Trailblazing and dialogue-sparking, in K-5 STEM at Boren Design Team’s 3rd month

(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.

Principal Dr. Shannon McKinney has made big decisions too, including her first staff hires – among them the celebrated Schmitz Park Elementary math teacher who fought to get Singapore Math there.

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 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.

41 Replies to "Trailblazing and dialogue-sparking, in K-5 STEM at Boren Design Team's 3rd month"

  • 2 cents May 30, 2012 (10:23 am)

    I love the idea of a dress code/uniform. They are priced the same as reg clothes. Walmart to Nordstrom. Everyone that buys clothes for their child could find what they need (plan pants/polos/skirts) at these stores.
    All stores have a “uniform” section. There would be no need for the school to sell a uniform unless that’s how they would raise money.

  • Oliver May 30, 2012 (10:46 am)

    Excellent write-up, thanks!

  • HPMom May 30, 2012 (11:09 am)

    Did you record the meeting? Would it be possible to attach a video clip of what Dr. McKinney had to say about uniforms?

  • Brontosaurus May 30, 2012 (11:20 am)

    Thanks for the great reporting Tracy. I was at the meeting last night and I’m so impressed by the energy and enthusiasm that are going into forming this school.

  • StringCheese May 30, 2012 (11:53 am)

    This school is going to be amazing. The excitement and the level of community engagement is indeed “impressive”. Perhaps every school should be able to reinvent itself and start with a blank slate every 15 years or so. The process of creating a school from scratch brings all sorts of options to the table and gives an amazing opportunity to make choices from a place not connected to the status-quo.

  • Westseattleperson May 30, 2012 (11:59 am)

    I would LOVE seattle schools to go to uniforms. I was wondering awhile ago if it’s been brought up lately with the school board.

  • WSMama3 May 30, 2012 (12:14 pm)

    Thanks Tracy for being such a great resource and thank you for a great write up! – Robin

  • WS Mom May 30, 2012 (12:20 pm)

    It sounds like it will be a great school. If an additional classroom opens up, we may jump ship from the Pathfinder waitlist which is a total crapshoot even being in first position. Was there anymore talk of where the school will end up? As a north delridgian, I am all in favor of keeping a viable school at the Boren site. It would be good for the neighborhood and the building is in no worse shape than other schools in West Seattle

  • trickycoolj May 30, 2012 (12:24 pm)

    The Bethel School District started testing and switching to uniforms while I was there in the late 90s and as far as I’m aware have completely converted their elementary and junior high schools. Mostly they were implemented in the class behind me and the neighboring schools my friends split off to for junior high. I think at the time the concerns were more to disguise affluence (many large McMansion neighborhoods built next to trailer parks in those years) and help enforce rules about baggy pants/overalls and showing underwear. Now, I have step sibling in junior high in that district and his mom finds it much easier. Looking back, I wish my high school would have gone to uniforms given how many kids didn’t even bother to put clothes on for the day and went to school in slippers and pajamas which doesn’t feel very respectful of the learning environment. Or maybe I’ve just become old.

  • Melissa May 30, 2012 (12:25 pm)

    While I support the STEM school concept what I don’t support is that ever since they got the final sign off to do this they’ve stopped maintaining the school again. I live right across from it and it is covered in graffiti, the landscapers left all the yard waste right on the front lawn and it is a sore sight. I guess they are just awaiting the redesign to clean things up, but I’m really tired of the Seattle School District putting the neighbors on the backburner.

  • Former SSD parent May 30, 2012 (12:28 pm)

    How exciting to have this school in our community. And, why not uniforms? And what a treasure to have Craig Parsley join the teaching team! Schmitz Park’s status is certainly changing with the departure of some very very good teachers via changing schools or retiring. Hope the principal can keep the strong community friendly feel there that we experienced so many years ago. Excited to hear more about the STEM school in the coming months. Thanks Tracy!

  • parent May 30, 2012 (1:47 pm)

    Just want to chime in and say yes to uniforms

  • Katoya P May 30, 2012 (2:17 pm)

    Uniforms are a GREAT Idea!

