At Last, the School District Releases Its Assignment Maps: Laurelhurst is Going to Be Pissed

Here they are: the proposed maps that correspond to the district's new assignment plan attempting to bring students back to neighborhood schools. (See the middle and elementary boundaries here, and the high school boundaries here.) People will be scrutinizing these for weeks to come as they assess the implication both for their own families (telling them which elementary, middle and high schools they will be assigned to by virtue of where they live) and for the city. Some preliminary thoughts: Laurelhurst will be upset, Mt. Baker happy. Why? Laurelhurst, where many families aspire to send their kids to top-notch Eckstein Middle School, gets funneled to Hamilton instead. Mt. Baker goes to Washington Middle School, which is a highly sought-after option if you're kid qualifies for one of the gifted programs there.

Washington's "attendance area" is actually one of the funkiest. It encompasses central Seattle and then dips down, following Rainier Ave. and bypassing Beacon Hill, to take in the sliver of Mt. Baker. In a press briefing early today, Libros acknowledged that they weren't the most obvious boundaries. An early version of the maps put Beacon Hill in Washington's attendance area, which she said "geographically makes more sense" than putting it in Mercer Middle School's, as does the current version. But Libros suggested that it boiled down to demographics. Mercer is designated to have a language-immersion component because Beacon Hill Elementary, newly transformed into an international school, will be feeding into it. And many students in the Beacon Hill neighborhood are bilingual and would benefit from such a program, Libros said. Mt. Baker, home of more affluence and fewer immigrants, doesn't have such students. Whether this demographic delineation creates any political problems remains to be seen.

Also on the South End is the big question of high schools. Many families send their kids north in order to avoid Cleveland, Rainier Beach and Franklin. Cleveland and Rainier Beach, in particular, have struggled with plummeting enrollment. The plan takes Cleveland out of the assignment picture by making it an "option" school, or what used to be called an alternative school, focusing on math, science and technology. Students have to apply to get in and no one will be automatically assigned there. Instead, Beacon Hill, where Cleveland is located, lies in Franklin's attendance area, according to the plan. The reference area around Rainier Beach is pretty tightly drawn around that neighborhood.

Other notable boundaries revolve around two streets: NW 85th St. and NE 80th St. The first is the north-south dividing line between the attendance areas of Ballard and Ingraham High Schools. Because Ballard is considered more desirable, a lot of people just north of 85th are going to be gnashing their teeth. Similarly, NE 80th divides the students that will get into prestigious Roosevelt (those just south of 80th) and those that will get into Nathan Hale.

There will be a transition period and so only students set to attend kindergarten, 6th or 9th grade next year will be assigned a school according to the plan. Just because you're assigned a school, doesn't mean you have to go there. You can apply for a different school. It's not yet clear, though, whether in practice people will have the same or less choice than in the past. Only high schools will reserve some "open choice seats" for those outside their attendance areas. (Such seats will constitute ten percent of each high school's enrollment.)

The district will have a series of meetings on these maps and will present its final recommendations to the board in November. (See the times and locations of such meetings on this calendar.) The board vote on them is scheduled for November 18th. The district has a function on its Website that will allow you to plug in your address and get your elementary, middle and high school assignments.

UPDATE 8:53 p.m.: At the just-finished Seattle School Board workshop releasing the proposed maps for the new assignment plan (see a description here), it was clear that board members are thinking about how they're going to explain one aspect of the plan to the public: the proposal to create new schools by reopening five buildings. Yup, you read that right. Having just finished the second of two painful rounds of closing schools, the district has now realized that it doesn't have enough capacity for a projected uptick in enrollment. (You can thank the economy, which has sucked students out of private schools.)

Undoubtedly sensing the cognitive dissonance among the public, several board members asked for data with which to arm themselves in discussions. And while some wondered whether we might need even more schools given the projected growth, board member Peter Maier sounded a cautious note. "Reopening five buildings is a big deal," he said. "It's something we do not do lightly." One would hope not, because the last thing the district needs is to set itself up for more closures.

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