Monday, February 7, 2011

McGilvra prepares to move on

If they were hoping to hear that the School District would relent and not dramatically increase enrollment at McGilvra, those attending last week’s PTA meeting were quickly disabused of any such notion. School Board member Harium Martin-Morris was on hand to deliver the word from on high: the contract between the School District and the McGilvra PTA will be terminated and the School should expect as many as 300 students to be enrolled there next year.

The hundred or so parents and teachers who crowded into the school library Tuesday evening were given plenty of time to vent about the situation, but what followed was a productive discussion, led by School principal Mary Lane, about they ways McGilvra can adapt to the changed circumstances—and perhaps even thrive. Many parents who came to the meeting skeptical about the School’s prospects are reported to have had a change of heart after hearing Lane’s presentation.

But it was clear from the start of the meeting that before any discussion could take place on the question of “Where to from here?” there would have to be a discussion of “Why are we here in the first place?” On that score, Martin-Morris, who represents a district that includes McGilvra and extends north to View Ridge, did a good job of fielding the parents’ challenging (though generally not hostile) questions.

Former PTA President Bob Steedman questioned whether the School could physically accommodate 300 students, noting the small size of the School’s two portables, the inadequate cafeteria, and limited bathrooms. Martin-Morris responded by explaining the basis on which the District calculates “functional” capacity, and argued that on that basis 300 kids could fit into McGilvra. He noted that the Seattle Public Schools are growing at the rate of two or three small elementary schools per year (500 to 600 new students), and the district he represents has grown more than any other part of Seattle. The excess capacity at McGilvra will be needed to accommodate this growth, he said.

Skeptical audience members questioned why, if that’s true, the District recently sold the one-time Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Madison Valley. Martin-Morris responded that the MLK site was not viable as an elementary school because of lot size and anticipated repair costs, therefore not meeting the District’s needs. A parent also questioned why McGilvra was being expanded when there is apparently significant excess capacity at Madrona Elementary School. Martin-Morris said that Madrona has had management issues that are still in the process of being resolved. He went on to enumerate other issues impacting the School District, including the cutting of State funding and the fact that several Seattle elementary schools, because of the demographics of their neighborhoods, are already operating above capacity. He said the enrollment dilemma for the District as a whole is only going to get worse.

After about an hour of “Why, why, why?” from those assembled, a parent summed up the resigned mood: “Okay. This is done. This has happened, and now we need to deal with it.” Another parent agreed, saying “It’s not that they are picking on little McGilvra. It’s an uncertain time, but we need to be optimistic and positive. Grumbling among ourselves is not going to help.”

With that, the discussion moved on. Earlier in the meeting PTA Co-President Will Kilbourne had presented what he described as a wish list for the future of McGilvra, a set of principles that had been developed by an ad hoc committee of parents. The parents, he said, felt that small-group learning was important and that enrichment programs needed to be available in the School to allow for individual student growth. They also preferred single-grade classrooms.

Principal Lane, however, cautioned that whatever the School does to respond to increased enrollment should be research based and not simply re-engineering old approaches. “I challenge you to look outside the box and be creative in dealing with the new situation,” she told the audience. She noted, for example, “There are some very positive advantages in multi-age grouping. We do not see this as a negative approach.” What this would mean in practice is that there would be some classrooms with two grades, for example with second and third graders learning together. With the increased number of students in the School, she said, “it’s not going to be possible to only have single-age classrooms.” She added that multi-age learning would allow for better differentiation in teaching individual students at the School, with the challenge being to make sure the students are properly grouped. Another approach known as looping, where teachers remain with their students over a two-year period, may also have some advantages for McGilvra, she said.

Lane told the audience that “organizing our resources to support early intervention is a guiding principle” for McGilvra. One way to do that, she said, would be with the use of additional tutors. Kindergarten, which is expected to grow to 88 students at McGilvra next year, would be in single-age classrooms, as would first grade. This might mean as many as four separate Kindergarten classrooms if the projections hold up. Because of the probable imbalance of the number of students in Kindergarten compared to those in first grade next year, looping and multi-age learning will probably not be possible for those classes.

Lane reaffirmed her commitment to the School’s enrichment programs, including Art education, and noted that McGilvra’s literacy programs might even be enhanced by larger class sizes. “There are all kinds of things that we are looking at that are actually exciting,” she said. But the bottom line is that no decisions have been made regarding next year. “I know this is scary and you want what’s best for your children. We do too.”

Lane said that an on-going dialog with the PTA will be necessary for the School to be prepared for what’s coming, and she ended by urging everyone to keep an open mind: “We may get something that is even better than what we have.”

[Photo: Principal Mary Lane explains why change is sometimes okay.]


  1. Two words:

    You just can't trust the State to educate your children.

  2. Given what home prices are in Mad Park - you should be livid. We made the choice of living south and are happy since we can home school or take over the PTA

  3. Just because the school is in Madison Park, doesn't give parents the right to control a public school with personal funds and special deals. That is not fair. If they are worried about their children's education, they should send them to private school where they can have more control of the school with their donations. Or as was stated above, home school them. The school is going to continue to grow and positive ideas and solutions is what they need.

