“We’re not going to move. I will sit in the unoccupied space, taking my kids and homeschooling them in that building,” Licton Springs K-8 parent Allycea Weil said, standing at the head of a table in Greenwood’s Razzis Pizzeria’s basement. A dozen other parents at the recent Parent/Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting laughed in response. “I’m not moving,” Weil reiterated, punctuating their chuckles.
The Nov. 26 emergency meeting had been called to brainstorm solutions to the Native-centered school’s potential dismantling. A few weeks beforehand, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) had released a statement about its exploration of options to address capacity issues on the campus that’s shared by the option school Licton Springs K-8 and a separate middle school that hosts the district’s Highly Capable Cohort program called Robert Eagle Staff. The district has cited Robert Eagle Staff Middle School as overcrowded, while Licton Springs K-8 had low enrollment in grades 6-8. In the Nov. 2 statement, the district listed potential options, including making Licton Springs a K-5 school due to the low enrollment of its middle schoolers, or to transfer the school to Ballard’s Webster School building in fall 2020, although only 6 percent of the current Licton Springs students live in that area, according to the PTO.
Both schools had opened last fall in a new building constructed on a sacred Duwamish site to serve as a permanent home for Licton Springs K-8. (The Duwamish still have not been granted federal recognition as a tribe after over 150 years of attempts.) Formerly called AS-1 and Pinehurst K-8, the option school was the result of talks between Native community leaders and educators to create a Native Heritage Program. Then in winter 2017, the SPS School Board approved an amendment ensuring that Licton Springs would have “a permanent home (and the opportunity to grow)” in its current North Seattle building. The current location is the third building and home for the school in six years.
But two years after settling into its new location, students could once again be uprooted. Parents say the threat of moving could further marginalize a population consisting mostly of students of color. Boasting a social justice and Native-centered focus, Licton Springs K-8 consists of 61 percent students of color, with 12 percent being Native students, and 50 percent of the population on free and reduced lunch, according to the school district’s October 2017 statistics. However, the PTO states that the school’s indigenous population is over 22 percent when accounting for multiracial students with Native heritage who identify as Native.
Parents whose students had moved multiple times — and said that their children were able to thrive in an environment that acknowledged and taught their heritage — viewed the potential eviction as a slap in the face. The Indian Heritage High School building that’s on the same land as Licton Springs and Robert Eagle Staff had been torn down after the site fell into disrepair and enrollment dwindled, according to Indian Country Today. “To move us would be history repeating itself,” Weil said.
After outrage from parents during a Nov. 7 meeting reached a boiling point, the district announced it would slow the process of addressing the capacity issues at the campus by cancelling further meetings on the matter.
“For the 2019–20 school year there will continue to be overcrowding at the Robert Eagle Staff and Licton Springs K-8 building. We are working with the school leaders to schedule meetings to discuss more thoughtful engagement and future plans,” the district stated in a Nov. 9 press release. “We look forward to working with families to develop a long-term solution that addresses the capacity issues and reflects the needs of students and families.”
But parents who met at Razzis Pizzeria last week noted that the news has already spread to Licton Springs students who fear displacement. Weil said that the importance of the school for the pupils’ growth could be seen when she handed flyers to fifth-graders to take home to their parents that detailed the possible dismantling: “Those kids were outraged. They were so upset, so mad and angry that their middle school was threatened to be taken away.”
For Phoenix Johnson, who is of Tlingit and Haida heritage and has a mixed-race fifth-grade daughter at Licton Springs, the school was the solution she’d been seeking. Johnson said she had transferred her daughter to several schools and had homeschooled her because of bullying and racial discrimination before finally landing at Licton Springs. She noticed a shift in her daughter’s attitude toward school after her first field trip at the Salmon Homecoming Celebration, an annual event that honors Native culture through traditional gatherings.
In Johnson’s eyes, the threat of eviction touches on the history of Seattle’s treatment of its indigenous population. “If you want to get really deep, we have the invasion of Seattle, we have the burning of the longhouses, we have the mass murders, and then we have this entire city being built,” Johnson said. “But then we have Indian Heritage [High School] and that’s taken from us, then we have this small option school trying to hold onto some semblance of Native American education and values and a haven, and hopefully a continued fixture of the Native community. And so now by pushing us out, that is the last stand for us on this particular property and in the city of Seattle at this point.” She added that the school should be on the leading edge of education instead of being threatened with closure.
While eating pizza that evening, parents swapped stories about the impact that the school had made on the development of their children. They emphasized the school librarian’s cultivation of books centered on nondiscrimination and characters of color. An eighth-grade class called Rites of Passage seeks to foster a sense of self-reliance through volunteering. The middle school also practices restorative justice to encourage students to solve conflicts together.
Weil noted that her third-grader’s self-confidence is “through the roof” in the smaller class setting at Licton Springs, compared to the larger ones at his previous school at Green Lake Elementary School.
In an effort to save their students’ middle school, Weil and the other PTO members drafted a proposal of immediate capacity solutions that included equitably renovating, repurposing, and reallocating space between Licton Springs K-8 and Robert Eagle Staff. They plan to send their list of proposals to the School Board in the near future.
Last Friday, SPS spokesperson Tim Robinson told Seattle Weekly that he couldn’t provide a comment at that time, but that the district would be in a better position to comment after the superintendent meets with some of the stakeholders.
The district later announced a Dec. 3 meeting in which parents would meet with Superintendent Denise Juneau to discuss their “hopes and dreams” for their children, according to a district email sent to parents.
“I realize that the nuts and bolts operations of a school district—things like enrollment, boundaries, and school placement—can produce high anxiety and frustration,” Juneau wrote. “That’s why I would like to back away from those issues during our initial conversation. This evening, I am meeting with you simply to build a relationship and hear about your hopes and dreams for your child(ren) and how Seattle Public Schools can assist them in reaching their goals. I would like to start by hearing your perspectives about the school’s climate, classroom learning, and overall school programming.”
At the Dec. 3 meeting held at Licton Springs K-8, parents sat in a circle and discussed the ways in which they were proud of their students and school, Weil told Seattle Weekly. During the nearly two-hour conversation, parents said that their children finally felt like they belonged. One parent from Singapore said that the school helped elicit a creative side of her student that she’d never seen before; within three months in the environment, he’d become inspired to be a politician or a poet, and was starting to explore his personal identity.
Weil noted her disappointment to be handed the school’s report card that revealed the students’ state standardized scores at the end of the meeting. According to the district’s data, the students have scored below state standards, with students averaging a score of 46 percent in language arts. Weil contended that the data doesn’t take into account the students’ level of proficiency at the beginning of the year compared to when they took the test.
For now, Licton Springs parents and students say they will continue to petition the district to consider solutions that prevents the school’s closure. In a letter to Seattle Public Schools concerning the closure of the middle school, according to a Licton Springs K-8 PTO press release, a seventh-grader wrote: “We have three names because we have been tossed around like an animal and we’ve been moved around to several different schools. This needs to stop … I want to go to Rites of Passage in 8th grade, but SPS is trying to take that away from me. We are a K-8 community, not an elementary school.”