West Seattle schools followup – plus, another international school

Following up on last night’s board meeting, with introduction of next year’s transition plan for the ongoing New Student Assignment Plan, Seattle Public Schools offered news media a chance to talk today with one of the district’s top managers, Dr. Tracy Libros. We participated by phone and asked, for starters, a followup question (here) posed in WSB comments on our school-board-preview story from last night (here).

Answer, according to Dr. Libros: No further West Seattle attendance-boundary changes are proposed at this point for next year. But tomorrow is the deadline for school board members to propose amendments – so if there’s anything coming in at the 11th hour, we’ll know by the start of next week; they would be considered when the plan comes up for a final vote on January 19th.

Among the other points of interest was a little more discussion of the fact that one West Seattle elementary school will be designated as an “international” school, to complete the “pathway” that currently goes from Concord International Elementary (in South Park but considered part of the West Seattle service area) to Denny International Middle School to Chief Sealth International High School. Which West Seattle elementary will it be? Dr. Libros says it hasn’t been designated yet. After the jump: What about the crowding at West Seattle’s northern elementaries?

Regarding the crowded campuses at schools including West Seattle’s northern elementary schools (Lafayette, Schmitz Park, Alki), Dr. Libros said, “We know we have made decisions that have led to capacity issues.” Chief among them, she says, was the grandfathering of current students at schools outside their “attendance area” plus the attempt to accommodate as many of their entering siblings as possible: “We undertook basically whatever steps we could to accommodate non-attendance-area kindergarteners.” Next school year, she indicated, fewer siblings will be able to go to their older siblings’ school if that school is not the one they’d automatically be assigned to.

For the new school year, those new-kindergartener siblings can still apply to their older sibling’s school if it’s outside their “attendance area” – the first tiebreaker would be siblinghood. But they’re not expecting to have as much success next school year clearing the waiting list the way she said they did this year – starting with 150, and getting it to 14.

For the bigger picture – how to deal long-term with bursting-at-the-seams schools like the ones in northern West Seattle – a “capacity review” is under way, as school-board rep Steve Sundquist had mentioned to us. After today’s Q/A session, we asked Dr. Libros via e-mail if there’s been talk of reopening either of West Seattle’s remaining mothballed elementary schools (Genesee Hill and Fairmount Park). Her reply: “There is nothing predetermined about what the capacity review will or will not address. The point of implementing a formal capacity management process is to compile the relevant data and then use the data to guide the discussions.”

(For a citywide perspective on today’s media Q/A, here’s what Melissa Westbrook wrote at saveseattleschools.blogspot.com, which focuses year-round, 100 percent, on district issues. She was at district HQ to participate in the Q/A.)

16 Replies to "West Seattle schools followup - plus, another international school"

  • Rod Clark January 7, 2011 (12:23 am)

    Besides Fairmount Park and Genessee Hill, there’s also Boren. Superintendent Manhas originally wanted to move Pathfinder to Boren, but instead the district later closed Cooper and moved Pathfinder there.
    It isn’t only the overall increased enrollment that’s causing the overcrowding in West Seattle. In 2005 the old Genesee Hill Pathfinder had 387 students. In 2009 in its new building it had 462, so it appears that Pathfinder absorbed few Cooper students and that almost all of them are still crowded into other nearby schools.
    “In September 1987, students from High Point moved to Boren for one year while their new school was being constructed. About 300 elementary students shared the building with the Indian Heritage School, which occupied the north wing. In October 1988, the school board approved a request by the United Indians of All Tribes to use part of Boren for a private, all-Indian kindergarten.
    “Cooper was the next school in need of temporary quarters and they moved into Boren in September 1989. At this time, the Indian Heritage School was moved to a leased building at 315 22nd Avenue S and subsequently to Wilson. For one school year (1993–94), Alternative Education IV made its home at Boren and then moved to Genesee Hill. The Cooper children moved to their new building in fall 1999.”
    Boren is larger than needed for a permanent elementary, but still, something good likely could be done with Boren temporarily. Maybe it should be added to the list of possibilities to be considered for the next few years.

