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Originally published Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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Parents want answers on new Seattle school boundaries

Pointed questions about school quality dominated a meeting Saturday at Rainier Beach High School, the second-to-last public meeting on the boundaries that soon will govern where Seattle students go to school.

Seattle Times education reporter

Upcoming meetings

Monday: Public hearing on proposed boundaries, 6-8 p.m., John Stanford Center,

2445 Third Avenue S.

Nov. 18: School Board vote on new boundaries, 6 p.m., John Stanford Center.

For more information

See the district's Web site at: http://www.seattleschools.org/

area/newassign/index.html

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Pointed questions about school quality dominated a meeting Saturday at Rainier Beach High School, the second-to-last public meeting on the boundaries that soon will govern where Seattle students go to school.

The quality questions started as soon as Seattle Public Schools staff members started answering questions that parents submitted on index cards, and continued even after the meeting ended.

Parents wanted to know when high schools in the South End will have as many college-level courses as schools in the North End of the city, and when southeast schools of all levels will have the same number of extracurricular activities.

A few questioned whether the district should adopt the new boundaries before it lives up to its promise of providing a quality school in every neighborhood.

"It seems like all the schools should be excellent before they force you to go to a particular school," said parent Deeann Partlow, who has a 7-year-old at Graham Hill Elementary and a 4-year-old.

The Seattle School Board is scheduled to vote Nov. 18 on the new boundaries, one of the last steps in putting a new student-assignment system in place. After the boundary vote, the board then will turn to how to phase in the plan over the next few years.

Next fall, the new boundaries will apply to students entering kindergarten, middle school or high school. Other students will stay where they are.

The new plan represents a move to a neighborhood-based assignment system in which students will be guaranteed a seat in a school close to home — although not necessarily the nearest school.

Families could still apply to attend other schools, but the district wouldn't be providing as much transportation as in the past.

The district says many parents want a system in which they know, based on their address, where their children will go to school, and they also want to send their children to schools close to home.

District leaders also acknowledge that the new plan will go into effect before they can guarantee that all schools are high quality.

But they also stress that they have a number of improvement initiatives under way.

On Saturday, district staff members sought to ease parents' concerns by discussing those initiatives — everything from adding preschool classes to high-poverty schools to providing a more consistent level of quality in high schools, and designing a new teacher-evaluation system.

The district's goal, said Cathy Thompson, executive director of curriculum and instruction, is to make sure all students can enroll in a four-year college if that's what they want to do.

"Every child — and I mean that sincerely," she said.

After the meeting, Steve Sundquist, one of four School Board members in attendance, said he hopes that parents who end up with a school they might not have chosen will add energy and momentum to the school-improvement efforts under way.

He also said that he thinks the public will see significant improvement over the next two to three years, and a much greater level of parity across schools.

But the parents attending the meeting didn't seem to be won over, including Priya Singh, who looked around the Rainier Beach High library and questioned why, even though the school has added a number of advanced classes, she saw books she considered at an elementary-school level.

Her two children won't be affected by the new plan, but she said she's attended many of the district's meetings about it because she cares about her community.

"We don't care where the lines are," she said. "We want high-quality schools."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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