Education, News, Transportation

SPS Proposes Shutting 67% of Neighborhood’s Grade Schools Out of Walk Zones


From Julie van Arcken, Beacon Hill, advocate for low-income schools losing walk zones:

SEATTLE – A parents’ group on Beacon Hill has applied for a Seattle Department of Transportation mini grant for funds to implore the Seattle School District to let their children keep walking to their local neighborhood schools.

In its draft Growth Boundaries Proposal, the district has proposed removing families at 67% of Beacon Hill neighborhood schools from their district-designated walk zones, and instead bussing them to faraway schools. The Beacon Hill group compared all the city’s current grade school maps to the school district’s proposed maps for 2014 and found that:

  • Citywide, families at 28% of Title 1 (low-income) schools would lose official Seattle Public Schools-designated walk zones, compared to 12% of non-Title 1 schools.
  • Under the new proposal, 67% of Beacon Hill schools would lose walk zones, compared to 13% for the rest of the city.
  • All of the Beacon Hill schools losing walk zones are Title 1 (low-income) schools.
  • Beacon Hill is the only neighborhood where children would be taken out of walk zones to cross interstate-feeding arterials, or, in the case of Beacon Hill International, I-90 itself.

“The district shouldn’t be removing kids from walk zones anywhere, but it’s especially unfair that the district is targeting low-income schools in Southeast Seattle to stop walking to school,” said Julie van Arcken, a Maple walk zone parent whose child would be bussed miles away under the new proposal.

The group applied for funding under the City of Seattle’s Safe Routes to School Mini Grant Program, which provides grants of up to $1,000 for education and encouragement programs for walking and biking to school. The group, which only asked for $28, would use the funding as reimbursement for funds already spent on signage, photocopying, and other lobbying materials to implore the school district to let Beacon Hill children remain in their current walk zones, and not be bussed to faraway schools.

“It’s ironic that the city is encouraging children to walk to school, while the district wants to make it unsafe for them to do so,” said van Arcken. “We’re really hoping that this Tuesday, Oct. 8 — International Walk to School Day – isn’t the last day that many Beacon Hill kids are able to safely walk to their local schools.”

After hearing from parents up and down Beacon Hill, the North Beacon Hill Community Council voted unanimously to advise the School Board to reject the district’s boundary proposal.

In a letter to the school board, Council President Melissa Jonas wrote, “Community response in the brief time since the proposal was announced has been overwhelmingly negative to every aspect of the plan as it applies to S Seattle. … We are confident we can help develop a proposal that keeps neighborhood students in our neighborhood and within safe, realistic walk zones.”

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10 Comments on "SPS Proposes Shutting 67% of Neighborhood’s Grade Schools Out of Walk Zones"

2 years 1 month ago

Linnea – GREAT letter! You all really nailed it at the working session at Lakewood Community Center.
Shelley – I appreciate your viewpoint, but I have to say that the school district is notoriously bad in their data forecasting, and they are currently attempting to make predictions ten years out. Six years ago, the district decided to close multiple schools, believing enrollment was dropping, but they used population data that was ten years out of date and ultimately landed themselves in an overcrowding situation. I don’t have the confidence that they are able to predict which neighborhoods will have population booms, especially in the SE which is ever redefining itself. Also, because I live towards the southern end of Hawthorne’s border, I am one of the folks whose school has changed 3 times in 5 years (had I lived here longer, it would have been 4 times in 7 years), and I am sick of being literally pushed around.

2 years 1 month ago

From: Linnea Fichter
Date: October 9, 2013, 11:01:18 PM PDT
Subject: SE Seattle boundaries response

Dear Mr. Banda and Seattle School Board members,
To consolidate reactions from concerned SE parents and PTSAs regarding the proposed boundaries plan, the Seattle Council PTSA convened a group of parents and PTSA representatives from several SE schools—Beacon Hill International, 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:
ü 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.
ü Consider safety and walkability when reassessing proposed boundaries. Freeway onramps, industrial areas, and major arteries pose significant concerns.
ü Assure changes do not disproportionately impact Title I schools.
ü Grandfather siblings into existing schools and feeder patterns to ensure family continuity and academic security.
ü 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.