  • Eric B January 7, 2011 (7:24 am)

    As someone who looked at the Boren location when it was proposed for Pathfinder K8 some years ago, I think it would be an poor choice for an elementary. There is no playground, the bathrooms would have to be redone (the urinals are higher than some small children’s heads!) it has a capacity of 1,100 and very high utility and maintenance costs.

  • me on 28th Ave SW January 7, 2011 (7:28 am)

    My money is on Roxhill for the International school designation. I also predict that a new Roxhill will be built where Denny now sits within 10 years.

  • tired SPS parent January 7, 2011 (8:26 am)

    Steve Sundquist continues to do West Seattle no favors and now he is busy being Board President. Who is going to run against him and get us real representation in this part of town?

    Our capacity issues could have been addressed last year. He refused, instead letting staff steamroll forward. This year he is no offering ANY redraw of the attendance zones even though he has been deluged by requests. The man is not serving our interests. The District, as usual, is going to do nothing but more studies.


  • Rod Clark January 7, 2011 (8:46 am)

    Eric, it might not be as hopeless as all that. Boren consists of a main building and a string of three other smaller classroom buildings north of it, connected to it by outdoor breezeways. Keeping the three outer buildings closed would keep the costs down a lot.
    Actively maintaining and keeping the heat turned up in the main building, which is much more elementary-sized, moving half of the urinals down on the walls in its bathrooms, and adding a play structure to the athletic field, in the area between the main building and the baseball field, would address much of this.
    Then there are the heating costs for all those uninsulated portables to consider, that are now being used at other schools. It would be good to see all of the portables taken out of service, and maybe every school in the area could have a spare room again.
    You’re right that without making some adaptations to the needs of an elementary school, Boren doesn’t stack up as well. But it would be good to come up with an actual cost number for making it more suitable – adding a play structure, moving some of the urinals, and operating only the main building – before rejecting Boren as an acceptable alternative for such an adaptation.
    That number might turn out to be enough higher than for Fairmount Park to make FP a clear choice, but I’d like to actually see both of those numbers first.

  • argiles January 7, 2011 (9:57 am)

    my child sits in a portable everyday at his school. Every time I have visited it, it feels damp and cold, not to mention there is no easy way to get to it without walking all around the school. I come from an area out of state(where we actually have to pay to put kids in school $100 a year and about $100 worth of school supplies for grades 1-12, except when you take drivers ed it is then about $300) and had never seen a portable being used at schools before. I understand that parents would like their children to attend the same school for convenience sake, but I also would like for my child to be able to be in a classroom inside of the school that he attends.

  • Old Maps? January 7, 2011 (11:30 am)

    Anyone know where to find the old maps? I’d like to juxtapose the new and old one, but can no longer find the old ones. Thanks

  • Another over-crowded school parent January 7, 2011 (12:40 pm)

    I am with Argiles — my child sits in a portable that is damp and cold (even my daughter says the classroom is small). I thought “yeah” when we got into Schmitz Park several years ago — not it is so extremely overcrowded. We used to get the whole school and family in the lunchroom for holiday music — now it exceeds fire code. Teachers have been moved around from grade to grade and we don’t get as much music and gym time as before.
    Shame on the school district! You are destroying the very thing that makes Schmitz Park (and other overcrowded schools) special!

  • teachermom January 7, 2011 (2:26 pm)

    do an environmental study.

  • manolita January 7, 2011 (3:37 pm)

    We love Alki Elementary, but my daughter sits at a portable as well. She is a happy kid but the setting seems depressive to me. I grew up in a “developing” aka third world country and I haf a “real classrrom”.
    Yes, I’d say shame on the school district.

  • Schmitz Park Parent January 7, 2011 (6:43 pm)

    My kids loved the portables, we used to only have one teacher out there and the kids all hoped to get that class because it was the cool class room. The teachers are excellent at Schmitz Park the students will still have the same learning experience even if they are in a portable. Now with that said they don’t like the over crowed lunch room, play ground and the lack of family gatherings in the lunch room for holiday music etc. But the portables don’t change the teaching that is going on they just take away some of the play ground area.

