That’s only about 2/3 of the overflow crowd that filled the Schmitz Park Elementary cafetorium – and the hallway outside, and even the stage and its stairs – for tonight’s first meeting about K-5 STEM at Boren, the new “option” elementary that Seattle Public Schools plans to open in West Seattle this fall. The district officials who led the meeting, executive director of West Seattle schools Aurora Lora and head of planning and enrollment Dr. Tracy Libros, repeatedly expressed surprise at the turnout. Many questions were asked, many suggestions offered, and additional details emerged. We are heading to HQ, where we will write the full story and also upload video of the entire hour-and-a-half meeting. Lora promised that there will be another meeting soon, “someplace bigger.”
ADDED 11:31 PM: Here’s our video of the entire hour and a half meeting, which began with a short PowerPoint, followed by Q/A:
ADDED 2:57 AM: Now, the key points:
First, one more mention of the crowd. Every seat was full, and more chairs were brought in. People stood against the walls, sat on the stairs to the cafetorium stage, even sat on the floor. From the reactions of Lora and Libros, you might have thought they expected to see about 50; instead, our rough estimate would surpass 300.
We saw kids, we saw teachers, we saw administrators – the only district official who spoke besides Lora and Libros was math/science manager Dan Gallagher (it was explained that while Dr. Catherine Thompson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, had been spearheading the project, she couldn’t attend because she was at the School Board meeting, which is why, we surmise, West Seattle’s school-board rep Marty McLaren wasn’t there either). Amd of course, there were parents. The format began with a PowerPoint presentation that, as Lora cautioned, was short on facts because much remains to be worked out and also included a Q/A period, a chance for people to make suggestions and voice concerns, a six-minute video about a STEM elementary school in Minnesota, and even a spotlight for two teenagers (one a former Madison Middle School student) who attend Aviation High School in the neighboring Highline Public Schools district.
Information about the new school before the meeting had been sparse – this bare-bones news release, and yesterday’s announcement that an Arizona educator, Dr. Shannon McKinney, had been appointed as principal. (We subsequently interviewed Dr. McKinney by phone; here’s our followup story.) But more did emerge:
*Admission, as previously announced, is by application. If the number of applicants exceeds what they think they an accommodate, there will be a “lottery” to decide who gets in. In subsequent years, tiebreakers also will be siblings and geography, Libros said.
*Meet-and-greet with principal Dr. McKinney is set for March 13 – she officially starts in early April, but will be arriving in the area in mid-March to get settled.
*A “design team,” with parents, teachers, community members, and “business partners,” will be created to shape what the program will be like. Applications will be due by March 2nd; the team will be chosen a week later, and will meet regularly throughout the spring. (We aren’t seeing a link for applications yet but will follow up with the district Thursday.)
*Questions/answers will be posted on the soon-to-debut website for the school.
*There will soon be an online survey for West Seattle residents, to ask what they want to see in the new school.
*An open house to meet teachers and get an update on the program will be scheduled in the spring.
*Boren is still envisioned as a temporary location, though – this was in response to a question – the possibility it could be a permanent location is not necessarily entirely out of the question. “The number of years it’ll stay at Boren will be determined by which (permanent location) school option we go with, and how long that will take,” Lora said. That is in turn tied to the process of deciding what will be in the BEX IV levy package that will go to voters next year.
*The district is hoping to create a STEM pathway between the new elementary, Madison Middle School, and West Seattle High School. Asked why feed into Madison and WSHS, district officials said mostly to balance out enrollment, since Denny/Sealth are both already full, and apparently then some.
From the Q/A:
*How many classes/students do they expect? Looking around the room, Libros quipped, “I think more than we were projecting … We’re going to accommodate as many children as we can.” She said they would not be averse to combining grades if necessary. Lora added that teacher hiring will be done to match early projections but
*Will this school use rigorous Singapore Math (which would be a departure from the district-wide curriculum)? The Design Team will make the decision, said Lora, and if they want it, “we will support that.” She said that decision would have to be made early on, to facilitate teacher training.
*How will teachers be hired? A hiring team with the principal and design-team members will be created, said Lora, and would initially draw from in-district candidates.
*What about class size? “Comparable to what they are throughout the district,” said Libros. That means 26 max for Kindergarten through 3rd, 28 max for 4th and 5th.
*Will there be advanced-learning opportunities (such as the Spectrum program) at the new school? Not determined yet.
*What will the schedule be? Not determined yet, either.
*What’s being done to prepare the Boren building, in its second year of vacancy, ready to reopen? Libros and Lora said the facilities team is working on that right now.
*Is this school’s existence meant to pre-empt improvement of STEM education at all schools? No, promised Gallagher.
Several attendees voiced concern about whether K-5 STEM at Boren could be a diverse school. First, there were the aforementioned Aviation HS students, one of whom assessed the gender ratio at her school as 70 percent male, 20 percent female. (Later in the meeting, a show of hands was requested for who might send girls to the school, and who might send boys; the ratio in the show of hands appeared more like 60-40.) Then, looking around the room at meeting attendees, one woman described the scene as looking “like a Dave Matthews concert.” Also, former School Board candidate Joy Anderson suggested that West Seattle’s sizable Somali-immigrant population might be interested in the school and not getting the word about it, so she advised the district reps to schedule an informational meeting at West Seattle Elementary School in High Point and to be sure to have translators (they responded by calling it a “great idea”). When another attendee asked how a diverse student body would be ensured, Libros said the only real way would be to ensure there’s a diverse applicant pool.
Before the meeting’s closing round of suggestions/comments ended, an attendee announced to the crowd that she wanted to be sure they knew about the DESC homeless-housing project planned about a block away from the south side of the Boren campus, and invited them to attend the February 21st public-comment meeting about it (information here). She brought a stack of informational flyers, but drew a chorus of voices asking “website?” – she mentioned the ongoing coverage on the North Delridge Neighborhood Council website and here on WSB.
What’s next for the school plan? District officials promised lots of info online – including questions/answers from tonight, particularly those they didn’t get to answer in person. We’ll also look for word on another meeting. Open enrollment is less than two weeks away, starting February 27; Dr Libros said those who apply for this during open enrollment will find out on April 16th if they got in.