School District Finally Unveils Its Assignment Maps Tomorrow: Expect Screaming

Okay this is it, folks. Tomorrow, Seattle Public Schools releases what everybody's been waiting for: the proposed maps that show what the "attendance areas" will be for each school under the new assignment plan. In other words, they show which kids in which neighborhoods get to go to which schools. Expect an ongoing debate that is messy, loud and contentious. The maps will be posted here after district staff begin their presentation at a school board workshop at 4 p.m.

The overarching idea of the assignment plan is to return to a neighborhood system that will cut down on transportation costs (due to kids travelling all over the city to attend school) and provide predictability (students will be guaranteed a spot at their neighborhood school, which will be their default assignment). Families will still have some ability to choose schools outside the one they've been assigned. High schools will reserve an as yet unknown percentage of seats for students outside their attendance areas. (Ten percent is the figure that's been bandied around, according to School board member Michael DeBell.) But how this will all shake out is unclear, and choice is generally expected to be curtailed.

That's why the maps, which will tell people what schools they'll be assigned to based on their residence, are so important. Parent and schools activist Melissa Westbrook says she thinks the maps may be particularly contentious in the northeast and northwest part of the city. She suspects some families in affluent Laurelhurst and Viewridge may kick up a fuss if they are shut out of Eckstein Middle School, considered one of the best in the city, while others in Crown Hill and Blue Ridge may express similar discontent if they can't get into Ballard High.

But South Seattle, where families have long relied on choice to cope with schools' uneven performance, also will be scrutinizing the maps. For starters, there's the question of high schools. None of them in South Seattle--Rainier Beach, Cleveland or Franklin--have the greatest reputation. While the district has tried to turn that around with initiative after initiative, the latest being a plan to make Cleveland a magnet school focusing on math and science, families have voted with their feet. How will they react when they see a map confirming that they'll be assigned one of these schools? We'll find out tomorrow, and in coming weeks.

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