Schools director withdraws proposed Stevens Elementary boundary change

Seattle Schools director Kay Smith-Blum announced Wednesday she was withdrawing her proposed amendment to the New Student Assignment plan that would have re-drawn the southern boundary for attending Stevens Elementary at Madison. Smith-Blum outlines the reasoning behind the amendment and acknowledges the “upheaval” further change would mean for the neighborhood in the e-mail announcement we have included below.

Hello all,

First, I have withdrawn my amendment from tonight’s agenda. I greatly appreciate your input and sincerely apologize for any anxiety caused. My amendment would NOT have reassigned any student, but I appreciate neighbors who would like to see their children continue to be assigned to the same school and greatly appreciate the upheaval the NSAP/TT Minor closure has had on the neighborhood. The numbers the board received LAST NIGHT from Tracy Libros show that Steven’s enrollment will be up from the already 111% capacity, and do not include siblings of current Steven’s parents who now live outside of the Steven’s area. There will be even more families disappointed next Fall if we cannot accommodate their incoming K siblings.

As one consituent who wrote me in the last few days put it: “The attendance area that was assigned to Stevens last year contains too many families with children, relative to the size of the Stevens building. This year’s crop of kindergarteners filled three classrooms (with large class sizes). The school does not have enough classrooms to host 3 classes per grade K-5, so this is not a sustainable attendance area over time.”

It is the lack of sustainability that is of deep concern to me, that and the fact we cannot claw back TT Minor for another 3 full school years because of the contract with Hamlin Robinson.

Madrona K-8 has ample capacity to host additional students, which it needs to fuel the renewal efforts of the new principal and the Board is committed to supporting an arts and music focus at the school. I am hopeful that some of the incoming SPS students from your neighborhood will want to build this community despite the withdrawal of my amendment.

These are the reasons I proposed the amendment. Staff was reluctant to set off a myriad of boundary changes, but Stevens & Lowell are the ONLY schools on the “watch list” shown at the OPS committee in December, that don’t have a new school or available school to open (the other 5 watch list schools like West Seattle elementary have closed schools that can or are being reopened this year and next to alleviate their overcrowding).

Thank you for all of your messages, they were each read with thought and care and I will continue to search for ways to make each school strong in it’s academic offerings as well as find solutions for the overcrowding which impairs our academic outcomes.



Kay Smith-Blum

Director, Position 5

0 thoughts on “Schools director withdraws proposed Stevens Elementary boundary change

  1. Thank you to everyone who reached out to Kay Smith-Blum and the rest of the Board to let them know that it is unacceptable for the Seattle School Board to move our children once again without any community input. Please consider still attending the meeting tonight. Some of us are still going to testify about the importance to our community of a strong neighborhood school and the necessity of involving parents in decisions that so directly affect our children.

  2. It is good that the amendment has been withdrawn. I hope Kay will step up and show real leadership by looking 2 to 5 years ahead and coming to something that can be stable and continuous for Area 4 and all the areas here. First the demographic problems are not new. During the entire planning and before the decision to close TT Minor a number of us presented these facts at all public meetings including the individual School Board members’ community meetings where we discussed this information, clearly demonstrating that there was a problem. If Kay chooses to take the lead she can accomplish this.

    Families and communities should not have to endure disappointment time after time and families and communities should not have to endure being bullied time after time.

  3. Lowell should probably close as a neighborhood choice as its reasonable walk area and close by neighborhood overlaps with Stevens. Probably if I lived that close to Stevens I would feel I lived in the Stevens neighborhood. TT Minor should reopen with a planning process that includes the families here. That would then help some near Stevens feel less anxious. But, wait why would I care about Stevens families? Well, I was president of Seattle Council PTSA and am a strong advocate for all families to be involved and for public education. But, somewhere along the line many of our other so-called civic leaders have not been counted among those who care. I challenge Kay and the leaders at Stevens to concern themselves with a real solution for all and not just with their own assignments. This will stabilize their neighborhood school as well.

    If for some reason they want Lowell to remain as one of the neighborhood choices then Stevens has to embrace area #4. Lowell and Stevens mean that the these long narrow boundaries are the possible lines.

  4. Let me repeat from the previous thread that Kay has been the only board member focused on getting TT Minor back into play ASAP. As a board candidate she absolutely did NOT support its closing.

    Neighborhoodies: Let’s get together and work with her on a plan for the coming 5 years…how to get TT Minor reopened FOR SURE and how to help us best serve our families in the intervening years.

    And let us not forget for an instant that our current superintendent was hellbent on TT Minor’s closure. Like Viewlands in NW Seattle, it was a political move and a complete and utter mistake. One that is ending up costing us millions and millions of dollars (reopening these campuses), not to mention disaffected families.

