Video: District shows newest ideas for school-crowding relief

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Monday night’s Seattle Public Schools “capacity-management” meeting at the Denny International Middle School Library provided a visual metaphor of the problem it was meant to address.

Every chair in the library was filled by the time the meeting began … and people just kept coming, requiring extras to be brought in, until the room was full, wall to wall.

Six elementary schools in West Seattle are perceived to have a “capacity-management” – overcrowding – problem so serious that something must be done before next year. A seventh school in the area – Chief Sealth International High School – is stuffed too, but while the district is only putting it on a “watch list” for now, its teachers are circulating a petition to get portables, which happen to be among the options proposed for the brimming elementary schools.

If you would like to see and hear the meeting for yourself, here’s our unedited hour-and-a-half video:

And/or, read more details ahead:

Early on, the crowd was asked for a show of hands as to who was there with an interest in north West Seattle – the elementaries feeding into Madison Middle School, as the district describes it for purposes of this process — versus who was there on behalf of south West Seattle (the Denny service area). North beat south, about 4 to 1.

Not surprising, since crowding has been worst at two of West Seattle’s northernmost elementaries, Lafayette and Schmitz Park.

Leading most of the meeting, assistant superintendent of operations Pegi McEvoy tried to put a happy face on it. “We are growing as a district, that’s great news.” Growing so much that, despite closing two school buildings in West Seattle over the past four years – Fairmount Park Elementary and the Genesee Hill building that had long housed Pathfinder K-8 – they’re now looking at potentially reopening two in the next two years, as a “bridge” to get to the next building levy and whatever it may propose/fund.

In case you’re following this issue closely already and just want to get to the point: The options currently on the table are the same ones that were presented to a board work session last week and reported in this WSB story, with one change; others that had been circulated in a “worksheet” at that November 21st work session are currently out of the mix – though McEvoy acknowledged that anything could surface/resurface.

The currently-under-consideration options, school by school, were presented as:


Arbor Heights Elementary (needs to add 2 homerooms)-
*Open Boren, move kindergarteners there
*Open Boren, move 5th graders there
*Open Boren, use as an interim site for a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) option school to be opened in fall 2013 at Fairmount Park Elementary, and look into Montessori there
*Add 2 portables

Roxhill Elementary (needs to add 1 homeroom) –
*Same first three options as Arbor Heights
*Add 1 portable

West Seattle Elementary (needs to add 3 homerooms) –
*Same first three options as Arbor Heights
*Add 3 portables


Gatewood Elementary (needs to add 1 homeroom) –
*Open Boren, use as an interim site for a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) option school to be opened in fall 2013 at Fairmount Park Elementary, and look into Montessori there
*Add 1 portable

Lafayette Elementary (needs 2 homerooms) –
*Move 5th graders to Madison
*Open Boren, use as an interim site for a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) option school to be opened in fall 2013 at Fairmount Park Elementary, and look into Montessori there
*Add 2 portables

Schmitz Park Elementary (needs 2 homerooms) –
*Same first two options as Lafayette
*Add 2 portables

The PowerPoint presentation in which you will be able to see these for yourself (aside from in the background on our video clip) is supposed to be online sometime today (update: the district has provided it – see it here).

The meeting format did not allow for public commenting on these or any other options – though some sentiment was made clear the first time the district officials mentioned the prospect of sending fifth graders to a middle school – more than a few in the crowd booed/hissed (and one was heard to say, “That’s just crazy.”). Comments were solicited on cards circulated around the room for attendees to rate the various options (proposals for other schools in the city were briefly outlined too, though all but two people in the room indicated they were there to find out about West Seattle-area proposals). That was a source of frustration to some; one person’s question was whether there could be an additional meeting after the three presentation sessions (this was the first) simply to hear what everyone had to say.

The district’s factors in determining these options were described as including wanting to “minimize attendance boundary changes for next year” (none are proposed for West Seattle right now), wanting to minimize impacts on district-provided transportation, wanting to minimize reliance on portables, and wanting to coordinate with whatever is to be proposed in the BEX 4 levy, among others.

The timetable outlined last night also resembled the one presented to the School Board at its work session last week: The board will have a work session December 7th; a proposal will be introduced at the January 4th board meeting, with a vote expected at the January 18th board meeting.

If this timetable holds, McEvoy said, they’ll be looking at open enrollment “earlier than last year” – February 27th through March 9th (those dates seem to be locked in, as they are already on the district website’s home page).

