For those with a stake in Middle College High School having to leave South Seattle Community College after 17 years, and being given a temporary new spot at the Boren Building campus on Delridge – also the temporary home of the new K-5 STEM at Boren elementary – it’s been a busy weekend. We broke the news on Friday and discussions have ensued both in WSB comments and on the K-5 STEM Yahoo! group, as well as in the MCHS community, among other places. We followed up today with SSCC president Gary Oertli, and while we have a few other people to contact, we are publishing the first draft of our followup because the district has just shared the letter it sent to K-5 STEM families, both announcing the campus-sharing and seeking to alleviate concerns about how much contact there might be between the two schools’ populations:
The letter is from Aurora Lora, West Seattle executive director of schools for SPS:
Dear Boren K-5 STEM Families: I am writing to let you know about a new program that will be co-located on the Boren campus next year.
For more than 20 years, Seattle Public Schools has operated a Middle College High School program at South Seattle Community College. The college recently informed us that they have received two large grants and need to re-occupy the space currently used by Middle College students. We have been looking for a new South Seattle location, and have decided to relocate the program to portables at Boren.
The Middle College High School program is a college prep and dropout prevention program aimed at students who have the ability to go to college but because of life circumstances don’t always see a postsecondary education as an option. A major goal of middle college is to prepare students academically for college.
The Middle College program is small and will use up to four classrooms in the portables, which will be located in a different area of the Boren campus than the K-5 STEM program. The portables are on the northeast corner of the campus and will be accessed from Juneau Street. The building spaces that STEM will occupy extend from the south end of the main building to the west half of the center classroom wing. They will be separated by unoccupied space that includes the east half of the center classroom wing and the entire north classroom wing.
Middle College students will be able to enter the north classroom wing through an exterior door at the east end to use the restrooms in that wing. Walls will be built inside the building to separate the STEM space from the unoccupied space. A security system will alert us to unauthorized exit from the STEM side to the unoccupied side, and there will be no ability to enter the STEM side from the unoccupied side without a key.
The K-5 STEM playground area located to south of the building, is enclosed on all sides and will only be accessible from inside the building. There will also be a fenced-in play area in the courtyard between the gym building and the south classroom wing.
Although we will keep these two programs physically separate, our hope is that we will be able to establish a mentoring relationship between our Middle College and K-5 STEM elementary students for interested families. This would be similar to the tutoring program that has been created – in conjunction with Seattle University — between students at our Northgate Mall Middle College and nearby Northgate Elementary School.
We appreciate the support of our K-5 STEM families and, as always, we welcome your questions and suggestions.
Aurora Lora, Executive Director West Seattle Region
Meantime, we spoke with SSCC president Gary Oertli this afternoon, to find out more about the contention that the MCHS move involved a request for rent payment. He acknowledged that rent was discussed; Oertli says that when he started as college president, he discovered there was no written lease for MCHS, and so one was put into place. The possibility of rent, he says, was discussed between SSCC and outgoing SPS interim superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield, but he says she said SPS couldn’t afford it, and the discussion ended there.
Regarding next year, though, Oertli reiterates that MCHS was asked to leave NOT because of any monetary issue, but because the college needs the space: “We are slammed with the need for space.” (According to a May memo from MCHS staff to SPS leadership, the high school uses “two large classrooms, a computer lab and a two-room office space” at SSCC, though that is less space, the memo says, than the program used to have, when its student body numbered more than 100 – currently, it’s 70.)
Oertli says they have not decided which programs are going into the space that MCHS currently uses, but they have received major grants that “had a domino effect” on current space utilization, so they are “doing a major space review” right now. Though state funding for community colleges has been slashed in recent years, Oertli notes that this past year alone, SSCC “worked hard to get 12 million dollars in grants … and with that, come the people you hire.” He says there is no chance SSCC could reconsider the decision to take back the space.
One of the people we are checking with this afternoon is West Seattle’s school-board director Marty McLaren. We haven’t spoken with her since she answered our inquiry with the comments published in our Friday morning story, but messages on the K-5 STEM Yahoo! discussion board quote her as telling parents in that community that she and fellow first-term School Board member Sharon Peaslee are seeking a meeting with SPS administrators about the situation.