Community Post

Excellence for Some – Same Old Story for Others

On November 25th, The Seattle School District Superintendent announced the proposal to close a number of schools in our District. TT Minor was one of those schools. For those of us who have children at TT Minor this was not a surprise, just another example of the lack of support this school has received from our District for the past eight years.

TT Minor is a neighborhood school within a rapidly gentrifying community. A high proportion of the students at TT Minor are African-American and low-income, which reflects the historic population of the community. Over 85% of the children at TT Minor qualify for free or subsidized lunches. Some children at TT Minor have already been shuffled around by the school district after the closure of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary three years ago. These same children are now facing another transition to a new elementary school. How sad, and yet unsurprising, that it is these children, the ones most in need of consistent structure and support, are the ones being asked, once again, to move and start over somewhere else.

The School District has shown a distinct lack of planning for how to make these transitions smooth for the families that could be affected. For example, there has been no realistic proposal about how they plan to integrate a co-ed APP program into Thurgood Marshall, a school where the classes are gender separated. In fact, it is clear that the majority of the District’s “fixes” are ledger based, and give little or no thought for how our communities will be affected. A “We’ll just send ’em somewhere else and worry about it later” attitude was pervasive throughout the recommendation meeting.

TT Minor has all of the right pieces in place to become a great local school and an all city draw. In moving the Montessori program, dispersing the traditional program, breaking up the current staff, volunteers, and other excellent programs such as our chess club, it will be “start all over again” again. If history is any guide, it will be a long time before the Central Area has another shot at having an excellent elementary school.

It is evident that the District has an agenda to shut down this historic, perfectly located, and very special school. Over the last six to eight years there have been multiple attempts at shutdown, and over an even greater period the building has been allowed to fall into disrepair while other facilities have received improvement. The children who attend TT Minor have had their resources cut to the point of neglect: the roof leaks, bathrooms are outdated, there is no running water in any of the classrooms, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders have no access to a restroom or water fountains on their floor, staff turnover is fast and furious, there is no vice-principal position at the school and only a part-time librarian, part-time art teacher, and very few extra-curricula activities offered. And yet the school continues to improve its test scores, maintain a tournament-winning chess club and trophy-winning band, and continues to garner support from within its community. The Montessori program at TT Minor has waiting lists to rival the most over-subscribed schools in the District.

After hearing the District’s proposal it’s apparent that the people who actually care about our schools, our communities, and our children are us, the families who live here, and the families who choose to send their children to TT Minor from other areas.

Clearly the folks from the Center for Educational Excellence, with their “Excellence for All” motto have a bureaucratic need to make bureaucratic choices. However, what this community and our children need are consistent, centrally-located programs. We need to be able to trust in our public school system and believe that the District are really working for us and driven by the needs of our children and the future of our communities. As a community we need to work with the Seattle School District to develop TT Minor into the school we all know it has the potential to be. Budgets do need to be managed, but it’s time to stop doing more of what hasn’t worked so far, and to start looking at new solutions and sources of support.

TT Minor MUST stay open. We MUST stay engaged. The alternative will be more fleeing from our central area public schools to schools in the north and to private schools for those who can. Basically, it means more of the same. Change is in the air. Let’s make it happen.

0 thoughts on “Excellence for Some – Same Old Story for Others

  1. The district is acting with incredible disregard to much of the central cluster. The public hearing for the closure of the TT Minor building (as required by the state) is scheduled for Dec. 15, 6:30-8:30p. While it is crucial for the community attend this event in support of the school, it may be more important to write the school board. If families and community members have a cohesive message and act in solidarity, the district may hear. This is a data-driven administration, not particularly responsive to the social/emotional needs of young children. Can the TT Minor community share its success stories and key talking points with us? How are test scores improving? Innovative teaching? We’ll need the numbers, combined with the social justice issues, to advocate effectively.

  2. The School District is listening, and listening intently.

    I made a blog post abut my local school, Meany, at 10:30 last night.

    By 11:30 PM I had two E-mails from a school employee (sending a press release and offering to put me on their list). I E-mailed her and got a reply so she was really at work at 11:30 PM!

    So they are monitoring what we say. SPEAK UP, speak up in great numbers, have cogent (and polite) discussions, as is typical of CD News. Contact the Schools:


  3. I am the father of a 1st grader at Lowell (APP). Yes, the latest proposal has half of Lowell moving to Marshall. I was opposed to splitting APP. I wanted them all to stay at Lowell and I am skeptical about much of the plan.

    But I have no idea what you’re getting at when you say “There has been no realistic proposal about how they plan to integrate a co-ed APP program into Thurgood Marshall, a school where the classes are gender separated.”