    Channel positive parent power NOW while the frying pan is sizzling in the fire. That means proactive ideas working with Kay, not just whining. It will take a huge neighborhood presence to override our headstrong superintendent.

  5. I would agree with fan girl above. Work with, not against, Kay and others now that you have their attention. It sounds like she is listening. Think about ALL the Central Area schools and how to make them ALL better.
    Don’t forget that they all funnel straight into one middle and high school. Don’t you want your kid’s future classmate to have as good an elementary experience as yours?

  6. Yes, her listening skills seem to be emerging again.
    I believe that all of us want to work with Kay and hope that she is planning to work with us. This was not an unprovoked attack on Kay. The conversation was in defense of Area 4, a group reduced to an area number on a map with no face.

    It remains a mystery to me why she offered the amendment in the manner that she did.

  7. Wouldn’t it make sense to have Madrona running at capacity before we re-open TT Minor? It makes no sense to me that you let one school operate well past its capacity while another is under enrolled and both draw from the same areas. I’m pretty sure Leschi is under enrolled as well. Am I missing something?

  8. Madrona has about 255 k-5 students living in its area designated for it. 56 of those resident students attend the school although the percentage looks a little better for kindergarten with 33% of the resident kindergartners attending the school. It has room for about 300 k-5 students, so there is a little room for adjustment there. McGilvra actually has a few more students living it that designated area than the school’s capacity, and that is a line that could be adjusted. On the other hand for neighborhood schools to really work and not throw families into constant disarray there has to be some slack. I also feel that there are a number of Madrona students in private school that with a stable known program at Madrona who would return to public schools For neighborhood schools to work there has be a little slack. Do you believe in the idea of neighborhood schools?

    Money, time, and effort has been invested in creating neighborhood schools. If the Madrona parents embrace the school, area 4 would again be part of an over flow and the area threatened with division. CDrealestaeguy, I believe you once lived in area 4. We are a community that deserves not to be further divided.

  9. I think its highly unlikely that you will draw students out of private (or other public schools for that matter) back to Madrona. Change is hard enough for most people so once a kid is in a school and they are relatively happy and accepted no parent is going to want to yank them out for the sake of neighborhood schools. Its not like any of the other options are THAT far away. With that in mind, I dont think the discrepancy in resident vs non resident kids in any grades above 1st or 2nd isn’t going to change much, so working those numbers to make your point is not valid.
    In my opinion, the target age/grade you should be looking at is kindergarten. The change in any of these schools is going to come from the bottom up. New young families, new energy, new ideas – that’s what is going to make a difference. Seems like there is going to be a real big problem next year at Stevens, AND from what I understand, McGilvra as well. I think someone said in another one of these blogs that Madrona is welcoming folks with open arms. Why not embrace that attitude?

  10. I agree that building the programs bottom up assertion is probably true. Nonetheless, current students deserve an education.

    If families in area 4 choose Madrona fine, but area 4 should not have to suffer yet a new forced destabilization into school where their numbers would not be sustainable.
    Below regarding those public school students actually living in each area as drawn. Remember that only 45% of the students currently attending Stevens actually live in the current Stevens area. Madrona families are also attending Stevens. Area 4 families have been expected to suck it up or take tough love as they are closed out of programs. For instance, did they get a continuing guarantee to Leschi Montessori? No. I am sympathetic to the current families attending Stevens, but feel strongly that maybe this is a time for them to embrace whatever school assignment is available and really look at the bigger picture for area 4 families. TOPS, T. Marshall and Lowell will be considered last as available seats for the neighborhood are rather undecipherable. These are for the areas as currently designated:
    Gatzert capacity = 445 Students living in the area = 533
    Muir capacity = 475 Students living in the area = 466
    Leschi capacity = 395 Students living in the area = 362
    Madronak-5 capacity = 300 k-5 Students living in the area = 255
    McGilvra capacity = 250 to 300 (moving number?) Students living in the area = 300 (slightly moving the line between Madorna and McGilvra would balance these numbers)
    Montlake capacity = 250 Students living in area = 236
    Stevens capacity = 370 Students living in the area = 415

    About 61 (this is an approx.) Stevens area students attend APP either at Lowell or T Marshall and about 20 attend TOPS and more can be found at Montlake and Leschi as well. The Stevens students north of E. John street also live much closer to TOPS and to Montlake and Lowell. A good number of nea- by choices. While those in Area 4 have been tossed to the wind with fewer nearby choices.

