Update School Board votes: Cooper to close, APP to spilt
After months of community meetings and several different proposals from the Seattle School District, the debate over school closures across the city has finally been decided and many West Seattle students will be effected by the outcome.
On Jan. 29 the Seattle School Board has passed Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's final recommendation on school closures, effectively closing Cooper Elementary school and splitting the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) at Lowell Elementary school.
Two board members, Harium Martin-Morris and Mary Bass, voted against the recommendation.
"I wanted to vote for the proposal, I truly did, because I knew we needed to do it, but in the case of Cooper I just couldn't do it," explained Harium. "It had nothing to do with race, it had everything to do with treating that community fairly."
Once members of the board had voted the audience became outraged, yelling their objections at the directors and superintendent and chanting outside the meeting room, "Hey, School Board, let's face it, these closures are racist!"
"It was a tough meeting," said School Board president Michael DeBell. "The audience was obviously opposed to closing any schools but the majority of directors think that we really have to move ahead with restructuring the district, so that's what we did."
Goodloe-Johnson introduced her final recommendation on Jan. 6, which suggested discontinuing the Cooper program and moving Pathfinder K-8, which has outgrown the Genesee Hill building, into the Cooper building.
The superintendent also recommended splitting the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) at Lowell Elementary so that the West Seattle students in the program would be transferred to Thurgood Marshall Elementary.
Before the overall recommendation was passed, board members discussed several proposed amendments.
Board member Sherry Carr suggested that APP-qualified students who live within walking distance of Lowell, be allowed to remain at the school, and her amendment was approved.
Later, Martin-Morris proposed an amendment that both Cooper and Pathfinder K-8 remain at their current facilities.
"The message that we're sending to the students at Cooper is: even though they're making wonderful gains they're not worthy of keeping their building," said Harium. "I just couldn't reconcile that that was okay."
Nonetheless, the amendment failed when five members of the board voted against it.
Bass' proposed amendment, which included a recommendation that APP remain intact at Lowell, also failed after it was voted against by all board members except herself and Martin-Morris.
In fact, board members Bass and Martin-Morris voted in conflict with the rest of the board on all six amendments.
As a result of the vote, in September, students currently attending Cooper Elementary will be reassigned to Gatewood Elementary, Highland Park and Arbor Heights.
"Our School Board is compiled primarily of cowards," said Shelley Williams, a parent and alumni of Cooper Elementary. "They allowed (Goodloe-Johnson) to push them around, nevermind what our kids need."
The superintendent's final recommendation had suggested that students be assigned to any of West Seattle's elementary programs, according to the reference area that they live in. However, Sundquist's amendment to the proposal asked that students only be reassigned to those three schools.
But some parents at Cooper don't believe that amendment will improve their situation.
"(Arbor Heights) PTSA launched the assault on our school, and you think our kids are going to go there?" said Williams.
Also beginning in the 2009-2010 school year, West Seattle students in APP at Lowell will be transferred with other students from South Seattle to Thurgood Marshall to begin a new program there, with the exception of any APP students living within walking distance of Lowell.
Stacy DeVenney, a member of the Parent and Teacher Association at Lowell, questions whether the district will be able to adequately create a new a new APP at Thurgood Marshall by September.
"I don't see any historical evidence that the district has the ability to replicate a curriculum at two sites," said DeVenney. "I just don't think in a downward market and with shrinking resources that they're going to be able to do that with APP."
DeVenney said she is considering moving her children into the Highline School District, which has a program similar to Seattle's APP.
Parents who are not satisfied with their student's assignment may apply for another program through the district's standard school choice process.
Harium says that while he is disappointed that the rest of the board did not agree with him regarding Cooper, he is ready to move forward and do whatever necessary to make sure the recommendation is successful.
To begin, he plans to work closely with the Cooper community during their transition and plans to ask the superintendent to develop a plan so that the district might track each student transferred to a new school in Seattle as a result of the closures
Meanwhile, the PTA at Lowell elementary has already decided to split it's funds in half between students staying at Lowell and those who are being transferred to Thurgood Marshall.
"Already people are stepping up to the plate and saying, 'here are the things we can do,'" said Harium. 'Let's get together, let's talk, and let's see how we can make this work for our children.'"
Rose Egge can be reached at 932-0300 or email@example.com.