McClure Middle School: Time for Rejuvenation, Time for Levy Support
As summer flows joyfully along, my thoughts occasionally drift to the fall as my four kids prepare to enter four grades at four schools with four fundraising auctions. It’s indicative of the fact that Seattle Public School District is undergoing a period of rapid enrollment growth, a positive step for our district and our city as parents are making choices to engage in their neighborhood school. And yet, there are some troubling warning signs about decisions that parents make. In some areas even with rapid overall growth, schools are under-enrolled and families are purposely not attending their neighborhood school.
One of my hopes is that we as a community—parents, teachers, business leaders, students and administrators—can continually improve our willingness to talk openly and courageously about educational quality and some of the reasons why some schools within some neighborhoods continue to struggle to meet community needs.
Rainier Beach is chronically under-enrolled, despite easily having sufficient numbers of students in the enrollment area to fill the school should parents make that choice. But they are not. Neighborhood parents have a modest chance of being accepted to other area schools given the small reserve allowed outside of a reference area. For Rainier Beach parents, this is a lifeline and they are seizing it. They are electing in disproportionate numbers not to attend Rainier Beach.
This is despite the district and state’s substantial investment of commitment and millions of dollars in Rainier Beach over the last few years, including bringing in a new leader and implementing new programs, such as the International Baccalaurate program, scheduled to start in Fall of 2013. But at least there seems to be a genuine public conversation that includes reaching out to neighborhood parents, students, teachers, activists, bloggers and community leaders about what needs are not being met.
But sometimes the under-enrollment is not based on a policy or practice, but instead on what seems like benign systemic neglect of a particular school despite heroic efforts over the years of parents to make improvements. One such school is McClure Middle School, centrally located in the Queen Anne neighborhood.
The elementary schools that feed into McClure are absolutely packed and the school age population is growing at extraordinary rates. Ballard High School, the high school for much of my legislative district, is also filled to the brim. This is a positive sign for our neighborhoods, but we have a serious and troubling problem at the middle school level.
At middle school a disproportionate number of families choose schools other than McClure—sometimes other nearby public schools, like Salmon Bay K-8, or local private schools, both of which now apply to our family. Of course, middle school kids are a challenge in every district across our particular planet given the nature of the population, but that’s sort of a bigger problem.
Seriously, why are disproportionate numbers of parents sending a quiet signal to make other selections than McClure Middle School and leaving for their middle school years? I think we should invite a public conversation about it.
The district is currently planning their next capital levy—the Building Excellence IV levy, or BEX IV. As a part of this levy the district is proposing to reopen Lincoln High School. Who will attend Lincoln High School, located in Wallingford? Students who live in Queen Anne and Magnolia. So in two to three years the district will be asking my family and the majority of my constituents to make a huge shift—from Ballard High School to the new Lincoln High School.
This district’s plan has not yet made the headlines of the neighborhood blogs and community newspapers, but it will soon.
When it does, I believe that in order for our family and neighbors to move willingly to Lincoln and leave the established and well-functioning Ballard that has been home for so many years without a revolt, we must have a solid cohort or grouping of students that moves through a comprehensive middle school and then moves together to Lincoln to build a strong, united freshman class. It’s about community.
We all know that if kids don’t go through the system together, parents and families will rebel—regardless of the community. But for that to happen, it’s essential that we see comprehensive improvements at McClure from physical facilities to academic rigor and prowess. It’s a good school that can and should be a great school.
McClure is not slated to receive any funding in BEX IV, when I think we can all agree that the school facility—vintage 1960– needs massive investments, if not a total rebuild. Once again, plodding along through another huge levy the McClure community—now serving three major neighborhoods—is left without a strong intervention from the district.
I have been told that the “bones”—the structure—of the building are solid, and that we need to wait at least until BEX V, in 2019, to even consider a rebuild. But the community was told that exact same thing in BEX II and BEX III, twelve and six years ago, respectively.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for McClure. I treasure my visits to meet and greet the students, so many of whom I know as friends of my four kids. In 2009, I worked extremely hard to secure $1 million in state capital budget funds specifically for McClure to help upgrade the old building through energy efficiencies. Why invest in such an old building? Because students, teachers and administrators were wearing coats inside the building all day during the winter due to the cold.
Clearly, I am not implying that a new building in and of itself is sufficient to change a neighborhood’s attitude about a school. But I’m sure many in our community remember the rebuild of Ballard High School. When Ballard reopened, with a new building and solid leadership, we saw enrollment grow substantially and now it is one of the most popular and quality high schools in the city.
A new building is one key element to the solution, but of course it’s not enough. Like all schools, we must have solid leadership in the building and the central office to give families the reassurance that their child’s education is our number one priority. Despite some important and notable progress in recent years, we must do radically better if we expect families to accept a dramatic restructuring of where their kids attend high school.
This does not mean that kids aren’t learning at McClure and that teachers, administrators and parents are not engaged. But it does mean we need to listen to the silence of parents who are making other enrollment choices as well as those who elect to enroll. Both groups must be part of the conversation.
We need the district to stand together with the community and engage in a more transparent, vibrant dialogue about why the school is not living up to its potential. There are important community meetings September 20, 24 and 27 that will be instrumental in determining the design of the levy package. Please attend and express your views.
McClure, a 1960s, Soviet-style building with a world of potential, should be a part of the BEX IV plan.
A rebuilt, rejuvenated and reinvigorated McClure Middle School will draw literally hundreds of additional Queen Anne and Magnolia parents back to the school, and will give students and their families the confidence of a united cohort that can move intact to a rebuilt, rejuvenated and reinvigorated Lincoln High School.
The district’s plan can potentially work, but only with the community’s ownership and engagement, and with a substantial investment in McClure as part of that future.
Your partner in service,