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Originally published September 29, 2013 at 6:53 PM | Page modified September 29, 2013 at 7:10 PM

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Alternative proposed to Seattle school-boundary plan

A volunteer advisory group is recommending a different way to organize schools north of the Ship Canal that would require fewer boundary shifts and lower parent anxiety.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Volunteers who have spent some two years burrowed deep in the technical weeds to help the Seattle School District plan for future growth believe they have a better idea for the swelling neighborhoods north of the Ship Canal than the district’s plan.

Officially known as a the Facilities and Capacity Management Advisory Committee — FACMAC — the volunteers represent neighborhoods across the district and include experts in demographics, statistical analysis and corporate logistics.

Last week they sent Seattle Public Schools officials a report responding directly to the district’s proposal for new school-assignment boundaries, which would change the most in the north because the district is increasing the number of middle schools there from three to five to accommodate growing numbers of students.

The FACMAC group argues that its recommendations for the new Wilson-Pacific elementary and middle schools would “substantially decrease the number of necessary changes while achieving a similar final outcome in enrollment distribution across the region,” according to the report.

Neither the group nor the school district would comment on the specifics of the report.

“We appreciate and value the FACMAC recommendations and will certainly take them into consideration along with the thoughtful responses we are receiving from other parents and community members,” said district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel.

The School Board will vote on a final plan Nov. 20, with the changes to be phased in over several years.

The district is trying to find a way to adjust school boundaries to accommodate children who live in those neighborhoods.

But some of those schools also must make room for the Accelerated Progress Program (APP), which serves students from all over the district who score highly on cognitive and achievement tests.

Putting both groups of students under one roof complicates matters. Schools that house APP can’t enroll as many neighborhood kids, so that shrinks their attendance area. Other schools that don’t draw students from outside the neighborhood may get larger attendance areas.

The district proposes putting half the APP students at Olympic Hills Elementary and Jane Addams Middle School in Northeast Seattle and the other half at the new Wilson-Pacific elementary and middle schools to be built near North Seattle Community College. Those four schools also would serve neighborhood kids.

All that juggling means a lot of disruption for families as boundaries shrink and swell around them.

The district anticipates that students still would be allowed to complete the highest grade in their schools, even if the boundaries shift. But that grandfathering policy wouldn’t apply to kids moving from elementary to middle school.

Parents also are worried about what will happen if siblings end up having to attend a different elementary school than their older brothers and sisters.

Siblings would get first priority for admission if there’s still room after all the neighborhood kids assigned to that school get a seat.

“It’s not a guarantee,” said the district’s enrollment manager, Tracy Libros.

The district has long guaranteed it will always find a school that siblings can attend together.

“While we promise that your kids can go to school together, we don’t promise that they can necessarily go to a particular school together,” Libros said.

The FACMAC report questions whether all that disruption and anxiety is necessary.

“The choice to assign APP students to Olympic Hills and Jane Addams Middle School would do a disservice to both attendance-area students and to APP students,” according to the report.

Instead, FACMAC recommends using the new Wilson-Pacific buildings exclusively for APP without drawing neighborhood kids from other elementary schools in the area.

Once APP is removed from the equation, the district should have a clearer picture of “what boundary changes are absolutely necessary and unavoidable in the North End in contrast to changing 100 percent of the attendance areas,” according to the report.

That picture could be muddied if the transition plan for APP becomes so unpalatable that parents withdraw their children and return them to their neighborhood schools.

The district now plans to house either part or all of the incoming APP sixth-graders at the former John Marshall High School near Green Lake until Jane Addams and Wilson-Pacific middle schools are ready to take them.

The FACMAC group recommends that the district find a way to keep APP students where they are now, at the former Lincoln High School and at Hamilton Middle School, until the Wilson-Pacific buildings are ready.

The report also calls for the district to share more enrollment projections for specific regions, specific programs such as APP, and especially for high schools, which aren’t considered in the district’s initial proposal.

Policymakers at all levels of government need the data, too, the report argues, because the district needs “more land, more buildings and more funding to solve this problem.”

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

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