Proposed New School at Thornton Creek Elementary, A Brief History (Part 1)

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about a proposed new school that the District is considering building on a portion of the ball fields at Thornton Creek (TC) Elementary School.  According to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Building Excellence Phase IV (BEX IV) Capital Levy describes the potential new school as a new K-8 school, although its our understanding that most believe the school will be K-5.  We know very little about the proposed school, other than what has already been shared, largely because the school is contingent upon the upcoming BEX IV levy, which will be on the ballot in February 2013.

In our previous post, we wrote that “The Wedgwood Community Council is still collecting information on this proposal and has decided to refrain from endorsing or opposing this proposal.  Instead, the WCC will only attempt to provide accurate information to the community from both sides so parents and neighbors can make their own decisions.”  Our decision to refrain from taking a position has caused some concern among some residents.  I try to provide a more thorough description of how the WCC reached this decision towards the end of this post.  However, the intent of this post is to provide a brief history of this proposal from the perspective of the TC Site Council.

For background, the WCC was contacted about the new school proposal on May 9th in an email from Chris Stewart, Chair of the TC Site Council.  Following further email correspondence with both Chris and John Miner (Thornton Creek Principal), I met with Seattle School Board member Harium Martin-Morris to learn more about the proposal.  Since that time, I have met with Daryl Whitley who serves as one of the TC Site Council’s District liaisons and has been following the capacity management planning throughout.  I asked Daryl for some history as to how this proposal has evolved from ‘adding 4 portables over the next 4 years‘ in November 2011 to a ‘new 650-800 student school on the TC ball fields.’  Turns out, Daryl has put together a 2-page summary describing this although I’ll try to summarize this as well.

History of the Proposal

Back on October 19, 2011, the TC Parent Group wrote a letter that supported the TC staff’s position that expansion of TC and the addition of 4 new portables over a 4 year period would harm the alternative educational program’s success.  TC started in 1974 as a K-5, 2-up system (2 classes per grade) but has already begun to expand to a 3-up (3 classes per grade) program having taken 3 kindergarten classes over the past 2 years.  The 3-up expansion has been challenging the school and staff, especially since the building was originally designed to support a K-2 school, not a K-5 school.  So, for a myriad of reasons, the staff and parents at TC were reluctant to take on more portables and students.  However, not only is TC over-enrolled, but Olympic View, Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Bryant Elementary are also over enrolled.

So, following several community meetings, the District modified its proposal.  Instead of taking on new portables, the District would change TC’s geo-zone, which is a geographic area around TC that gives priority to those students.  By expanding the TC geo-zone, it was thought that more students from View Ridge and Wedgwood Elementary would get into TC and alleviate some of the capacity issues at those “Attendance Area” schools.  Additionally, a portable would be added to Wedgwood Elementary and View Ridge and Olympic View Elementary would convert another room into a class room.  TC would, however, go back to a 2-up model starting a kindergarten.

In December 2011, Pegi McEvoy, the District’s Assistant Superintendent of Operation, met with the TC Site Council.  In her meeting, Ms. McEvoy brought up the idea of TC becoming a K-8 school to help alleviate capacity issues at Eckstein Middle School as well.  In late February/early March 2012, the TC Site Council formally responded to Ms. McEvoy in a brief letter describing the TC Site Council’s willingness to take on as many as 500 students as a K-5 school in a new building built on their site.  This represented a major shift in the TC Site Council’s stance from back in November 2011.  According to Chris Stewart, they have not heard back from Ms. McEvoy on this proposal.

WCC’s Position Explained

A few people have commented on the WCC’s decision to not take a position on this proposed new school.  Therefore, I thought I would provide a brief explanation as to why we’ve made our decision the way we have.

To begin, the WCC has had a tradition of remaining a neutral party while serving as a conduit of information to the community, providing a forum for dialogue, and fostering participation of the whole community.  This again is the role that we intend to play.

Beyond this though, the District’s proposal for a new school is currently just a proposal that is dependent upon a levy.  Other than vague descriptions of where the school would be located and how big it would be, we have no details to consider.  The issue of enrollment capacity in our neighborhood’s schools is a very important issue as it has an effect on the quality of education the children in our neighborhood are receiving.  More and more families are moving to Wedgwood to take advantage of our award winning public schools.  As a result, our schools are bursting at the seams.  Therefore, opposing a new school in one part of our neighborhood at the expense of others in our neighborhood isn’t a representative position for the WCC to take.  However, supporting a new school when there are so few specifics known about the proposal while obvious potential impacts are apparent, especially to infrastructure and open space, isn’t appropriate at this time either.

Furthermore, we recognize the the District owns the TC property and has the legal right to build a new school on their property if they choose (…and have the funding for).  Should the levy pass and a new school is proposed on the site, the District would be required to go through a formal public notification and design review process under the State Environmental Policy Act.  All impacts, and we fully recognize there are significant potential impacts to our community, will have to be mitigated as part of this environmental review process.  We have already reached out to the District to let them know that should the levy pass that we would like to work with the District to make sure that the concerns of our community, especially those that will be most directly affected by the school, are heard and that the design and operation of the school can be done in a way that complements the surrounding residential community to the greatest extent possible.

We are reaching out the District to see if we can find a way to have them share the reasons for making this decision.  We haven’t made any decisions on how best to do this yet.  Stay tuned.  In the mean time, if you’re interested in getting involved with the WCC, please email Per Johnson » or Brian Turnbull ».

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