    My son is now a K student at Madrona Elementary and they have the uniform dress code policy. It is wonderful (for laundry ha ha) for stepping up the bar.

    On field trips, our students are very easy to locate. Socially, the kids seem to enjoy the dress and I personally think the children look SO SHARP in their Polo’s and Khaki Pants or skirts.

    Madrona is also a Public School FYI

  • fj May 30, 2012 (2:31 pm)

    SSD – one teacher leaving from Schmitz Park is not going to change the “status” of Schmitz Park… in fact, a few of the teachers _should_ retire.

  • Current SP parent May 30, 2012 (2:42 pm)

    Definitely great for STEM to have Craig Parsley on the teaching staff. This is right up his alley & I wish him the best of luck. SP has had the good fortune to hire many excellent teachers over the last few years (with each new portable, we get a new teacher, too!). At a PTA meeting last year, we discussed that how we look at this growth for our school would affect our students. As a parent, I’m proud that we stay optimistic & embrace each new face. The hallways maybe more crowded & yes, our playground is starting to look like a trailer park, but fortunately, when it comes to learning, my child does not notice this. And yes, we have retained our strong community. But I would add, that if my family hadn’t invested so many years at SP already, the new STEM school would be hard to resist! My hope is that each of our schools in West Seattle (and around the district, for that matter) would share their successes and learn from eachother. I am thinking about Singapore math specifically.

  • Julie W. May 30, 2012 (4:45 pm)

    If uniforms were required, does that mean the girls would have to wear skirts everyday?! I sure hope school uniforms have moved beyond that. Isn’t there something in between uniforms and ‘wear whatever you want?” Do some schools have dress codes that are less rigid than uniforms, but provide more expectations/guidelines about what children can wear to school ?

  • WSMama3 May 30, 2012 (5:16 pm)

    The uniform conversation is all about these questions Julie. No – I don’t think anyone sees “skirts and ties” as the option.
    We are talking about all these options.

  • MM May 30, 2012 (5:32 pm)

    I really hope they decide to combine the Kindergarten/1st grade waitlist. It would also be great if they sent regular updates to those parents who have kids on the waitlist. I have been holding off on any planning until I know either way and am growing increasingly anxious. I know it takes time to figure everything out, but knowing what to expect with regular updates helps ease the minds of those of us waiting for the new school year to start. Thank you for the write up!

  • WSMama3 May 30, 2012 (5:57 pm)

    MM – we find out at every meeting (bi-monthly). There are updates on WSB, the yahoo group, and on the SPS site. I’d be happy to try to answer any questions – but the message we keep getting is it’s fluid. More kids = more classes. Sorry – there just are not updates that are truly helpful.

  • Cottagemom May 30, 2012 (6:21 pm)

    Wow. I wish STEM well. I applaud everyone’s efforts. And I am floored by people who think they know what they are talking about. How exactly is Schmitz Park’s status changing because Craig Parsley is leaving? The only people that can credibly predict that work at Schmitz Park. And they are too professional to say anything about it publicly. So we will all see how this STEM experiment goes and how Schmitz Park survives with the excellent teachers and leadership that are staying put.

  • huhwhatwait! May 30, 2012 (7:34 pm)

    Uniformity in a classroom is the product of collective identity centered on academic success. Uniforms in a classroom remove the statement of individual identity from students whose only opportunity to be “unique” at school comes from the way they dress, speak, and relate to others. Strong cohort identity does not mean (ipso facto) that children have to dress alike.
    Positive school culture is a state of collective consciousness fostered by empowering academic activities. Homogenous school culture is the byproduct of forced compliance to a set of norms that strip away individuality.
    Folks, think carefully about asking parents and children to commit to homogeneity in dress. You may find that other personality traits and characteristics become amplified by that absence of individual expression in wardrobe.

  • Julie W. May 30, 2012 (8:29 pm)

    Well said, huhwhatwait. I know I feel very uncomfortable with the idea of my child having to wear school uniforms and I think you expressed the reason why…….

  • Brian M. May 30, 2012 (8:50 pm)

    Given that this is a STEM school with an application process, I am not bothered by the idea of uniforms. For those parents that believe that uniforms restrict individual identity, there are other school options available for your child.

