West Seattle’s new school: K-5 STEM at Boren design team debuts

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The decisions made during the first meeting of the newly announced Design Team for West Seattle’s new public school, K-5 STEM at Boren, were primarily logistical.

Wednesday night’s meeting at Seattle Public Schools‘ headquarters in SODO was mostly a getting-to-know-you and stage-setting event – the opening act of five-and-a-half intensive months of work to give birth to a new school.

“You are doing very important work,” declared Dr. Cathy Thompson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning (and a West Seattleite), to the 14 (of 16) design-team members who assembled for the history-making session.

She also pronounced the new school “a viable entity … good to go,” saying 141 applications already had been counted as of Tuesday, and that more were expected as the district continued to process what it received during open enrollment, which ended Monday afternoon. They expect to “max out” at three kindergarten classes and two each for 1st through 5th grades.

Also there from district leadership: Executive director of West Seattle schools Aurora Lora, math and science program manager Dan Gallagher, “on special assignment” project manager Kim Van Atta (whose “real job” involves a variety of training roles, Thompson explained), and Kyle Minaglia, there in a support role that included taking minutes that are supposed to be online by Friday.

Not there, though she was in town just last night for a meet-and-greet with prospective K-5 STEM at Boren families:

Principal Dr. Shannon McKinney (photo center with Lora at left and West Seattle school-board rep Marty McLaren at right). Thompson said McKinney had been home-hunting and will be moving here in early April, to start April 9th.

The meeting began with an around-the-table series of introductions, and some sharing of personal backgrounds:

*Lora mentioned her experience starting a similar (albeit all-girls) school in Portland.

Naheed Nizam, who is PTSA Seattle Council rep in the West Seattle area as well as a parent of two students, said she wants to be sure all students are included.

*Mary Kunce has three students in West Seattle schools and is an English Language Learners teacher at newly reopened Rainier View Elementary. “I’m coming to this process throgh the lens of a school that has reopened this year,” she explained, noting that Rainier View reopened after having been closed since 2007.

*Melissa Edwards has a second grader who is enrolling in the new school, and works at Museum of Flight, as well as having worked previously as an elementary-student teacher. “STEM is a huge, huge issue in terms of our country and its economic success,” she observed, adding, “My son wants to be a rockstar scientist.”

*Mark Johnson is a West Seattleite and architect who has two not-school-age-yet children. “Sustainability has to be the root of everything,” he said.

*Manya Ralkowski is the parent of two elementary-age students and is a special-education specialist from the University of Washington.

*Robin Graham is parent of three including a kindergartener who “wants to know what the mascot is,” she smiled, drawing laughs.

*Faith Iverson talked about her teaching experience in science before going to work for a software-development company.

*Elizabeth Shields, house administrator at Madison Middle School, says, “STEM is a journey, not a destination.” It helps close the achievement gap, she said, and reiterated that students don’t have to be interested in making a career out of it – they can still get a good quality education.

*Mary-Elizabeth Ezenwaka has one elementary-age child, two not-school-age children, and works in special education at Roxhill. She said she wants to be sure that the curriculum is “holistic.”

*Anthony Davis mentioned he is a software engineer by trade and a “serial entrepreneur” who also is on two education-focused boards (including Equal Opportunity Schools).

*Dan Gallagher, the district’s math/science program manager, mentioned his biology/physics background and a decision to go into high-school teaching.

*Eric Caldwell, the district’s director of library services and a parent of three, as well as a former elementary teacher (at schools including Concord International School in South Park). He said he’s interested in what folks want to see in the library and technology sides.

Several people came to observe the meeting. All but one identified themselves as parents whose children will, or will likely, attend the new school. (One dad said he’s hoping his child will enter K-5 STEM at Boren as a kindergartener “who’s already stated he wants to be an archaeologist … or a firefighter,” which drew laughs.)

As explained by Van Atta and Thompson, some of the design team parameters and tasks:

-May have to go to simple majority if consensus is not achieved
-There’s also a Steering Committee (“all the district entities that touch the school”), which is meeting weekly
-They’ll have to keep in mind the collective-bargaining agreements for the “8 or 9 different unions” (said Thompson) in the district
-Deciding key program features – what do STEM schools look like, and what do we want ours to look like?
-What do you want to build? “The sky’s the limit,” declared Thompson, within reason.
-What instructional approaches support the goals the group sets? (Thompson noted that she mentioned “project-based learning” at last night’s principal meet-and-greet, as one “possible” approach.
-What instructional materials? “They are just one piece of what happens in a classroom,” warned Thompson. “The question of whether or not we should go with Singapore Math is one of the things that comes up. No one is opposed to it at this point …” The materials will have to speak to the standards that will be phased in by 2014.
*They’ll talk about the community partners who have expressed interest – Boeing et al. And Thompson said they don’t just mean those that have come forward; they might actively recruit some.
*There’s a budget for $115,000 for the library, they revealed. Another budget, for the entire school, is apparently out there online somewhere, but described as just a “placeholder” till the number of students is known.