  4. I was going to let this move on just like the classy McGilvra parents who once again are going to roll up their sleeves and try to make McGilvra as good an elementary school as they can in spite of the continued incompetency an meddling of the Seattle School District.

    But I read the above comment and I had to shake my head in disbelief and frustration. "Just because the school is in Madison Park, doesn't give parents the right to control a public school with personal funds and special deals," is the stupidist quote I have read in regard to supporting the status quo in the Seattle School District because it is not about Madison Park! What it has to do with is the students in this city getting the best possible education at the public schools that are the closest to their homes.

    If you think McGilvra is the only school that is raising funds to enhance their student's education then just head on over the hill to Montlake, or north of the ship canal to Laurelhurst or over to Lafayette E.S. in West Seattle or Adams E.S. in Ballard and see what they are doing to raise money for their kids.

    But you will probably say, "That's not fair for those schools to raise extra money. They should spread those funds around to the schools that are less fortunate." Right! So then what incentive will McGilvra have to raise money if the fruits of their labor are parcelled around town? The answer is: NONE!

    If your school can't raise any money have you ever heard of sponsorships? That's where someone representing an organization like a school or a team or a needy program solicites funds from a corporation or a wealthy philanthropist. In this liberal conclave of super-rich millionaires and billionaires the money is just waiting to be parcelled out. But you have to quit whining and make your appointment and present your pitch. If you think those high-rollers are going to hand you a bunch of dough just because of your color, neighborhood or income bracket then think again. They got their money by working for it so they expect the same of you. Remember these are the guys who are so altruistic they were ready to have the State tax them at a new obscene rate so here's a way for them to donate their extra funds without regular people eventually being taxed at the new obscene rate.

    And the answer it not home schooling where you are still being taxed by school levys as you teach your kid at home. The answer is Charter Schools where the State money for each student is sent directly to the Charter School instead of the particular School District. Then it is run by a partnership of parents and teacher. And guess what? Charter schools usually cost less to run because they are operated more efficiently plus you can still have your auctions, rummage sales and YES your coporate sponsorships!

    And please, no corrections on my grammar or spelling as the message is not going to change!

  5. I am curious, when the PTA is bringing $ 300,000 to the table annually, who the principal really works for. And the teachers?

    Is the PTA obligated to provide an accounting of how they spend their funds? Seems like a lot of money flying around for what has been made public so far about their expenditures.

    People need to remember that their funds are above and beyond what taxpayers are already paying for education. Your child, and anyone else's can go to McGilvra and get an education at no additional cost to you. Don't be brainwashed. If you are doing your job as parents, providing your child with a sense of character, values and work ethic, they will do just fine without you kicking in the extra $ 1,300 per year.

  6. 50.2% of our property tax dollars goes to state and local schools. If parents want to contribute even more money to their public elementary school so their 6 year old (as well as other children) can have more educational support--then what's the problem? Why the outrage? The demographics of Madison Park leads one to believe that many of these parents could have saved themselves the headache and effort of navigating the tides of SPS district (not to mention the scrutiny) by simply enrolling thier kids into a private school. Instead they chose to invest time and money into thier neighborhood public school. If that is a problem, then I don't think it is about the parents or children.

  7. I believe the pta does account for their spending, but it is not public money, they donate it and can do what they want with it. If it is spent unwisely, the donors won't donate!

  8. Oh, don't be naive. They could have "saved themselves the headache of navigating...." Don't make them martyrs, too.

    They are taking complete of advantage of the School District and then shaking down the neighborhood to create a private school for themselves which is 80% paid for by taxpayers. They are sending their kids to private elementary school for $ 1,300 per student, per year. I have no idea what a REAL private elementary school closts, but I bet the monthly rate is significantly more than what these people are paying annually.

    They have used money to manipulate the system for their own gain and in doing so, have left the have-nots a little further behind. Most will be pulled from public schools for junior high and HS and they are simply trying to make their stay in public school as cushy as possible until their kids are old enough to ride the bus out of the neighborhood.

    Why the outrage? They (or Bryan, anyway) have then spent a great deal of time tooting their own horn about their test scores compared to the rest of the district. Well, of course they test well. They have half the number of kids in class, newer books, more opportunities, everyone has eaten breakfast when they show up in the morning, everyone speaks english and has supportive, involved parents. Duh.

    The McGilvra PTA is the equivalent of the New York Yankees and that is "why the outrage."

    Don't be fooled. Your kid can get a quality public education "at no additional cost," provided you are doing your job as a parent at home.

  9. Dear Outrage(post above), your attitude is why most of the schools in the area test bad,,and now one school makes great improvement and you say NO FAIR. I bet you would be happy only if they test as bad as Madrona has in the past.

  10. High time for a voucher system in Seattle, so the parents paying all that property tax money in Madison Park can get some of it back and educate their children properly.


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