While those were the dates on the PowerPoint, one additional date was added in discussion during the meeting; the board has a “committee of the whole” meeting on December 14th, at which a close-to-final proposal could be presented, according to interim assistant superintendent for business and finance Robert Boesché. (One other date mentioned, for the “long-term capacity management” timetable – the school board is supposed to approve the plan for the BEX 4 levy in October of next year. Plus, the “FAC-MAC” committee has a “special meeting” this Friday.)

Meantime, there are two more meetings this week elsewhere in the city to go through the same presentation as last night; the next one is 6 pm tonight at Eckstein Middle School in the north end.

REST OF THE STORY, added in installments 7:56 am and 9:24 am:

In addition to about 150 in the audience and a half-dozen or so district officials, those in attendance included several members of the 30-person “FAC-MAC” advisory committee that’s been working on the capacity-management issue, plus West Seattle’s outgoing school-board rep Steve Sundquist, and the person to whom he lost this month’s election, Marty McLaren:

(As noted in our interview with McLaren, published on Sunday, she is to be sworn in tomorrow, after election results are certified today.)

The questions started fairly early during Monday night’s meeting, punctuating the presentation, before the official Q/A session toward the end (during which the district reps got to only a few of what communications staffer Tom Redman said were more than 100 written questions turned in).

Among the first: Wouldn’t it be easier to just change schools’ attendance boundaries now? McEvoy’s reply: The district is trying to “create as much stability as possible in the assignment plan (at least for the next two years); we’ll have those (boundary) conversations soon.” She did leave a bit of wiggle room, saying the district could do “minor” boundary adjustments in unspecified areas where “a couple of underenrolled schools” are next to “significantly overenrolled schools,” if that seemed to be the “best” solution.

While it wasn’t listed as an official factor, cost of course would play into district decisionmaking, it was acknowledged. Portables, for example, cost $135,000 to buy, it was noted, or $25,000 to install and $2,000/month to rent, if they are procured on a temporary basis. Opening school buildings gets much more expensive if they have been closed more than two years – Fairmount Park falls into that category, with a projected reopening cost around $8 million. It couldn’t be done before next year, it was explained, because the district will have to hire an arch/engineer, go to the board for approval, then go through design and permitting, go out to bid, and finally, construction of the required upgrades would happen summer 2012-spring 2013.

Boren, which has not yet hit the two-years-empty mark, would cost about $3 million to reopen. (It’s been a temporary site for some time, most recently housing Chief Sealth during that school’s two-year remodel, which was completed just before the 2010-2011 school year. And at one point, McEvoy said the district will have someone in Boren this fall, one way or another, so that extra-upgrading-needed status would not be triggered.)

Several questions sought clarity on the potential “STEM option” school that would theoretically be housed at Boren for a year and then Fairmount Park. Would that include Spectrum? someone wondered – apparently based on the “worksheet” mention last week (NOT in the currently-under-consideration lineup) of possibly moving that advanced-learning program to its own campus.

No, it does not, McEvoy replied, at which point she clarified that the worksheet from last week had only represented “sort of the brainstorm options out there.” Another STEM question: No academic prequalifications; it would be “open to anyone who would be interested.”

Many of the audience questions carried an undertone of suspicion/skepticism. One such: If kindergarteners were moved to Boren, originally with the expectation they would be moved on to their “real” school the next year, what happens if Boren is then designated a permanent site and they get “stuck” there? It was reiterated that Boren is supposed to be staying in the fold as an “interim site” (but no guarantees).

Wouldn’t it make more sense to just add portables, then, rather than use Boren for only a year? was a followup question. “We’re asking you to tell us,” McEvoy replied. What about a playground at Boren, which has been housing middle- and high-school students in recent years, and was originally a middle school? They’d make space and do whatever modifications were needed, said capital projects/planning director Lucy Morello, who was also front-and-center for much of the meeting,

Is what’s proposed really all the space you need? Reply: They’re still talking to principals, “vetting some of the information,” to make sure they are seeking the right number of added homerooms.

Meantime, in the longer view, Genesee Hill and ex-Denny were the two sites mentioned by Morello for potential elementary-school construction under terms of the future BEX 4 levy. (The site of the now-demolished old Denny school was mentioned as a “future elementary site” going all the way back to the design-team meetings for the project that is now almost complete on what was the Denny campus – we were there for the first public mention three years ago.)

In the “will that really be enough?” questioning vein, one person asked how the district numbers were so far off previously – how did SPS wind up in this situation just a few years after closing schools?

