Facing low enrollment, the Islamic School of Seattle at 25th and Cherry is closing. Now the school must reflect on the community it has created since its founding in 1980 and explore options for what will happen to the school’s historic building.
“It’ a sad time, but it’s also been amazing to get the word out and hear back from people who have been involved in the school,” said Board Member Natasha Merchant. The school is hosting a farewell celebration at the school June 26 from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. They urge anyone who has felt connected to the ISS community over the past 32 years to attend and help in “closing this very large chapter in the community,” she said.
The ISS was not your standard private Islamic school. “Since the very beginning, it’s had a way of looking at Islamic education in a very holistic model,” said Merchant. “Islam is not something separate from the rest of your life,” so the school taught school lessons together with Islamic teaching.
They also adopted a Montessori model of education, with students of multiple grades learning in the same classroom. “This method of teaching is appealing to a lot of people, but it’s also not traditional.”
Students at the school mostly live in or near the Central District. Many are African American Muslims and East African refugees. But the demographics of the neighborhood are changing.
“I think generally, the area seems to be gentrifying in the Central District,” said Merchant.
In past years when the school faced troubles, the community rallied around it to keep it going. However, mounting building maintenance needs and continually low enrollment numbers made it unfeasible for the school to continue.
So the question now facing the ISS community is: What next?
“Whatever we do, we want to make sure the community really benefits from it,” said Merchant. From an Islamic point of view, the Board Members don’t own the building, rather the whole community owns it. “The Board has a few members on it, but we can’t just decide that for ourselves.”
The Board met with Islamic leaders in the Seattle region to discuss options for the historic school building and the 32 years worth of curriculum materials inside. They determined the building should be used for some kind of Islamic educational purpose, but they are still exploring possibilities.
The school will host a neighborhood-wide meeting July 10 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. to discuss the future of the building and give neighbors a chance to have a say in what happens next.