    For just these areas the total capacity = 2485 and the total # of students residing = 2567. Under these circumstances there are no extra seats if the programs become strong, right? If fact there are extra students. In the north end schools with no students are being created by just adding up resident numbers. I have not had time to do all in the north end. But, working with the array of numbers that I have to slog through, so far it appears that excess capacity is being created there.

  11. For just these areas the total capacity = 2485 and the total # of students residing = 2567. Under these circumstances there are no extra seats if the programs become strong, right? If fact there are extra students. In the north end schools with no students are being created by just adding up resident numbers. I have not had time to do all in the north end. But, working with the array of numbers that I have to slog through, so far it appears that excess capacity is being created there.

    Now let us look at T Marshall and Lowell. The long narrow Lowell area has 224 students living in it. Only 74 of those students attend Lowell and a few of those may be APP.

    The T. Marshall area has 189 students living in it. Only 34 of those students attend T. Marshall.
    TOPS has capacity 320 K-5 students and sits in the Montlake assignment area. Obviously it pulls from all over the District, but the manner with which these numbers are presented further analysis in not possible. It is at the very north end of anything considered central and very close to Wallingford and other areas.

    Until there is great engagement with Area 4, considering that not all Stevens area students choose Stevens and with a little toughness on the neighborhood designation then Stevens can easily serve as the school for Area 4. If this is somehow not acceptable, consider what if the neighborhood portion of Lowell were closed. Perhaps the space could be leased to Hamlin Robinson to be shared with APP. (As a private school those students with some learning challenges do not seem to require opportunities for mainstreaming as they do in public schools. hmm.) This would allow Stevens to recapture the Lowell area north of E. John and settle many of the issues with which you are dealing. The current Lowell and Stevens areas south of E. John could then be assigned to TT Minor which would provide plenty of students and not create any excess capacity. This would have to be accomplished through real engagement with the families. This would also create way more walkable and accessible neighborhood designated schools.

  12. I wish it was this simple. But it is not. We are in an economic downturn and things are changing for families all the time. To pretend we can figure this all out by looking at the numbers is what has created this mess. Right? What if a new large business moves into the area and hires lots of people and they desire to live close to work. What if more affordable rental properties are constructed. Our neighborhoods and children are not a game of chess. Your postings over the last couple days make me feel like you are treating them this way. What families want in our area are strong schools and vibrant communities. This should be our focus instead of figuring out where my child (who might be number 252 at Madrona) gets placed on the chart. Right?

  13. Yes I was in Area four about 9 years ago. Then I moved five blocks away to the Madrona reference area. My children went there for as long as five years. Now one is in middle school and the other is at Stevens. There is my full disclosure.
    I don’t think any families should be split up or forced to change schools.
    I do think that the math is simple and for families who have yet to start school it would not be divisive in the least.
    I do think that KBARR23 is correct in that there should be plenty of discussion be for these decisions are made. Its is a very hot topic.
    I also think that there are many families in area four who would rather send their kids to Stevens than Madrona. I don’t blame them. I did the same. I was unable to make that situation work for ONE of my children and we did what we could and made a change. I have still supported the efforts at Madrona since we left. I will continue to do that.
    My point is that the thouight of re-opening TT Minor where there is still space left in operating buildings just seems silly to me.

  14. How do you think the way this was presented felt to area 4? A pawn to be moved for the convenience of others’ choices.
    If solid neighborhood boundaries are designated at the beginning they can be more easily sustained giving all the stable. If such unpredicted and sudden changes as you describe occur, if the best has been done to give stability then portables can fill temporary needs. Demographers are well-paid, and the Seattle School District has a well-paid and probably knowledgeable one. They can pretty accurately predict by what is happening if their numbers are properly used. Politics more than the facts are the obstacles No, those wanting to redefine the school for Area 4 are treating Area 4 students as chess pieces.

  15. I believe numbers were used to make a case to close TT Minor. And these highly trained demographers also had the information to draw the current Stevens boundaries.
    I don’t understand what kind of case you are trying to build. It seems like a moving target. “Area 4” is a neighborhood. Stevens is overcrowded. You’ve proposed impacting other neighborhoods (just a “slight” shift to the McGilvra / Madrona lines – how do you think these families feel when you don’t move a neighborhood but just a couple blocks), not supporting a local school that is under-enrolled (funding is linked to numbers, correct?), not allowing siblings into Stevens next year (once again impacting families) and potentially closing Lowell (only impacted 224 students and their families).
    I’ve spoke with families in “Area 4” this week. They want what is best for their family. And believe it or not that might just be Madrona.
    I don’t know what you have against Madrona. Move the numbers around. Get the experts in here to do the same. Building strong schools should be the focus. In the end, all families want to send their children to a great school. Not one where kids are sitting in the hallway for class, right?

