When I found out about my local options the first year the school assignment in SPS changed, I wasn't thrilled. Our school was one of the lowest performing schools in the district with lots of discipline issues and changing leadership. We decided to enter the lottery for the one 'option school' and didn't get in. Not wanting to mess with our sons education we decided on Kindergarten in a mixed age home school classroom.
Looking into our options I discovered the Advanced Learning placement. My hopes to get into Lafayette's Spectrum program for first grade sounded highly unrealistic after an Open House listening to the principle mentioning first grade can be filled by Lafayette's kindergarten students alone, but will be open to the North cluster with empty seats allowing the South attendance area, which we live in (Denny Middle School reference area) in last.
Thankfully my son made it into the APP program which meant he could be assigned an guaranteed seat. The only downside was it was far outside our neighborhood. I toured Thurgood Marshall's Open House the year before in hopes we could convince the principle to let me son do early entrance for 1st grade, but learnt APP does not allow younger kids in their classrooms (order from the Advanced Learning Office). I was instantly sold on Julie Breitenbach's leadership style, her clear vision, no BS attitude and student focus.
For first grade we took our chances and sent my son on a 1 hour bus ride to his new school. I felt I betrayed him with this decision, robbing him of his free time and childhood, knowing him on a school bus 2 hours every day. He left at 8.10 am and came home at 5.20 pm, tired, hungry, in need to pee. I just hoped we would have a local option that he could continue with his rigorous curriculum in public school without a long commute.
So, I continued going to school board rep community meetings, PTA meetings and APP Advisory board meetings to see if there could something done about this. I was convinced West Seattle could come up with enough students to qualify for Advanced Learning once there would be a public program offered at a local school.
2012 where first talks about the Boren site, also Fairmount Park and the Westside's schools home, and what could be housed where. STEM, Language immersion, Montessori and Advanced Learning where some options. My PEPS friend Robin and I met with Marty McLaren at the High Point Library asking for more from SPS. A STEM school AND an Advanced Learning site. Marty listened carefully, taking notes and nodding a lot. Would that mean we both would get what we wanted?
STEM started occupying the Boren site with Robin on the design team. I was thrilled for our neighborhood. Finally one great option to the overcrowded neighborhood schools. Still no decisions on bringing more Advanced Learning options to West Seattle. I attended more meetings and one hot Advisory Board meeting at Washington Middle School where the split from TM was discussed. While some warned, there also where some parents reminding of splits (like the one from TM) that worked well. I came to the understanding that a lot of the very passionate voices against an Advanced Learning option in West Seattle where not families living in West Seattle. Even the TM PTA spoke out against a split and APP program for WS.
They conducted a survey that would let parents pick between stability and close to home. I was really upset. This survey was forwarded to the Advanced Learning office and Advisory board giving proof no one wanted a split and program for WS.
I felt like David vs. Goliath. WS families were not organized, but the TM PTA was and scared the TM families coming from West Seattle in believing they would have to trade the distance for quality.
The meeting at Washington was so hostile that it took me a lot of courage to stand up and make my point for it. I had a talk with the TM PTA president and saw the chances really slim that it would still happen. I was also told Julie Breitenbach herself advised the TM PTA against a split to not 'dilute' the strong program and cohort. I still felt strongly that I needed to be persistent and still voice that WS families would still want that. I just hoped someone would have stood up a couple of years ago and asked for a program in WS so our 6 and 7 year olds would not to travel on a bus for that long. Marty McLaren also attended the meeting and made me really hopeful as she talked to me that she would do whatever she could to make our mission happen.
There was a final public meeting before the School Board's decision. I told my friends at the STEM PTA about the strong opinion from the TM PTA against a program for West Seattle. I also met with a couple of WS families to craft letters to the School Board, estimating numbers from neighborhood schools, projecting counts. We posted all this on the West Seattle Blog hoping to find more families to join our quest. Everything was on a deadline. We didn't really think we would still get what we wished for.
The STEM PTA was at that same meeting to get a K to 8 school and stay at Boren. They fought the fight in a almost perfect manner, working with the district and school board, giving options, listening, problem solving and being nice. I was really proud of the STEM PTA. I couldn't make it to the meeting, but Robin told me afterwards that the TM PTA spoke out against a split, but Robin stood up and proclaimed 'that doesn't mean families in West Seattle don't want it!'. I just love her for that.
So, shortly after that the School Board decided on moving an Advanced Learning Program to Fairmount Park. I was thrilled. Some TM families still didn't want to leave in fear of the unknown, but that was totally understandable. TM after all is a very strong and successful program with a superb leader.
So, anticipating the announcement of a new principle (Shauna Heath joked at one of the Advisory board meeting she promises to find a good match for the FP principal and would be, herself, the best qualified but unfortunately not available). She promised to find someone very supportive of Advanced Learning students, but also understanding the needs of Special Ed students as many AL kids also have Special Needs.
I couldn't believe when I say the subject of the announcement read 'Julie B...' as new principle for Fairmount Park. It was a wish come true. Not only would we get Advanced Learning, we would also get the best principle possible for this school. Following her we would also get the best possible music teacher Mr. Pendergrass, as well as my sons favorite teacher Mrs. Gano.
I was very happy to help with teacher hiring, ask for additional Spring Testing, Vision Planning Team, chartering the PTA, attending Falcon Fest's at Camp Long and hosting a lot of committee meetings over Spring and Summer 2014, so we could have everything ready for school start in September.
Now, one month in, it's still like a dream. I can walk my kids to school. They both get what the need. They can join After School activities and we still have plenty of time for homework and family time and I don't have to feel I deprive my child of his childhood making him ride a bus 2 hours a day.
Thank you Marty McLaren, Robin Graham, Pamela Erickson, Shauna Heath, Julie Breitenbach, Hillary Shaw and all these other fantastic people to make my wish come true.
Go Falcons! Never stop wishing - and asking politely for it!
Optimistic, curious, human bee.