the district officials kept coming back to family engagement. When West Seattle Elementary principal Gayle Everly spoke, she said, “One thing I know is that family engagement is key.” She mentioned “working toward data-driven instruction” and said her school offers support to children who are achieving at different levels via a math specialist, a math coach working with teachers, and “differentiated instruction.” Her school, Everly said, has 65 percent English language learners and “a strong bilingual program.” She described West Seattle Elementary as “a Spectrum school,” though the program is not self-contained, which is its usual mode in elementary grades. “We funded a part-time Spectrum instructor this year,” Everly said.

She implored the parents who had spoken, and those who were going to speak, at the meeting, to be specific: “If there is a specific student you are worried about, I would love to talk about that. There is a lot of conversation in the education field about how we advance children and serve children for whom English is a second language. … The bilingual assistant may not always speak the same language as your child, but might be there to make sure their needs are being met.” She also referred repeatedly to the Bilingual Orientation Center at her school, and urged parents to talk with their children’s teachers.

That did not go over well with the parent who spoke next. The phrase that jumped out as the translator recounted, in his own soft tone, what the parent had voiced passionately, loud and long, was: “You cheat us.” The translation continued, “You say that if your kid is behind, go to the schoolteacher … no, we don’t go to the teacher. You are here now. You are the ones above the teachers. We go to you.”

Dr. Enfield took the microphone to respond. “You’re right. Our job is to educate your children, but we can’t do that alone. We need to work with you. We need to work with partners like Neighborhood House … We have more than 45,000 students. Each one is unique. I don’t know your child, but the principal and teacher do, so it’s my job to give them the support to get the job done.”

The tension was defused shortly afterward as Denny International Middle School principal Jeff Clark was lauded by the next speaker for “the best school (the student in their family) ever attended.” Applause ensued. (Denny’s annual report for 2009 is here; some subjects there also have a majority of students failing to meet standards.)

But next, a renewed note of concern. A man told the story of “an African girl” – someone else’s child, he made it clear, not his own, so he had heard the story secondhand – who skipped school for five months allegedly without the school having sounded an alarm for the family: “Someone finally went to the school to ask how she was doing, and the school said, ‘oh, we took her off the rolls because she wasn’t coming’.”

There were no easy answers or explanations for that. Only the district reps promising they would do better. And the next step, they said, would be for families to attend open houses to find out more about the schools to which their children will be assigned: West Seattle Elementary has an open house January 20th, beginning with dinner at 5:30, and also including a “learning enrichment fair” as well as information about the Student Assignment Plan; Denny has an open house January 27th, starting at 6:30.

22 Replies to "High Point parents face district leaders with school concerns"

  • you wish January 9, 2010 (3:51 pm)

    I am so glad to hear that the community is concerned about WS Elementary. It certainly is a disaster. The entire school needs to be restructured, beginning with the Principal. Students are being cheated out of the good education other SPS students are receiving at other schools. Incompetent teachers, an absent Principal, and a school-wide focus on Positive Discipline(a sorry focus at that) completely miss the goal of providing our kids with a decent education. If you care at all about this school, I suggest flooding Gloria Mitchell–Gayle Everly’s boss and demanding change!

  • Leslie January 9, 2010 (4:22 pm)

    Thank you Steve Sundquist for saying out loud it isn’t equitable and for continuing to beat the drum for Spectrum and opportunity in S WS schools – here’s hoping your other boardmembers join w/ you to direct SPS leadership to address this. Perhaps w some of the funds currently budgeted for the new STEM program or from the transportation and closed school savings?

  • E January 9, 2010 (7:21 pm)

    This makes me very sad to read. I went to this school back when it was still High Point Elementary, and at the time (the late 80’s/early 90’s) it was a fantastic school, with amazing teachers. It’s disappointing to hear that it’s no longer such a great place to learn.

  • LE January 9, 2010 (9:47 pm)

    I tried to follow the link to “Denny’s annual report for 2009”, but it didn’t work for me. Can someone post the link?

    • WSB January 10, 2010 (9:18 am)

      Sorry about the Denny report link, fixed now, should work – TR

  • marco January 9, 2010 (10:46 pm)

    @LE http://www.schooldigger.com/go/WA/schools/0771001913/school.aspx?Entity=23&Grade=8 has some info on Denny

    We were also at that meeting.

    With the current performance of WSE and new maps, this is going to be a disaster. Nobody that can afford it will send their kid to that school.

