VIDEO: Louisa Boren STEM K-8 parents, supporters demand district restate its permanent status rather than consider a move

(UPDATED 4:59 PM with district slide deck from meeting)

(WSB video of entire Thursday night meeting at Louisa Boren STEM K-8)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“Say it!”

Just a few years after Seattle Public Schools designated the former Louisa May Boren Junior High School as the permanent home of West Seattle’s STEM K-8 school, its parents and supporters found themselves last night demanding that district officials re-state that status.

Which they eventually did – but without an accompanying guarantee the school won’t be moved.

The campus’s past as an interim site is the main reason it’s in the district’s crosshairs right now for a potential return to that status, the STEM K-8 community was told during the boisterous briefing meeting (previewed here and here).

Associate superintendent Dr. Flip Herndon opened the hour-plus meeting by explaining that the district expects to be constructing and renovating schools “for the next 15 years, at least” as its enrollment continues to grow and its buildings continue to age.

Capital Projects and Planning director Richard Best went through the slides, starting with a recap of the schools recently built and renovated in West Seattle, including last fall’s opening of the new Arbor Heights and Genesee Hill elementaries, with the district expecting to grow to 55,000 students soon. He directed people to the Facilities Master Plan on the SPS website for an overview. They’re adding dozens of classrooms each year. Slides showed most elementary schools trending up, though they’re wondering if it’s plateau’ing. (Update – we requested the slide deck and received it this afternoon – PDF here, embedded below:)

Best said that adding special education capacity at every school also leads to campus-capacity challenges, as well as class-size-reduction mandates. They’ll be working with enrollment planners over the summer. And he noted that “in West Seattle we are seeing elementary growth occur more rapidly in the northern section than in the southern section.”

Capacity planning also involves looking at schools’ outdated systems that might not support technology – so those “rise to the top of the list to meet the educational needs of our students and staff.” That will figure into the 2019 BEX V levy. He added that school modernization means that “of the 102 schools that we have, over a third have historical landmark designations, so we can’t tear those buildings down.” (Those include EC Hughes, being modernized right now so that Roxhill Elementary can be moved there in a year, as we’ve been reporting.)

So, that all came down to this: Boren is “one of our largest school sites left to be utilized as an interim location,” Best said, drawing boos.

Why not use another large school building with a permanent program? he was then asked, for the first of several times during the meeting. Reply: “Because of this school’s history as an interim site.”

Asked an attendee, “When will this school cease being new and transitional? … It would be really nice to feel like we could have something to hold onto…. It feels as though the school administration is not treating us like (a permanent school).” It was noted that Arbor Heights shared Boren with STEM K-8 for two years until just this year, while its new building was built.

Best said that they need interim sites to house high schools.

Next: “We were assured years ago that this was our building, not an interim site. Why are we being considered an interim site when Arbor Heights is not? Fairmount Park is not? Or other schools in West Seattle … only because you have a history of using this building as an interim site?”

Herndon reclaimed the mike, saying they’re looking at whether Roxhill or Schmitz Park could be an interim site. “But in order to meet the needs of a school that’s about 1,200 students …” they need something that’s big enough. “We’re assessing what could we physically do on those sites.”

So, attendees asked again, are you looking at any other currently occupied West Seattle schools?

“I don’t think so,” said Herndon.

“We desperately want to work with you,” said one attendee, while insisting on options that work for STEM K-8 families. (This document prepared by the STEM K-8 PTA details concerns about a potential move.)

“We’ll have new data this summer, said Best. “We [district staffers] don’t make decisions, we only make recommendations to the school board about what schools should be in the [BEX V] levy. … I hear your voice. We need to come with options, either permanent location here or …”

“IT IS A PERMANENT LOCATION!” people shouted. One continued: “Can you just acknowledge that SPS (designated this) a permanent location in 2013? … We would like the staff to acknowledge that.”

“We’ll go back and review that,” said Best.

Herndon elaborated, “We don’t refer to this as the interim location for STEM K-8.”

Next question: Since a geographic attendance zone in this area (Boren is in North Delridge) was given to STEM, how could a move to north West Seattle not affect equity?

Best could’t answer that. Herndon tried: “Yes, if there was something to change about the physical location of the STEM program, we would go through an equity analysis.”