The answer ultimately came from a volunteer member of the FAC-MAC committee, recapping information they had been provided – that the district had been capturing a certain percentage of the potential student population and that rate had stayed “flat” for years, but “when the housing bubble crashed in Seattle, it began rising, and the suburbs’ capture rate dropped” – now, he said, the capture rate is 63 percent, up from a previous 58 percent. Plus, thousands of new housing units have come online in West Seattle in recent years (and the district was not taking that information into consideration when planning, though now, with a consultant’s assistance, it is).

Frustration still emerged, even without a formal “what do you think?” opportunity during the meeting. One participant drew some applause by declaring that she feels “we are looking at Band-Aids” and not a real fix for the ongoing capacity-management problems. McEvoy said, “I would concur,” while going on to say that the district still has to “react” for the coming school year (whether it’s a Band-Aid or not).

So what about middle and high schools? They will get a closer look in February, it was promised, but for now, there is a “watch list” for three high schools — Chief Sealth, Garfield, and Franklin, McEvoy said, because they are “at capacity.” That drew shouts that Sealth is “OVER capacity.” Added one person, “How do you deny that?” (Early in the school year, new principal Chris Kinsey told the Sealth PTSA the student population was almost 50 students over its stated capacity.)

“The reality right now is that not every teacher at Sealth has their own classroom, and that’s not considered ideal,” intoned McEvoy.

Though it wasn’t mentioned during the meeting, Sealth teachers have taken this one into their own hands, and are circulating a petition online and offline, with more than 150 signatures so far. You can see the petition online here. Its text:

We, the staff, parents, students and concerned members of the Chief Sealth International High School community, are asking for portable classrooms to house the additional teaching staff being assigned to our school during this school year. Providing adequate resources, including classroom space, is essential for student learning and is a basic responsibility of the District.

The present proposal, with additional teachers and without additional classrooms, will not provide adequate space for our teachers to plan, teach, and meet with students and parents. The current plan is for some teachers (up to 5) to share classrooms with other teaching staff, moving from classrooms each period, without a room to call their own. These teachers-on-carts create a disruption in the ability of both the displaced and the floating teachers to prepare for their classes.

We informed the District as our remodel was being designed that the remodeled Sealth would have less space due to the removal of the portables. Our enrollment has increased by 400 students since that time and now we have even less space. Our capacity has been set at 1,200 students and we are now at 1,246. Our remodel did not include any planned work spaces.

The District has portables available and we hope these portables can be used now to help our students. Nowhere in the Short-term, Medium-term, or Long-term Capacity Plan options has the staff or the Board suggested or recommended that sharing classrooms is an option for capacity management. The only temporary solution has been portables and that is what we are requesting.

We understand that our building has recently been remodeled and while portables may not be in keeping with the BEX design, we hope that you will support a decision to support our students by providing their teachers with adequate space. We also expect the District to assume full financial responsibility for the installation of the portables.

(Petition supporters will have a table at the Sealth PTSA meeting at 7 pm this Thursday in the school Galleria.)

As noted earlier, district officials reported more than 100 written questions turned in during the meeting, and promised to answer them on the district’s website (keep an eye out here); they also said you are welcome to keep sending questions – They requested input on what you would support, as well as on what you would oppose.

36 Replies to "Video: District shows newest ideas for school-crowding relief"

  • pigeon hill jim November 29, 2011 (7:51 am)

    I went to the capacity meeting at Denny last night as we have a 2nd grader at at the over stuffed Lafayette (our euphemistically referred to “neighborhood school”- we live on Pigeon Hill). It was a frustrating meeting, poorly run, and focused on district wide goals at the expense of time to talk about our issues in West Seattle. They wanted to talk at us. Why were they asking our opinions of Whitman and Eckstein Middle School clusters? Do we want them deciding whether we send our 5th graders to Madison?

    The district has already made up their mind in my opinion and are merely giving false choices to cover their trail of mistakes. They will reopen Fairmont Park in 2013, using Boren as an interim site next year. It will be an option school so they do not have to redraw boundaries and get people all riled up again. All the other choices are impractical and obviously short term. The closing of Fairmont Park and allowing it’s occupation certification to lapse will cost the district millions. Genesee Hill, the former home of Pathfinder is in the same boat but older and probably more expensive to remodel. At one point the outgoing School Board member Steve Sundquist offhandedly reminded the crowd, somewhat imperiously, that the school board can do whatever it wants. Isn’t that what they did two years ago? And they do so at their own peril as Mr Sundquist found out recently in the elections.

