FOLLOWUP: Middle College High School’s West Seattle supporters not giving up

(WSB file photo, teacher Alonzo Ybarra and MCHS High Point students in fall 2012)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Supporters of Middle College High School‘s West Seattle program are fighting to save it, and asking for community support.

We first reported nine days ago that Seattle Public Schools had abruptly announced it would cancel the alternative high-school program’s longtime West Seattle branch, which moved to Neighborhood House’s High Point Center three years ago after more than a decade and a half at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor). The district now says that even after three years, that “was a temporary lease while SPS assessed transition to other Middle College sites.” The three that remain are all in North Seattle.

The district blamed the closure primarily on low enrollment. In response to one of the questions we asked last Friday, asking for elaboration on that, the district responded:

Enrollment projections are generated by Enrollment Services and the second round of projections (for the 2015-16 school year) for all SPS schools are currently being finalized. These projections (went) out to principals on May 29th. High Point ended the 2013-14 school year with 58 students. The 2014-15 projection for High Point was 60 students and they were staffed with 2.2 core teachers. On October 1st, enrollment had dropped to 50 students. In the beginning of February 2015, the enrollment dropped again to 36 students. Enrollment numbers stayed at high 30’s until the High Point staff was told to stop enrolling students.

The district seems to be blaming teachers for the enrollment trouble: “Many students enroll through word of mouth but this year we have had much fewer due to the poor climate at High Point this school year. Teachers have been unhappy with the schedule and have communicated their discontent to students.”

MCHS-HP teacher Alonzo Ybarra, who sent first word of the impending closure, has said that MCHS’s principal Cindy Nash “forcefully imposed an arbitrary schedule that severely diminished our abilities to deliver exciting and creative curriculum and instruction.”

He says the staff has yet to hear directly from her. He is circulating this letter outlining what can be done to show support for MCHS-HP; it was shared with us by a West Seattle resident who received it and asked us to publish it:

On the MCHS blog-format website, Ybarra has published some of the letters of support that have come in so far – you can read them here. One letter is from a former MCHS student who is the parent of a current student; he writes in part, “It makes absolutely no sense shutting this program down. These teachers and this program should be the gold … no, platinum standard for our school district. I’d go as far and say that all Seattle Public High School teachers should job shadow the teachers at Middle College. This program should not be reduced, it should be expanded, and publicly promoted.”

West Seattle’s school-board rep Marty McLaren, though, told WSB she “couldn’t make a strong case against” closing MCHS-HP. Her response to our request for comment last week:

I had been briefed by Alonzo and visited the SSCC site in 2012, and have regularly visited and/or maintained contact since the move to HP, and have advocated for MCHS in the southwest area ever since. There have been various issues in the last two years that have indicated to me that the strength of our program was in question by district. My main way of addressing this has been to make absolutely sure that district leaders were hearing all sides — to facilitate communication. At various points, MCHS staff members maintained that they had not been given adequate chance to meet with leadership; although I couldn’t force meetings, I did make sure, with MCHP staff permission, that their communications were seen by district leadership, and did repeatedly remind our leaders of the value the community places on the program. I think I’ve heard of a recent meeting between MCHP staff and district leaders, but am not sure.

As far as the closure announcement: I learned over a month ago, I think, that staff had been told not to enroll for MCHP for next year. I was told that enrollment had been down, but I don’t have figures. At that time, I pushed with inquiries about the future of the program; there were enough issues that I couldn’t make a strong case against the impending decision to close the site. Staff knows that I am adamant that SPS needs to find a way to serve the kinds of students who have thrived at MCHP.

SIDE NOTE: Some wondered what Neighborhood House plans to do with the space that MCHS-HP has been using. (The district says it was paying $28,000/year to lease the space.) From NH’s David Johnson:

. The “classroom” is really a couple of shared spaces, Middle College successfully used a large partitioned area for their main classroom, and another space, designated as a Teen Center for an office and secondary classroom. Both are in shared hallways, amidst the many offerings from Neighborhood House and other providers.

. SPS leased the space through SHA, which is a traditional and strong partner of NH, both in the operations of the building and in its support of the construction of the building. NH is the owner and leases space to SHA in a long-term relationship, that benefits the entire HP community.

. There are currently no plans as of this date for another tenant or agreement on the uses of those spaces. There are discussions happening with SHA and our other partners about the best uses of these spaces.