A former Schmitz Park parent mentioned how that building – which was proposed and scrapped years earlier as a potential location for then-STEM K-5 – “does not support K-8 … the facility is falling down, it’s not big enough for these people.” Boren itself might not even be big enough eventually, as STEM’s enrollment continues to grow.

Next, another concern about moving to a small building like Schmitz Park: They know STEM education works, and project-based education works. If you take STEM students and move them into (too small a space) … they have to sit at desks and face forward, no space to move around the building … you can’t do that by packing kids into too small a building. He recognized that “you guys are in an insanely difficult position … but it is not the right to choice to sacrifice one community for another. … We will not move to Schmitz Park quietly. It is not right for this community. … Let’s not turn Seattle Public Schools’ south end into a community that it wasn’t before.”

That brought applause.

Best said challenges abound throughout the district.

So, asked the next person, “Would it be accurate to say you’re going to need a transitional space for the next 20 years?”

If so, people shouted, build one!

The questioner suggested that turning Roxhill into a transitional site, with added capacity, would be a good idea.

Next person said it didn’t make sense to move this school north, and it doesn’t make sense to possibly build Alki and Lafayette (mentioned as potential BEX V rebuilding/modernization projects) at the same time. Build them one at a time, and use Schmitz Park for a transitional site.

“Our planning efforts are just beginning,” said Best, “so these conversations are helpful.”

Next person, describing herself as a grandmother of STEM K-8 students, called attention to a mission-statement slide early in the deck. “How is this (possible move) putting students first?”

“I acknowledge your point,” said Best.

District communicator Tom Redman, who was helping moderate, took a moment to promise that the comments were all being recorded and would be posted.

Back to the school community’s concerns and questions: “I don’t want to fight you … but I will fight you tooth and nail until you prove to me that you have thought through all the options and come up with the best option.”

At that point, Redman pointed out the presence of West Seattle/South Park school board director Leslie Harris.

Next person with a question said she’s an Alki parent and lauded STEM K-8 for an “amazing program that needs to be in this building. .. We’ve established that this is not an interim site, so they are staying here … We’ve established that this is not an interim site, but you guys (need one), so how do we do that? How do other districts do it?”

Best said that most districts “don’t put 500, 600 students on a three-acre site” … most districts have larger sites than the ones that hold most SPS campuses. “I’ve built lots of schools on larger sites.” But when you have to build a large-ish school on a small site, “it doesn’t give you that flexibility. So that’s the dilemma that Seattle Public Schools faces that’s relatively unique, compared to most districts in the state of Washington.”

What about other big cities? Like Boston? Best said he had just been at a conference there, and it does have interim sites. “But they’re not displacing permanent schools to make an interim site?” asked an attendee. “No,” said Best.

The next questioner asked Best to say again that “this is the permanent home of K-8 Boren.” He did. The questioner said, but, despite that, you started your planning process with the possibility of booting the school from its building? “I’m hoping somebody just woke up with ‘this is a dumb idea,’ but let’s try it. … I hope we have helped and proven the point and can now move on all together so all of SPS can move forward and come up with a better interim plan … and help all of our students.”

Next person asked a question about the former Denny International Middle School site (8402 30th SW, demolished in xxx) that’s “flat and just grass .. who owns that now?” The district still does, was the reply. Herndon said he doesn’t know what the acreage is – “it looks superbig, (but is) maybe 2 or 3 acres.”

The questioner contiued by wondering if Madison could be moved onto West Seattle High School’s site – five or six acres, said Herndon – and use Madison as an interim site.

“We want a list” of schools and options, said someone else.

Next person said it would be helpful for the district to outline the current state of BEX planning.

Best said that BTA IV had $15 million for land acquisition, “and that can take many different forms,” such as buying sites adjacent to district-owned sites.

You have it on paper somewhere, the questioner persisted.

“We’re looking to increase the capacity of our existing school sites,” Best continued, noting that Genesee Hill (formerly at Schmitz Park) and Arbor Heights have each added hundreds.

“So there’s no plan to purchase additional land for schools?”

School board director Harris took the mike, saying “$15 million doesn’t go but a foot in this economy … I believe that’s a good question for our mayoral candidates … if we’re going to do HALA to increase density in the city, why oh why doesn’t Seattle Public Schools not have a representative or 12 on that committee?”

