Proposed school boundaries would return Seattle to a neighborhood-based system
Seattle Public Schools proposed new boundary lines for all its schools Tuesday, marking a return to a neighborhoods-based assignment system that would guarantee students a place at a school close to home. As part of the new plan, the district also wants to reopen five closed schools.
Seattle Times education reporter
Community feedback meetings
THE PUBLIC MAY COMMENT on the new attendance-area boundary maps and the student assignment plan at the following meetings:
Saturday: 10 a.m.-noon, Eckstein Middle School, 3003 N.E. 75th St.; and 2-4 p.m., Washington Middle School, 2101 S. Jackson St.
Monday: 6:30-8:30 p.m., McClure Middle School, 1915 First Ave. W.
Tuesday: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Aki Kurose Middle School, 3928 S. Graham St.
Wednesday, Oct. 14: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Ballard High School, 1418 N.W. 65th St.
Thursday, Oct. 15: 6:30-8:30 p.m., West Seattle High School, 3000 California Ave. S.W.
Friday, Oct. 16: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Denny Middle School, 8402 30th Ave. S.W.
Saturday, Oct. 17: 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m., Mercer Middle School, 1600 S. Columbian Way
Comments also may be submitted by e-mail at email@example.com and by mail to Seattle School Board, P.O. Box 34165, MS 11-010, Seattle, WA 98124-1165.
For help looking up your attendance area, call 206-252-0760.
Seattle Public Schools proposed new boundaries for all its schools Tuesday, marking a return to a neighborhood-based assignment system that will place students in a school close to home.
Over the past few decades, the school district has had a variety of assignment plans with differing goals — from forced busing in the late 1970s meant to racially integrate schools to the current plan, which allows students to apply to any school but doesn't guarantee them a spot at any particular one.
That's about to end. With the new plan, students will be assigned to schools based on their address, with some options — but no guarantee — of going elsewhere. The plan will be phased in over the next several years, starting next fall with students entering kindergarten and grades six and nine. Other students will stay where they are.
The district also announced Tuesday that it wants to reopen five closed schools over the next few years, including Viewlands Elementary in northwest Seattle and Rainier View Elementary in the southeast, which closed just two years ago. It also plans to reopen Sand Point Elementary in northeast Seattle, Old Hay on Queen Anne (as an "option school" for grades kindergarten through five), and McDonald Elementary, south of Green Lake.
The district always planned to reopen some of those schools fairly quickly, but the others, the district says, are needed because enrollment is increasing even faster than anticipated in those areas.
The goal of the assignment plan is to create a simpler and more predictable system that also will save money by reducing the number of school buses crisscrossing the city.
It's also a plan in which racial diversity is not among the top goals. While officials say it's still important for schools to have a racial mix of students, that ranks lower than the goal of providing a high-quality school in every neighborhood.
How well the plan works will depend in large part on whether the district delivers on its promise to provide consistent school quality across the city.
The board approved the general outlines of the new plan in June, and many parents have been waiting anxiously for the specifics — where the boundary lines would fall for them.
Even before the lines were made public, controversies erupted, including where the boundaries for popular Ballard High would be drawn. Another contentious issue has been whether students, during the new plan's transition years, could go to the same school as an older sibling if it's not their newly assigned school.
Before finalizing the boundaries, the district will hold nine public meetings across the city to hear what parents have to say, and will do further analysis of its own.
District staff say they already plan to review their proposals for the four North End high schools because they'd like to balance enrollment better there.
Other highlights of the proposals:
• High-school students in Queen Anne and Magnolia would be assigned to Ballard High. Parents in those neighborhoods have long complained they were at a disadvantage because they didn't live close to any Seattle high school, and proximity to a school, even in the old system, was a key factor in who went where.
• Students who attend Beacon Hill International School would attend Mercer Middle School rather than Washington Middle School. Tracy Libros, district director of enrollment planning, said that boundary was drawn largely for academic reasons: to provide a link from Beacon Hill, which is an international school, to Mercer, which probably will become one.
• Cleveland High is slated to become a math and science magnet school, open to students districtwide.
Under the new plan, families will still have options other than their assigned school. They will be able to apply for their child to attend any school in the district. But they wouldn't be provided school-bus service to schools outside their "service" area, which is basically the boundaries of the middle school to which they would be assigned.
It's not yet clear how the new boundaries might affect the racial balance in the district's schools. Since the end of forced busing for integration, Seattle schools have largely resegregated.
With that in mind, the district plans to free up 10 percent of the seats at each high school available on a lottery basis to students who live outside a school's boundaries.
The School Board has talked about giving preference for those seats to students from low-income families, but decided to table that for a few years to see what happens with the new plan.
The district can no longer base school assignments on a student's race as it did a number of years ago, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in 2007.
Here's how the new plan is to work, in general:
Each kindergartner is to be assigned to an elementary school close to home — but not necessarily the closest school. All students from an elementary school will then feed into the same middle school. High-school students will be assigned based on their home address, with no feeder pattern from middle to high school.
Some students with special needs, however, may be assigned to programs further from home.
That will take much of the uncertainty out of an existing process that can be confusing and uncertain, with no fixed boundaries and students applying to a wide range of schools with no guarantee of a seat at any particular one.
In proposing the new boundaries, district staff members took into account such factors as how many students live nearby and safe walking routes. They also designed the plan so that once the boundaries are set, no changes would be needed until 2015 at the earliest.
The new system also will not put families new to the district at a disadvantage. The way it works now, families who don't sign up by a prescribed deadline are left with only those schools that still have room.
The School Board plans to vote on the new boundaries Nov. 18.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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