    Another interesting quote from the meeting: “When we go back to Africa, I’m a afraid my children will be behind.”

  • JR January 10, 2010 (8:58 am)

    My observation is that “talking” with District “Leaders” amounts to watching them tapdance around your concerns, as they soothe your fears with jargon and catch-phrases that mean… nothing, I guess. These folks are SO out of touch with how their system-wide initiatives really impact schools and families.

  • ss January 10, 2010 (9:52 am)

    Aren’t parents able, under no child left behind, to send their kids to another school if the school they are required to send their kids fails to meet standards 2 years in a row? Based on what i heard and saw of the test scores for West Seattle elementary, i assume it would be considered a failing school. Can’t the parents in this assignment area demand that they have another school option? It doesn’t fix WSE , but at least these kids would have a shot at learning something.

  • marco January 10, 2010 (9:52 am)

    Tracy, the first link is also broken:

  • Confused in HighPoint January 10, 2010 (12:29 pm)

    Is there a reason this meeting wasn’t advertised more than a couple of hours in advance? I GUARANTEE there would have been capacity crowds at this meeting (native English speakers as well as ESL) had anyone actually known in time to attend.
    What makes it more frustrating is that so many high level folks were there who could have potentially answered some of the myriad of questions the parents have about this horrifically failing school.
    It is about time the school district provided translators for this type of meeting. However, I believe it is to the detriment of all that native english speakers seem to have been excluded from the announcement of the meeting.
    For that matter, as a High Point resident I wasn’t notified of the December meeting either…

    • WSB January 10, 2010 (3:10 pm)

      I don’t have the full picture of how it was promoted/announced, but I did hear that flyers were distributed at the High Point Community Center a few days ahead of time, and I also noticed that it was posted Wednesday at highpointneighborhood.org, which we try to check every so often (along with many other websites, FB pages, Twitter accounts, etc.) to do our best to catch word of events for which we didn’t get an announcement …
      In many cases, though, the fact we’ve been able to cover some of the meetings along the way, has been by the kindness of parents and others who let us know – including, for example, another meeting attended by Steve Sundquist, called by the Alki/Schmitz Park/Lafayette PTAs/PTSAs, which yielded some really important information that had NOT been publicly disseminated otherwise (the fact there was a big error in the West Seattle maps).
      We do try our best to evangelize to organizations “PLEASE get us word of as many events and meetings as possible so we can help get the word out” – this isn’t a brag but a fact that 25,000 homes/businesses come to WSB at least once a week, so news shared here has the potential to reach far and wide – but also, we REALLY appreciate people who hear about events that they don’t see on our calendar (because no formal announcement was sent and we didn’t happen onto one in our frequent web searches) and send us notes to say “just wanted to make sure you knew about …”
      Coincidentally, I’d said this in a speech at a journalism conference the other night … a warning in this day/age of everybody having their own organization/business “blog,” Facebook page, Twitter account, whatever … that’s not a total substitute for also flagging your friendly neighborhood news organizations to your events and other news … just because those organizations “follow” or “fan” you, they still might have missed the news, and many of your other “followers” or “fans” might not have seen it either, since almost EVERYONE these days has at least a triple-digit crowd and that means a lot of stuff to wade through. (Thanks to the people who have sent us announcements in the form of sharable Facebook events – that works too – we’re at http://facebook.com/westseattleblog )

  • stepup January 11, 2010 (3:48 pm)

    I have had the privilege of spending a great deal of time at West Seattle Elementary, and I take enormous offense to the comment that the staff is “incompetent”. If you spend a day there to see the amount of challenging situations that arise among the students at that school, you will see that the staff there is very professional and hard working. It is not a perfect school but a lot of parties are responsible for it becoming a more functional atmosphere: including the district, the school leadership,staff, and the outside community. Rather that sitting anonymously on a blog and criticizing the situation, please try and be a part of the solution. Volunteer in the school and you will see that the staff cares and loves the sometimes very challenging students in the school.

  • you wish January 11, 2010 (9:03 pm)


    step up yourself! you have no idea who you are talking to.

  • Confused in HighPoint January 11, 2010 (10:38 pm)

    My comments were not directed toward you AT ALL! I was upset by the lack of communication by the organizers to the community at large. I get all sorts of random things dropped on my doorstep about community meetings, etc. NOTHING about this. EVER.

    As always, nothing but praise and gratitude for all that you do!