Herndon noted that a lot of land came from donations in the past and “we really don’t get that any more …” but they’re “always on the lookout for land.”

A 7th grader said it’s not fair that some kids might not get to attend here in the future and use what she’s been using. She drew applause.

A kindergartener’s dad addressed Herndon, saying his letter to the STEM community began by referring to BEX V, and so he did some reference to research BEX’s past, going back to 1995. “It all adds up to $1.192 billion” over the years, he said, not even counting the BTA levies, with another billion-plus. He wondered what the BEX V number will be – maybe a billion dollars? “Fold that in … $3.8 billion” over the past few decades. “Over that time, how much capital has been allocated to this location?”

Herndon said he didn’t know.

The kindergarten dad did. Three small projects, he said. Maybe a couple million. “There are 539 students here. One percent of the district. One percent of $3.8 billion is $38 million. Take away two (million spent), $36 million should be allocated proportionately to this facility that our children occupy.”

Next person said she appreciated that accounting work and said that also, the “harm and the hardship that our school community has experienced” should be taken into account. “I wonder if in your offices you keep this kind of accounting.”

Best tried to answer; she continued – “I feel our tab of hardship is high. … We graciously opened our doors to accept (Arbor Heights) … we had our share of hardship.”

Best said he thinks the district does “a great job” tracking facilities’ needs, and right now there’s a half-billion-dollar backlog districtwide. He said he would classify her concern as “emotional,” and that drew objections. “My daughter was here the first day and there were no pencils – that’s not emotional!” one woman shouted.

Next person with the microphone: “You put this plan on the table and it doesn’t make sense … what’s the Plan B?”

Harris said there’s no plan at all yet, A, B, or otherwise. She said that BEX V will be the next version of the plan. She said she’s hoping for a communitywide meeting in August so that West Seattle schools don’t wind up pitted against each other as they have been in past district processes – “because that stinks.”

She also said that the district reps were not here when promises were made that “wallets could not keep.”

Another woman interjected that they were promised that once Arbor Heights left, this was STEM’s permanent home.

Harris said, “You’re not the only school community that’s been shafted by promises that (the district) may not be able to keep. … I love the idea of the first BEX V project being an interim site .. I love the idea of putting it on the old Denny site … I like the creative thinking in this room … But this is citywide, 53,000 kids, 102 schools, (last year) it was northeast Seattle dealing with issues … this is happening all over the city.”

Then, Harris was asked, why with two schools empty – the district is looking at displacing a third school?

“They haven’t made those decisions,” she replied. “We’re looking for a big enough space to move Asa Mercer Middle School when they rebuild it … it’s a dump … space for 1,200 students.” Alki or Lafayette could go to Schmitz Park, she acknowledged, but they need a large site.

“This site has a capcity of 750, not 1200,” someone said.

Next person with the mike wanted the district to stop using the term “interim” completely, so that if they are talking about displacing K-8 STEM, they know they are displacing a permanent site.

“Words matter!” people shouted.

Herndon said he has never called this “interim site Boren K-8 STEM.”

“Permanent!” someone shouted again.

“I don’t say ‘permanent’ any more than I would say ‘permanent Genesee Hill,” Herndon countered.

Next person brought up the recent project-based learning showcase here. “Part of the (excitement) was going into a science lab run by Mr. (Craig) Parsley and seeing the $20,000 wind tunnel we have here and there was no way to get through Parsley’s classroom …” He also mentioned the robotics program, and called the school a “gem” of the district. “Oh, maybe we should move them for a few years, put them in a building without labs, with portables … Why would you kill a DIAMOND of your school district?”

The group also cheered for winning six awards out of seven entries in the recent Museum of Flight science fair.

A woman who lives in High Point noted it’s a diverse neighborhood in many ways “we really benefit from having an option school here and it would be a loss to us” if STEM was moved. She wanted to know more about the mentioned-earlier equity analysis. Herndon again mentioned the Race and Equity Toolkit, saying it doesn’t “necessarily give you the solution” but tells you the potential impact of a decision or plan.

Last question: “If part of the issue is capacity why do we have 185 kids on a waitlist – let us grow! Why are we capped, why can’t we let more kids in? Let us expand!”