    APP kids will be in their own classes at Marshall. It’s a separate program. What difference will it make if boys and girls go to the same APP classes, even if the rest of the school is segregated by gender?

  4. The TT Minor School Community has drafted a letter to be sent to Board Members and other community leaders. It can be found at the new website
    Many of the key points we are arguing are contained within that letter. Please feel free to e-mail or send a letter to help us the campaign to keep TT Minor open.
    Here are the main talking points:

    • When Seattle Schools Superintendent, Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson visited TT Minor Elementary School last year she reassured staff, volunteers and students that she had no intention of shutting the school down. Fast forward to November 25th and her words clearly meant nothing: TT Minor is one of the schools that the Superintendent is considering for closure.
    • Enrollment is down at TT Minor but this is due to the District’s lack of support and funds more than anything else. In summer 2008, the District sent a letter to prospective TT Minor families citing the school’s failed AYP scores and offering these families alternative school placements. This letter was not accompanied by any contextualizing information and many parents assumed the school to be failing. The truth is that TT Minor barely failed AYP (at 4th grade only) and in fact the school is considered to be at the first stage of improvement, the same level as ORCA, Pathfinder and other popular District schools, and is expecting to pass AYP this year. TT Minor continues to improve its test scores and was awarded an Academic Improvement Award by the State Superintendent this year.
    • TT Minor has been working to recruit new students by offering both traditional instruction and a Montessori program side-by-side at the school. The Montessori program at TT Minor has been a huge success and has waiting lists to rival the most over-subscribed schools in the District. TT Minor has been making plans, and applying for non-District funds, to expand the current K through 3rd Grade Montessori classes to Pre-K through 5th Grade at the school. The proposed Pre-K Montessori class would have space for 20 children and already has a waiting list. By expanding the Montessori program to cover all grades at TT Minor the empty classrooms that the School District has expressed grave concern about would be filled, and the school would be offering two distinct educational choices to prospective parents, making it an attractive draw. Unfortunately, while the District’s closure proposal would move the existing K-3 Montessori program to Leschi Elementary, there is no indication that these expansion plans would be supported or upheld there. We need to guarantee that the Montessori Program will run Pre-K through 5th so that parents will be assured a place for their children through the elementary years and not be worried about having to move them mid-stream.
    • The building at TT Minor is in disrepair, another reason why the District proposes to close the school and another reason why enrollment is down. It is the District that has let the building deteriorate to such an extent. The TT Minor School administrators have repeatedly requested improvements for the past eight years and have been consistently passed over by the District while other facilities are improved. Similarly. The District promised to improve the school building after the TT Minor/MLK merger three years ago and those improvements have never happened. The children who attend TT Minor have had their resources cut to the point of neglect: the roof leaks, bathrooms are outdated, there is no running water in any of the classrooms, and the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders have no access to a restroom or water fountains on their floor. Luckily TT Minor has strong community support that has taken upon itself to get these vital repairs done and is now applying for other funds, including 2010 Capital Levy Planning funds, in order to get the facilities improved.
    • TT Minor is located right in the center of Seattle and can easily serve the densely populated communities and neighborhoods that surround it. TT minor is close to 7 public bus routes and is easily accessible from many different city neighborhoods.
    • TT Minor is a 50,000 sq. foot facility sitting on 3.4 acres of land. If the district really wants to consolidate, there is no better place to do it. There is room for more students, and land on which to grow to meet future needs.
    • TT Minor has been a part of the Central District neighborhood since 1890. The school has nurtured generation after generation of the same families through their elementary education. As a result it has a strong community supporting it, and a broad base of volunteers that help at every level: administrative, in the classroom, extra-curricular, and within the community.
    • A high proportion of the students at TT Minor are African-American and low-income: over 75% of the children at TT Minor qualify for free or subsidized lunches. Stability, consistency and structure are vital if these children are going to succeed educationally and in life, yet the School District has offered no plan outlining how they will make these transitions smooth for the families involved.
    • Displacement will not benefit TT Minor’s students, many of who come from single-parent families; families that are currently facing the possibility of unemployment and/or have little or no access to transportation.
    • TT Minor has all of the pieces in place to become a great local school and a regional draw for parents of school-age children:
    o TT Minor continues to improve its test scores.
    o This year TT Minor was awarded an Academic Improvement Award by the State Superintendent.
    o TT Minor has 16 Rainier Scholars this year.
    o The school maintains a tournament-winning chess club and trophy-winning band.
    o It has a charismatic, experienced, and dedicated new Principal.
    o TT Minor has strong community partnerships through the YMCA, UW, SCCC, Big Brothers Big Sisters, SASS, Seattle University, and Seattle Academy.
    o Every teacher at TT Minor is Spectrum trained.
    o TT Minor’s music program is a partnership with Garfield High School through Benaroya Hall.
    o Garfield High School has initiated a Student Mentoring Program with the school.
    o Local businesses and churches have made commitments to support the school.
    o Recently TT Minor has started the process to expand the Music and Art programs at the school and become the first Performing Arts Elementary School in the District.