  16. I would not propose to do this without public input and don’t care if they are moved as long as it works for all. I have nothing against Madrona, but I do believe that our neighborhood families deserve respect of being included in decisions and deserve stability. I was told that when TT Minor closed that we lost politically, not due to a lack of students. We were also a hot spot of growth.

    If area 4 families choose Madrona and are included in that planning that would be great. Would the Area 4 siblings be given access to Stevens? Would they have any choice in this?
    Regarding Lowell:
    Only 74 of these students attend Lowell and some are probably APP students and many are refugees from TT Minor and many in the area consider themselves to be Stevens area residents. The Stevens and Lowell walk areas overlap. This should not be done without significant engagement. If the District provided better information where they live could be better known.

  17. I agree completely. Public comments should be heard. But trying to “do the math” as one person for an entire cluster doesn’t make much sense. Let the experts do the math. As a community we should:
    *Be watchful of the district. Congrats to Area 4.
    *Request a comment period, which Area 4 did.
    *Fight to be heard. Kay was listening.
    *And start working on what is in our control. Making each school in our area the best it can be for ALL the students who attend it, now and in the future.

  18. Karin,
    I thought you were being sarcastic with your “…And these highly trained demographers also had the information to draw the current Stevens boundaries. ” Instead, it seems you really do trust the ability of district staff to collect data, analyze, make projections, gather community input and plan accordingly?

    Unfortunately, that is not the experience of many, many, many SPS families. Or programs and schools for that matter.

    I don’t see Joanna looking at the challenges as moving chess pieces on a chess board. It is a puzzle, and as a long time resident and advocate, I think she has much to add to the discussion, including pieces our district experts routinely miss.

    Anyhoo, I’m a bit sensitive on this issue, so frustrated with your “shoulds”. I want Joanna and our other wonderful, tireless district watchdogs and supporters to “do the math”, offer suggestions, provided context and institutional memory that is sorely lacking, and contribute to the efforts for improving our schools in every way they choose. These are complex issues and I’d suggest NOT limiting our advocacy efforts to a short list, trusting that the experts will manage the rest.

  19. I so appreciate all the thought and analysis and discussion that has been stimulated by the unfortunate situation created when our School Board representative offered an amendment that affects families and students without any community input. Please, I hope that we can all come together rather than pull apart as we work to find a solution that is fair to all. The real constituents here are our children, and they hold the future of our community. We are ultimately responsible to them.

    Is it useful at all for us to attack each other? We all have positions, but please let’s try to understand the interests behind those positions. I don’t think any of us can find the right solution on our own – otherwise we’d probably just give up and send our kids to one of the many incredible private schools that surround us. Well, if we could. But it seems like there is an amazing group of parents who are committed to our public schools. Our elected officials are clearly struggling to lead us to quality, equivalent education for all of our children. Now is the time for us to come together rather than fracturing.

  20. Nora,

    I just feel it is unfair to start making public projections and calculations without collecting information from the families these decisions impact. Isn’t this what started this entire conversation – public input. If Joanna is part of a committee looking over the data and making recommendations that is one thing. But to simply use data, which might not even be the latest data as Kay noted some new data has been discussed, is not fair to families. This just does not seem like the correct place to discuss numbers and boundaries.

    Things change. I hope we are flexible with what we cannot see yet.

    I also feel it is unfair to call out CDrealestateguy on his background and not tell readers what Joanna’s background is with the school district board.

  21. I hear you, Karin. But please, know that district staff often make projections, and worse, decisions, w/o the latest data or public input. Sure, they are the professionals- but time and again, I’ve seen students, parents and school staff raise concerns and present relevant data re: proposed changes to school programs, transportation, assignment… Generally, I find the folks on the ground pretty well informed re: school needs. I want those voices to be part of the process. Had they been, we’d still have Queen Anne HS and wouldn’t be spending $54 mil to reopen recently closed schools, for example.

    Kbar- FWIW, I don’t see much fracturing here. It’s a stressful situation, all the way around. What I read in the comments are concern for our childrens’ well being, for neighborhood health, for public ed, and for democratic process. It’s not always pretty, but I read most of the comments as neighbors working to educate one another on a range of issues.

    One more point-
    I think it’s important not to confuse the roles of district Staff and our elected school Board members. Staff propose closures, set attendance area boundaries, place programs in buildings… Board members vote to approve(on occasion amend) Staff proposals. As Board members do not have full/timely access to Staff decisions and proposals, it is especially important that the public (all of us) to keep an eye on planning and policy discussions. That way, we can educate one another and educate/lobby our Board members.