  • WS Born & Bred November 29, 2011 (8:21 am)

    I’m interested to know whether the ultimate cost of closing and then reopening the schools we all fought to keep open will actually cost more than if they had just kept them open to begin with. I just want to point out again that arbor heights was supposed to close a few years ago with all those displaced students sent to Roxhill. It stayed open and both schools are overcrowded can you imagine if it were closed? I am convinced that the district is run by morons.

  • West Seattle Parent November 29, 2011 (8:23 am)

    We went there last night and was very disturbed by the talk AT you format. This feeling was further inflated by the fact that we were given cards to fill out for questions but the facilitators continue to allow spot questions for over an hour and left absolutely no time for our written questions. The FACMAC committee needs to spend a little time acknowledging this and answering our questions. We all took the time to come out and at least deserve communication. IT IS MY FEELING THAT WE ARE OWED THE ANSWERS AND THE COMMITTEE NEEDS TO POST A RESPONSE DOCUMENT TO AT LEAST HALF OF THE QUESTIONS ASKED AND POST A LINK TO IT or HAVE ANOTHER MEETING TO ANSWER OUR QUESTIONS. What happened to keeping our kids close to where they live? Why is Genesee not being considered as short, intermediate and long term for congestion relief for Schmitz, Alki, Gatewood and West Seattle Elementary?
    And lastly, do the portable costs include the money needed to upgrade restrooms, cafeterias, gyms, sinks and other multiuse fixtures that we already minimal before our “surge”? Which is actually “oversight”!

  • smarkle November 29, 2011 (8:27 am)

    I agree the meeting was extremely frustrating. Little time was given to allow for real questions that might provoke a productive discussion – all were encouraged to use their note cards and they only answered about 4 of them, not very well either. Opening Fairmount is a $8-9 million solution they stated – creating a STEM, immersion or montessori school at this site does NOTHING to guarantee that a path to more portables is altered. Can they state with any degree of accuracy that parents in Lafayette, Schmitz and Gatewood will elect, in numbers that have impact, to send their kids to this school? People at this meeting were only asked if they would support it, not if they’d send their kids there. Creating this school as an option would further stump their ability to redirect kids out of the overfilled elementary schools in two years. What happens when Faimount is opened under capacity and the others are still maxed out? Will they force kids into the STEM option? What choices would we have at that point? I agree that redrawing boundary lines can have a big impact on people, but it would have a predictable outcome that will address the overcrowding. If that process was flawed two years ago, as they’ve admitted, I find it hard to see why we shouldn’t look at it.

  • WSMama November 29, 2011 (8:35 am)

    I wonder if they will actually get people to choose to send their children to the new STEM school from the correct schools that they want to move kids out of? What if not the ‘right’ parents choose it, meaning kids from Lafayette, Schmitz Park, Gatewood, Arbor Heights, Roxhill and West Seattle? What will they do then?

  • seattle parent November 29, 2011 (8:43 am)

    The meeting was fine, just short, and was meant for the whole of the city. There are only 3 meetings in the whole city, and there were other parents there than West Seattle ones, although you couldn’t tell because of all the Lafayette parents there trying to kick out a quarter of their own school with a quick redraw of boundaries for Fairmount Park. The district is trying to make a plan for ONE year that will do the least harm, since there is only one month until the board votes.
    This is a brand new district trying to listen to everyone, if this had been MGJ’s regime, we would have been TOLD what was happening and the board would have already voted. This timeline is because the new district discovered how bad it was late in the game, and the board postponed it’s vote to get more feedback.

  • ws1 November 29, 2011 (8:59 am)

    I went to several of the closure and NSAP meetings and it was the same type of thing – district meetings are always a complete sham.

    They have made up their minds and don’t want to listen. Maybe our new school board member will actually SUPPORT West Seattle for a change!

  • SPS Parent November 29, 2011 (9:16 am)

    My concern here is that there is so much communication here in this forum, however, are any of these communications going to the School District directly? Are you using the WSBlog to vent or are you taking action and also writing your principal’s, superintendent, board members, etc. Unless you can guarantee that the SPS district is reading this blog and taking your vents seriously, make sure you send it to the correct people.

