SE schools air concerns about growth boundaries

Read the letter that parents from Hawthorne and several other Southeast Seattle schools sent to Superintendent Jose Banda and the School Board in early October 2013 challenging various aspects of the a growth boundary proposal to deal with overcrowding in some parts of the district:

Dear Mr. Banda and Seattle School Board members,

To consolidate reactions from concerned SE parents and PTSAs regarding the proposed boundaries plan, the SCPTSA convened a group of parents and PTSA representatives from several SE schools—Beacon Hill, Graham Hill, Hawthorne, John Muir, Kimball, Maple (with Georgetown), and Thurgood Marshall. We came to consensus on several key concerns with SPS’s current proposal that we believe affect ALL students and families in SE Seattle, and urge you to avoid making changes to existing school boundaries at this time and to undertake a more inclusive and longer-term planning effort.

Key Concerns with SPS Proposal

  • SPS’s proposal is inequitable in its content and process, extremely so for the SE community. Low-income, minority, and non-English speaking communities were cut out of the process. The plan appears to have a disproportionate impact on Title 1 schools in the SE. The unreasonably short timeframe between the release of the draft plan and community meetings, the presentation of plan documents in English only, and the electronic-communication based rollout thwarted the ability of many affected parents and guardians to provide meaningful input. We question if the Racial Equity Analysis Tool, recently adopted as SPS Board Policy, was utilized as part of this planning process.
  • SPS’s proposal will be extremely and unnecessarily disruptive to our families and our schools. At this stage, it should be clear to all involved that changing school boundaries and middle school assignments is one of the most difficult and upsetting things that can happen to families and schools, and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
  • SPS has not yet clearly communicated what school- or community-level problems the myriad proposed changes are attempting to solve in the SE, and it is not clear how the proposal addresses any such problems. Questions posed at the initial community input meeting at Mercer MS were recorded, but answers were not provided. Public information requests seeking such transparency about the planning process and underlying data have been deferred until after the School Board’s final vote, demonstrating contempt for the schools and families affected. Consequently, there is a pervasive perception that SE Seattle is being needlessly bundled into changes that are necessary in other parts of the city.
  • SPS’s proposal undermines neighborhood schools and neighborhood cohesion by splitting neighborhoods, splitting apart siblings, and creating boundaries to parent engagement.
  • SPS’s proposal to redraw boundaries and change feeder patterns in the SE is premature given that planning and funding for key programs have not yet been finalized. In particular, we are concerned that space is being set aside for a not-yet finalized special education plan and a not-yet funded international option school.

Action 1: Make No Changes to the SE at This Time

  • Do not change existing boundaries.
  • Make no changes to existing middle-school feeder patterns.
  • Do not make Dearborn Park Elementary an option school for the 2014­-2015 school year.
  • If any changes must be implemented for the next school year:
  • Target changes to address only urgent problems in the SE to minimize unnecessary disruption, and provide clear information about why the specific changes are necessary.
  • Consider safety and walkability when reassessing proposed boundaries. Freeway onramps, industrial areas, and major arteries pose significant concerns.
  • Assure changes do not disproportionately impact Title I schools.
  • Grandfather siblings into existing schools and feeder patterns to ensure family continuity and academic security.
  • Work with principals to better-utilize existing space for new programs, to the extent possible, before limiting enrollment of general education students (e.g., the proposed cap to enrollment at Hawthorne to allow for expansion of special education programs).

Action 2: Take Time to Develop a New Plan, Take Time to Obtain Community Input, and Take Time to Implement a New Plan

  • Delay making changes in the SE until key considerations are effectively reflected in the plan:
  • Application of SPS’s Racial Equity Analysis Tool toward improving all schools and improving the process for gathering community input into planning
  • Linkages with educational goals and stability for students
  • Safety and walkability of neighborhood schools
  • Neighborhood cohesion
  • Assure that cart-before-the-horse issues are resolved before making disruptive changes:
  • Finalize plans for special education.
  • Develop and fund any international option school programs, and assure that these reflect neighborhood interests and needs. Identify a new location for an international option school before closing an existing SE neighborhood school.
  • When implementing a new plan, assure that the rollout provides sufficient time and better engages the full SE community:
  • Do not make drastic changes quickly, given the risk of academic and social disruption to families.
  • Allow time for the community to understand the proposal, and allow time for parents to plan for any changes.

We are acutely aware that the coalition of parents giving input here were disproportionately white and middle class.  We believe that the timing and outreach associated with this process have been inadequate for meaningful engagement and dialogue within our community.  Any new proposals should be presented to the full SE community, with adequate outreach efforts, in multiple languages, and with enough time built into the process to allow for the fostering of true understanding and meaningful dialogue with our diverse community.