  • seriously, stepup January 12, 2010 (7:41 pm)

    To everyone else who has posted I have found the conversation valid.

    My issue is with calling a teaching staff incompetent.

    You wish- You are right. I have no idea who you are. I expect you had some kind of experience in West Seattle Elementary that you are able to know so much about their programs and specific names. So again, I do not know you. But I know the words you have typed.

    What honor is there in name calling? What honor is it kicking teachers that work long hours and are exhauisted? Sure, it is easy to do this in a forum in which you can remain anonymous. Have you watched the teaching of every single teacher at the school? Even if you have which I highly doubt, what service does your insinuation accomplish?

    The fact is that every Seattle Public School probably has one or more incompetent teachers. This isn’t exclusive to West Seattle Elementary. In fact, most schools in this nation would probably have to cop to that. This isn’t an excuse. This does not justify incompetent teachers. Public education belongs to us. We as a public pay for it. We as a public must work to improve it.

    Posting on a blog and saying hurtful things about a group of teachers who with very few exceptions are very professional and caring to a group of high risk young people is easy and it is not working to impove public education. So I say again, be a part of the solution. You are certainly entitled to voice you opinion, but as I see it, the way you choose to express it only contributes to the problem.

    I have spoken my peace.

  • Concerned WS\\\'er January 13, 2010 (12:25 pm)

    To Step-up: It is unsettling to see the blog used for some sort of personal vendetta. In reading the above comments from someone named “step-up” one senses that this is personal, by no means “productive”, and certainly cowardly. If you have something to say, you need to “step up” and come and say it in person. (You sounds like a wearisome “voice from the past” so I suspect we’ve already heard it all before!)

    On the contrary, WSES boasts a very admirable, highly skilled, deeply caring and personally invested staff of educators and administrators. They rise to the task daily of caring for and educating a school full of wonderful children who represent a population of very diverse needs, culture, experiences and learing styles. My interactions with the pricipal indicate a deep sense of direction and full understanding of the diversity and challenges at WSES. Teacher’s who lack that level of commitment and understanding don’t last long— Would “step-up” be one of those?! I suspect so!

  • stepup January 13, 2010 (3:38 pm)

    Step up was defending West Seattle Elementary, so I’m not sure who Concerned WSWer is addressing.

  • Deal January 13, 2010 (10:55 pm)

    Many of the comments here attacking WSES, and particularly its staff, are revolting and low. I’m sickened.

    Hopefully the teachers who work at the school and bend over backwards to help students and parents will not hear of this article. It is a mean-spirited punch in the face to them.

    You will not find a better staff of people at any school in this district. Most of the teachers have years of successful experience at a variety of schools and are exceptionally professional, ridiculously nice and sadly unappreciated and attacked by this community.

    • WSB January 14, 2010 (12:08 am)

      Deal – I take exception with the contention that my article, which these reader comments follow, is a punch in the face. No one has taken issue with anything I wrote in the article that precedes these comments. As I have done in 30 years of journalism, I wrote what I saw and heard – what was said, what was asked, what was answered. I was the only journalist at that meeting, though I cannot say whether anyone else got notice – I found out about it hours in advance and changed my Friday night schedule to be there because education is one of the many important issues we cover. I am grateful that, even if on short notice, the liaison at Neighborhood House flagged us so that we could tell this story. We tell a hundred stories around West Seattle every week – some cheery and happy, some difficult. This one was by no means the most contentious public meeting I have ever covered, but it did have a few confrontational moments, and they needed to be part of the story – TR

  • Concerned WS\\\\\\\'er January 15, 2010 (12:10 pm)

    Please note the correction: My earlier reprimand for hugely poor taste was directed at “You Wish” not “Step-up” —my apologies for the confusion!

    “You Wish…I wish you would grow up and direct your engeries to something useful.

  • wsnorth January 16, 2010 (1:16 am)

    Here’s part of the problem:

    Dr. Enfield replied. “Because our system is so big … we are working hard to minimize the differences between schools….”

    The New Assignment plan + recent closures just makes such a mess in West Seattle. The district should ditch the new plan, leave the well performing schools alone, and focus on helping the others improve. Rather than “minimizing differences”, we should embrace and leverage those differences.

    How will moving Spectrum from WSE to Arbor Heights help anything, won’t that just make this situation worse?

  • Julie January 16, 2010 (6:30 pm)

    How about Language Immersion program at WS Elementary? Has that been discussed? It’s time for the district to get serious about equity, especially at this school.

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