Ugh. I don't even know where to start. Do we all even know what's going on? I barely know. Okay, so in 2017 we are looking at two schools opening - one brand new, ginormous, full of community resources LIKE A CLINIC school, and one very small, very old, landmarked so you can't knock any walls down, computer lab ON THE STAGE school. The original proposed boundaries will result in Ginormous School having a more white, less poor, more English speaking population than it did before (though still "diverse", statistically speaking) and Small School starting out "overconcentrated" in ELL, FRL, and minority populations. I believe "overconcentrated" is the word I'm supposed to use instead of "segregated".
Parents pushed back. Teachers pushed back. We had a handful of entirely pointless "community engagement meetings". After the last one, our own Phillip Cheung went out to coffee with a Race and Equity team representative to be all, "WTF, District?" And, shocker, the Race and Equity Team rep confessed that this whole "race and equity toolkit" the district kept jabbering about wasn't even really established. The team was still learning its job and figuring out their role. They hadn't been involved in boundary decisions before.
Then the district offered to meet with three engaged parents (including Phillip), the principals of the three schools involved (including the future new principal of the new Small School), and members of the Race and Equity team. The district may have been genuine in wanting feedback and finding a compromise, or at the very least, the least bad solution, but at this point, the options are as follows:
1) Open Small School at the right size, but "overconcentrated"
2) Open Small School with underenrollment and therefore not enough funding (and possibly over enroll Ginormous School, though some of us strongly dispute those numbers)
Also, at this point, the district has announced these small meetings are finished; it will now meet with the three affected principals, and they'll choose a solution to propose to the board in the fall.
Because despite the race and equity "lens" the conversations at the meetings were focused more on numbers and right sizes, because a right size school is preferred by the incoming Small School principal, because the right size school option makes concessions to the third school's concerns, because the district would obviously like to go with the easier, less angry parent-making right size option, and because OUR school principal left for a new job (we found out yesterday) the chances of the equitable option being chosen are very slim indeed.
There IS a way to right size the schools AND make them equitable, but it means drawing boundaries in crazypants ways, uprooting tons of kids at tons of schools, and infuriating all of NE Seattle. Ruminating over all of that has led me into the quagmire of neighborhood schools vs. busing vs. the sort of "apply to the school you want" system Seattle had before it returned to neighborhood schools in 2010. Because that's what's really happening here. Small School, in order to be the right size and assist with the overcrowding that's happening all over the district, will draw students from low income areas, where people are predominantly not white, non native English speaking, and in subsidized housing. Because those are the neighborhoods it draws from, that's what this neighborhood school will look like. Meanwhile, the school that used to draw those neighborhoods (and many others) is being rebuilt with plenty of amenities and resources to serve just those demographics. Opening Small School as a neighborhood school means those students are prevented from taking advantage of those resources, as well as the benefits of going to a school made up of families with more resources.
Some people have said not to worry, that Ginormous School is still going to have its ELL and FRL population, but we'll be drawing those kids from another school and quite frankly I want to advocate for OUR kids who ARE losing out. These are not interchangeable widgets, folks. The neighborhood school system relies on having a "quality" school in every neighborhood. Because many of our current teachers will stay at Small School when it opens, I can say that Small School will have a stellar teaching staff. But they'll be teaching in a run down building with a library stuffed into a classroom, a computer lab on the stage, no plumbing in the portables, and horribly insufficient bathroom facilities. Should they ever have the funding for art or music there's nowhere to do it.
I have been sympathetic to the anti-school choice crowd, because it takes funding away from public schools. But a whole lot of good that's doing for our disadvantaged kids in 2017. "Mitigation" is the new buzzword to make us all feel better about how UNequitable this decision is, but does that money even exist? And all the mitigation funding in the world can't help if your tiny crappy building is landmarked, like Small School is, and you're not allowed to knock down walls or build out. Honestly, if it turns out we do get all the funding we're supposed to get under McCleary, who's to say this bloated opposite-of-transparent district is going to spend that money on the kids? Bring on the vouchers, Campbell Brown.