  • Cheryl January 9, 2011 (10:05 pm)

    As the parent of a child in a dual immersion language preschool I am interested to hear that WS is finally going to designate an international K-5 program IN west Seattle. I don’t understand why the hell SPS didn’t start with elementary & add the upper grades as kids aged out of 5th into 6th, and beyond… And I’m really curious as to how strong this first K class will be, regardless of which campus it goes to, especially since it is MY daughters 1st year for elementary in 2011.

    If we decide to put her in SPS at all, which is highly doubtful at this point, we’ll still apply to Concord & hope for enrollment there rather than WS. I just can’t imagine Roxhill or any of the other WS elementaries being truly ready to provide an excellent or progressive immersion experience right out of the gate when they can barely manage to educate the kids they’re instructing in English.

    What a disappointment Seattle is with regard to our public schools. I weep for my daughters generation. Portable classrooms, no playgrounds, overcrowding, placing importance on testing rather than actual education, it’s all just so depressing.

  • J January 9, 2011 (11:47 pm)

    As someone who taught in Boren for the past two years I think it would be a horrible idea to open back up for an elementary school. As someone mentioned there is no playground equipment and only two swampy fields.
    Rod mentions “saving” on the heat by not using the southern or eastern portables. Those were some of the only rooms with consistent heat in the winters.
    The location of the main office is also as far from a classroom as possible and makes it difficult for the school to feel connected.
    It is also very close to Sanislo (4 blocks), West Seattle (.5 mile), and Pathfinder (.5 mile) so I’m not sure what the draw area would be.

  • Rod Clark January 10, 2011 (9:06 am)

    J, first of all, I believe everything you say.
    Every one of the spare buildings in West Seattle has serious drawbacks. The Fairmount Park building is too small and in poor condition. Genessee Hill is in bad condition. Boren is not particularly suitable, as is. The old Denny buildings, which will become available next year, completely lack space for a playground.
    But Boren has been universally rejected by everyone, when all of the objections that I’ve heard so far sound fixable. Figure out how much work it would take to fix the heating pipes, or whatever the problem actually is with the heat. The district hasn’t budgeted for the work needed, and it might be substantial but it’s not rocket science. What would be needed to make the heat work right, and what would that cost?
    Digging an effective drainage field is not an impossible wish. It involves some gravel and some pipes, and maybe a lot of fill dirt. Someone mentioned doing an environmental review, and it would need permits. But this kind of thing is done all the time in the construction world.
    A playground probably should have a K-1 play structure, a 2-5 play structure, and a paved area with some 4-square courts and tetherball poles and basketball hoops. Paving is easy and cheap, and there’s room for it. Paving a play area isn’t much of an obstacle.
    Make a list of every show-stopping flaw that prevents the building from consideration, and then work up some practical plans and actual costs to fix them. If it costs too much, prioritize the work over a period of more than one year.
    Some things, people would just have to live with. For example, the office not being situated to make everyone feel connected is a consideration, but it’s not show-stopping. It’s an “in a perfect world, that would be fixed” problem. But I’m only asking that SPS consider addressing all of the serious “in a good world, this would be fixed” problems, and balance them with the cost to do so.
    Every one of these complaints has a practical cost to solve it. If it costs impossibly much, then we’re just stuck with too many kids and not enough schools in West Seattle. But I want to see those numbers, in comparison to other expenditures that the district plans to make elsewhere.

    • WSB January 10, 2011 (9:09 am)

      The old Denny buildings will not become available next year – they’re being torn down for sports fields. (We covered the planning process in 2008-09.) – TR

  • Melissa Westbrook January 10, 2011 (10:00 pm)

    Just to note; rebuilt sports fields. There were new ones put in under BTA II but the district then decided that Denny and Sealth were to be a joint campus and tore them out. Now they are replacing them.

    Your tax dollars at work.

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