Monday night I attended the emotional and informative town hall meeting at Aki Kurose Middle School, where schools slated for closure in the South East quadrant had the chance to air their grievances to the district’s Citizen Advisory Committee. Well over two hundred of my fellow members of the Graham Hill community marched down the hill to the meeting; you can see a clip of the coverage on KOMO TV.
I spent a lot of the night cornering CAC and school board members, and I intend to write up a bit of a report later on, but I wanted to briefly comment on an epiphany I had while rabble-rousing with parents from other schools slated for closure.
The CAC had belatedly suggested that Graham Hill’s Montessori program might be moved into another school if the parents wanted, but we all understand that this simply would not work. The Montessori program is a community, deeply tied to Graham Hill and its neighborhood. And it is a program that requires the active support of strongly involved parents to succeed.
For example, the school district requires that we waive our $290/month tuition to any applicant qualifying for free and reduced price lunch, but provides no additional money to cover its costs. Without the scholarship money raised by Montessori parents, we can’t keep the preschool open. I doubt half the families would stick with the program if moved outside our neighborhood, and without these families the program will fail. You might as well just start from scratch elsewhere.
And in talking to parents at other schools, I learned that this attitude was shared, particularly by the very passionate families at TOPS.
Possibly the most bewildering of the CAC’s recommendations was the decision to move the extremely popular, 530-strong TOPS program from the specially modified Seward building, into what is now Thurgood Marshal, a building with a capacity of only 420.
Of course, it makes absolutely no sense to recommend moving the TOPS program intact into a building with less than four-fifths the necessary capacity, unless…
Unless you don’t intend to move TOPS intact.
And that was my epiphany. In making this recommendation the CAC must have assumed that that Thurgood Marshal could accommodate TOPS, because in moving it, the program’s enrollment would dramatically decline. And more dramatically than the numbers at first suggest.
My understanding is that about a third of the students at TOPS come from the neighborhood, and choose it mostly because Seward is their neighborhood school. Seward is one of the nicest facilities in the city, and Montlake, the school proposed to take it over, has some of the district’s highest test scores. So we can assume that as much as a third of the students currently enrolled in TOPS will choose to remain at Seward. (It’s really the only way the 230-strong Montlake can even begin to take advantage of Seward’s 524-seat capacity.)
Likewise, we can assume that Thurgood Marshal is the reference school for a significant number of its students, and they too will choose to stay in large numbers, whatever prefix is slapped before the school’s name. So really, there’s probably only room for about half of TOPS students to move to Thurgood Marshal — which I’m guessing is about right, since many of its families will choose other, more stable options, within and without the district.
I personally had hoped to transfer my daughter into TOPS for middle school, but not anymore. I don’t want her to have her education disrupted by the transition years, in which the new, smaller TOPS gradually adapts to its new building and new community. It may be called “TOPS” but it won’t be the program we toured this winter.
The fact is, you can’t move a program like TOPS in this fashion, and expect to keep its community together. The CAC must have understood this, else they never would have believed they could fit the over-enrolled, long wait-listed program into a much small building. It just stands to reason.
Likewise, I take the belated offer to explore moving our Montessori program to another school as a nonstarter. If Graham Hill closes, so will its Montessori program, and neither its name nor its community will survive a move to a different school. The district will essentially be shutting down a program with some of the highest WASL scores in the city: 100% Reading, 83% Writing, 67% Math.
And I can only assume the CAC understands this too.