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Originally published September 17, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Page modified September 18, 2013 at 10:05 AM

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Seattle redraws school maps to ease overcrowding

The Seattle school district is redrawing its attendance maps to make room for thousands of additional students expected by the end of the decade. School Board members saw the first proposal Tuesday, and parents will have several opportunities to weigh in before a final board vote in November.

Seattle Times education reporter

Public meetings

The Seattle school district will host five community meetings beginning next week to discuss proposed changes to elementary- and middle-school attendance boundaries for the 2014-15 school year. All meetings will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. and all will have Spanish interpreters (and other languages depending on the site).

Sept. 23 — Mercer Middle School (lunchroom), 1600 S. Columbian Way. Somali, Tagalog and Vietnamese interpreters.

Sept. 24 — Nathan Hale High School (commons), 10750 30th Ave. N.E. Somali interpreter.

Sept 25 — West Seattle High School (commons), 3000 California Ave. S.W. Somali and Vietnamese interpreters.

Sept. 30 — Meany Building (lunchroom), 300 20th Ave. E. Somali and Vietnamese interpreters.

Oct. 1 — Ballard High School (commons), 1418 N.W. 65th St.

Seattle Public Schools

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Seattle school officials presented new school assignment maps on Tuesday — their initial proposal for how to ease overcrowding, make room for even more growth and fit new schools into the mix.

It’s a complicated endeavor with many moving — and potentially contentious — parts that will be phased in over several years.

The proposal is the first substantial revision of attendance boundaries since 2010, when the district started using a neighborhood-based system that guaranteed students a seat in a school close to home.

The district expects about 10,000 more students in the next decade and is building, replacing or renovating more than a dozen schools to accommodate them.

That requires drawing boundaries for the new schools, adjusting other boundaries accordingly and, in another goal of the overhaul, spreading special services more equitably across the city.

Among the key pieces:

• Elementary-school boundaries would stay the same in 80 percent of the district’s geography. Elementaries are now clustered around nine middle schools, but under the new plan, some elementaries would be assigned to three additional middle schools that will open in the next few years.

• The district’s Accelerated Progress Program would be expanded, with the existing APP pathway from elementary school to high school in North Seattle replaced with two new pathways. The district also would add a new APP program in West Seattle.

• Two international elementary schools — John Stanford and McDonald — would become option schools that accept students from around the district. That would change the elementary-school assignments for the neighborhoods those schools now serve. A third school, Dearborn Park Elementary, would become an international option school. International programs also would be added at Highland Park Elementary, Mercer Middle and Rainier Beach High, but those schools would continue as neighborhood schools.

The plan does not affect students this year and is far from a done deal. Many of the details about when the changes would take place will depend on what happens in the next few weeks.

Typically, public comment is not heard on school-district issues until much closer to a final vote by the School Board. But this time, the district is front-loading the process with community meetings that start next week and arranging for people to physically walk the new boundaries to make sure nothing has been overlooked.

The School Board’s final vote on the boundary changes is scheduled for Nov. 20.

“Genuinely, there are things that staff haven’t thought about,” said Patti Spencer, the district’s acting chief communications officer. “Input will help.”

Enrollment jumps

Seattle Public Schools moved to a neighborhood-based assignment plan several years ago after decades of an unpredictable school choice system that was rooted in the racial desegregation plans and busing of the 1970s.

In planning for the new assignment system, the district assumed that declining enrollment that had prompted school closures in 2006 would continue.

But that prediction turned out to be dramatically wrong. Enrollment surged about 7 percent from 2008 through 2011, forcing some schools to hold classes in gyms, auditoriums and portables parked on school grounds.

Last year, Seattle packed almost 50,000 students into its schools. The district expects almost 60,000 students by 2020.

In February, voters approved a $695 million levy to make room for the additional students. In addition to the new construction, the six-year project will upgrade technology districtwide.

Officials are beginning with the boundaries for elementary schools and middle schools, with high-school boundaries to be considered later.

The district is proposing that children can stay in their existing elementary or middle school until they move to the next level. But when they move from elementary to middle school, the new boundaries would apply.

Programs shift

Under the existing system, students in the Accelerated Progress Program in North Seattle now advance from elementary grades at Lincoln to Hamilton Middle School and then to either Garfield High or Ingraham High’s International Baccalaureate program.

The district is proposing replacing that pathway with two new ones: Wilson-Pacific Elementary to Wilson-Pacific Middle school and Olympic Hills Elementary to Jane Addams Middle School.

The district also would add an APP pathway in West Seattle: Fairmount Park Elementary to Madison Middle School.

Services for students who are not native English speakers would remain largely unchanged and would be offered at the three new middle schools when they open: Meany, Wilson-Pacific and Jane Addams. Special-education services also would still be offered at all schools.

Parents who were nervous about the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program in West Seattle may be relievedto hear that the district is recommending that it remain at its present location.

But parents lobbying to keep the Pinehurst alternative program alive in North Seattle likely will be disappointed that the district has examined various proposals to keep it going beyond this school year and says it has not found a viable solution.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on all the boundary proposals at five community meetings beginning next week.

The district expects much discussion and debate from the public and the School Board before November’s final vote, but is promising parents they will have all the information they need to make decisions early next year about which schools they want their children to attend next fall.

Seattle Times education reporter Linda Shaw contributed to this report.

John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or jhiggins@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jhigginsST

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