QUESTIONS THAT WILL HAVE TO BE ANSWERED … What was suggested here (a few were answered, but most will have to be answered along the way) included:

*What deadlines?

*What is the school looking for in staff? What kind of hiring committee? (It was reiterated that the positions will be posted early. And they’re looking to hire early, too, said Thompson.)

*How will logistics work at the school – where is the lunch room, where do I park?

*”What do we need from a teacher perspective in temr of instructional resources?”

*How are we going to address the needs of our special-needs population? asked one member. Thompson said “special needs” must include advanced-learning students.

*Should there be some small-team sessions in the community?

“What about diversity of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and how will a diverse population of applicants be encouraged/recruited?

*How soon can we start a PTA? asked one team member. (Since assignments are available April 16th – how about April 17th? suggested Thompson.)

*What will the schedule be? Too soon to say, but it will be tied to the transportation plan, said Thompson. But she mentioned the district’s new provision for “Creative Approach Schools,” describing them as “schools that want to do something drastically different” and said, for this, “It’s something we can think about down the road” if the team wants to.

*What are the good and great models out there, in terms of K-5 STEM? asked Lora – and how will they be investigated (in-person visits, Skype calls, conference calls, or … ?). She noted there’s no budget for out-of-state field trips, but maybe if somebody on the design team is traveling and going to be in the vicinity of a STEM school somewhere, they could bring back a report. (Van Atta mentioned something that had come up at the second community informational meeting – visiting the only current STEM elementary in Western Washington, a K-8 in Bremerton. Another team member – the one who works at the Museum of Flight – suggested visiting Aviation High School, “to see what the end result will be.” And that led to a call for a visit to Cleveland High School, now set up as a STEM high school right in the Seattle district.)

*How about grant opportunities?

*How long will the design team be together? “My goal is that the kids have a warm welcome the first day of school with an established curriculum and technology in place,” said Thompson. “After that, what other decisions are (left to be) made will likely move to the building leadership team.” In short – the Design Team works roughly till the first week of September. “We’re down to five and a half months to get this going,” she added.

MEETING SCHEDULE: Various options were discussed – weeknights? weekends? daytime? nighttime? Downtown? West Seattle? Ultimately, they agreed to keep meeting at district HQ since it seemed like a good compromise – some come from points north, some from West Seattle. Consensus time: 6:15-8:15 pm. The dates planned so far – roughly every other week, though the nights of the week will rotate:

March 28th
April 10th (by which time McKinney will be here)
April 25th
May 10th
May 24th
June 7th
June 21st

PUBLIC INPUT AT FUTURE MEETINGS: An observer asked about the input process. The group has to decide that, said the district reps. “I feel like if people are here, they’re really invested,” said Robin Graham, offering that they should want to get that input.

Thompson said they could set aside 15 minutes or so at the start of meetings to hear from people, who would be able to sign up and get a couple minutes each. There’ll be a sign-in sheet.

COMMUNICATION: Nizam suggested that they might want to make themselves available by e-mail. Minaglia said he could create an account that everyone could be on. It was also promised that he will post the meeting minutes on the district’s K-5 STEM at Boren website by Friday. “We intend this to be a very public process,” said Van Atta.

HOMEWORK FOR NEXT MEETING: Photocopies of two articles were assigned as reading. So was the idea of Googling to “look for some other (STEM) elementaries across the nation.” Dr. Thompson suggested the team members be ready to answer the question: What are the key components, key elements for our STEM school? Lora suggested that members think about “what we want to know from the other schools in this country that are doing this.”

Again, that next meeting – if it keeps to the schedule determined tonight – will be at 6:15 pm March 28th, district headquarters in SODO.

SIDE NOTE: For those wondering about Boren’s renovations in order to be ready to reopen this September – we asked Van Atta after the meeting. She said the project has gone out to bid and they’re awaiting bids now, with an update likely when the steering committee meets this week.

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