(K-5 STEM at Boren principal Dr. Shannon McKinney, center, leading last night’s meeting)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Every decision, every discussion, is a momentous one, if you happen to be creating a new school from scratch.
If you happen to be creating one that is the first of its kind in the state’s largest school district – only the second of its kind in the region – then those decisions may seem magnified.
Yet the atmosphere was relatively relaxed last night as the Design Team for opening-this-fall K-5 STEM at Boren continued its third month of meetings (here’s our coverage of their first one in March).
The team already has made big decisions, such as pursuing Singapore Math.
And Tuesday night’s agenda at Madison Middle School (now the team’s regular meeting site) brought not only more discussions, but also the start of a dialogue – uniforms, or no uniforms?
That topic didn’t come up till close to the end of the meeting, but it certainly woke up anyone and everyone who might have been starting to suffer from droopy-eye syndrome in the second hour of earnest, detailed discussion of the Design Team’s biggest task – designing a curriculum. So we’ll write about it before the other meaty parts of the meeting.
Dr. McKinney stressed repeatedly she wasn’t bringing up the uniform/dress code idea as a means of “behavior control.”
Primarily, she said, she saw it, potentially, “as a way to elevate the expectations at our school … so far as, kids come to school, dressing for success. … I (would) want them to be proud of the fact they are coming to school dressed for success, ‘we’re here to learn and this is an awesome opportunity’.”
And in the next breath, she declared it would be a “community decision.”
The community cross-section represented by the Design Team, and those in the audience – primarily parents and educators – voiced opinions that were all over the proverbial map. If you think uniforms level the visual playing field in terms of who’s well-to-do and who’s not, you’re wrong, some noted, pointing out there would always be some other factor to signal that – there’ll always be a student with “a better lunch box or backpack or better chocolate milk …” Another parent said it would be convenient to have “all the school clothes in one drawer.”
Regarding dressing for success, a parent likened the concept to a professional athlete putting on her/his uniform – “they belong to something bigger” – while another opinion that uniforms seemed more suited to occasional “spirit wear” than daily wear. Other concerns included availability of uniforms after the start of school, so that a late-entering student would be able to buy one, and how to handle “cultural differences” that might require a child to wear something specific. And when the public-comment portion of the meeting ensued, one parent observer acknowledged her initial reaction was “No,” but added, “I could be persuaded.”
Dr. McKinney concluded the round of discussion saying, “Well, I opened up THAT can of worms!” and saying the topic would be on the next Design Team agenda (June 6th): “We’ll continue the dialogue.” If K-5 STEM at Boren decided on a uniform/dress code, it would not be the only Seattle Public Schools campus with such a policy – so far, we’ve found those policies at Madrona K-8 (thanks to Mel Westbrook of the Seattle Schools Community Forum website for the tip via Twitter) and Dearborn Park Elementary, for starters.
Now, back to the beginning:
WAIT LISTS – WILL MORE CLASSES BE ADDED? According to Dr. McKinney, 16 are now on the wait list for kindergarten, 8 for 1st grade, 5 for 2nd grade, 7 for 3rd grade, 4 for 4th grade, 1 for fifth grade. That raised the possibility of adding a combination kindergarten/1st-grade class (26 is the general class size for the early grades), she said, asking Design Team members to “think about (it).”
STAFF UPDATE: Offers and hires are being made, including for the developmental preschool that will be on the Boren campus. At least one of the new teachers mentioned in a partial list published on the new school’s Yahoo! discussion group was in attendance at the meeting. While that list was not discussed in detail at the meeting, it includes Craig Parsley, the renowned Schmitz Park Elementary math teacher (the online discussion group included this Crosscut.com link to a first-person story with insight into Parsley’s style and background).
FIRST PTA MEETING: The organizational meeting for the K-5 STEM at Boren PTA was held May 17th, and Dr. McKinney pronounced it “impressive.” Design Team member Robin Graham said they had decided to go with a “PTA” structure, out of several choices available; applications have already gone in for affiliation with city and state organizations, and the structure’s being set up, including volunteers in charge of a variety of efforts, including setting up afterschool programs. (If you are interested in getting involved, the Yahoo! group is the place to go, they said.)
SCHOOL WEBSITE: While the district-provided template is just a shell, there’s discussion about volunteer help to build a “pre-website” of sorts, as well as about getting the district to update what information it has available online right now, since some of that information is outdated (including, it was pointed out, an invitation to “come to an informational meeting” – that was held in March). Some team members pointed out that thorough, updated information is vital, since some in the greater community still don’t know the school-to-be exists.
LITERACY PROGRAM – AND TECHNOLOGY: While the final decision needs higher-up approval, the Design Team is recommending that K-5 STEM be the first school in the district to go with a pilot version of “Reading Wonders,” described glowingly by Dr. McKinney as a program that expands on the commonly used “Readers/Writers Workshop.” Its “literature anthology is amazing … really neat, very complete,” she elaborated, saying she’s certain it would engage students, and “as a principal, I want to be sure every kid is engaged … it’s that ‘tomorrow classroom’ that we’ve been thinking about for a long time.” One aspect she said she liked: The teaching of “process-based writing.” Design Team member Graham added that Reading Wonders’ “technology piece is phenomenal.” If the Design Team’s recommendation is finalized, the school would get the first year of the program for free, since it’s a pilot program. One question mark, however, is how much “technology” the new school will have available – the basic plan right now, according to Dr. McKinney, is a “presentation station” in every classroom, plus at least three computers, and they are still discussing computer labs, as well as trying to get access to wi-fi. What about “smart boards”? it was asked. Some concern was voiced about getting them installed at Boren – which is supposed to be the school’s “temporary” home – only to have them taken out and moved when a “permanent” campus is identified. But the principal suggested the students shouldn’t suffer because of that, noting “there are portable smartboards,” for one thing.
ARTS CURRICULUM: Design Team member Faith Iverson presented her findings on the “Schmitz Park Drawing Curriculum,” which drew support from the group, and will be discussed with the K-5 STEM faculty.
NEXT MEETING: 6:15 pm June 6th at Madison.