. I would also say we were happy to host Middle College, that the students and staff brought a liveliness to our space and community that will be missed.

WHAT’S NEXT? Ybarra says they are asking supporters to turn out at the next School Board meeting, this Wednesday (June 3rd) at district HQ in SODO; public comments start at 5 pm (advance signup is required and starts this morning, as shown on the agenda). That happens to conflict, though, with the MCHS-HP graduation ceremony, 5:30 pm the same night. But, he vows, “we will have a presence” at the board meeting. Meantime, if you have any questions about this for School Board rep McLaren, her last community-conversation meeting of the year – open to any SPS topic – is tonight (Monday, June 1st), 6 pm, at Southwest Branch Library, 35th and Henderson.

14 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Middle College High School's West Seattle supporters not giving up"

  • Monday June 1, 2015 (5:09 am)

    Great reporting.

  • JoB June 1, 2015 (6:44 am)

    Tell me.. how does it make sense to strangle then eliminate programs for our brightest students?

  • Ivan June 1, 2015 (8:02 am)

    Great job, Tracy. Thank you and please stay on this story.

  • John June 1, 2015 (8:02 am)

    Umm–they are not all at North Seattle CC. One is at Seattle U.

  • Melissa Westbrook June 1, 2015 (8:34 am)

    One big issue for the district is that their Strategic Plan very much speaks to equity in programming (and that includes location).

    Is the district going to spend the dollars to bus these students to other locations? They keep telling us that transportation is a huge expense.

    Even if the students were to be bused, that would be a very big hardship to have to be on a long bus ride every single day.

    How is this equity under the Strategic Plan?

  • ARC June 1, 2015 (8:38 am)

    This is so sad! “There were issues enough that I couldn’t make a strong case against the closure.” None of these issues were ever brought up directly with the staff, either by the principal or district leadership.

    “I think I’ve heard of a recent meeting between HP staff and district leaders.” There was no such meeting, nor was there any direct communication. There were simply rumors and speculation.

    Yes, there is a MCHS at Seattle U, which had lower enrollment than HP this year. Attending this school would require hours on the bus for students from West Seattle.

    Where is the transparency? How is this ensuring equitable access for all students?

  • Alternatives Needed June 1, 2015 (9:28 am)

    Martha McLaren’s comments are disturbing, and show lack of effort to support students in need of alternative learning experiences.

    Throwing Middle College students into a large comprehensive high school and/or making them travel to the north end is not an answer.

    Good news: Leslie Harris is running for Marty McLaren’s seat on the school board. This community would be smart to get behind Leslie Harris’s school board campaign by contributing to Harris’s re-election.

    McLaren has become a district apologist.

  • Odekaire June 1, 2015 (9:28 am)

    Having watched one of the teachers at this Middle College site struggle with administration over the last few years while continuing to give her absolute all for her students, I am infuriated to hear the district blaming the teachers for this closure.

    I am also concerned that closing this site contributes to institutionalized racism in our city. Eliminating an alternative high school in south Seattle, where there is a much higher percentage of people of color, creates even more roadblocks for less privileged students. Our community should demand that ALL students be given the opportunity to succeed, and a one-size-fits-all education does not do that.

  • miws June 1, 2015 (9:41 am)

    I am infuriated to hear the district blaming the teachers for this closure.


    Thank you for making your point related to that, Odekaire. When I read that the district seemed to be blaming the Teachers, I figured it was the typical tactic of management putting the blame for their own inefficiencies, and/or manipulation, onto frontline labor.


    And who says that Government isn’t run like big corporations?



  • Anisa Saadi June 3, 2015 (8:20 am)

    I am a graduate from Middle College High Point 2014. I already have 30 credits towards my A.A. I would have never gotten to this point without Middle College being available to me and it’s wrong to snatch that opportunity from students who are in DIRE need of it. Seriously some of these students have no one but these teachers who are willing to encourage them to further their education and to help them personally as well. That is not offered just anywhere.

  • Paul Campiche June 3, 2015 (1:34 pm)

    My name is Paul Campiche and I am a proud graduate of the Middle College at South Seattle/High Point. I graduated in 2008 under the tutelage of Alonzo Ybarra as well as a host of other profoundly inspiring teachers. I remember my time at that institution fondly.