    • WSB November 29, 2011 (9:28 am)

      And we would always reinforce what SPS Parent says, though we appreciate people getting it in writing here where tens of thousands of people can see it … TOO. Though as we note in the story, there was NO opportunity last night for voicing an opinion or concern publicly – and that is a growing trend in public meetings, like the Metro system-restructure meetings earlier this month – we would observe that it’s a powerful statement even for those 150 or so people to have shown up, period.
      There IS, we should note, for those who aren’t aware, a public-comment section at the start of EVERY board meeting; signups are usually taken on the Monday before the meeting, so the next round would be December 5th, and anyone is welcome to sign up to speak, though they do have a limit, so you need to call/e-mail when that period opens.
      P.S. We have finished the story, for anyone interested in going back to read what’s been added. We also have just received the PowerPoints from the district, it appears, and will add those shortly – TR

  • WSratsinacage November 29, 2011 (9:21 am)

    Good comments. I guess I am not surprised at the boards behaviour. Thanks for trying, parents. This is very frustrating.
    I’ve heard some surprising stories about some of the board members from parents over the years. Hopefully the recent election will have some positive changes in the near future. I am just as frustrated as you with “how we got here” (overcrowding) and the whole Potter/Goodloe-Johnson scandal. Parents contribute a lot of time, energy, and money and it was so disturbing to see contibutions allegedly stolen by Silas Potter.

  • West Seattle Parent November 29, 2011 (9:53 am)

    I have forwarded all comments on to SPS. i also encourage that you post your comments here and send email to, every school board member that you can and the Sup’s office

  • Public School Advocate November 29, 2011 (10:06 am)

    I wasn’t able to attend the meeting last night, yet in some ways glad I did not. I can’t stand the way the district runs these “community meetings”. Important community dialouge is lost with the Q/A cards and highly structed meeting format. It becomes more of a district presentation disguised as a community forum.


    I’m surprised some options weren’t brought up/discussed last night. We as a community may be willing to accept some “short term solutions” if we had a better idea of the “long range plan”.


    A few ideas I’ve heard discussed (I’ve posted these before, yet here they are again):

    1) Give Cooper back to Cooper and move Pathfinder to Boren. The capacity of Pathfinder could be increased in a bigger location. They could accommodate ~75 students per/grade vs. current ~50 students.
    2) Schmitz Park moves to a renovated Genesse Hill building and Schmitz Park site becomes an “option” school
    3) Roxhill moves to a new building on the site of old Denny with an increased capacity.
    4) Move Spectrum to it’s own site which alleviates crowding at Lafayette and provides an option to more families that want Spectrum for their students.
    5) Temporarily “house” 2 existing elementary schools at Boren while their schools are remodeled with increased capacity. Existing school communities will be much more likely accept temp. housing if they know they will be returning to something better.
    6) Add portables to Pathfinder to increase their capacity. If other schools need to have a few portables, why not Pathfinder? There is enough land there to eventually build a middle school “wing”.

    • WSB November 29, 2011 (10:10 am)

      PSA, some of those are on the “worksheet” I mention twice in the story. They obviously had been circulated to at least some of those in attendance as there were a few specific questions – and the exact words McEvoy used was that they didn’t “make it out of committee.” But … as we’ve seen in previous district processes, such as school closures – nothing’s final till its final, and now we will watch to see what emerges next month for vetting prior to the Jan. 4 introduction of something “final”…

  • Yeah-me November 29, 2011 (11:01 am)

    @Public School Advocate – can you explain your reasoning on No. 2? Why relocate a whole school to a new location only to then turn around and open Schmitz Park as an option school? I suggest moving Schmitz to Genesee Hill while rebuilding a newer, larger school in the current Schmitz Park location instead.

  • Another WS Parent November 29, 2011 (11:17 am)

    PSA- I believe that the Schmitz Park school land (building also?) was donated to the Seattle Public Schools with the requirement that it always be kept a neighborhood school.

  • Walnut November 29, 2011 (12:56 pm)

    Love it – teachers petitioning for portables.
    I realize there is a short term crunch but people need to understand that portables are sub standard learning environments and a big drain on resources down line. They are costly to operate (super inefficient) and have a short lifespan. All that being said, most portables installed at schools don’t disappear for decades. Until they literally fall apart.

  • WS Mom November 29, 2011 (1:46 pm)

    I was at the meeting and was really impressed by many of the questions and/or input that came from the community last night. I was also disappointed that there wasn’t more time to answer the card questions that people had written down. There were over 100 questions by the end of the meeting and only 10 minutes to answer them. I really hope the district has one more question/answer session once they make a final decision (as was requested at the end by a parent). I also thought it was very interesting to hear that basically they are forcing through the opening of Boren in some capacity because they do not want to lose the occupancy status of the building. One thing that doesn’t add up in my head is this rush to open Boren vs. using portables for 1 year while Fairmount Park is made ready (building and STEM school). It is going to cost the district $3 million to reopen Boren as an interim site for one or 2 years. By comparison, to rent 10 portables (about what they need just in West Seattle) for one year, by my calculations (according to the slides they had up last night), it would cost the district $600,000. There obviously needs to be a better long-term solution than portables, but spending so much reopening Boren only to close it again in another year or two seems less cost effective. It would be better to hold off on the STEM school for one year while Fairmont is ready (also allowing a more thoughtful planning of this option school), and use portables until both that and a new elementary school are built. Hints were made by the district reps that Boren has to open no matter what next year, but I question whether that is really the best move for the district or students in the long run. We really need a capital levy and new schools built, that is the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening for a few years assuming a levy will pass to support that.