Herndon said they’re dealing with the waitlist issue “all across the city” – noting that students are moving between schools, and so their departure from another school might cost someone a teacher.

The meeting then moved into one-on-one conversation time with staff members. Redman promised that they’ll answer additional comments and post replies. And with that, Louisa Boren STEM K-8 principal Ben Ostrom delivered a rousing close (see it in our video, above).

WHAT’S NEXT: Stay tuned.

36 Replies to "VIDEO: Louisa Boren STEM K-8 parents, supporters demand district restate its permanent status rather than consider a move"

  • Melissa Westbrook June 2, 2017 (12:43 pm)

    Of course, first, thank you to the West Seattle Blog for this extensive coverage.

    I’m a long-time public ed advocate and one of my special interests IS capital planning so I’ll add a few things.

    One, I had to smile at the “we have to plan for special ed needs” line from the district.  Not that it isn’t true but Special Education students are moved – at will and without notice – around this district.  That is a complete red herring.

    Two, I’m a little confused.  Were they saying build an interim site at old Denny or a new STEM K-8?  Either one is not a good choice because it means a school that has been waiting and waiting for a renovation (like Arbor Heights did) will get bumped for this project.  I find that heartbreaking especially since the district could have been planning for what to do.

    The problem that I didn’t see mentioned is that they need two interim sites because there will be building to the north and you can’t send those people to WestSeattle.  

    So what to do?  

    1) Use all/some of JSCEE.  I think it could be entirely possible and a lot cheaper.

    2) The district owns a building that used to be a school off Lake City at about 125th.  Is it big enough for a high school?  Maybe not but it could hold other schools.  Again, cheaper than building something new.

    3) Lease space.  Ask the City what they have that the district might renovate or lease.  

    4) Build on site.  Most other districts, locally and throughout the country do this.  They did it at Hale. It takes longer but it can be done.

    In short, the parents at STEM K-8 made a leap of faith and committed to this school.  There are other options than taking Boren back.

    • WSB June 2, 2017 (12:50 pm)

      The ex-Denny suggestion was entirely audience-generated – suggested as a place an interim site could be built, since the district expects to need interim sites for a long time. You’ll probably recall that back pre-demolition, it was described as a future school site. (I’ll have to dig up the link here shortly.)

      • AmandaK(H) June 2, 2017 (1:03 pm)

        Yes, the ex-Denny site was meant to be an elementary school – in the Roxhill draw boundary.  But who wants a brand new school when you can get a renovated 1926 building?  The EC Hughes lunchroom/auditorium won’t hold half the students the current Roxhill holds.  But who cares if your kids are eating lunch at 10:00 am when the school is so pretty?  I couldn’t even Set Foot in that meeting last night.  I have nothing nice to say anymore.

        Thanks for the coverage.  I wish the school board stepped it up more.  Looks like they have zero power when it comes to advocating for us.

        • A little STEAMED STEM June 2, 2017 (1:57 pm)

           I’d like to feel better about support from the School board as well.   It sounded to me that Leslie Harris was firm in her belief that the district “needs a building that can house 1200 students”   She then responded to a parent’s comment that Boren’s capacity was not enough with “well, we housed Sealth there”   

           It seems to me that there is another option which is to split larger schools up into two sites until a larger building is established as an interim site.   

          When Ms. Harris suggested that the current administration was not responsible for past promises that couldn’t be kept,  I’m thinking,  well how can we trust that the current administration will keep it’s word?   And who is supporting the Boren K-8 STEM school community  if not our school board representative?  

          These comments came during a heated discussion and I hope that the deciding factor for Ms Harris is not finding the biggest building, but rather finding the best and most equitable solution.  


          • Grumply June 2, 2017 (11:43 pm)

            Leslie is quickly showing she’s not up to the task. All talk, no walk.

  • me on 28th Ave SW June 2, 2017 (1:23 pm)

    Way back during the lead-up to the contentious Denny/Sealth co-location, I was asked to serve on team of neighborhood residents to work with SPS regarding the project.  At the end of those meetings, a SPS architect told me that an elementary school would eventually be built on the old Denny property (that, in fact, he had to work on the design for it).  I remember being frustrated that we had hammered out plans for hours only to know if was going to be built over again anyhow.  

