WEST SEATTLE SCHOOLS: Why attendance-area boundaries might change for Genesee Hill, Lafayette next fall

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Some families who currently live in the Genesee Hill Elementary School attendance area may find themselves in the Lafayette Elementary School attendance area starting next school year.

Boundary changes are being considered for those two schools to take some pressure off GHES, West Seattle’s most-populous elementary, already 10 percent above capacity just one year after opening.

The changes – if any – would take effect next fall, starting in the 2018-2019 year, and could affect some current GH students, depending on what kind of “grandfathering” – if any – the district decides to allow.

All this was discussed at GHES this morning, as principal Gerrit Kischner and district officials led an early-stage briefing for families during a “coffee with the principal” event in the lunchroom.

GH opened in fall 2016, built for a capacity of 650 students, after the program’s years with a village of portables at Schmitz Park Elementary, but it’s already stuffed with more than 710. “We’ve continued to grow and grow even though our boundaries have shrunk,” Kischner noted.

He was joined at the meeting by Lafayette principal Cindy Chaput and, from district HQ, associate superintendent Dr. Flip Herndon and enrollment planning director Ashley Davies.

“We’re already over the capacity of the building” and “there’s no additional space,” Davies began. She showed a slide with Genesee Hill’s “right-size capacity” and current over-enrollment, while Lafayette is underenrolled – “right-size” at 550, currently at 394. (The calculations for “right size” do include Lafayette’s current portables, Davies said in response to a question. Some of those portables are used only part time, principal Chaput said, adding that “we have four empty classrooms” right now and she saw no problem with adding more students – right now.)

If nothing changes, Genesee Hill would grow to 807 by 2021 while Lafayette would still have room, at 437.

So the district reviewed five “potential scenarios” as Davies described them to try to balance things. They’re looking more seriously at three of them, and those are what were shown.

(UPDATED EDITOR’S NOTE: The full electronic version of the slide deck from this morning’s meeting is available via the Genesee Hill PTA site. And late tonight we received the proposed boundary-change maps from the district as separate files. Click HERE to open the full-size PDF version of the options. For comparison, the current GH boundary map is here.)

(Again, you can get the largest size of those three maps by clicking here, and then use your own controls to zoom in.)

The big issue that comes with boundary changes is grandfathering – what would happen next fall to students now attending GH but whose attendance-area school is changed to Lafayette? Davies had slides for that too, suggesting the district is mulling three options – what attendance would be if all current students were grandfathered, what it would be if none were, and what if they grandfathered students who would be in 4th/5th grade next year.

Siblings are not part of the grandfathering policy in any event, she said.

Questions included why a partial grandfathering policy would be for older Genesee Hill students rather than younger. Davies said that’s “based on most of the feedback we’ve heard during boundary changes in general.” So is there any research on the emotional, cognitive, etc. changes’ effects on the younger children? How would they get additional support? the parent followed up. That would be a collaboration between the school leaders of Genesee Hill and Lafayette, Davies said. “We’d be working to have as smooth a transition as possible for those students.” Yes, but would there be any specific resources, such as an extra counselor? Davies didn’t know.

One parent said she’s strongly in favor of grandfathering because breaking up a community otherwise would violate “social trust” for the children, and she’s OK with her kid(s) going to a “slightly overcrowded” school where families and staff have built a community. That drew applause.

Also potentially affecting the future – Lafayette is one of four West Seattle elementaries currently being considered for a rebuild under the BEX V levy that is scheduled to go to voters in early 2019 – with details yet to be worked out, as we noted in this story earlier this week. If Lafayette does get rebuilt, might more of the families currently choosing private schools return to Lafayette? one parent asked. Davies pointed out that it would be several years away at least and they have to do something sooner to handle the Genesee Hill crowding.

And what about the students, another parent asked, who in that scenario might have to move multiple times in their elementary years? Associate superintendent Herndon said, “Unfortunately that has happened from time to time. We try to coordinate boundary changes with capital projects completing.” But he said there are possibilities such as keeping students on-site at Lafayette while the project is built in parts. However, what they’re talking about right now is using Schmitz Park as an interim site while Lafayette (and potentially Alki Elementary) is rebuilt. And, it was noted, if a school moves to an interim site, the entire school goes – kids still have the same classmates and teachers, for example.