  • Add November 29, 2011 (2:19 pm)

    And what about all the portables lying dormant at Boren and Genesee Hill? I assume those are being billed to the district as “rentals” and just sitting there – why not move them somewhere as a temporary fix?

  • Dean November 29, 2011 (3:00 pm)

    Wow what a costly mess the brains at the SSD got us in to when they started messing with closing neighborhood schools. And no wonder when they have Peggy McEvoy (who was a district nurse who somehow climbed the ladder to first Head of Security and now “Super. of Operations”) spearheading this meeting. She is totally unqualified for this position but she’s been fooling them for years now.

  • West Seattle Parent November 29, 2011 (3:18 pm)

    Anyone interested in petitioning that West Seattle file to be its own School District?

  • GenHillOne November 29, 2011 (4:08 pm)

    Interesting ideas PSA; I especially like “Give Cooper back to Cooper and move Pathfinder to Boren. The capacity of Pathfinder could be increased in a bigger location.” That’s where it should have gone in the FIRST place.

  • Mel November 29, 2011 (4:56 pm)

    Thank you, Tracy, for the thorough and terrific reporting. This must have taken many hours.

  • WS Born & Bred November 29, 2011 (6:00 pm)

    As much as I get all riled up about the school district, I have to admit that I do like the STEM school idea but I have to acknowledge that I don’t currently have any elementary age children to send to that school to alleviate crowding. One upside to the STEM school is that the district could attract additional federal grants or funding if they come up with an innovative and forward thinking proposal. One of the local news stations just did a story on a Seattle U biology professor who received a carnegie grant and national recognition for her innovative approach to teaching science including funding for her to teach teachers new approaches to science in the classroom – could this be an opportunity for a partnership? More funding for a high profile school in our community? If parents from overcrowded schools take this option it has potential. All that said, there’s no certain outcome and no excuse for the poor planning and leadership of our district.

  • Mary November 29, 2011 (6:46 pm)

    @seattle parent–the Lafayette parents were not there to throw out a quarter of their students. The vast majority of the parents there were in support of keeping Spectrum at Lafayette. The reason some people were clarifying options that are no longer on the short list was to be sure that Spectrum WILL stay at Lafayette.

  • John H November 29, 2011 (7:39 pm)

    It really pains me that the school district is in this predicament – I remember thinking a few years back when they were closing some of the schools that it seemed odd since there is all this high density housing being put in that most likely will have new parents with small kids. Where will they go to school? If someone like me could recognize this why couldn’t the school system? It was pretty obvious that a wave of kids was coming.

    I noticed that Alki (where my kids go) was not mentioned. I assume that’s because it’s not considered to be over-crowded. Well I have to say that 29 kids in a classroom seems to be overcrowded to me. Hopefully the new school board can do a better job of straightening this whole thing out.
    Next year’s state budget cuts are not going to help this at all . . .

  • Neighborly November 29, 2011 (8:53 pm)

    If one reason for re- opening Boren is to maintain its occupancy status, then they should just open it as a summer school site, as they did, for this reason, with Fairmount Park within two years of its closure. Unfortunately, two years has now gone by, with no money for summer school, and it has lost its occupancy status after all. I wonder how the total cost of summer school would compare to the cost needed to make the legal upgrades (dare I mention the benefits to, um, students?)

  • west seattle steve November 29, 2011 (9:52 pm)

    I have been following this issue for a while now and have a couple comments.

    1. There is great pressure to keep the Certificate of Occupancy for Boron. If they loose it the cost to bring the building to current code would likely be over $10 Million. That makes spending $3 Million for 2 years use seem reasonable to the number crunchers at the district. I doubt Fairmont Park could be ready to before the 2014-15 school year

    2. The district spent a great deal of money renovating Cooper Elementary as a K-8 before Pathfinder moved in. I’ve asked how much several times, but never got an answer. It’s my understanding there is a middle school wing there now. As a former Cooper Elementary parent, I have to say it doesn’t seem reasonable to spend millions more and disrupt Pathfinder once again. They started at Boron and it took 15 years for them to get their promised school site.