    • Melissa Westbrook June 3, 2017 (11:08 am)

      A couple of comments:

      – I, too, recall the district saying they would be building an elementary school at the old Denny site.  What I don’t remember is them saying they would tear down the old one before that happened.

      – I sympathize and understand the feeling that STEM K-8 was started with great happiness by the district and then the program not supported.  You see this over and over. Dual language, IB and now STEM.  The district loves to say that they have these programs but they do not support them.

      – The district is currently on BEX IV with BEX V to start its process this fall, for a vote in winter 2018.  Be aware that the need is great throughout the district and they have to divide up the programs equally throughout the district.  Seattle Schools has many old (older than 50 years) buildings and what they have been doing is pouring millions into old, failing buildings.   You’d be surprised how much money has been spent just to shore them up.

      It’s quite the dilemma BUT there is not just one answer to the problem (as I said in previous comment, the first one in this thread).

  • STEMmomof2 June 2, 2017 (1:41 pm)

    I was the mom that mentioned the ex Denny site.   It was purely spontaneous with the flow of questions (and no answers) .  I was pretty frustrated with the speakers skirting around the issues of this not being a permanent site for our school.  I got the distinct impression that they only saw the STEM building as the only viable solution to having an interim location.  As they repeatedly mentioned, no PLAN B.   My spontaneous thoughts were:  What is SPS doing with all the additional locations they have?  What is going on with the old Denny site (I attended middle school there) and even though, the speakers mentioned that it was small, why was that not a viable option for something since SPS already OWNS it?   What else do they own and what can it be used as?  

    So I jumped ahead of it all and produced my own plan B.   Why can’t they: 

    1.   Use the old Schmitz park location for interim of Alki and Lafayette ONE AT A TIME.  

    2.  Simultaneously why can’t they BUILD us a new school at the old DENNY site.  It was a middle school and it was one level, Why can’t it be a 2-3 level K-8 grade school that has the space, the LABS and everything a MODERN K-8 school needs.  It is in the right geo zone for our students.   We need and were promised a permanent home.  This is not fair for the students.  

    3.  Then use the BOREN location (which they are pretty strongly trying to use anyways) as the interim site for Mercer  and Rainier when they need it as an SPS interim site.   They mentioned 20+ years of needing an interim location. 

    Lastly, I’d like to say… this was all spontaneous in my head,  it was hard to convey it this way as its was going with the flow of the conversation.    I’m being realistic.  There were promises made in the past, and they bluntly mentioned that sometimes political promises, can’t be kept (truly this was said)    I felt it was very foreboding of them trying to take the building back.   I was just trying to open some of ideas for them to think about and consider.   These are just IDEAS.  

    • Heidi A June 2, 2017 (4:23 pm)

      Excellent ideas 

    • Belvidere Dad June 2, 2017 (11:58 pm)

      Agree. And this talk of Boren as an eventual interim site for Beach makes no sense. It’s 10 miles away.

      What also shocks me is the lack of foresight by the District for anything beyond the immediate crisis. What about middle school enrollment? The capacity problems that are growing in elementaries now, especially on the north end, become ones for middle schools later. So the District’s plan is to take the best middle school growth option and move it next door to Madison? With no plan for capacity growth? It’ll be eight years before BEX V turns over to BEX VI, meaning true development of additional middle school capacity is at least a decade out. Why would you limit your options like that?

  • SPS Parent June 2, 2017 (1:51 pm)

    While I feel STEMs pain it comes down to the fact that STEM is an option school.  It is not a neighborhood school.  In my opinion neighborhood schools should  come first over an option school taking up space where another school can get renovated.  Maybe they should go walk the halls of Mercer and see if they would feel comfortable sending their kids there?  Or Rainier Beach?  

    • NotAmused June 2, 2017 (2:35 pm)

      There’s no reason to pit option schools against neighborhood schools, and no reason option school students or families should matter any less. Option schools do exactly the same hard work of educating kids every day that neighborhood schools do. I’ve personally had kids in all kinds of SPS schools, including affluent neighborhood schools, title one neighborhood schools, and option schools. Every single community deserves to have resources and stability.

    • STEMParent June 2, 2017 (2:55 pm)

      So, kids who go to option schools matter less? What’s that about?  Not every neighborhood school is right for every kid.  Some kids thrive in neighborhood schools, while others (mine included) would flounder. We can’t afford private and don’t want to send our kids to a religious school… so it’s “take it or leave it”???