  • WSMama3 May 30, 2012 (10:00 pm)

    Brian – there is not an application process. This is a SPS option school.
    Thanks for the feedback on uniforms from everyone.

  • Fiverson May 30, 2012 (11:28 pm)

    Brian & WSMama3,

    You are both right depending on what you mean by “application” . You do have to apply, this is not something that will be assigned as default. However, there are no special requirements to meet and no paperwork to fill out except checking a box, correct? Students who asked for STEM were selected by random lottery in open enrollment and now are being added on a first-come first-serve/ space available basis. Students from all over Seattle have equal chance of getting in: no geozone or West Seattle preference and no sibling preference for 2012-13.

    I’m neutral on the uniform issue at this point. But Brian, please understand that this year parents selected this school and limited their child’s ability to attend other schools (even their prior SPS school or their neighborhood school) before there was any mention of a uniform or special dress code. On the other hand, someone voiced the opinion last night that if there is to be a special dress code now would be the time (best or easiest?) to implement it. Another person wanted to wait for more student and parent input after the school community had fully formed. Lots of pro and cons are in play.

    Also, when thinking about the wait list numbers for a K/1 combination, keep in mind that the classrooms previously announced included one 1rst/2nd and one 2nd/3rd as combined homerooms. Perhaps another 1rst/2nd classroom or another full K, full first grade, full second grade or full third might be on the horizon instead of just K/1. The mixed-grade classrooms may become a long-term feature of the program or be phased-out even before the school year starts if the enrollment numbers permit it, and if there is a desire to avoid them. Boren has space for additional homerooms.

    If you are interested in this program, please visit the Yahoo group linked in the story to join in the discussion. It’s open to everyone. If you can, attend the Design Team Meeting next week at 6:15 PM June 6th at Madison Middle School in West Seattle. There is time scheduled for public comments at the end of the meeting (usually starting around 8PM) open to anyone attending.

    -Faith Iverson
    Design Team Member

  • GARY KLAHR May 31, 2012 (12:19 am)

    Mandatory uniforms are ABSURD–but regular dress codes are FINE. Most uni codes bar all casual, conservative clothes like tees and jeans and instead require polos and khakis. EITHER SHOULD BE OK IN A DIVERSE SOCIETY!!!!!!!!!!

  • Oliver May 31, 2012 (11:18 am)

    People may be operating off of different assumptions about what is a “uniform.” We are NOT talking about plaid jumpers and skirts for girls or blazers for boys, the kind of uniform I grew up with. It is more like khakis/jeans and polo shirts/sweaters in our school colors (cheapier and easier to find). Long way to go on this decision, but I was initially a definite no but am keeping an open mind after hearing Dr. McKinney explain her rationale for raising the issue. Yes, my son loves his superhero shirts, but I think he’d adjust to the idea of community identity and that it’s what’s inside that develops your sense of identity.

  • evergreen May 31, 2012 (12:34 pm)

    I was initially opposed to the idea, but appreciate Dr. McKinney’s argument & experience. If she & other educators believe that this makes a positive difference in how kids approach their school and learning (ie. increased pride and focus), then I’m all for it. Additionally, Mr.Parsley stated that kids need to get their hands dirty for science lessons, so maybe having a special school outfit would be a good thing. Hopefully those outfits get lots of machinery grease, grass stains, paint, glue, and chemistry explosion stuff on them. :)

  • Brian M. May 31, 2012 (1:00 pm)

    Ms. Iverson, Thank you for the clarification and your thoughtful dedication towards this STEM school. While opinions may differ, I have the utmost that your due diligence will be reflected in the quality of this school. I wish you the best of luck in the upcoming school year.

  • Seattle Mama May 31, 2012 (1:46 pm)

    I’m surprised that the largest amount of discussion here seems to be about school uniforms. Curriculum and environment decisions have a much bigger impact on student learning, don’t they? Singapore Math, Reading Wonders, technology in the classroom- Go Teachers! I wish this inovative school the best.