  22. I am not difficult to find and am not hidden in anyway. I apologize if I seemed to call realestateguy out. I have a lot of respect for the work he did on Madrona PTSA. He is a great advocate for Madrona. My daughters graduated from Garfield in 2003 and in 2004 both with very different early childhood backgrounds. I have lived in the CD for 30+ years and on 21st south of E. Union for 26 years.

    Both daughters have BAs and are looking at further educating themselves. One daughter was in APP at Madrona and the other in the neighborhood program for several years before moving on to Washington Middle School. I held many PTSA and Site Council positions, including President of Washington Middle School PTSA and Seattle Council PTSA, and served on the Garfield BLT and Design Team, where I believe I was a good partner to the Seattle Schools and a strong advocate. After my daughters graduated from Garfield I stepped back, sometimes watched Board meetings, and mainly kept up in community meetings and through reading printed material. Believe me, it is good to step back. I became involved again during the time that the discussions of closing schools and redrawing lines was being discussed. I had watched as the neighborhood revitalized and reinvigorated. The number of children moving in and being born was astounding. Closing schools and destabilizing neighborhoods is very disheartening for all residents and strips away the identity and sense of community. Residents can be and do feel very vulnerable where you have revitalizing communities of people learning to work together. Closing schools and destabilizing communities has also been proven to negatively affect the students.

  23. I and others argued against the closing of TT Minor, the closest school for 400+ students. We lost that one. In disgust for how that had been done I was among 4 people who ran for School Board. Kay ran an interesting campaign and won. Generally, she has been an engaging and interesting Board member who asks good questions. Other than being dismayed by how she introduced the amendment and its content for Wednesday, I have no complaints.
    Your humble CD resident,

  24. Thank you, Joanna. I, for one, always appreciate your watchful eye and educated comments. You are also a great neighbor. :)

  25. is that the obvious solution would seem to fill up an underenrolled school. Sure, lobby to reopen TT Minor after the contract with Hamlin Robinson is up. My guess is we, the Central District and SPS, will need it. Continue to to analyze and reassess the data that is provided by SPS. But, currently, TODAY, there are several schools oversubscribed and one glaring one undersubscribed. Why not try to ‘spread the wealth’? Wealth of energy, time and of course, money.

    I also don’t get criticizing one person for believing and trusting SPS and their data, yet praising another because she is using this exact same data ‘creatively’.

    And I still don’t get why suggesting moving other families, namely Lowell is ANY different than moving the ‘Area 4’ folks. Haven’t they been moved around too?

    Again, I think the most solid solutions is to look at the current space (schools) and the current need (incoming kindergarteners) and plan from there. Not look back and try to ‘right’ the percieved ‘wrongs’ of a different school board. I dont think you could possibly do that. Let’s just try to make good schools for everyone, whether we ran for a political office or not!

  26. make such a major change and then another if it isn’t definitely sustainable, and put one neighborhood through change after change. To make neighborhood schools work for families and students boundaries need to be drawn with care, and then the District has to commit to them so that people can have a solid foundation. This means making adjustments at the facilities from year to year, not to boundaries.

    Imagine if area 4 families just took the attitude that the District could just send them wherever a student here or there is needed. Would that be smart or good for their families? Why don’t all the other families just fall in line and go where they have been sent? Why don’t we all just line up to fill whatever empty seat happens to be available?

    Apply the same tough attitude to the folks who live in areas (not Stevens) that I will not name here to embrace the school that has been assigned as a neighborhood school and be a part of a real sustainable solution. Why should moving area 4 around be the answer to the problem of others? Area 4 basically embraced their new assignment after losing TT Minor. This area was just used to answer the problems of others. Who would have thought there would have been anyone around Lowell proposing a neighborhood school? Was there?

    Many questions remain to be answered. I’m sure if area 4 families want to go to Madrona they will enroll there. They won’t be shut out, right?

  27. I have long advocated for great schools for everyone. What makes you think I don’t? I have never done anything to imply that I don’t. In what way do you believe running for public office affected my opinion? It is an interesting and humbling experience. Even the one who wins has to then ponder how to represent constituents. Yes, I believe we all want great schools.

  28. Yes, we *are* in an economic downturn. That’s all the more reason to watch the numbers carefully, and do our best to provide stable environments for as many kids as possible.

    Unfortunately, the current situation is not sustainable, as Kay has recognized and many of us saw when the District chose to close TT Minor. There aren’t enough seats at Stevens, there are some available at Madrona, but if the under-5 parents choose public schools, we will absolutely need Minor back. As Nora says elsewhere, many folks presented this data to the ‘expert demographers’ and it was ignored.

    Kudos to Kay for listening.