Vice-President, Seattle Council PTSA | 206-679-6571

Melissa Jonas
2 years 1 month ago

I want to tell my grandkids their mom walked 1.4 miles in the rain along a freeway (uphill both ways) as a tall tale–not as biography.

Thurgood Marshall is on north of I-90 from Beacon Hill. No, pedestrians aren’t crossing the car lanes, but they are crossing I-90. yes, there is a fabulous bike trail for much of the route. It may be walkable for older elementary students on nice days with lots of light. It’s absolutely not an option for families on a tight schedule and/or those walking with younger siblings–especially when their house is within spitting distance of Kimball.

If SPS presents a revised proposal with clear data showing that BHIS, Kimball, Dearborn Park, Maple and Van Asselt are all going to end up overcrowded disasters with a dozen portables (like all the schools in the north end), the community has a chance to have a sober discussion about priorities. People will work with the district to create a fair, equitable plan that makes sense.

Melissa Jonas
2 years 1 month ago

I wish the district’s goals were clear. That’s what we’re asking: please define the problems in our area and engage the community in meaningful ways to help develop solutions. Perhaps there is a looming attendance crisis in Beacon Hill. Perhaps there are very good reasons for gutting the Hawthorne PTA. The data I’ve seen doesn’t seem to say that and no one from the district is answering the question directly.

We’re asking for a transparent, collaborative outreach process. People want to work with the district. Three weeks of one-way meetings (participants ask questions, staff nod and write them down without answering) is neither transparent or collaborative. It’s also not long enough.

I’m looking forward to the revised proposal SPS will release on Friday. I’m hopeful that the parents who’ve been working so hard on this issue will get answers and a chance to help create a workable solution.

2 years 1 month ago

Shelly — I’m currently 0.9 miles from Maple, within the district-defined walk zone for the school. Van Asselt would be over 2 miles away, out of walking distance and across the I-5 feeder arterial of S. Graham.

Van Asselt is not the closest neighborhood grade school to my house. It is not the second closest neighborhood grade school to my house. It is the third one, and out of the district-defined walk zone.

I spent many hours collecting all the maps in an easy-to read table (which I also provided as a downloadable spreadsheet) if anyone wants to dig deeper into the data. As far as I can tell, I’ve done more work than the district in terms of making all the old and new boundary maps easily comparable.

2 years 1 month ago

The School Board needs a serious reality check about the South End. Why is the SE area of Seattle littered with MMJ options but there are not enough options for schools? There is a building in Columbia City that used to be a school but the SeattleSchoolBoard folk cannot find the money to reopen this, but they can find money for more buses from the recent levy? Seriously?

2 years 1 month ago

Along with many other aspects of the re-draw, the determinations made here are arbitrary, based on one person’s interpretation of demographic trends. They do not take into account community involvement, mobility, educational continuity and outcomes, etc. etc. etc.

The fact is, the demographic problems are on the north end. Keep them there. There is no need to redraw the boundaries for the vast majority of areas south of the ship canal. Many families have had these boundaries redrawn on them 3 times in 8 years. That means 3 academic tracks, PTA, transportation, and logistics changes in the time it takes to get an average 2-child family through elementary school.

2 years 1 month ago

I am frustrated at the lack of acknowledgement to the reasons for the proposed boundary changes. If you read the information provided by the district in the proposal, it is clear what they hope to achieve enrollment wise with the numbers. If the enrollment numbers pan out as the district is forecasting, you will have children unable to enroll in their reference school, and the district will not be able to meet capacity goals outlined in Appendix A. So what is the suggestion for the district to put these students when they can’t fit in their reference school? This isn’t just about being able to walk to school or not, it’s about providing the appropriate space to create an equitable learning environment for all children. And no student is crossing I-90 to attend school. If they’re walking, they are walking adjacent to it on a dedicated path. I feel more confident in the safety of the route my children take to WMS than to Mercer. I’m also going to question the distance between Maple, BHIS, Kimball, and Dearborn Park. I haven’t measured it, but all these schools are within a reasonable distance of no more than about 3 miles at the furthest point. I’m not familiar with where the author lives or what the new school would be for her child, but if it’s within one of these schools on Beacon Hill, I’d hardly consider it miles aways. I consider all of these “neighborhood” schools. I wish that people were laying out the questions they want answered instead of merely saying what they want to happen.