  • Rosanne November 30, 2011 (9:03 am)

    What’s the legal limit for children in a classroom? I thought for Washington state it was 40? Not only do we have a nightmare commute trying to get out of west Seattle but our public schools are stuffed full of kids?! Just one more reason to move out of west Seattle.

  • Melissa Westbrook November 30, 2011 (9:31 am)

    Hi from the Save Seattle Schools community blog and thanks to Tracy for the great reporting.

    A few thoughts:
    – this IS a good problem to have except if you weren’t expecting it(as the district wasn’t). They just had a great report from a consultant who explained how we got here and sure enough – there were many red flags that the district didn’t believe and/or ignored. It didn’t have to be this bad. My purpose in saying that is for parents to continue to pressure the Board to LISTEN to them. Feet on the ground at our schools have the best input to give.

    – Yes, there is a time limit to reopen a school before City codes kick in and raise the price. They know they need space and hence, opening Boren.

    – This issue of Spectrum programs points out one of the flaws in the new student assignment plan – namely, programs with set-aside seats. This issue of Spectrum seats is an issue in the north-end as well. Why no one could see this as a problem, I can’t say. I doubt the district would give them their own school a la APP.

    – Just to let you know, they changed the format (somewhat) and the Eckstein meeting had about 35 minutes for Q&A.

    – “One upside to the STEM school is that the district could attract additional federal grants or funding if they come up with an innovative and forward thinking proposal.” While I think a STEM school is a swell idea, there is no money to support it. It would be great if the district partnered with local entities and got grants. So far little of that has materialized at Cleveland who does have a STEM school. I’m not sure I believe the district has the time and resources to give this the best send-off. Montessori would likely be an easier choice if that is what parents thought would work for them. Or, the science/tech model they are using at the new Queen Anne Elementary which has a lot of parent support.

    – the BEX IV levy is in Feb. 2013. We have done all we are going to do at the high school level and now its middle and elementary. Usually the decision is made around age/condition but now, of course, capacity management will be huge. At a BEX Oversight Committee meeting, they noted that the last BEX was $490 which would be about 560 in today’s construction dollars. They said they could go as high as $800M which is a figure that takes my breath away (to ask for from voters) but really could do a lot of good.

    However, keep in mind that while the district generally tries to keep things geographically equal in terms of renovations, this BEX might be different. It may skew to your area and to the north where the need may be greatest. Also, it was mentioned that this BEX may have many more “additions” to buildings rather than renovations so your school might not get a renovation but an addition (as we did recently at Ingraham).

    The new Board members are taking the oath of office today so tomorrow is a good day to start writing the “new” Board. Their address is

    • WSB November 30, 2011 (10:08 am)

      Thanks, Melissa, whose site is a must-visit for us daily (sometimes more often if a hot issue is afoot) – she, her fellow contributors/site managers, and their community of commenters have insight, info, and informed opinions … since she didn’t mention the URL: – TR

  • pjmanley November 30, 2011 (10:04 am)

    I would really like to see a Montessori program at Fairmont Park. The model is terrific, especially for young kids, and having had both my kids at W.S. Montessori for a couple years (Pre-K & K), the experience and learning was remarkable for them. The habits and the mixed age classrooms involved in the Montessori model creates a comfortable, nurturing environment in which kids simply thrive, with the help and mentoring of the older kids. For young kids, I have not seen or experienced a better program. I would look into it considerably before jumping on the STEM bandwagon. The truth is, that when we account for poverty, American kids test among the world’s highest in Math and Science. It’s the poverty thing and behind grade-level kids that bring down the average scores. I would opt for Montessori in a heartbeat over a STEM focused elementary. All the public Montessori elementary schools are thriving in SPS, many with waitlists. Think hard about this one, West Seattleites.

  • rudy November 30, 2011 (8:59 pm)

    OK – so I have twins entering kindergarten next fall (2012). Another option school is very appealing to me, I would highly consider such a thing. However, I’m pretty cautious and spend time on the due diligence of all possible scenarios (I’ve already been volunteering in our neighborhood school this fall). If the board is planning to vote on this at their January 18th meeting and then open enrollment begins on February 27th, what kind of information are we going to have during that 6 week period to help us make an informed decision about any new option school? SPS asking parents to take a leap of faith like that makes me feel a little nervous. I guess reopening any school leaves questions about principal and staff, but alternative teaching models too adds more to the picture. Can SPS competently have a new program like that in place for the fall of 2012? It all sounds very vague to me and would require a great deal of clear vision and planning to put a STEM school together. We’re not even enrolled yet and I’m already skeptical and doubtful that such leadership exists within the district.