    I came into the Middle College after nearly dropping out of Ballard High School. School, for me at that time, was seen as a horrid social perdition. I felt ignored by teachers and attacked by students. As a result I did not do well. I had talent however. My passion for knowledge was alive but it was put in a place that did not facilitate growth. The large school environment did not suit me. In fact it nearly drove me insane. I needed a change. Something that would provide me a way forward.

    I was introduced to Middle College at South Seattle/High Point in my senior year of high school. I, at that time, was considering dropping out. I arrived at that school a person with no passion for education. I was there simply to pass the grade and finish. I did not see a future in academia given it had always seemed so scary and lacking in compassion. I was lost.

    This state of nonplussed was perhaps the very reason that I needed to be at Middle College. While I was there I was constantly inspired by the teachers. They showed me compassion and provided me a means by which to see school as productive. I found my way overtime.

    The small school environment was very helpful as it allowed me to question the ideas that the teachers were positing and get a reply. It made education interesting given it was now interactive. I was a part of the class, not just sitting in class counting the minutes. I found myself engaged in concepts and ideals that I had never been introduced to. One teacher, Alonzo Ybarra, installed in me a passion for social justice and compassionate equality that in turn has become a defining characteristic of my personhood.

    This pursuit of social justice spoke to me specifically as a white male of privilege, challenging me to become a productive member of progressive society. Alonzo and many of the teachers helped me to understand my place in society and how I can help to promote a better world. The teacher engaged my indoctrinated bigotries and helped me to become a more intelligent and compassionate person with an understanding of oppression.

    As I continued at Middle College I quickly rose to the top of the class. I also realized that I had a place that was safe to be the smart person I was. The teacher did not scold me for asking questions or having opinions. I remember feeling passionate about my studies for the first time.

    I could give a thousand examples of the usefulness of Middle College as an individual however I think what is most telling of what this school gave me is to give me professional opinion. For if I didn’t go and graduate for Middle College I would not have a professional opinion. Since Middle College I have attended and graduated from The Evergreen State College. I was admitted to this college in part because of the passion that I showed in my admissions essays, a passion that was facilitated by Middle College.

    Since I graduated The Evergreen State College I have perused a Masters in Psychology at Antioch University. I now get a chance to reach out to those who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders. This opportunity was provided in part by the education I got at Middle College. The passion that was given to me so young in life continues to shine and grow.

  • Lori Francis June 4, 2015 (12:40 am)

    Are there any updates on this?

    • WSB June 4, 2015 (1:01 am)

      We haven’t heard anything further. Looking at the agenda for Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, seven people were signed up (of the 20 total slots) to speak to the board about MCHS. It wasn’t an agenda item for the board, though, as this apparently is being done without need for any kind of vote or even discussion.

  • Kelly O. June 9, 2015 (12:14 pm)

    I am a Graduate as of 2014 from Middle College, and I can honestly say that this is shocking and quite disappointing news.

    I attended West Seattle High School for my freshman year and absolutely dreaded it. I felt I couldn’t get any help from teachers, that they did not care for my struggle or success and that I could have been bullied by the majority of the student body for openly asking questions. I almost failed. During my Sophomore and Junior year I attended The Nova Project, which was just fine but I needed more personal support and structure. Again, almost failed.

    In September 2013, the decision was made to attend High Point Middle College. It was small, but that’s what made it great. You had peace and quiet to work, teachers that could give you the time of day and actually cared about how you do. They were not just your teachers, but also your friends. Boo Balkan Foster, Alonzo Ybarra, Camille Paul and Andrea Chorney were people who I relied on for an entire year to graduate. It was definitely a feat.

    I had to obtain quite a lot of credits in order to graduate, it was no where near easy. I could have never graduated without the help and guidance of my teachers.

    I was no ordinary student, I had ADD and Dyslexia to add to everything else. This was a secret that I was always embarrassed to even mention, I didn’t want to be treated differently or given special treatment. All the schools that I had attended previously had not understood that its harder for me to understand things sometimes. Once I had started at HPMC, no one made fun of me, people understood that I might need more time, and everyone, even the students were very supportive.

    I know this is long, but there’s just so much to say. So I’ll put this simply. I had a wonderful experience there that had changed my life for the better in many ways. Its just a shame that many, many, many students are losing the opportunity to grow, make bonds, and still learn and graduate.

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