Also asked: What about other schools, such as Alki, being involved in changes, given how waitlists shook out previously? Alki is not under-enrolled, Davies said. Another question regarded boundaries going along socio-economic lines in West Seattle as a whole, so why arent some bigger improvements being considered? Davies reiterated that they are just trying to do something “more immediate” to relieve GH overcrowding, but that the socioeconomic lines are a “bigger conversation that needs to be had.”

Another parent said that before the new school opened, she and others had warned the area was too wide, but it fell on deaf ears. She also says GH PTA leadership would be “decimated” because the area under consideration for change is where the leaders have long come from.

So who makes the ultimate grandfathering decision? “Who do we need to go talk to to make sure our voices are heard?” asked a parent. Davies said that “ultimately enrollment planning will have to create a recommendation that goes to the school board,” which makes the final decision.

At that point, a PTA leader said that it’s important families know that what was shown this morning followed some smaller conversations narrowing things down already. “This is not the first conversation – we’ve been working on this for a little over a year,” when it was clear that the capacity issue would have to be dealt with.

Another attendee noted that three school-board positions are on the November ballot – being voted on citywide – and the winners will be part of the final decision on this early next year.

Also asked, whether the district is taking HALA upzoning into consideration in their projections. Davies said the district does talk with the city, but “what ends up happening isn’t always what could be anticipating.” Multi-family housing, for example, has a “low student yield rate.”

And then a parent asked, is anyone really shocked by these numbers? And how confident is the district? “My kid may get to stay here, but her friends may need to go, and that sucks.” She wanted to know if the district is sure this conversation won’t recur in two years. And another parent said he wanted to be assured that the district has changed its methodologies to make reliable predictions.

Davies noted that BEX V projects would figure into that so they would have more future capacity and “not be (dealing with) the same schools (they are now).” The parent wasn’t happy with that answer.

Kischner jumped in at that point to note that the “capture rate” change had played into the changes in a big way – for many years, about 67 percent of the kids born in the area had attended Schmitz Park, and then the percentage “shot up” to 93 percent. “That was a huge number of kids, and just a shift in the whole attendance process.”

He also invited attendees to write down remaining questions so he could work to get answers, and promised to send out information via the school’s e-mail list.

WHAT’S NEXT: Here’s the decision-making timeline shown at the meeting:

They’re looking for feedback over the next month or so. A tentative boundary-change proposal would go to the School Board Operations Committee on December 7th; a final vote on any change would be at the full board meeting January 17th so that it would be finalized before Open Enrollment begins in February.

15 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE SCHOOLS: Why attendance-area boundaries might change for Genesee Hill, Lafayette next fall"

  • Steve M October 27, 2017 (2:48 pm)

    Thanks for reporting this. I wish this had been communicated better by the school. I get that a meeting in the evening is super hard to arrange, but the scope of the presentation was not clear in the little note in the weekly note from the principal, and not all parents can attend what sounds like an important meeting during a work day for many.

  • SL October 27, 2017 (3:18 pm)

    If GH is so crowded and Lafayette has room, some kids will need to switch.  My kids have switched elementary schools and I know it’s not ideal, but what else can be done?  GH can’t expand their building.  There has been a history of poor planning, but at this point, I don’t see another alternative.  I understand the concern about grandfathering.  I don’t know the numbers, but at least the older grades should get to stay.  4th and 5th graders shouldn’t have to move.  Ideally siblings could stay too, but that may be too many kids.

  • zark00 October 27, 2017 (3:53 pm)

    Weird that Lafayette is under capacity yet both 5th grade classes have over 30 students.

    • Que October 28, 2017 (11:26 am)

      The key word there is BOTH.  There are four 5th grade classes at GH, and they are the smallest grade level in the building.  

  • Bonnie October 27, 2017 (4:30 pm)

    I always tell people don’t count on being in the same school boundary in the future.  You never know what can happen.  It does suck for those who would have to make the change though.

  • ImmaMom October 27, 2017 (8:45 pm)

    Lafayette is under enrolled because of many factors.  One biggie is that they have had high principal turnover, followed by a 3 yr stint of horrible leadership. I hear the current principal is good.  Another big factor is that they got rid of the spectrum program, which allowed kids to work ahead of grade level in many subjects and dive deeper into content.  All the kids in this program have moved to other schools. 

  • MSW October 27, 2017 (11:45 pm)

    How about reopening Schmitz Park and have smaller class sizes. It seemed a bit dumb to close an over crowded school,  build a new one and have it end up at capacity when it opened.  