    I read all the posts above where people didn’t like being “spoken at” or the general tone of this latest meeting. I wasn’t able to attend this one but what strikes me at many of these meetings is that SPS has administrators in place that feel like managers and not leaders. Being in their shoes can’t be fun at times – it is obvious that they stick to canned responses a lot so that they don’t risk saying something they’ll have their feet held to the fire for later. (Which no doubt they would given how badly many of us want to see some things change). However, at some point a good leader should be able to start talking in terms that make sense for kids and families, bring people willingly to the table, listen, and then make decisions that are coherent, well thought out and inspiringly spoken. You can’t please all of the people all of the time – but it doesn’t sound like they are pleasing any of the people any of the time.

    This might be a little of a sidetrack, but a little something I’m wondering. Since the district level leadership seems a little lackluster, how are building level leaders in general – I’m guessing this is case by case: some good some not so good. What is the district climate like between central office administrators and building administrators/principals? I guess I can get over more central office shenanigans when there is strong leadership at the building level that will have more of a daily effect on my kids.

    And so begins my family’s journey, wish us luck!

  • pjmanley December 1, 2011 (8:19 pm)

    Rudy: Polls have been taken on this, and if my memory serves me correctly, over 70% of SPS parents are very or extremely satisfied with their schools, but give a rating to Central Administration that rivals congress’s. Does that say enough?

    Central administration wines and dines over the next magic bullet to close the achievement gap (Charter Schools? Computerized learning? A horrible expensive math curriculum? Merit pay? Teacher “accountability” schemes? A new marketing slogan, like AGREE? (Don’t even ask!) Many Monty Python sketches come to mind.)

    The new board has enough balance that we might actually see better community-vetted decisions than before. This superintendent listens far better than her predecessor, for sure.

    Lastly, don’t freak over kindergarten. (Even though you’ll be tempted to!) It’s the observation year for where your kid belongs the year after. Many kids in K have had no pre-K at all, so remember the teacher has to get them up to speed skill-wise so he or she can adequately assess them later. My kids knew how to read and write already, so at first I thought they were going backwards! Panic! Mistake? Wrong!! By midyear, the teacher had them at their proper work pace and level, all has been fine since.

    For all the talk and bad press, the truth is that we’ve got mostly great public schools all over Seattle, with a few that are mismanaged or have bad principals, and those are usually in schools where parents just aren’t as involved, regardless of why.

  • Anne December 1, 2011 (11:12 pm)

    My husband and I have lived in West Seattle for the past 12 years and voted for every school levy, donated to PTA funds, and paid property taxes. We are products of public school and planned to send our children to public school too.

    But, now that we have a 4 year old who will be in Kindergarten next year this is becoming more personal. Watching the SPS close buildings while we (and everyone around us) had small children seemed like idiocy in the extreme. And, the Goodlow-Johnson multi-million dollar mess was shocking. The re-districting last year meant that our son will be going to a different public elementary school than every other kid on his block (who are a couple years older). Now, his school is overcrowed and SPS is talking about stop-gap measures like portables.

    As much as I would like to send my son to a public school and support it financially and with my time and effort, I don’t trust the SPS to properly support our public school, the parents or the kids. We are touring private schools and are willing to pay the $20k per year for kindergaren.

  • pjmanley December 2, 2011 (4:50 pm)

    I don’t blame you Anne. The district is adept at reputation-tarnishing incompetence. But Central Admin doesn’t teach kids. (Probably why they “administrate” instead.) But it’s a mistake to judge your local public schools based on the stupidity and incompetence of the Central Administration. There are many great public schools, despite Central Admin, thanks to great parents and teachers. If you really want to know how they are, observe and talk to the families who attend them.

    We toured a bunch of private and public schools, and chose Lafayette for the Spectrum program, which was great. Great school, great principal, great PTA, great family involvement, etc. (All before it became horrendously overcrowded due inept Central Admin planning.)

    But I understand anyone who has the choice saying, “um…I’ll pass.” Especially right now with overcrowded schools and all the chaos. You can avoid a lot of headache on the private route, for sure, and you’ll know today where your kids will be going tomorrow. Imagine that SPS!

    Are ya listenin’ SPS?

  • ws1 December 6, 2011 (11:22 pm)

    If the city wants to do something to help the schools, lighten up on the occupancy process. What’s so hard about that? We just voted to DOUBLE the city family levy, how about a little regulatory relief? Kids don’t really care if the school is a bit run down, especially at elementary level.

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