  5. Hi, I just came from the community meeting at Thurgood Marshall. It was enlightening and disheartening at the same time. As a parent who survived with two successful daughters and yet very different in approaches to school at Madrona when one was in APP and the other was not, I have serious questions regarding the current plan and groundwork done to even possibly address the co-housing issue. There are advantages for both programs, but unless those advantages are embraced by both sets of families (mainly adults), the attempt will lead to an atmosphere of mistrust and mean spirited actions beyond the norm for most caring adults.

    Misconception 1. There is a gender separate program at Thurgood Marshall. It no longer exists.
    Misconception 2. Thurgood Marshall parents accept the idea of separate classrooms. No work to envision how the school will be put together has been done with them.
    Truth: Many Thurgood Marshall families see themselves as displaced by APP and worry about over-crowded classrooms with no space for either program to grow.

    Yes, a merger could be successful but only if it is embraced by all and all want it to be successful.

  6. Coming from the same meeting, I see no reason to raise the specter of “mistrust and mean spirited actions beyond the norm for most caring adults.” I’ve seen no indication from APP or Thurgood Marshall that people are unwilling to work on the cohousing arrangement, if that’s what it comes to. Both schools are mostly concerned with keeping their own programs intact. They’re happy as they are, and would rather not be interfered with.

    That said, I’d like to know more (much more) about the “design team” that Patrick Johnson (Central Cluster Instructional Director) said was going to work out the cohousing details. Both schools have lots of questions, and the school district hasn’t given themselves a lot of time to work out the details. He assured the group that the district understands the issues involved in joining the two programs together, and promised a design team that “gets it.” We’ll see about that.

  7. I think it’s a shame schools have to compete against each other this way. Whatever happened to just having good, well-funded, neighborhood-based schools? Why does a school have to be an “all-city draw” to survive?

    I’m all for special programs for kids that need it, or who show special talents, but let’s face it: Most kids grow up to be normal everyday Joes (like me). I went to a neighborhood elementary, a larger Junior High, a citywide high school, and a state university. I have a good job, and contribute to society. I’m no genius, and certainly no millionaire, but my family gets by.

    Of course, that was in Iowa, which has a reasonable taxing mechanism (classic “three legged stool” taxation: Income, sales, and property) and is known for good public schools and universities. Also, in Iowa, there’s generally not the competition with private schools – and even the parents who send their kids to religious schools support the public schools, because the private school kids come to the public school for classes like advanced chem or math.

  8. It’s not that they are not listening. They are listening to the wrong things. Anybody can respond, and i appreciate their hard work, but the process is totally bungled. In an attempt to listen, they are lurching to and fro whenever they hear the loudest screams, and in doing so look as if they are lacking leadership.

  9. “I think there’s a need for APP and other alternatives. “

    And I totally agree, as I said in my first post. What I don’t get is why we can’t have APP programs, and special education, AND good quality neighborhood public schools for the kids don’t fit in either of those special groups.

    Why should our public schools – and our neighborhoods – compete with each other for what is a basic service?

  10. Yes Iowa Guy, it would be too much like the right thing to do. I think much of what has been happening with public education, and is happening right now with the SPS, is that enough people do not really understand that good public education is critical for a functioning democracy and healthy economy.

    The mythologies and cuts in sensible funding, along with absurd unfunded mandates and some textbooks that are very questionable, has turned the whole enterprise into a very cynical political football. Seattle Schools are facing the consequences of a lot of energy that dismantles and privatizes what are considered basic services, such that a whole generation likely believes that a public school is some sort of charitable enterprise and (here is the cynicism) ‘most’ parents in Seattle send their kids to private school.

    I thought a new day has dawned in our thinking. Do we maybe have some unecessary school buildings? Sure. What about being REALLY smart and building smaller NEIGHBORHOOD grammar schools? Schools that anchor the neighborhood. School that a kid can walk to. Heck I walked or rode my bike to school and I was in Catholic School, and took classes at the public school next door. I knew my place on this earth, my neighbors and where my friends lived. It created a grounding and level of security that I do not see with kids riding the bus for up to an hour to-ing and fro-ing.

    I sincerely do not believe, unless it’s an issue of certain specialized support, and even that should be available in each sector, that K-6 needs a myriad of programs. What we need is a rational re-allocation of resources to create neighborhood grammar schools that contribute to the change we seek.