      STEM has tried to be a good neighbor to our community, both the Delridge community of people AND the community of other West Seattle schools… we kept being told that it’s not OK for schools to be pitted against each other…

      And here we have this false problem of “neighborhood” versus “option” schools. Why? 

      You ask us to walk the halls of other schools… it’s not like the Boren building is the gem of the system. It’s absolutely not. It’s plagued with all kinds of facilities issues. It’s not perfect. But what it is, is big enough for the work that goes on within it.  Requiring the school to be moved to the former Schmitz Park site would cut us off at the knees. 

      …and for what? So other schools can be located in the Boren building? Elementary schools that don’t need the space for middle school kids, for Project Based Learning and Career and Technical Education? The equity issues are huge. The transportation issues are huge.  As we were told in the meeting last night, NO OTHER currently occupied WS school is being considered as an interim site. That being the case, I believe SPS needs to justify it’s actions with more than a “well, this was the interim site for a long time.”

      But, please, begin by explaining why neighborhood schools should absolutely have priority over option schools. 

    • Melissa White June 2, 2017 (11:24 pm)

      I was living here when Boren was an “interim” school and I never want it to go back to that. SPS treated it like a dump and we were constantly having to report criminal behavior and graffiti. As the parent of a one year old who lives in the townhomes directly across the street from the STEM school, I consider this our neighborhood school. I’m really hoping my daughter can go there and that all this gets sorted out before then. I’m very supportive of the programming and strongly feel this is exactly how we are going to diversify our tech talent down the road which is mission critical to ALL of Seattle and ALL of our futures.

  • jack June 2, 2017 (1:52 pm)

    So sad, it is this kinda of craziness why we choose to send our child to private school at great sacrifice for our family.  We are a very middle class family and both of us are products of public education but along with the quality of life in Seattle the quality of Seattle education continues to spiral downward.  All of these issues are interconnected, but we will keep building increase density , spend money on homeless administrators who deliver nothing, developers that have the run of the city.  We keep voting in incompetent individuals who are not at all interested in local neighborhoods but their personal vision of what this city should look like…Well take a good look folks is this working for us 

    • Ann June 3, 2017 (11:39 pm)

      Well stated Jack. Thank you.

  • K8 June 2, 2017 (2:54 pm)

    Sometimes it really feels like the central office staff doesn’t care about kids. I can’t fathom what their agenda is, but it’s not supporting the community. 

  • Gina June 2, 2017 (2:56 pm)

    First the BEX levy vote needs to happen.

  • GO STEM GO! June 2, 2017 (2:59 pm)

     As a STEM parent, I’ve come to the conclusion that SPS simply used the creation of the STEM program as a shiny object to lure families in and relieve an acute capacity crisis with little intention to invest in it as a long term program. Since the school was established, I haven’t seen significant vision or  investment in STEM-specific efforts from the district. Thankfully the community is full of INSANELY motivated staff and families that have willed the program into being. The ongoing talk of location change and program co-locations further indicate that STEM isn’t seen as a school among equals, but as a release valve that can be toggled to manage the district’s lack of vision and foresight . 

    This community is making things happen, let us settle in and build on our successes. Please, hands off! We’re a school just like every other West Seattle school, plan and operate accordingly.

    • WsEd June 3, 2017 (1:00 pm)

      OMG GO STEM GO you took the words right out of my mouth.  When STEM was started I was positive it was just a way for the district to lure people into sending their kids to buildings that would otherwise be difficult to populate with students.  Of course everyone I talked too poopooed the idea but now my neighbor who has kids there just admitted to me he thinks I was right.  For the administration the kids are bodies that are attached to Dollar signs and however they can manipulate the populous to increase the per capita yeild they will.  I’m not keen that the legislature is going to fix this problem during my lifetime either.

  • 2012 STEM Parent June 2, 2017 (3:21 pm)

    The most disappointing part of the meeting for me, was the lack of support from West Seattle/South Park school board director Leslie Harris and her frankly condescending attitude to one parent in particular. Harris seemed to imply that STEM K-8 parents only care about our school community and that there are hundreds of other schools in SPS and sometimes a particular school has to get “shafted” (her word).