  • reading guru May 31, 2012 (4:18 pm)

    Wow– Looking at the basal anthology of Reading Wonder, I can tell you it is a huge step to the classroom of yesterday. It’s the opposite of reading and writing workshop. See the link:

    • WSB May 31, 2012 (4:32 pm)

      Reading Guru, that’s not it. It’s brand new, so new there is no link, I am told by a Design Team member and that’s why I did NOT link it or point people to more info. Thanks – TR

  • evergreen May 31, 2012 (6:04 pm)

    Seattle mama — this is b/c curriculum has already been decided (and they are great choices!), whereas uniforms are the latest issue up for vote by the design team.

  • Really May 31, 2012 (10:00 pm)

    Yahoo Mr. Parsley by far is my favorite teacher so far, all my kids had him for 5th grade. He knows how to motivate and inspire every student to do their best and to try things that are hard. He treats students with respect and clearly communicates expectations which helps every student to strive to learn as much as they can in their class room where they not only work hard but have lots of FUN. STEM you are lucky to have Mr. Parsley.

  • sp ed mom June 1, 2012 (6:21 pm)

    When I toured schools looking at Kindergartens, I was impressed by Schmitz Park’s Singapore Math curriculum. Now having worked with “Everyday Math” for 2 years I am realizing first hand that it’s “not so great”…everyone seems to say that, but most SPS are still using it…WHY? Why can’t we switch to Singapore? I’m guessing that it’s all about $$ as everything is…but it seems that MANY parents would get on board with fundraising if it was specifically directed at getting our kids a better math program. I hear that’s how Schmitz Park got it…

    I love the idea of split classrooms, K/1 1/2, ect. It gives kids more of an opportunity to work at different paces. Wish they had more of these in other elementary schools. STEM sounds great!…kinda wish I had given it more of a chance. With a child who has, “challenges”, it’s too much unknown for us to dive into… Good to hear discussion about curriculum.

  • WSMama3 June 2, 2012 (5:08 pm)

    Reading Guru – As WSB said – that is not it. This is a new program – we are the pilot in Washington State. There is not even an active link up on the McGraw Hill website.

  • WSMama3 June 2, 2012 (5:13 pm)

    I agree sp ed mom. I hope we can change that!
    We are lucky to have amazing faculty hired to far – it’s going to be an awesome 1st year.

  • NOUNIFORMS June 2, 2012 (6:43 pm)

    Please no uniforms and no logo blocking. I had uniforms in school and it was not ideal. Also we go straight from school to do things and I don’t want to have to have the uniform ready then bring more clothes so they can look normal and not like a clone.
    And Logo blocking? Are you kidding me? What clothing does not have a logo on it. That will be more expensive.
    This is turning into an Occupy topic.
    I don’t want to have to say oh no you can’t wear this because it has a nike swoosh on it. I think it is getting a bit ridiculous.
    And dressing for success? So you can only be successful if you are wearing a uniform? So are we putting down all the kids in other Seattle Public Schools that don’t wear uniforms? Are we saying they are not successful? We are not a sports team competing against other sports teams. This is not a private school so lets just stick with the Seattle Public School dress code.

  • stem dad June 3, 2012 (11:16 pm)

    While the notion of uniforms increasing community identity is attractive, I’m more worried about the flip side for those students who find a new environment like STEM at Boren challenging — uniforms could put them out of their individual comfort zone, and provide the seed that leads to dislike of school. I’d prefer to encourage individual identity and leave the uniform concept to spirit days and other such celebrations.

  • NOUNIFORMS June 11, 2012 (12:09 am)

    I know that is how I felt. I had uniforms and it made me uncomfortable and disrespect towards the school.

  • reading guru June 11, 2012 (7:35 pm)

    I’d be very surprised if “Reading Wonders,” described glowingly by Dr. McKinney as a program that expands on the commonly used “Readers/Writers Workshop” is anything but another basal anthology reading program. Reading Workshop is the opposite of teaching from a one- size- fits- all anthology. I am also sickened by the thought of going away from writing workshop’s pedagogy into what Dr. McKinney calls “process writing.”

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