    • Admiral Mom October 28, 2017 (4:07 pm)

      Tracy addressed this and she said that Schmitz Park is an interim site. Because Alki Elementary and Lafayette both need to be rebuilt or renovated, they need space to house students during that process.

  • Kay October 27, 2017 (11:58 pm)

    I cannot read the PDFs to see the street names. Where does the new boundary start on Manning/Charleston/etc. is it 35th? 

  • kidsadapt October 28, 2017 (8:51 am)

    The thought of changing schools is emotional. And oftentimes, I observe, its the parents who are more distraught than the kids themselves.  Kids will adjust and thrive, they make new friends. And parents will build support networks at their new school. And sooner than you know it, you will be reunited with old friends in middle school.  Looking at those maps and thinking about all of the condos that are being built (assuming families will be in some of them!) both Genessee Hill and Fairmont Park will likely see more kids coming through their doors. After having lived through the crowding of Schmitz Park (even though it was handled well by staff), I wish the district had redrawn the boundaries sooner, not closed schools, etc. Too many mistakes to rehash!  But staying in an overcrowded school just because  the older sibling went there is not worth it. In reality, as the school grows, you may not repeat with the same teachers for your younger student so it’s all new anyway.  

  • Admiral Mom October 28, 2017 (4:11 pm)

    This must be so hard for the GH families. They’ve already moved from Schmitz Park, now they have the possibility of moving to Lafayette, and then Lafayette might move to Schmitz Park if they are approved for a rebuild. My heart goes out to all of them! Change is not easy and it can feel frightening. Hopefully I can add a dose of positivity by welcoming them to our Lafayette Community. GH sounds amazing, but Lafayette is really a wonderful school too! We have a great principal, teachers, and fabulous PTA. If you do have to move schools, I hope you know that Lafayette will welcome you and your kids with open arms!

  • GH Mom October 28, 2017 (5:26 pm)

    Thank you for saying that. We are one of the families who will have to move (in any of the posted boundary scenarios). We love GH so this is hard news for us. It helps to hear that Lafayette is also well loved. 

  • GH MOM OF 2 October 30, 2017 (8:38 am)

    I agree with the comments about communication – our house is in the zone that will move to Lafayette under all three maps, and other than a small blurb from the principal in a weekly newsletter, I was unaware this was being discussed on Friday.  Had I been aware, I would not have been able to attend due to the timing during the workday.  If the district is truly looking for feedback from the community, I hope they’ll consider scheduling another meeting at a time that working parents can support! 

    And, as others mentioned above, this is the second school move for our 2nd grade student who started Kindergarten at Schmitz Park, and would mean that our Kindergartner, who also loves her new school, will have to move schools as well.  All of this after we specifically bought a home in the Schmitz Park boundaries.  I have not had the heart to tell our kids who I know will be so upset about this news.  As a parent of kids who have a hard time making new friends, this would be a really challenging adjustment for our family.

    This will also impact us in other ways – we currently rely on the bus in the morning, and would require morning care without it – adding another $400 of expense each month for the 20 minutes of care we would need, not to mention a new before/after care program, counselors, location, etc, as the kids are currently in after care at GH as well.

    It’s disappointing that this has been so poorly communicated, especially to those of us in the zone that may have to transition.

    • q October 30, 2017 (12:25 pm)

      Boundary lines shift through time, so buying a home near a boundary line comes with the risk that you’ll get reassigned to a different school in the future. Not blaming you (really), but it’s something to consider for other people moving to an area for a particular school…don’t buy near the boundary line if it’s important to you.

      Also, notice for the boundary meeting was given in the Oct 19 Thursday bulletin that is emailed to all parents and also posted and archived on the Genesee Hill website. I do agree with you that 8am is a difficult time, but you can see below that they were trying to time it with another school event. Here is the text from the Oct 19 email below. 

      “Coffee with the Principal and Boundary meeting, Friday, October 27th at 8:00: If you were
      able to join us at the last PTA meeting, you heard my report that the District has been working
      on some different boundary adjustment plans in an effort to mitigate the continued capacity
      pressures in our attendance area. Now the District is working to finalize a proposal for
      boundary adjustments and Associate Superintendent Flip Herndon and Enrollment Planning
      Director Ashley Davies will be on hand to answer questions about their draft proposals. We
      chose this time with hopes that parents coming to help that day with Harvest Festival would
      have time in the morning to join us for this meeting.”

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