    What Harris doesn’t understand is that STEM has been “shafted” since day 1. I was at the meeting in early 2012 (at Schmitz Park) when SPS excitedly announced their idea for a new option school focused on STEM. I attended many of the planning meetings at Madison, and got caught up in the energy and enthusiasm. Yes, we could take this graffiti-covered building on Delridge and turn it into an amazing school!

    I signed my child up! Our neighborhood school had been closed down a few years earlier (due to lower enrollment). I had visited my child’s assigned school and was not impressed, and I knew Pathfinder was a long shot (great school but everyone wanted their kid to go there).

    On the first day of school (Sept. 2012), full of excitement for what the future would bring, I walked my little kindergartner into a building that was not nearly ready for students and staff. There were no pencils in the classrooms, many textbooks hadn’t even arrived and the bathrooms were covered in graffiti. The bathroom my kindergartener had to use had “**** is a bitch!” and “F*ck off” on the wall. The excuse SPS had for the graffiti was that they “Couldn’t find a paint to stick to the stalls.”

    Then it was time for recess! The kids ran outside, only to find that there was no playground equipment. No balls, jump ropes etc. No play structure and not much room to play because portables covered a lot of the playground. The PE teacher apologized that she couldn’t help by lending some PE equipment to the playground because she didn’t have any. The only PE equipment she had was borrowed from other schools because hers hadn’t arrived yet.

    Since day 1, we STEM parents and staff have felt SPS’s excitement wane. It’s almost as though the person who had this brilliant idea must have left SPS shortly after. But, despite the lack of support, STEM staff and families rallied and created an awesome school!

    Two years later, SPS re-opened our neighborhood school (after spending a fortune on renovating it – which probably wouldn’t have been as expensive if they hadn’t let it get into such disrepair in the first place.) It was going to be “fantastic”, with an awesome principal and teachers. Everyone wanted their kid to go there, and we were actually in the neighborhood so our child was a shoo in. BUT we decided to stick with STEM because we loved the community and the academics. And we have continued to stick with STEM because of this. But STEM feels more like a “co-op” school to me. It’s awesome but only because of the amazing efforts of the staff and PTA. I can’t emphasize enough that without the STEM K-8 PTA, this school would be nothing. The PTA pays for so much of the STEM curriculum. So much that SPS promised, that we have to pay for ourselves.

    STEM started out with 3.5 kindergarten classes (one was a K/1 split). The following year it had 3 kindergarten classes. The plan was to always have 3 classes for each grade. However, SPS put it down to 2 classes at the start of the 2014-15 school year. We asked why. They said that they prefer kids to go to their neighborhood schools so they’re going to cap our enrollment. We have a bubble now, currently in 3rd and 4th grade, of what STEM could have been. We definitely have the interest to fill 3 classes per grade. We have a massive waitlist.

    I won’t even go into the mess of having Arbor Heights share the building with us. That was not fair to either school, and was not easy. 

    All I want is for Leslie Harris to understand that STEM has been “shafted” since the beginning. SPS promised us this was our permanent home back in 2013 (I was at the meeting, I remember it). SPS should not break that promise. STEM is a “gem” of a school, as one parent described it last night. 

    • NoAnswers June 2, 2017 (5:47 pm)

      Oh, how I wanted my kids to attend STEM. But… our oldest kindergarten year was 2014-15. And we didn’t get it because of the reduction in kindergarten size and, well, not winning the lottery. We went to the neighborhood school and have been very happy there. Now it is bursting at the seams and the district offers no relief and no plan to help us. Next year our quiet lunch room, art and science, reading tutors’ room will be gone to accommodate over 720 students (that’s just K-5, with projections for growth).

      At our recent PTA meeting Dr. Nyland offered no solutions and no real answers, repeatedly blaming facilities on poor building management (isn’t he their boss?), agreeing that mistakes were made (but, again, not suggesting any solutions) and flat out admitting that he didn’t know answers to our questions and concerns.

      It is very hard to trust the leadership and not feel dismay at their lack of foresight.

      • Brainpower June 2, 2017 (7:46 pm)

        I was at that PTA meeting too. Quite unimpressed with Nyland’s lack of answers and well-this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it approach. But I also heard a parent suggest using some of the know-how in this tech-forward city to improve SPS basics, like online enrollment instead of paper or manual-entry forms. Hope Nyland and his assistant heard that idea.

