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September 30, 2013 at 6:31 AM

School overcrowding in Seattle and elsewhere force shifts in boundaries and politics

Paul Tong/Op Art

Paul Tong/Op Art

Population increases statewide, but especially in western Washington are causing school districts like Lake Washington, Issaquah and Seattle to build new schools quickly and take up the always painful task of redrawing boundaries.

In the Seattle Public School proposed boundaries are the topic of a meeting tonight at Meany Middle School. This Times story recaps Seattle’s proposed changes in elementary- and middle-school attendance boundaries next year.

Nearly every district is using building construction levies to modernize old schools and build new ones to manage overcrowding. Seattle voters approved the Building Excellence IV (or BEX IV) capital levy last February and projects include replacing or upgrading 17 schools.

The plan is being greeted differently in different areas of the city. I’ve heard from  Georgetown Parents for Maple School concerned about boundary changes that would lengthen the safe walking distances from their homes to school. West Seattle parents are looking to make changes to the proposal as well, according to the West Seattle blog.

Shifting boundaries is one aspect of the plan, the other is about what district officials call program equity or their efforts to ensure premier academic programs are spread throughout the district.  In that vein, the proposed changes include splitting the Accelerated Progress Program currently housed at Lincoln and relocating it into two other schools. Is that a fight the district should be picking? Better yet, is it one they can win?   There would also be a new APP program at West Seattle Elementary. Whether you like these proposed changes probably depends on how you believe advanced learning fits into general public education. Should these programs be stand-alone options for high-achievers or added to the mix of almost any public school?

New York Times op-ed by Chester Finn calls for the creation of more schools just for gifted students. “Young, gifted and neglected,” is Finn’s title for the piece, a  twist on the Nina Simone song, “Young, gifted and black.” Finn worked in education for President Reagan and now runs the nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, D.C.

On the other side of the argument, a story in Slate reports on experiments in New York, D.C. and other cities to make honors classes more accessible and inclusive. “Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement among African-American Students” by three academics, including Stanford University’s Claude Steele.

While some believe Seattle’s APP students can only succeed as a cohort, others find the program inaccessible for highly capable students uninterested in traveling far from home. Is there a middle ground, new ground or are we about to rehash the same old arguments for and against accelerated programs? And in this region where land is expensive or unavailable, are we ready to concede our dreams of walking to the schoolhouse up the road?

Comments | Topics: 3to23, children, Education

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