        To be fair, this is the fastest-growing U.S. city. No local agencies have had enough time to figure this out. Every school (option and neighborhood, and yes, even those with more resources) has very different, but pressing challenges right now. (See the outreach from the Sanislo PTA this week?) Is it fair that anything be considered ‘permanent?’

        We’re gaining more students in the district every day. Doesn’t mean SPS can build new schools overnight. But we do know that having more students in the district means more voters, more parents in touch with principals, more people to contribute knowledge-economy ideas (which might be more forward-thinking than SPS right now???), not to mention more influence from parents & families who can mobilize and communicate with elected officials…

      • 2012 STEM Parent June 2, 2017 (7:54 pm)

         I don’t understand why they capped STEM at 2 classes per grade. I’m so sorry your kid didn’t get in. Some of the overcrowding at your neighborhood school could surely have been alleviated by STEM. I think Pathfinder is 2 classes per grade too. Perhaps there isn’t room for more in their building but they certainly have enough families applying there.

    • StemPapa June 2, 2017 (6:27 pm)

      Ms. Harris’ board position is up for election in 2019. 

      • 2012 STEM Parent June 2, 2017 (7:54 pm)

        Not soon enough, if last night is anything to go by.

    • Brynn June 3, 2017 (8:47 am)

      I am one of those Kindergarten parents from the first year also. Thank you so much for your post. You articulate perfectly the journey of our school. Our amazing community has done all the work of what Our school has become. A big thank you to all the Staff and Parents of Louisa Boren K-8 Stem❤️

  • Sarah June 2, 2017 (3:37 pm)

    I don’t trust SPS at all.   By the time they have these meetings, they have already made a plan, they just want the appearance of transparency and getting community input.  Mark my words, you can spin your wheels and scream from the hilltops–they have already decided what they are going to do.

     I am still stinging from being lied to  about the APP program split at Lowell Elementary, which was a poor decision on so many levels.  We were promised support when our students got kicked to the curb and were unceremoniously dumped at Thurgood Marshall –and we received none.  No teacher training, no additional staff to deal with the transition.  It was more than rocky, and because of that move,  TM lost funding for free and reduced lunches and Title III funding. It was a lose/lose.  Oh, and the low incident special needs program that was in Lowell suffered because of the APP departure.   Not good decision making on any level.  

  • Mamasuze June 2, 2017 (3:51 pm)

    What about the awesome space that used to be Fauntleroy School?  Now rented out to a bunch of businesses. . . . . reclaim that!  It has tremendous potential and amazing views!

  • Admiral Mom June 2, 2017 (7:37 pm)


  • Seattle parent June 3, 2017 (11:02 am)

    I’m curious about the location/social equity question for The Stem school.   What are the free and reduced lunch numbers for Stem?   What are they compared to the surrounding schools, which I believe are west Seattle and Sanislo.  Has the school become more economically and racially diverse over time?  

    • WSB June 3, 2017 (12:37 pm)

      You can research that information for any school via the district website – look for school reports.

    • NotAmused June 3, 2017 (1:11 pm)

      In broad strokes, it’s demographically more diverse than the Northern WS attendance area schools and substantially more diverse and higher FRL than WS’s other option school. It’s less diverse than the adjacent elementary schools– Sanislo, Highland Park, Roxhill–but a bit more than Arbor Heights or Gatewood, with similar FRL numbers.Those numbers don’t account for the fact that the geozone and surrounding area is highly diverse and more neighborhood kids want to go there than the district will allow with their enrollment caps (I currently know several on the astronomically long wait-list), so it’s important to consider that there’s a diverse local population the school could be serving more of if it were allowed to.  

  • Seattle parent June 3, 2017 (2:41 pm)

    Interesting, thanks not amused.  We looked at Stem originally.  It looks like a great school and I hope the school can stay after all that hard work.  Thanks for explaining the waitlist issue. It seems like it could also be a great opportunity for the neighborhood so I hope those kids can get past the waitlist and the school lifts the caps.  Best of luck!

  • Mike June 3, 2017 (9:21 pm)

    And the SPS circus continues.  

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